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books

I should have helped you

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We all have our stories. Right now I’m sitting in mine. It’s quiet around me, except the music I’ve put on. Music is such a good way to remember the past. You float back, letting the sound waves transport you back in time. There is so much in our emotional briefcases, everything from dreams that flew away and guilt that chained us. We also have drawers filled with all the things we should have said and done, but never managed to do. I recently read ‘the illegal gardener’, a lovely book where regret and guilt was one of the red threads weaving the plot together.

I read a quote that really touched me:

she could only do what she had the knowledge and power to do at the time.

Sara AlexiThe Illegal Gardener 

How often don’t we think about what we should have done, even when we simply couldn’t. We have no magical abilities that rights all wrongs, we have no crystal balls that we forgot to look into. We only have our developing minds, not yet ready to understand what we know today. Our brain still needs to grow, it needs to learn what happens when we stumble and fall. And most importantly, we need to learn how to get up again. We need to let the chains of guilt loosen, or we will never get where we need to go. 

http://pinteresPicture credit t.com/pin/203013895675785032/

 

I will not kill myself, Olivia

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Some people are courageous. They struggle every day to get out of bed, and find it hard to take another breath. Living is agony, and still they do. Some even find the strength to write about it, and inspire others in the process. Danny Baker from Australia, is one of them. I am impressed and sad at the same time. Sad because he has lived with one of the deadliest health problems, but impressed that he has managed to get through it at the same time as he has chosen to give hope to others with depression. I have included one of his personal posts, and do also recommend the book “I will not kill myself, Olivia”

Depression is a Liar. It IS possible to recover and be happy again – even if you don’t believe it right now

Posted by  in Recovery From Depression on January 7, 2015
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    One of the cruelest traits of clinical depression is that it can often make you feel as if there’s no way out. It can convince you that your despair is eternal, and destined to oppress you for the rest of your days. And it’s when you’re in that horrifically black place, staring down the barrel of what you truly believe can only be a lifetime of wretched agony, that your thoughts turn to suicide.

    In that moment, it seems as if it’s the only way out.

     I’m so glad I didn’t kill myself

    Unfortunately, I know that place well. I’ve been to that place where all hope is lost, where death seems to be the only salvation. Below is an excerpt from my memoir where I write about what that was like. It was April 2010, and at the time I was a 21-year-old university student and aspiring author.

    The days dragged along. This was the worst I’d ever felt. Period. There was no relief from the ceaseless dread. I could barely function. Paying attention in class was almost impossible. Studying was too overwhelming. I’d fallen absurdly behind. I hadn’t touched my book [that I was writing] in days. I’d quit my [part-time] job at the law firm, too – needed all my free time to try and catch up on uni. But there was never enough time. I was constantly exhausted. Drained of life. Depression sucked at my soul. My spirit withered. My goal for the day got broken down even further: “just survive the next six hours,” I’d tell myself, “the next four hours. Hold off killing yourself until then.” [At which point I’d tell myself the same thing over again.]

    I’d previously thought I’d get better. I’d always thought it true that hope and depression were bitter rivals until one inevitably defeated the other, and I’d always thought that hope would win out in the end. But for the first time in my life, I was void of hope. I honestly believed that being depressed was just the way I was, and that being depressed was just the way I’d be, for the rest of my life. And because I was so convinced that I’d never get better, there seemed no point in fighting my illness. Instead of willing myself to “hang in there” because I believed that my suffering was temporary and that everything would be better one day, I comforted myself with the knowledge that human beings are not immortal. That I would die, one day. One special, glorious day. Then I could spend the rest of eternity moulding in a grave, free from pain. You might be wondering why I didn’t just kill myself if I wholeheartedly believed that my future consisted of nothing more than excruciating misery. Well, first of all, I still was not a quitter. But more importantly, I didn’t want to hurt the people that loved me.

    “It’s not fair to commit suicide and ruin their lives,” I thought. “So I have to hold on. No matter how much it hurts me I have to hold on.”

    Hence why I drew comfort from the thought that one day I’d die and finally be free.

    When you’re that depressed, that insanely and utterly depressed that you genuinely believe you’ll suffer that acutely for the rest of your days, life seems to lack all purpose.

    “After all,” I remember thinking, “what’s the point in working, fighting, striving for a better life if I’m sentenced to one of chronic anguish and despair? There is no better life. There is no life outside of pain. So what’s the point in doing anything but waiting until death finally arrives on my doorstep and whisks me away to the Promised Land?”

    I was still studying, and I still planned on finishing my novel and trying to get it published, but it was more out of force of habit than anything else. My passion had been drained. My zest for life asphyxiated. I was like a ghost, just drifting through the ghastly days.

