Thursday, January 3, 2013

"The Day The Laughter Ended"

I was abandoned by a mentally ill mother at about age six months.  I was eventually reunited with her a few weeks later.  I was physically abused by an alcoholic step-father until age seventeen.  I received little, or no maternal support from my mother as she too was an alcoholic and mentally ill.  I was beaten with the buckle ends of belts, kicked with steel-toed boots, and forced to stand at attention for hours on end leaning into a corner. I was starved, deprived of water, and locked away in a darkened stairwell for some eighteen hours with only insects and heat to keep me company. All of this is told in my novel, "The Shade Tree Choir".

But... I survived

I graduated from college and received a post-graduate degree.  I am a retired physical therapist, author, public speaker, and the Cowboy Poet Laureate of Tennessee.  I am also an ergonomist, a comedian, and was honored to carry the Olympic Flame for the 1996, Atlanta Games. I suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety.  The brief glimpse into me and my illness may hopefully give you readers some insight into your own situations or may help you to help others.

Our Two Brains

According to one school of thought we each have two brains.  There is the 'Old Brain' which is comprised of the brain stem and cerebellum. It is often referred to as the reptile or lizard brain. This brain was the basic mechanism for our primitive ancestors even before the dinosaurs.  It is here that reflex responses arise, repetitive routines are stored (spelling, basic arithmetic, grammar), and animalistic attributes are remembered.  Fear, anxiety, drives for water, food, and sex are found in this part of the brain.  Experiences gained through trauma from we were small children are also stored here.  All of these experiences never go away.  Experiences we had as small children set up in what is called a neural pathway.  The neural pathway is a learned response to a situation - either positive or negative.  The neural pathway is also always there and never goes away.  Another trauma later in life can re-activate that pathway. Reaction times are some ten times faster in this part of the brain compared to the 'New Brain'.

The new brain is the cerebrum. It is about 2/3 of our total brain size and is divided into right and left hemispheres.  It is here that we learn language and motor skills, intelligence is created, personality is developed, and thinking skills are created as well.  An example of how the old and new brains correlate with one another is driving and talking on the phone.  Driving and talking on a phone forces us to use the cerebrum and reduces the activity of the cerebellum. The reaction times stored in the cerebellum are reduced by ten fold.  The reduced reaction time is why it is dangerous to talk on a phone while driving.

Ages 1-3 Set the Stage for Life

Literature review shows studies done by Professor Allan Schore from UCLA on postmortem brains of children.   He reports the brain size of children with little or no interaction with their mothers have a significantly reduced brain size.  In living subjects, these people have reduced intelligence, less able to empathize with others, may be addicted to drugs, may be involved with violent crime, and have high pre-disposal to violent crime.  He further reports that 80% of our brain cells will be manufactured in the first two years of life.  Any deficits will be permanent. The growth of brain cells is a consequence of an infant's interaction with its mother.  It is his opinion that during these formative years nurture and nature cannot be disentangled.

The neural pathways developed as children from abuse are powerful and deep in the brain.  They are ever-present but with treatment they can be kept quiet.  Traumatic events later in life can ignite them back to life, and a diagnosis of PTSD may be given. Therapy is needed at that point.  Therapy may come in the form of medication, talk-therapy, or a combination of both.  Other supplemental forms of treatments may include yoga, meditation, and exercise (among others). Overcoming PTSD requires your brain to replace old learning experiences gained through trauma.  The new experiences will be associated with a sense of calm and peacefulness. The brain requires blood through physical exercise.  It requires sleep and needs to dream.  The brain requires nourishment with foods such as leafy green vegetables, blueberries, walnuts, etc.  I would recommend you read further on 'brain foods' as there is quite a bit of literature available.

The downside for people with chronic stress or chronic depression, and PTSD is a lack of desire to exercise and they certainly do not sleep well.  I have been diagnosed with PTSD because of a civil law suit involving real estate. After nearly six years they dropped the case. During those six years they increased their demands to over $300,000. Our attorney fees cost us some $40,000.  This event created in me, a return to the abusive years as a child. I re-activated my neural pathway. During this same time frame, I took a new position as a clinic director.  The stress of meeting corporate demands, long hours, employee problems, etc. combined with my law suit had my neural pathways fully charged.  I felt like I had no control in my life and was locked away in the trunk of a car being driven around awaiting an execution.  If you take any abused child - now an adult, and take away all control over his/her destiny they will implode or explode.  Something will happen. I tried to hang myself!  Thank, God it did not happen! I was unable to pull myself up to the attached rope in the attic because of a painful shoulder.  This selfish act of mine changed my life.

I quit my job earning six figures.  I sought medical help.  I now have a mission to help strangers who suffer from PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders.  I write about it, I tell others my story, and I make myself available to any and all.  The stigma of being mentally ill must be changed worldwide. Child abuse must be addressed. Insurance coverage for mentally ill people must be addressed. Parenting skills for teenage mothers must be addressed.

If you chose to read my novel, "The Shade Tree Choir" you will learn my real life story as a child.  While I was a prankster and drew people to me because of my laughter and humor, inside the laughter died at a very young age. 

My next Blog will cover how our thoughts help determine our behavior.  I would refer you to an excellent source on the internet.  Rebecca Anhalt has valuable information on this very subject.  I will be quoting from her Blog.  Her site is

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The Shade Tree Choir Book Trailer