What is a ‘broken brain’ and how do you know if your brain is broken?
A broken brain is a brain that is not functioning properly. Sometimes it is quite obvious that a brain is broken-for example when someone has Alzheimer’s Disease and cannot recall the most basic things, such as their children’s names.
Much of the time, however when brains are ‘broken’, it is assumed that the problem is bad character, lack of will power, bad upbringing, or some personal failure. With our newfound ability to look inside the brain, using advanced quantitative electroencephalograms (qEEG), we now know that the reality is often quite different. In fact, we believe that a very significant portion of the so called characterological and or relationship difficulties are related to brain-based difficulties.
The following are actual (names changed) patients:
- Joan, a 56-year-old woman, has always believed that she was selfish, overly critical, underachieving, and “not enough”. She had difficulty concentrating, following through, and managing time and schedules. She was hypervigilant around others, and fearful of being criticized or making a mistake. These sentiments persisted despite many years of therapy, self-help books, and workshops, yet with great effort, she attained her PhD. While these endeavors did bear fruit, they did not change her underlying beliefs about who she was at her core.
- She felt ashamed of her negative qualities and worked hard to correct them, yet they always seemed to be present. Utilizing HYLANE technology (in her case, qEEG and hyperbaric oxygen therapy [HBOT] superimposed on a functional medicine program), we learned that she had excess levels of theta (5-8 Hz) activity in specific brain networks, as well as evidence of a traumatic brain injury, at age 28, which had never been identified as relevant, no less treated. With the gradual correction of the network abnormalities, she noticed an ability to concentrate, read for hours, manage her schedule with ease, and follow-through on her commitments. For the first time in her life, she feels at home in her own skin, with a sense of ‘groundedness’.
- She has been discovering positive qualities about herself and is now appreciating herself for the first time in her life, instead of deprecating herself. Her sense of selfishness has evaporated and she is able to take on new challenges, having lost her anxiety.
Clearly, Joan was labeled by therapists (and herself) as having a character disorder. As it turns out, what looked like a character disorder was a series of brain network malfunctions—“A broken brain.”
- Cassandra was a 45-year-old female, living with her sister. Formerly a very high functioning professional in the artistic field, she was referred to me by her psychiatrist, who had been unable to help her become functional.
- When she came to see me, I performed my usual very thorough functional medicine work up and found many abnormalities which seemed to account for the fact that she rarely got out of bed, would rage at her sister, and felt completely unable to attend to her own most basic needs, such as cooking, driving, or paying bills. These abnormalities would also explain the minimal benefits of medications.
- She was, at the time, on 8 medications and suffering from severe anxiety and depression, but very afraid of reducing any of the medications.
- After 18 months of treatment, I was remained unable to get her to implement the majority of the treatments she needed.
- My frustration grew, and I ‘secretly’ (of course she had to sense it) harbored the growing and unwelcome belief-that she did not really want to get well, that her problem was a dependent personality disorder, perhaps with self-destructive borderline personality organization. I began to doubt whether I could be of help to her and indicated that perhaps this was not the right approach for her.
Fortunately, I had just begun to use the qEEG at that time. Seeing her qEEG, not only was I astounded, but I realized that I owed her a huge apology. Her precuneus (self-awareness) was not functioning, the frontal areas of the brain (planning, organization, exploration of the world, context, and many other functions) was functionally disconnected from the posterior areas of the brain in the neuronal frequencies used for problem solving. She had a great deal of abnormality in the anterior cingulate (anxiety, judging what is ‘salient’), and overall, my notes say: “The brain is working very hard to no avail, to make the frontal areas function as they should. The biggest problem is that the anterior commissure is not doing its job.”
Seeing this, and reporting this to her, I was moved to tears of deep remorse. I had placed a completely unrealistic burden on her and labeled her as having a character disorder. We both cried. I felt terrible. This—my awareness and seeing the problem for what it was—a broken brain (caused by rotational injury in an auto-accident, and birth trauma), was the beginning of her healing.
Today, she is mostly off her benzodiazepines, reducing her anti-psychotic medication, up and about, initiating exercise herself, smiling in our sessions, no longer raging at her sister, and “noticing things about myself (precuneus healing) and wanting to make changes that I did not notice before. I am noticing that I am rigid, for the first time, and I can let up a bit. I am starting to wonder if the stimulants might be having a negative effect.” Her broken brain is healing, and her strong character is beginning to shine through.
We believe a very large percentage of the population suffers from a broken brain as a result of a multitude of factors including:
- so called minor head injuries, such as those sustained in football or while heading the ball in soccer
- falling out of bed
- poor diets
- moldy homes and dorm rooms
- chronic infections
- adverse childhood experiences brain functions are disturbed, causing various difficulties with day-to-day functions.
As one grows older, and the demands of school or life become more complex, limitations become evident to the person, parents, teachers and/or peers. The individual themselves then has to cope with these limitations, and nearly always will blame their problems, if they are self-aware, on ‘who they are’. While they may not be willing to say so, they develop a deep-seated sense of personal deficiency. By identifying their brain dysfunctions, and correcting them, the person emerges from their chrysalis, free to endeavor to live a satisfying full life.