Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Spect Imaging Results

Last year, I started surfing the net about Spect Brain Imaging. Dr. Daniel Amen is the name I had been turned on to and I began listening to his many lectures on-line. Since then, I have spoken to a couple of critics of his work. Overall, the feeling is that he claims brain imaging can do more than it actually does, but there is merit to the concept.

My interest was twofold. One, my son plays hockey and is a defenseman. He takes a lot of hard hits and is a tough player. Dr. Amen works a great deal with NFL players and has done a ton of research on concussions and the effects on the brain. Secondly, being a psychiatrist, he showed some fascinating brain scans related to depression, ADHD and other conditions.

As a mom, I want to know. As a mental health counselor, I want to know. And as a person that has had several decades of struggling with depression, I want to know.

Turns out there is one psychiatrist in western NY that does Spect imaging. I waited several months and finally got in. An MRI and Spect image together seem to offer the greatest combination of information, so I complied. Last week I got the results.

“Impression: Abnormal Resting Brain Bicisate Spect Due to:

There is diffuse frontal cortical hypoperfusion with pericallosal medial frontal sparing, most consistent with long-standing or refractory depression.”

What the heck does that mean? As the local skeptics suspected, the results didn’t do much of anything to change the course of treatment for me, which is why there is question as to its usefulness. However, it did something less tangible for me, but still quite important.

People who don’t struggle with depression often have difficulty understanding it. For people like me who have a good family, an excellent support system, and a host of other “blessings” in my life, understanding how I could be depressed sometimes is almost impossible. And for people like me who are self-critical, there is a huge level of guilt that comes with the depression because I am fully aware of all the gifts in my life. Feeling depression seems wrong and ungrateful.

I’ve tried absolutely everything over the years. I couldn’t even list all of the medications that I’ve gone through. Counseling, of course. Psychiatrists. Acupuncture. Spiritual Direction. Daily affirmations. Gratitude journals. Vitamin D. I can’t even remember all of the latest and greatest hopes and remedies to help cure depression that I have tried.

Now I’ve “tried” brain imaging. I actually found it to be validating. I can now articulate in another way what is going on with me, especially when talking to the people I run into that think I should be able to change how I feel if only I would really try. My brain indicates refractory depression. When I asked what that meant, I was told, “resistant to treatment.” The doctor said that is perfectly consistent with how I describe my life. Medications help me manage, but I’ve never been free from depression.

Currently, we know about Serotonin and Dopamine. There is research happening that looks at entirely different types of issues. There is some success, but we aren’t close to having anything on the market yet. So until then, I will keep managing the best I can. But I also can now articulate what I have always known in my heart: My wiring doesn’t respond to the typical treatments. It just doesn’t. No amount of willing or wanting or self-discipline will alter that.

I will work on dropping the guilt from the list of emotions that come along with the struggle. THAT is useful.


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Callouses

Today I went to see my very much-loved doctor, Grace. My sister is in town this week so she went with me. I invited her because today was a depression/medication appointment and I know I worry my sister all the time and thought it might help her know who is watching over me.

It was a good appointment, as always. They are usually running behind because Grace spends so much time with every person. I can’t get mad when I have to wait because I know why it happens. Today, though, there was not even a wait.

We went through the medication thing and we added another one to my regimen. It needs to be taken in the morning. I need to figure out how to make that happen. I know it sounds like a simple thing, but sometimes I don’t get to my pill-box until 4 in the afternoon. Actually, today it was 5 pm. I will come up with something to train myself.

Scott, my counselor, suggested I do some research on Dr. Daniel Amen. Being the compliant client I am, I looked him up. I am going to spend time weekly reading/listening to some of his stuff. He is a psychiatrist that uses SPECT brain scans to treat his patients. He says we need to treat individual brains rather than clusters of symptoms. He made total sense to me and I was sold. Brain scan is not something I’ve tried.

I asked Grace and of course she knew what I was talking about. She is always mentioning the latest research on such and such. Do we even have anything like that in Buffalo? There is ONE doctor. That was actually more than I thought. I was envisioning traveling to Chicago regularly. She said I will probably have to wait several months, but that he uses SPECT scans and then farms to his mid-level staff once you are seen and diagnosed. That’s fine with me. Grace was in favor of it because she knows I have tried just about everything known to humankind to beat my depression and haven’t been able to. (I still think meeting a man who is actually a decent partner would help tremendously, but we all know how THAT has worked out!)

I will call his office tomorrow. I don’t care if I have to wait a year, at least I will get the process started. Grace, my sister and I chatted about my symptoms. We all agreed. Somehow, even though I seem to “heal” and “move on” from loss, I carry the scar with me throughout my entire life. That is why I feel so exhausted and used up, like my soul has been chipped away at for decades and I’m finally calling, “UNCLE”!

Then Grace said something that struck me. She said that when a bone/muscle is broken/injured, scar tissue forms over scar tissue. She said the fascinating part is that scar tissue can become stronger than the original bone ever was. I had never heard that. I just looked at her through my watery eyes and said, “Why do I feel anything but strong? I feel so spent.”

I don’t remember what her response actually was. I did walk away feeling like maybe I’m just not there yet. Like maybe my scar tissue is still just forming. The strength may be around the corner. Look out, because if this is true, I am going to be STRONG LIKE BULL with all the scar tissue I have accumulating.

Thanks Grace, and thanks Sissy. I am lucky to have people who care about me and weep when I weep. I promise, I will keep trying to heal.