I would really like to have my brain scanned. As someone with a big interest in psychology and neuroscience, I think seeing what’s inside my skull would pull everything together, put it into context, make it real.
It’s not that I don’t believe it’s in there, but sometimes it feels somewhat distant, the colour-coded textbook diagrams, the plastic models, you wonder ‘Is that really going on, inside MY body?’ I think a small part of me holds the irrational belief that inside me is just space, or machine cogs. All those instricate processes that I learned about in biology lessons, that can’t all be really going on. I get a strange enjoyment from seeing the outline of bones, blood vessels, tendons, and feeling like I’m getting a glimpse of the workings of this human machine. It does feel strange that it’s all happening, it’s such a part of me, yet I’m often so oblivious to it.
I took an open unit in anatomy at university and for one of our first dissection classes we formed groups and were given a cat’s head, instructed to remove the brain. So we did. And then it sat there, this little mound of grey putty, so fragile, on the sterile table surface. I’d never seen a real brain before, and all the diagrams and photos, it didn’t really prepare me for how flimsy and squishy it seemed, so easily damaged. And how all the different lobes, the cranial nerves, which I’d learnt to identify and label so particularly, they all looked the same, all rolled together into this bundle of grey mush. It seemed no wonder that a quick jolt to the head can do so much damage, when the skulls’s so hard and the brain’s so delicate. It seemed amazing that people don’t damage their brains more than they do already.
A couple of weeks later we were taken into a human dissection room, and shown real human brains. There seemed something quite profound about seeing this brain in front of me; here was the thing I was so fascinated by, so curious for. Here was the seat of it all, mood, perception, personality, behaviour, the essence of a person’s being, in this small, rippled organ. It really seemed incredible that so much came from so little.
I’ve remembered those days over the years and I continue to be intrigued by the brain, how it works, its’ mysteries. Working with stroke patients and later dementia, I’d see reports of CT scans, MRIs, and try and work out how the damage and changes detailed there mapped on to the symptoms I saw before me. I’ve spent a long time reading about other people’s brains, assessing and testing them to make predictions about structural changes in their brains, talking to people about their brains and the brains of people around them. So now I want to know about my own! (and I’d like a picture) Some people find that kind of thing a bit morbid or gross, but to me it’s really science in action and it’s something I can relate to.
My attempts to date to get an MRI scan (or other scan) of my head have not yielded any results. Scans are expensive (depending on the level of detail required an MRI brain scan can cost from £500 to several thousand I believe) and unless I happen to acquire a brain injury any time soon, I’m unlikely to get one on the NHS. My best bet is participating in some research. This also has the added bonus of contributing to the field of science (I know what a pain it can be trying to get participants!) and it may hopefully involve meeting some interesting professionals too. I do see clients who are being referred for a scan and often they have anxieties about what it’ll be like. it would be a bonus if I could actually tell people what the experience was like (i.e. how long does it take, is it a very small closed space, is it loud? etc).
Unfortunately I often don’t meet the criteria for participation. Taking psycho-active medication and having a past diagnosis of a mental health problem (both of which I have) are often exclusion criteria. I’m just not ‘normal’ enough to be a control! There might be a possibility of me being part of a patient participant group (i.e. where people with a particular diagnosis/problem are being researched), but often participants are recruited before particular clinics and I don’t think I’d count as ‘ill’ enough to be involved on those grounds! Very frustrating. But now I’m in London, home to several big centres for neuro-research, I hope I may be able to find an opportunity…
Also, whenever I seem to mention this to another professional, they say ‘Oh yes, I’ve done that, I’ve got the picture…’ WHEN is my turn?
I’ve signed up to the Kings College ‘Mindsearch’ and the UCL participant database. I haven’t heard much from either yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’ll post an update to this quest when I have some further news so watch this space…