Finding Compassion for a Broken Man

He didn’t imagine this for my life. He’s in his 40’s and walking back to his halfway house, after working a long day of construction framing. His body aches and his mind is screaming at him. He uses alcohol and drugs when he can, it quiets his mind. Yet he knows he will likely be drug tested tomorrow, so he walks past the liquor store with what little strength he has left. He gets back to his dingy room, the cockroaches hiding from the light. He swallows a couple sleeping pills and waits for sleep to come. Sleep has always been hard for him. It’s been 40 years and he still hasn’t figured out how to sleep, what type of man can’t fall asleep.

He’s being hard on himself again, that’s really the only way he knows how to speak to himself. While he remembers his past, he isn’t yet able to offer himself any compassion or forgiveness about why he can’t sleep now. When he was a toddler, the youngest of the bunch, he wasn’t able to protect his older sisters. He laid in bed hearing the repeated sound of a belt as it hit his sister’s flesh. His oldest sister would bawl so loudly, yet that seemed to end her punishments sooner. Then his mother would begin to belt the younger sister, and she never made a noise. Her beltings would last the longest. He would finally wet the bed and cry out. His mother would leave his sisters alone, now he was the one to face her pain.

Towards the end of her life, he would get to know his mother. She was a depression child, the middle of seven. After her father left the family, her mother had to try to keep seven children feed, which seemed like an impossible task. She gave her middle child away, to be a maid, for a household that had plenty of food. Over her entire life, she would only share one story of her time in that household, so what happened there would mainly be a mystery. Yet it’s evident to see, she carried a lot of pain, and it would leak out and effect those she loved the most.

Back to him though, he’s lying in bed with his noisy brain. Even in prison, he had better access to alcohol to calm his brain. Within a year in prison, he was a bootlegger, sneaking juices from the cafeteria and fermenting them in his cell. He was able to trade his moonshine for a little more safety in prison, and the alcohol allowed him to get some rest. Rest might be an overstatement, it allowed him to black out, more of a respite from his mind and his physical cell. He didn’t have alcohol in this moment, so all the memories of how he messed up everything in his life flooded his mind. How he and his wife were both been sent to prison for being marijuana farmers. His kids were in their early teens and drifted among family members, each suffering from their own trauma and not being able to provide his kids a home. By the time he got out of prison, his kids were adults, thus no longer needed and no longer spoke to him.

He had a temper, he knew that, he was far from the perfect man. When he was born, the trauma of his mother, already impacted his epigenetics. His DNA was methylated, which is actually a protective factor, if a human was born into a warring tribe, it was safer for us to think less and react more, this piece played into his temper. He spent his entire life reacting, no one had showed him a different way. The traumas of his prison life added on to the traumas of childhood meant he had a highly activated amygdala. His amygdala would take input anyone else would sense as beneigning and send him into fight of flight. What happens in fight or flight, is blood flow to the prefrontal cortex almost stops, this prevents the ability to empathize with another or even yourself (another reason he frequently speaks so harshly to himself) and shuts down logical thinking. It floods his body with stress hormones, so he’s ready to take out the threat in front of him, even when the threat is someone he loves. He has no way of sensing this, he’s flooded with cortisol and lacks blood flow to his prefrontal cortex. While it’s possible to demethylate his DNA, he didn’t know to search out for this, he keeps blaming, ridiculing, and torturing himself for not being able to act differently.

************************

This is my portrayal of a small part of my uncle’s story. A few months after this point, I’m 19 and visiting my grandmother and see him viciously lashing out at my grandmother. She got down on her hands and knees crying. He began yelling racial epithets, I never knew existed, at two of my friends. I held a bitterness and fear towards him for this event.

My uncle’s story does change. After his third DUI, his life begins to change with the support of his mandated counselor. He praises her frequently for altering the course of his life. He becomes the only family member of that generation who encourages me to take care of myself. He appears to release the manipulative traits he picked up as a child to obtain safety. He rebuilds the relationships with both of his sons. He’s in intense, chronic pain. He chooses to spend his money on their college education, instead of obtaining medical insurance and addressing his needs. They both get their associate’s degree and walk for their graduation on the same day. He then allows his son and myself to help him get insurance and begin to have doctor’s visits. They discover he’s already stage four cancer. He’s surrounded by his sons, nephews, and niece during the last year of his life. He’s healed many of his wounds, and supported us in beginning to do our own healing. I believe he became the man he wanted to be.