    “Shit! What’s wrong, mate?” an old friend once said when I ran into him at uni. “Perk up, brother!”

    I was shocked. One of the most well-known attributes of depression is that it is entirely possible – and very common – to suffer horrifically without anybody knowing. But somehow without realising it, I’d crossed the line from a place where I was able to put on a front and fool people into thinking I wasn’t depressed to a place where I was so sick that it was obvious to people I hadn’t even seen for a year. When I got home I looked in the bathroom mirror, and realised that I was staring back at a man whose eyes were exhausted slits, whose whole face shrieked of agonising misery. I was staring back at a man whose spirit had been broken, whose soul had been destroyed. I was staring back at a man who, for all intents and purposes, was already dead.

    As you can see, I was so convinced that I’d never get better. I was 100% sure of it. But after a while, one of the multiple medications I’d tried started to work. I started benefiting immensely from therapy. I committed myself to eating well, sleeping well and exercising frequently. And over time, I began to recover. Towards the end of that year and throughout 2011, I also made a number of positive lifestyle changes, and by early 2012, I’d kicked my depression for good. Ever since then, I’ve been feeling great.

    And I’m hardly the only person who’s recovered from depression. I’m just one of thousands – 10s of thousands – probably millions.

    Depression is a maestro at suffocated your hope, but countless people have proved that Depression is a liar. It IS possible to recover and be happy again – even if you don’t believe it right now.

    ~~~

    DIAL 1 Text Centred (1) 1000 bigIf you enjoyed reading this post, you’d probably also like my memoir Depression Is A Liar: It IS possible to recover and be happy again – even if you don’t believe it right nowRecounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression, I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise that they’re not alone – that there are other people out there who have been through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery – so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories – particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; being a perfectionist; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Lastly, I wrote it to give sufferers hope, and to show them that no matter how much they’re struggling, that recovery is always, always possible.

    Grab your copy here.*

    https://depressionisnotdestiny.leadpages.net/iwnkm-o/

    *When you purchase a copy of my memoir, you’ll also be invited to join the Depression Is Not Destiny Private Facebook Support Group. Additionally, I will donate 10% of my royalties from the book to my charity, The Depression Is Not Destiny Foundation, which helps people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it to crowdfund the cost of their therapy.

– See more at: http://dannybakerwrites.com/depression-is-a-liar-recovery-is-possible-even-if-you-cant-always-see-itblogpost/#sthash.lvtbqZcW.o4qBsLFM.dpuf

The sound of Knocking on hell’s door

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It was dark outside. She could see the lights inside the house, and she started knocking on the door. She knew that light was just part of the deal she would get if the door opened, but she did, anyway. Her knuckles hit the wooden surface, again and again. No one opened. She cried. She panicked. She screamed. But nothing helped. It was like dropping something in the sea, hoping that it would find its way back. It was a locked door, and even if the owners heard her, they had no interest of opening it for her. They had shut it for good, as they said they would if she didn`t behave better. She tried. She really tried, but in the end she failed. if-you-keep-knocking-on-the-devils-door-sooner-or-later-hell-invite-you-in-quote-1Now she stood alone in the darkness, sobbing and wanting to die. How could she know that there were other doors right next to this one? When you really want something, you don`t see what`s right in front of you, not before you let go of the past.

We all have our stories, our closed doors that we desperately want to open again. We want to feel the warmth of something that was, even if the embers have long died out. Ironically, it`s not always the good memories and experiences we want back. Sometimes we are haunted by a past that was full of sorrow, because it is familiar to us. We want the happy endings that never came. We want to turn back time and fix everything. I wish changing the past was possible, but it simply can`t be done. We can never change the past, but we can always change the future. We can knock on different doors, we can walk into a different house with real warmth, with light not stained by darkness. We can start new lives, and let the past rest.

Better in the end, surely, to distance yourself than to bloody your knuckles hammering on a door that would never open.images-11

Balancing Act

Knocking on hell’s door 

The locust effect

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Poverty. We know this word means suffering. We know it means a life of lost opportunities. But do we know the extent of this suffering ? How terrible it is to live under two dollars pr day? When I walk around in new clothes everyday, have an apartment I can sell and eat whatever I want, I feel guilty. I know guilt helps no one, so I try to use these feelings. By knowing about the state of things, I transform guilt to more productive energy. This is exactly the goal of the book ‘the locust effect’ by Gary A. Haugen. The author travels to all corners of the world to study and write about poverty and violence. He unveils the terrors of slavery, trafficking and general abuse that poor people endure. It’s a heartbreaking tale, but an important one too. By describing the life of millions through nightmarishly examples, the readers are forced to open their eyes. You can’t ignore the reality of so much suffering. There is no room for denial, no room for ignorance. 

