My shift in mood was so palpable that my mate, Brian, noticed it immediately when I walked in our door. I touched his hand and, for the first time since we'd met, mine was warmer. I'd felt calm and aware after a seven-day meditation retreat in the past, and exhilarated after a one-mile swim. But mostly I'd oscillated between two modes--alert-but-clenched or relaxed-but-in-a-dream. I hadn't known how to be calm and alert at the same time, and I hadn't even considered that possibility as a goal. This stuff works, I thought. It isn't rocket science. Why isn't there a room of these machines in every school!?
To widen the research sample beyond my own experience, I recruited two friends, both self-diagnosed with ADD, to be fellow guinea pigs. One was Patrick Dougherty, a Minneapolis psychotherapist who'd taken the anti-AD/HD drug Strattera, with great benefit, but had had to give it up because of side effects. The other was my younger brother, Jonathan, a scattered, talented mechanic who lives in a trailer in the Southern California desert, surrounded by broken-down vehicles and half-finished projects, dreaming of designing custom cars from scratch, but barely making the rent.
All my adult life, I've stood on the sidelines, yearning to help or change my brother, much as I've wanted to change myself. When I told him that a neuropsychologist named Christine Kraus in nearby Canyon Lake was willing to give him 10 free sessions, Jonathan, a therapy virgin, shrugged and agreed. His last job, as a $10-an-hour truck driver, had ended in November 2004, and he was humping along, trying to start an auto-body shop in a rented barn with sweat equity, salvaged wood, debt, side jobs, junk, and dreams. "I know I'm smart, but my life isn't getting out of first gear," he told me on the phone. "You and I tie our shoelaces together and try to dance ballet. We're legends in our own bathroom mirrors."
Out of the Laboratory
In the 1970s, one of the few people intrigued by Barry Sterman's research was Margaret Ayers, an idiosyncratic young graduate assistant working in his lab. It was she who first smuggled neurofeedback out the laboratory door. In 1975, she secretly persuaded one of Sterman's technicians to build her an EEG feedback machine and lease the contraption to her. Much to Sterman's disgust, she then set up her own unsanctioned, one-woman show in an office on Wilshire Boulevard. The genie was out of the bottle, and nobody could stuff it back.