What’s the cause?

Recently on these two podcasts, Found My Fitness and The Drive, medical professionals discuss their new understanding of Alzheimer’s. My simplified summary of these podcasts is that we are now seeing that there are several subtypes of Alzheimer’s. These subtypes are actually unique diseases that all have similar effects, yet a unique cause. The scientific community seems to be aware of the following subtypes: the first is characterized by systemic inflammation, the second type shows reduction in support for synaptogenesis, and the third type characterized by environmental toxin exposure from molds or heavy metals. They even named another type 1.5, as it seems to be a mix of the first and second types. When medical providers thought it was only one disease, then the cures that were being applied were probably unlikely to apply to all types of the disease, as they had different causes. If someone’s Alzheimer’s is related to mold exposure from their homes, then reducing systemic inflammation via dietary intervention may have little impact. I’m wondering if we will see similar discoveries in mental health.

I think it’s likely that we will discover multiple subtypes of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. I think it’s likely there will be overlaps between the subtypes, such as the type 1.5 for Alzheimer’s. When I review studies on the treatment of depression (broccoli sprouts to support neuroimmune system, curcumin, transcranial magnetic stimulation) so many of treatments provide improvement for a portion of the people in the study, yet not one treatment provides benefit for all the people. Is it possible that the reason for this partial effectiveness is that there are many subtypes of depression?

What could be the causes of some of the subtypes of depression? My guesses are:

  • Distressing Beliefs
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Behavioral Patterns
  • Rigid Neuropathways/Default Network
  • Overactivity of Immune System/Inflammation
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Poor Gut Health
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Poor Sleep
  • Social Stress

When counselors are lucky, we see clients that are only suffering from depression that is connected to beliefs, emotions, stress, and traumas. We have the tool set to support clients in these cases. What happens when the client is suffering from multiple subtypes or a subtype that is outside of our professional lane? What if we started with interventions with the highest benefit and least risk, and find ways to keep these affordable for our clients? Could we partner with professionals in other fields and find ways to offer group consultations to keep costs low? A childhood obesity clinic offered parents group informative sessions by a nutritionist on dietary advice for their children. All the parents had a similar concern and they all needed similar support from the nutritionist, and the group information sessions made them more affordable.

As mental health counselors, can we build a network of providers that can affordably support our clients? Maybe a nutritionist, you partner with, offers a monthly class on nutritional recommendations for depression and you offer a class on distress tolerance skills or something else that would be supportive to her clients. These classes can have a fee and be a referral source. We could each have a network of many other providers from different fields.

When we have clients that aren’t responding to our tools, maybe it’s not because they are resistant, maybe it’s because their depression has a different cause.

005 Questions to ask when reviewing medication efficacy

Personal History

  • Witnessed people experiencing difficulty on and trying to get off of medications
  • Concerns about the efficacy and legitimacy of studies and some pharmaceuticals

 

When looking at studies

  • What’s a placebo? Nocebo – negetive expectation on treatment.
    • Placebos more effective in treating issues related to dopamine.
    • The larger, more colorful, or intense the placebo, the more effective.
  • Is there a control group?
  • Is the control group on an active placebo?
  • What’s the difference between the control group and the treatment group?
  • Have the studies looked at what happens when one tries to get off the medications? What happens when one tries to get off the placebo?
  • How long is the medication shown to provide benefit compared to the control group? Example Benezos may have a 2 week window of providing more benefit then what the control group receives.
  • What population is the study on? Do you match the population?
  • What’s the recurrence rate of the symptoms on the drug verses no treatment?

 

For the professional prescribing you the medication:

  • What’s their expectation for how long you will be on this medication?
  • What’s their plan on getting you off of this medication?
  • What are the risks on being on this medication, what are the risks when getting off this medication, and what are the long term risks of this medication?
  • What are other maybe more natural ways of treating this issue?
  • What’s the company that owns this medication policy on making public their studies, does it include loose language like “all studies will be considered for publication”? This could mean the company is hiding studies that illustrate ineffectiveness or harm.

 

Things to consider if you’re already on medications:

  • If you’ve tried to quit or reduce your dose and you feel worse, these may be signs of detox and not a sign that the drug is working and you need to stay on it.

