Putting Things in a New PerSPECTive

I'm not even a little bit sorry for that title. It came to me on the plane, and I was like "I'm using it. No regrets" (except there will be regrets, because anxiety)

BUT ANYWAYS. I got my brain scanned! Hence the really terrible joke. A SPECT image was done at the Amen Clinic in Costa Mesa last week, which is essentially where a radioactive tracer is injected through an IV and shows the activity in your brain. The poor technician had to poke me several times before finally just having me stick my hands in a bucket of hot water and sticking the needle in my hand. After pulling my hands out of the water, the skin was red but my nails were purple! #thanksRaynauds. I wish I had taken a photo because it was actually really awesome-looking. Like reverse Spiderman or something.

The concentration scan was done first, and I was TERRIEFIED that the tracer was going to make me sick. Because I had no idea what was going into my arm and how was I supposed to keep my head completely still if I was nauseated? But I made myself sit still and focus on the game, not on the radioactive materials going into my arm. Then the technician basically taped my head to the board of the CT scanner, because the tiniest movements will mess up the scan and you will have to start all over. It was an extremely boring 20 minutes. Then the next day, we went back to the clinic (which is HUGE, it’s like a mouse maze of hallways and offices), only this time I wasn’t allowed to do anything except sit in a dark room for 15 minutes. Then it was back into the machine. This is not the test for anyone who has any kind of claustrophobia, because my face was maybe 3 inches from the machine. I liked it, because I love being squished. Being squished means nothing can sneak up on me, but I have no idea what would sneak up on me.

FYI, the tracer did not make me sick. I looked up the side effects later, and nausea was listed as “incidence not known”, which in pharmacology speak means that someone got a bug during the trials and so they had to list it. I was, as usual, freaking out over nothing.

After that, I went with my dad into a therapist’s office, where he took my psychiatric history. He asked about my obsessively controlled diet, and I told him good luck figuring out if that’s OCD or Lyme. And that’s where the brain scan came in.

That is not my brain, sadly. Or not sadly, because if it was my life would probably not be very exciting and this blog would not have been born. This is a “normal” person’s brain, meaning they have no psychiatric concerns. SPECT images cannot diagnose, but they are very useful in determining treatment when combined with symptoms.

THIS is my image. As you can see, it is WAY overactive in all the centers that control anxiety. Shocking, I know. Actually, what was kind of surprising was that I might have a slight case of ADD, or the concentration game was boring. I do have trouble with things keeping my attention, but I think that’s because I get bored easily. I like to have lots of things going on around me, and I tend to do well under short bursts of stress, which I’ve always found somewhat odd given my diagnosis. I cannot marathon several days of stress, but I am at my best when it’s only a few hours. Like taking the ACT or other tests. The psychologist there decided that the best course of treatment for me is to calm the overexcited neurons in my brain and gave me a prescription for Gabapentin, which is commonly used to treat epilepsy but has shown great promise in people with anxiety. The Amen clinics uses it a lot. I’m now a little over a week into taking it, and I’m working up to a full dose. Right now I’m only at about a third of what I’ll eventually be at, but so far I’m feeling a little bit calmer. My brain isn’t spinning as fast as it normally does, and I have time to actually digest my thoughts before they spin around my brain three or four times. As with most psych meds, it will take a few weeks to find out if this is the right one, but it’s showing promise.

Would I recommend getting a SPECT image as treatment for psychiatric concerns? I would, wholeheartedly, say yes except for two reasons. The first one is that it is not yet accepted as anything more than for research purposes. Which is a shame in my personal opinion because I think it’s proven that it is worth so much more than that, and largely through the work of the Amen Clinics. If you haven’t seen Dr. Amen’s Ted talk, it’s really cool. My second reason is that it is very expensive. Because it is still considered only useful in research, insurance will not cover it. There are very few places that will even consider doing it, so travel costs are also included in the cost of having your brain scanned. But if none of your meds are working, if you’ve been through what feels like hundreds of them and if you’re feeling completely hopeless that you’ll ever be better, then go. I highly recommend reading Dr. Amen’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, for everyone. Despite the cover looking like another one of those dumb self-help books, it is actually totally fascinating and really useful. I pretty much predicted the results of my scan with the quizzes at the end of every section. It’s also really interesting how much he has discovered about the brain, and he actually gives the images of some of the scans he has done to provide evidence for his claims.

They saw no evidence of Lyme in my brain, which is a very good thing. Medical Month continues with my colonoscopy in less than a week, which I’m super excited about (not). I have two online classes that are keeping me pretty busy, but our email is always open. And you can always send us a Facebook message, we love hearing from you all!

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