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April Fool`s day

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This is Bryce Courtenay’s moving tribute to his son, Damon, a hemophiliac who died from medically acquired AIDS on April 1, 1991, at the age of 24. April Fool’s Dayis controversial, painful and heartbreaking, yet has a gentle humor. It is also life-affirming, and, above all, a testimony to the incredible regenerative strength of love: how when we confront our worst, we can become our best. This tragic yet uplifting story will change the way you think.

Bryce Courtenay about the  book:

“People kept telling me it would be a wonderful catharsis, but it was just like opening the coffin every day. The grief was extraordinary. I had to overcome it so I didn’t become sentimental, so that Damon didn’t become bigger in death than he was in life. And I had to take the contentious issue of AIDS and make an honest statement about it that is fair.”

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bryce courtenay`s site.

Book review

Quotes from the book

The philosophers and dissociation

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How we see the world, depend on our categories

Dissociation is a complex theory that is based on basic research and knowledge gathered from philosophers and theories from different disciplines. Sometimes we forget that everything we experience in the world, is a construct created by ourselves. I can give a little example of this from my personal experiences. Before I had my own car (a little opel corsa) I did often not “see” other cars as anything else than a vehicle who takes me from A to B. After I bought the car, I suddenly started to notice new things: I saw many other cars of the same type, and it almost seemed like the world was filled with little corsas. This does not mean that it was more Corsa`s there after I bought my car, just that I did not attend to the fact before. The “outer” world is still the same, but my world has suddenly changed.

My little corsa, before it "died"
My little opel corsa

 

Understanding in psychiatry

We also experience this in psychiatry. Where a doctor might see bipolar disorder, a psychiatrist might see the same symptoms as AD/HD, and therefore notice other things than the doctor might do. This will also shape how one tries to “treat” the same patient. Where one doctor might give them lithium for bipolar disorder, a psychiatrist who interpret it as AD/HD will maybe prescribe Ritalin. In fact, this happens all the time. Some patients have been given every diagnosis possible, but still not feel better. When I work, I feel that no matter if a person has bipolar disorder, AD/HD, dissociation they still need much of the same: The need to be whatever they are. I find one of psychoterapists main goal must be to help patients to live more in accordance with their impulses. In fact, many schizophrenic patients, still live with voices in their heads even on medicine, but they don`t feel bothered by it anymore. The same thing happens (hears voices), but since it is “okay” it doesn`t evoke a feeling of guilt and shame when it occurs.

 

The dissociation model as a tool in psychiatry

The haunted self by Nijenhuis

For me the dissociation-model has been meaningful in my work. I often see dissociation where others might see bipolar disorder or AD/HD. I am not against medicine, since I think it can be an important supplement IF the person taking them, believe it is necessary. Right now I am on a two-day course with Ellert Nijenhuis, who has written “the haunted self”. This book was one of the first dissociation books I read, and I immidiately found the theory meaningful. To sit here and actually hear him talk about his theories is very interesting. Right now he is talking about the background for the theory, and I will focus on some of those thoughts in the following paragraph

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Aristoteles

Aristoteles four causes as a background for understanding dissociation

  • A change or movement’s material cause is the aspect of the change or movement which is determined by the material which the moving or changing things are made of. For a table, that might be wood; for a statue, that might be bronze or marble. Where the organization IS
  • A change or movement’s formal cause is a change or movement caused by the arrangement, shape or appearance of the thing changing or moving. Aristotle says for example that the ratio 2:1, and number in general, is the cause of the octave. The structural dissociation of the personality, what we need to know about is there
  • A change or movement’s efficient or moving cause refers to things apart from the thing being changed or moved, which interact so as to be an agency of the change or movement. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter, or a person working as one, and according to Aristotle the efficient cause of a boy is a father. It needs to be organized
  • An event’s final cause is the aim or purpose being served by it. That for the sake of which a thing is what it is. For a seed, it might be an adult plant. For a sailboat, it might be sailing. For a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom. The most important, that explains the reason for the structural dissocation? The “I want” part. Spinoza: Everything that exist, wants to continue to exist. Why? We don`t know. It can be very frightening to think there is NO reason for living, and it can be easier to think that there must be something more, like a God. In the tv-show “All in the family” there is a episode where “Archie” sees God, as a negro Woman. He is shocked and in Awe. He says “I am sorry, I did not know that”. He did not really believe in God, but since he had no other way to regulate his feelings of uncertainty at that time, to keep his self-esteem alive, he sought something “outerwordly” that might give meaning.