 

Resources

004 What’s Your Autonomic Nervous System and How It Impacts You

004 Episode – What’s Your Autonomic Nervous System and How It Impacts You

This episode explores:

  • What is your Autonomic Nervous System
  • Stress Response Rollercoaster
  • What to do about it

Autonomic Nervous System

  • bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System, aka rest and digest system, conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity
  • Sympathetic Nervous System – activates our Fight and Flight systems

 

Fight, Flight, Freeze

  • The model that currently seems to represent the research and personal experience best is the Stress Response Hill, which I believe came from TRP, Trauma Recovery Protocol in Denver, http://www.loveandtrauma.com/map
  • Autonomic = involuntary, different activations, proteins in brain connected to triggers,
  • Reptilian part of brain responds first to threat
  • Evolutionary advantage, for those that responded quickest to threat, short term get to live, long term damage to system
  • Stress Response Rollercoaster
  • What the stress response rollercoaster looks like while hiking and what happens at each stage
  • What is looks like in life
    • Impacts on relationships, health
  • What’s the point in learning more about stress response and increasing the ability to ground yourself? It will allow you to access your pre-frontal cortex – the birthplace of empathy, compassion*, and executive functioning**, such as good better best choices. How does this effect us
  • guides you through experiential exercises so you can build up your strengths to walk through any fears.

 

003 – Free Will and Increasing Choice

This episode explores:

  • the definition of free will
  • will demonstrate how one may have drastically less free will than they expected due to what research is showing us in regards to physical impediments
  • and show how emotional fitness can greatly increase your choices/free will in life.

These concepts have supported my movement from retributive to restorative beliefs with myself and others. As other people make this shift, I believe the amount of peace and wellbeing in one’s life grows exponentially.

 

Introduction

  • Free Will – the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded
  • I used to believe strongly in Free Will a decade ago, thinking most people including myself had little restrictions on their ability to choose whatever path or response to a event that they wanted, this has drastically shifted with my exploration of psychological theory and research. www.SamHarris.org.
  • Some possible impediments in choosing one’s actions can include: genetics, epigenetics, environment, beliefs from others close to you, cultural aggressions, trauma, and health, including gut health and inflammation
  • The following will explore the above factors, their impact on free will, and how to work on one’s emotional fitness to increase one’s choice

Genetics Impact on Free Will

  • Our genes are doing their best to protect us, though we have a rapidly evolving world, what served to protect us 800,000 years ago verses 1,000 years ago didn’t likely change that much
  • Sensitivity/Anger Gene
  • Openness/Anxiety Gene
    • Study on how Genes and Early Environment affect Openness verses Anxiety: Grazioplene, R. G., DeYoung, C. G., Rogosch, F. A., & Cicchetti, D. (2013). A novel differential susceptibility gene: CHRNA4 and moderation of the effect of maltreatment on child personality. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 54(8), 872–880. http://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12031

 

Epigenetics

  • Helpful Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Epigenetic_mechanisms.jpg
  • Possibly trauma from 3 generations can affect epigenetics
  • The tightening of the genes can prohib beneficial/protective genes from being able to express themselves
  • Physical and Emotional Trauma impact epigenetics, quickening response times, this was a benefit in times of danger and war, now when in less danger, how can I let my system know that it’s safe to unwind
  • Warring tribe verses Peace Tribe
  • Natural Blueprint in your system to return to the best place for you, when removal of impediments.

 

Environment

  • Beliefs from Family of Origin
  • Experiences During Childhood
  • Beliefs/Experiences from Religion, Culture, Ethnicity, Neighborhoods, or Other Organizations
  • Amount of Affection, Stability, and Trust in Family
  • Level of Safety in the Environment for the Individual, Impacts of Aggressions and Microaggressions

 

Trauma

  • Small and large events
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Psychological
      • Michael P. Hengartner, Lisa J. Cohen, Stephanie Rodgers, Mario Müller, Wulf Rössler, and Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross (2015). Association Between Childhood Maltreatment and Normal Adult Personality Traits: Exploration of an Understudied Field. Journal of Personality Disorders: Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi_2014_28_143

 

Neural Pathways

  • Neuroplasticity
    • Mindfulness practices have the potential to improve attention, cognitive functioning, self-control in emotion, immune function, and well-being, while decreasing stress response. Mindfulness practices may induce neuroplasticity.
      • Hölzel, B.K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S.M., Gard, T., and Lazar, S.W. (2011).
        Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging
        191, 36–43.

