During stressful times, I stay on target with my goals by using a toolkit that most people don’t know about. It’s a toolkit that has helped rewire my brain, so the more I use it, the easier it is for me to stay on target. Because of this, it’s self-reinforcing. It’s turned me into an increasingly positive person who can turn around anxious or depressive thinking patterns in a way the old me could have only dreamed about.
I spent the first forty years of my life stuck in the trauma of adverse childhood experiences. I had lots of strikes against me, things like ADHD and PTSD, which weren’t understood or treated back then, especially not in little girls. By the time I hit forty, it felt like my life was over. I was in chronic pain, exhausted all the time, had fibromyalgia, constant eye strain, and frequent migraines. I felt like I was eighty. I was married, with two young children. I’d started writing, first children’s books, then a novel, but it felt too hard. Life felt too hard.
I’d long been ignoring my intuition because I didn’t want to hear its message: I was deeply unhappy in my marriage. I finally understood that I had to listen to that gut sense–even if I didn’t like its message–because ignoring it meant inflammatory neuropeptides were being stockpiled in my body. The more I listened to my intuition, the more it chimed in. I paid attention to unusual repeating patterns, so if three people randomly mentioned something I’d never heard of, I’d look into it. By doing that, I was led to therapies that have helped heal my mind and body and allowed me to express what was hidden within me all along.
First, I needed help with my vision: I had a problem with distance convergence–my eyes couldn’t team well if I was looking at objects over ten feet away. The brain needs three primary reflexes to be properly integrated in order for us to have automatic 3D vision, and being raised in stress or trauma can derail that. For those, like me, who don’t have it, the cortex steps in and approximates 3D by rapidly cycling back and forth between the input of the right and left eyes. An estimated 30 million people in the US have this problem so badly that they can’t enjoy a 3D movie, even though some of them have 20/20 vision. Most of them are unaware of what they are missing out on because it’s all they have ever known. Prism glasses and vision therapy can help free up the cortex so we can have more capacity for executive-level thinking. If you think you might have a similar issue, you can find an optometrist who specializes in vision development near you at covd.org. So many people give up on reading as they age because it puts them to sleep; prisms and vision therapy can fix this problem.
Second, I had weaknesses in brain development because of the stress of my childhood. Interactive Metronome, a research-backed computer program that develops synaptic connections and can be used to grow specific regions of the brain, (which also helps people recover from ADHD, reduce autistic spectrum symptoms, stroke, and Parkinson’s, as well as improve test scores) allowed me to strengthen my brain and increase its processing speed. If you or a loved one have weaknesses in brain development or have had a traumatic brain injury, Interactive Metronome can help. Look for an Interactive Metronome provider near you at interactivemetronome.com.
Third, I needed help to repattern my unconscious programming. Our unconscious minds are fully mature at the age of seven, and our conscious minds begin developing at that point. Traumatic childhoods can give us overreactive automatic programming. Brain Gym and PanHarmonic Healing (PHH) help calm these overreactive pathways. Brain Gym is an educational kinesiology program used in schools. It helps improve how we use our mind, muscles and energy in the body to optimize learning. PHH uses specialized acupressure to identify and release held emotions. Seeing a therapist who combined these two kinesiologies allowed me to stop being stuck in repetitive emotional loops. Learning these therapies for myself gave me tools to use whenever life got hard, often daily, so I could reset myself into higher level thinking rather than being constantly derailed by fight/flight or freeze responses. These two tools have helped me reprogram my unconscious. Find out more about Brain Gym at braingym.org and PHH at panharmonic.com/evolve.html.
Fourth, I’ve needed Jungian therapy that’s body-centered, combined with active imagination, and Sandplay therapy in the style of Carl Jung and Dora Kalff to help make sense of all the changes going on within my unconscious mind. One of the most important tools I’ve learned from my therapist is how to stay present in the body during stress to avoid going into an unconscious survival pattern. It’s by paying close attention to my body’s sensations that I avert an unconscious programmed response. Every time I avoid using an automatic response, the less likely I am to use it in the future. If you’re interested in Jungian therapy or sandplay therapy, you can find them at iaap.org and sandplay.org. If you’re lucky, you might find a Jungian therapist who does both, like I did. If you’re open to journaling, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is a great start, whether you think you have an artistic bone in your body or not. Try her morning pages exercise.
Doctors have realized since the 1990s that adverse childhood experiences can impact our health for our entire lives until the residual trauma is dealt with. Without intervention, these experiences can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, weight gain, autoimmune illness and heart disease in adults. Researchers developed the ACE test in the 1990s for us to be able to get a sense of how impacted we are by our childhoods. The test is available for free here.
Knowing our ACE test score can help explain why we need to change, as well as motivate us to start. If you’re up for it, check in with yourself. Is there something, some internal body awareness or knowing, that you’ve been trying to ignore? If you avoid emotions and are stressed or in poor health, why not build on your existing toolkit so you can develop more resilience?
If my results are typical, the best times of your life are just waiting for you to claim them. Reach out for the brass ring. You deserve it.
Elizabeth Gould is the author of Your Best Health by Friday: How to Overcome Anxiety, Depression, Stress, Trauma, PTSD, and Chronic Illness (Rincon Star Press, November 2017, available at lulu.com and amazon.com.) Elizabeth is the founder of Right Brain University. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.