Living With Anxiety: How Neurofeedback Changed My Life

In July of 2018, I entered one of my worst periods of depression.

I have always lived a life full of anxiety: it is a constant, always there, like the hum of a furnace in a home. At times it’s turned up high and other times, well, it doesn’t run for months. But it is never uninstalled.

It’s been with me since I was born, like a twin sibling who entered the world as my partner. I truly don’t know a life without it. When I was younger, it was much, much worse.

I suffered from multiple phobias, intense sleep disturbance, and severe separation anxiety which often meant I would avoid universal childhood activities – things as simple as sleepovers. Though I was too young to know what they were at the time, panic attacks would hit, resulting in fast escapes from the schoolyard, my mind set only on the safe comfort of home where I would run to, praying my mother had not yet left for work.

Every day promised a stomachache. Doctors ran me through a checklist series of tests from ultrasounds to barium swallows. I ate a lactose-free diet for a year based on a ‘best-guess diagnosis’ – one of so many, all of them false.

Nothing cured what ailed me. Throughout the years, my “nervousness” continued, an uninterrupted plague of not only my body and mind, but my extracurricular activities, and yes, my reputation.

Finally, around the age of eight, I was sent for a psychiatric consultation, and thus diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

As I became a teenager, my panic attacks started to increase and intensify, and it was then that one of the many psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers I had seen in the years since my diagnosis recommended medication. At 13-years old, I started taking a common anti-depressant.

This life peppered with anxiety has been permeated by depression a handful of times; four, maybe five. This most recent episode was brought on by a severe spike in my usually very well-managed anxiety; a spike so tremendous I was barely functioning.

I reached for all the tools I had stored in my self-help box, like a drowning soul grasping for a life preserver. I told family and close friends that I was struggling. I went to my doctor and increased my anxiety meds. I went back to my therapist. I started a stricter routine of mindfulness and meditation.

This went on for months. By early October, I was not only still wading in the dark muck of depression, I was growing frustrated. I was doing everything I knew to do, everything that in the past had always eventually helped pull me out. The therapy had stalled in its improvements and sitting with myself in a state of love wasn’t cutting it. The idea of being mindful and sending myself love and compassion was a weak opponent against the historical ruler of my brain: anxiety. My mind grew tired, pinned down in my cranial wrestling ring by the negative thought loops that persisted.

Never one to delay in asking for help when I need it, I reached out to an acquaintance in an online group of international mental health advocates, of which I am a member. She is a therapist herself, based in Ottawa, and I requested her guidance. Upon briefly describing to her what I was struggling with, she wasted no time in offering up her advice: I needed trauma counselling; and until I got it, no amount of meditation or mindfulness would do.

I was taken aback at first: trauma? Me? Then I thought about it, and it made sense. Trauma can be big or small; one’s experience need not hit a high score to qualify. What matters is the result that follows, how one processes their occurrence.

Upon my request, she recommended a couple practitioners in the Toronto area. One just happened to be less than 2km from my workplace, so fate led me to her.

Her name is Suzanne, and she offered not only talk therapy, but also EMDR and neurofeedback. Prior to investigating her website, I hadn’t heard of either. Now, I can’t sing their praises enough.

I began seeing her immediately, twice a week at first. I was at her mercy, offering myself up to her completely: “Whatever you think will help me, I’ll do it,” I told her. I also remember saying to her that first day, pointing to the corner of her office that held the neurofeedback machine, “If you told me that would make me 95% better, but costs $20,000, I’d tell you I don’t care and figure it out.” (Note: it doesn’t cost that much!)

My benefits had been used up by September, but I was so committed to wanting to feel better, there wasn’t a cost to be put on my happiness, my health, or my life.

The story of my mental health and wellness journey is a long one, stocked with events and moments that I could share, that I could weave into another story to tell. Among the words of my experiences, I would wish for others to find comfort, healing, and hope. A light at the end of their own tunnel: a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, a voice that understands their own.

Neurofeedback changed my life. These are the words I choose to share. I get nothing for saying that – no cheque will arrive in my mail, no royalties bear my name. What I do get is knowing that perhaps someone else at frustration’s peak who has exhausted all weapons in their mental health fighting arsenal will find relief in a treatment I knew nothing of even four months ago.

After only 4 sessions, I felt a shift. I can’t explain it, and I can’t fully comprehend it. But I walked into her office for my appointment one day and when she asked me her usual question, “How are you feeling?”, I happily responded: “Actually, I’m good.”

I’m good.

– Courtney Taylor