 

Gut Health

  • “Gut microbes can produce hormones and neurotransmitters that are identical to those produced by humans.”
  • “Gut bacteria directly stimulate afferent neurons of the enteric nervous system to send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve.”
  • “Through these varied mechanisms, gut microbes shape the architecture of sleep and stress reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.”
  • “They influence memory, mood, and cognition and are clinically and therapeutically relevant to a range of disorders, including alcoholism, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and restless legs syndrome.”
  • Evrensel, A., & Ceylan, M. E. (2015). The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 13(3), 239–244. http://doi.org/10.9758/cpn.2015.13.3.239

 

Inflammation

  • Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Jennifer C. Felger*. Current Neuropharmacology (2018) 16: 533. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159X15666171123201142

 

Health

  • Hunger/Satiety Spectrum
  • Pain/Comfort
  • Tired/Rested
  • Hormone Balance

 

Impacts on Free Will When Viewing This on Others

  • I believe that each person is doing the best that they can in each and every moment, based on what’s impeded their free will, that their choice has narrowed down and their best action they had access to was what they did
  • Realization can allow us to see that unless a person takes action to change, they are likely to do the same thing again
  • It still means we are allowed to protect ourselves and set boundaries and consequences, we don’t say “oh, they are doing their best, it’s okay” if it’s not okay with you
  • Deep knowing that I would have done the same as they did if I had their genetics and history.
    • Personally this releases me of judgment of the other person, and allows me to evaluate if I want to offer restorative services and if so, what would that look like.
  • As a society, how can we support restorative services?

 

Impacts on Free Will When Viewing This on Ourselves

  • Release expectation of change until we’ve started working on the core issue
  • Knowing that you have done the best you could in the past, and to use this as data to decide how you want to work on yourself moving forward
  • It’s data for our starting points.
    • Personal example fear of heights

 

Weekly Invitation

  • Importance of questioning what we used to believe and is it still true
    • Petter Attia (https://peterattiamd.com/podcast/) frequently asks his guests what did you strongly believe in 5 years ago that you no longer believe, science is ever growing and changing
    • Dinner party question
  • What belief did you believe in the past that you no longer hold today? Think or journal about this, then share it with a friend, and ask them the same.

 

Comments

  • In the comments section, please share what was the most important idea you took away from this podcast?

002 Emotional Fitness Coach aka Therapist: Why would I need a Therapist & How to Choose a Therapist

Show Notes:

  • Physical fitness has many different avenues, such as body weight training, yoga, mountain biking; some avenues for Emotional Fitness include: Peer Group, Friend Group, Professional Lead Group, Individual practice with activities like meditation and other mindfulness exercises, Professional support, such as individual or Couples Therapy
  • Today focus on individual therapy
  • When a friend says they just signed up for a physical trainer verses friend signed up for a therapist – notice how does the response differ?
  • Is there a belief that someone’s broken if they go to a therapist

 

  • What can be the benefits of Therapy:

    • Increased choice, your ability to choose where you place your thoughts, increased cognitive flexibility
    • Increased productivity
    • Increased creativity
    • Increased memory & focus
    • Increased compassion
  • Positive Psychology founder Martin Selligman, former American Psychological Association President, newest book: The Hope Circuit
  • Research on effects of therapy and emotional exercises
  • Positive Psychology in Clinical Practice; Annual Review of Clinical Psychology; https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144154
  • Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2012, July 11). Evidence supports health benefits of ‘mindfulness-based practices’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120711104811.htm>
  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/psychotherapies/index.shtml
  • Altmann U, Zimmermann A, Kirchmann HA, et al. Outpatient Psychotherapy Reduces Health-Care Costs: A Study of 22,294 Insurants over 5 Years. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2016;7:98. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00098.
  • Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health, 13, 119. http://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-119
  • Why it’s important to be familiar with the process of finding a counselor? Life gets turned upside down as it can, it’s helpful to know you have professional support lined up.

