In our bi-weekly Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.

QUESTION

OK, yes & Now My Question is.:…Just How, How, HoWw in the HeLL am I ‘Sposed 2 Ever STOP Coughing, & Yes Again, Just as I’ve Been Coughing Constantly as HeLL. & Truthfully I’ve been Coughing ALL Crazy ‘N Shit Just Like This, for Over 13 Long AssD G’Damn Years too. OK, OK, Don’t ya Know, tho’?

As Yes About 14 years Ago, I had Suffered through an ExtremeLy Traumatic Brain Injury, Ps. OBV ONLY After Getting Hit over My G’Damn Head 27 to 33 Times Full-Force with a Ma’F*ckin ‘CrowBar’.!! Immediately after that traumatic Instance, I was then Simply StucK in a G’Damn COMA for three and a half months. Immediately after Awakening, I was Confined 2 a WheelChair for the Next six to eight months, while being told by ohh so very many, Many Different Doctors that Yes Sir, I Better get used to this Chair, just As Yes, OBV I’ll Be Spending the Rest of my Life in that Chair.

But,BoY, Boy Ohh BoYyy They’d Clearly Never Met a Man Like Me…Mr.Bobby James. I’m Quite a very Miraculous Man, I am, I Am. OkOK but Yes so anyways to get back to my Point…..I STILL CanNOT STOP Coughing for the F*ckin Life of Me. So Yes,, now plz, Plz, Please Tell Me SomeOne SomeWhere Out There Has ANY Kind of Idea to TRY ‘N HelpMe, I’d just Ohhh So Far, Far, FAR Beyond GREATLY Appreciate it.

Yes I Do Mean, AbsoLuteLy ANYTHING you May Think Even COULD POSSIBLY Work for Me too Plzz.?? Thank You, Thank You, Yes Thank You Very, Very Much for Any Help you can Possibly Give Me, I’ll Clearly & Yes Far Beyond COMPLETELY LoVe YOU 4 the HeLp.?…ThanX Again too….Ciao, Ciao..

Bobby, 32, Canada

ANSWER

Greetings Bobby,

Thank you for writing in with your question. I must say, you do have a way with words! My guess is that you’re probably a pretty memorable individual.

I’m sorry to hear of the incident that has left you in your current condition. If I understand correctly, you’ve been coughing for more than 13 years, after suffering from a traumatic brain injury, and you’re seeking any type of help that you can find to help stop the coughing.

Traumatic brain injury is obviously one of the most complex and perplexing conditions a person can have. The main reason for this is because there’s still so much of the brain that we simply don’t understand.

For example, it was previously thought that once the brain developed, that was it—no further development could occur. It was also an accepted belief that once brain cells “died,” the brain was incapable of generating any new brain cells.

Neuroplasticity

We now know that this isn’t the case. Neuroscientists have discovered a process called neuroplasticity, in which “neuro” stands for “neuron.” Neurons, as you may know, are the nerve cells in our brains and nervous systems. “Plastic,” in this case, stands for “changeable, malleable, modifiable.”

MedicineNet defines neuroplasticity as, “The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.”

There’s a really good book about neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge, M.D., called The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, which can be found online. I highly recommend this book. There’s also an excellent documentary on YouTube that you can watch here.

Let’s explore some possible ways to treat this

While I don’t know the specifics of your case, I believe there are some avenues you should explore in trying to treat your affliction.

As stated above, the brain does possess the ability to reorganize itself. Basically, this means that when an area of the brain is injured, another part of the brain may assume responsibility for its activities, allowing the individual to regain some of the lost abilities experienced as a result of injury.

The brain’s abilities in doing this are obviously limited. At the same time, its abilities to do this are far greater than previously thought.

Are the coughs nonstop?

I believe one of the most important questions in trying to develop a treatment for you is whether the coughs are nonstop, without any cessation or relief, or if there are any times when you experience some relief from the coughing (even if it’s while you’re asleep).

If there are any times when you experience relief, then a very thorough, detailed investigation needs to occur for you to try and identify what circumstances are providing you some relief from the condition. Below, I’ve outlined what a treatment plan for your symptoms might look like.

Identify brain activity when not coughing

I’ll assume that you’re able to experience some relief, however brief it may be, at various times. The goal, then, is to identify how your brain functions during those times of relief, and if that differs from your brain activity when you’re experiencing the cough.

This can be done through wearing an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that records your brain activity and other bodily activities. While wearing this, you’d be able to record the times when you had relief from coughing. If needed, someone else could also record any times during the night that you experienced relief while sleeping.

Again, the initial goal is to try and discover if a specific brain pattern can be identified during the times of relief. After wearing the EEG machine and cap for about a week or so, you’d then turn the recorder and your notes in to a physician. The physician would then compare the times of relief to your recorded brain activity during those times, in order to try and identify common brain activity.

If certain brain activity could be identified, that information could then be sent to a specialist in biofeedback or neurofeedback. The specialist would examine the brain activities experienced during times of relief and develop a treatment with the aim of getting your brain to continually operate in the manner associated with relief.

See how you’re able to affect your brain activity

To accomplish this, you’d be asked to come in for sessions during which you’d be connected to a biofeedback machine that would record and display your brain activity in real time. You’d then be able to visually see how you’re able to affect your brain activity while trying to get your brain to operate in the manner that provides relief.

This can be a difficult and frustrating experience at first. However, the more you work at it, the easier it’ll become to influence your brain activity and achieve the desired pattern that provides relief from coughing.

This treatment has been proven successful in helping individuals maintain certain brain functioning patterns that produced relief from various other symptoms. Therefore, I believe this is an approach that could prove very beneficial for you. I think that giving a person the ability to visually see the affect they’re having on their brain is a very powerful intervention, and this would be the first approach I’d suggest.

Hypnotism and mindfulness meditation

However, what if you truly don’t experience any identifiable times of relief from coughing? If this is the case, I’d then suggest trying to find someone well-versed in interventions such as hypnotism or mindfulness meditation to help you explore any possible altered states that may provide relief. If a helpful intervention can be identified, then the approach above with the EEG recorder would again be my recommendation.

People relaxing in savasana during Yoga class - Psychological & spiritual therapyYour drive and determination have helped you overcome a great deal in your life. My hope is that the above information provides you with some direction that’ll allow you to continue to push forward and work towards your optimal health.

– always abiding – Jack


image 1: Cough by Thom Chandler via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); image 2: teakwood (CC BY-SA)