 

  • Invitation of the week – Start the process of getting a therapist

    • Not everyone will have similar access, eg traveling for work, living in remote locations, finances; some options include: therapists in training, health insurance hotlines, resource hotlines, online program
    • Interview therapists – multiple, ask them questions, see who you feel relaxed and trusting around
    • https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/therese-borchard-sanity-break/questions-everyone-should-ask-their-therapist/
    • After choose a therapist, evaluate for treatment
    • When something happens, yet also building up the strength prior to things happening, if the therapist is full active clients, they will provide you with three referrals
    • If things get uncomfortable, this can be meaningful data
    • Are you still able to explore with proper form, one foot in present and one foot in past
    • Go for annual Checkup up – Gottman’s recommendation for annual evaluation
    • When you end treatment, tell them what you found most valuable in therapy and ask for what that modality was
    • Continue with the 5 sense mindfulness
    • Resources for finding a therapist:

    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): http://behavioraltech.org/resources/whatisdbt.cfm
      * DBT is a modality that teaches skills for being in effective relationship, gaining emotional awareness, and tolerating distress, in the present moment. DBT is offered in group settings, as well as with support from individual therapists.
      * DBT Youtube Channel with founder Marsha Linehan: https://www.youtube.com/user/BehavioralTech
    • EMDR
      * EMDR is a treatment for processing traumatic events. It can be offered by a separate clinician from the rest of your treatment.
      * EMDR “Consultants” have a higher level of training, that includes parts work, though what matters most is your relationship with the therapist and how much you trust them, regardless of their level of certification.
      * To find practitioners: http://www.emdria.org/?120
      * Francine Shapiro (creator of EMDR) on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsQbzfW9txc
    • Somatic Experiencing:
      * SE is body-based approach to healing trauma and other stress disorders
      * To find practitioners: http://sepractitioner.membergrove.com
      * Free videos about SE: https://somaticexperiencing.com/category/about-peter/videos-of-petre/
      * SE Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/somatics1
    • Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention
      * Link to finding regional groups: http://www.mindfulrp.com/For-Clients.html
    • American Society of Experiential Therapist (ASET):
      * To find practitioners: www.asetonline.com/therapists.html
      * American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA): www.adta.org
    • Dance movement therapy group can be the intersection between movement, mind and body, health and well-being.
      * To find a certified therapist or group leader, go to: www.adta.org/find-a-dancemovement-therapist/
    • Psychology Today: www.psychologytoday.com
      * Psychology Today is a great resource to search for therapists, group therapy, and outpatient and inpatient services.
      * There’s search features that allow you to sort by different specialties, modalities, insurance, and other options.

001 Emotional Fitness: What is emotional fitness and how it impacts your life

Welcome to Life Gym: Exercises for Emotional Fitness.
If you’re asking what is emotional fitness, I invite you to think of some of the benefits of exercising your body… I’m sure you can think of many, such as an increase in strength, mobility, and stamina. When we are physically fit, it can be more enjoyable to be in our bodies. Yet, how often do we exercise our minds? This podcast is an exploration of the exercises to make your mind a deeply enjoyable place to be. I’m Laura Wade, with a background in physiological counseling and a passion for fitness and I’m excited to introduce you to the world of Emotional Fitness
This first week is an introduction to emotional fitness, and explores breaking down the components of emotional fitness can lead us to being more realistic and gentle with ourselves, ultimately leading to greater growth and getting to our emotional goals with more ease.
Each week a new topic will be explored and provide an exercise for you to try in your life. Emotional and physical fitness are journeys, not one stop solutions. If you’re looking to make long term and meaningful changes in your emotional and mental well-being, listen in to this podcast, then put the exercises into practice. 
If you have found this podcast helpful, please subscribe and forward it on to one friend who can join you on the emotional fitness journey, fitness routines can be greatly enhanced with a workout buddy.
If you have any comments on this specific episode or to speak to others about the episode, do so at www.LifeGym.Blog.
  • This podcast is for you, the listeners. Please let me know:
    What topics you think would change your life
  • What are you craving to learn, test and apply in your life
  • What people would you like interviewed on this podcast
Send these comments and questions to me at: Laura@LifeGym.Blog
The podcast is for general informational purposes only, it does not constitute the practice of counseling or other professional health or mental health care services, including the giving of therapeutic advice. No provider client relationship is formed. The use of this information and the materials linked to the podcast and website is at the users own risk. The content of this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Listeners are not to disregard or delay obtaining mental health advice for any conditions or concerns they may have, and listeners should seek and are encouraged to obtain the advice of their own mental health professionals for any such conditions.