  • Nietzche thoughts about consciousness and it`s relation to dissociation

Nietzche talked about our inner “needs”. One of those were the will to power. We have an inner need to control. He thought this underlying need was unconscious, that means that we did not always register that we had to feel in control. This is meaningful for every person who has at one time or another not understood WHY it is so important for them to not “loose” an argument. Have you ever experienced to have a argument with somebody you know, and finding yourself protesting against things you are not really against? Afterwards you might think: Why did I do that? I did not really mean to say those things. Why do we not want to be the first person that says “I`m sorry”, even when we as grown-ups see that it would be better to lay down the sword? In fact, this can sometimes lead to unneccessary powerstruggles in the outer world. The Cuba Crisis was one example of this. Being the first person to withdraw, left you vulnerable for attack. If it withdrawing first hadn`t been done by USA, the outcome might have been very different.

Neuroscience and dissociaiton

Panksepp, an neuroscientist interested in the unconscious mind, has studied the brain, and found that there are truly active areas in the brain, that we do not “register” in consciousness even if some other part of the brain has done so. The vagus nerve is the part of our nervous system that mediates the parasympathic and sympathic nerve-system. The ventral part of the vagus-nerve has become specialized in regulation social relationships. Those systems are complex, and will be written about elsewhere, but the point is that neuroscience can explain why we do certain things: Like defend ourselves. Normally we approach people close to us, but when a person has experiences trauma, confusion often develops, between the system that wants to approach (like our natural system would) and the system who wants to escape or “fight” to survive. To manage this confusion, a solution can be to dissociation these systems from each other. It keeps the conflict “away” so that the person can “appear normal (ANP: Apparent normal personality).


Nietzche
Nietzche

http://www.trauma-pages.com/a/nijenhuis-2004.php


 

What I’ve learnt

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We all have our periods. Funny how my need to write kicked in right now; As I’m sitting on a bicycle on the gym trying to let my body get what it needs. I Just read a post from brokenbutbeingrepaired, and it was good to finally catch up with how she’s been doing. I’m moved, again, by certain lives and battles. I feel the unfairness of it and how I wish fates like hers could have been different. I have Learnt to not be naive,

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I’ve seen how unjust some lives can be, and was hit by that insight again when I listened to Elizabeth Warren’s story. How cynical the materialistic world can be. Basically, in the United States many rich has gotten even more rich and the hard-working people have struggled to get ends to meet. As they try to hold pieces of a unsafe future together by working two jobs, the ‘fat cats’ get bonuses, tax reductions and other benefits. When politicians who believe in equality and the same rights do their campaigning, they must struggle against politicians who sponsor their campaigns. Insurance companies, banks and others, who have the money to hire top lawyers and lobbyists, can cash in even more. And then there’s all these stories: people who lost their home, their security and their hope. And who reads these posts? Who reads the books about unfairness and unjustice ? I don’t mean to paint the picture in just black and white, as I very we’ll know this is a simplification of a complicated reality. V

but honestly, I’m more curious as to what we all can do. All the people who’ve suffered and who’ve started to rebuild their lives. We all have our obligations, we need to be as healthy as we can be to be there for others.

I’m thinking all of this and so much more, as I’m threading away on my bike. I love my life, my ability to DO something, and I know I will smile inside every-time the wronged get up instead of letting chains of self-doubt weighting them down.

Five facts about reading

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At the moment I`m trying to buy an apartment, and naturaly have many butterflies fluttering around whenever I think about it. Luckily, I have my weapon of choice at hand: My audiobooks. You see, reading is the best antidote for frantic nerve-cells. Today, I finished “the examined life” and absolutely loved it (a brilliant therapist writing about his patients), and like expected it brought some relief from the pre-house excitement. It will come back, surely, but I`m fine with that. We all need a rollercost ride every now and then, don`t we?

 

Help for the helper

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Inspiration comes from a variety of sources

We have many great therapists in Norway, and through courses and education I sometimes meet some of them. It`s usually very inspiring, since they knit their theories together with their work in exciting tapestries. Last year we were on a lecture by a sden1156ltherapist called Per Isdal. He tried to help violent men, and told us about burn-out or compassion fatigue in that regard.

Yesterday we had a meeting were one of the lead psychiatrist at our clinic, talked about the same theme, and we had to fill out a questionnaire that asked about felt tiredness, stress and satisfaction with our work. Luckily I was in the “no risk” group, which I think comes from the meaning I derive from my work. I truly feel that I can help, and nothing is better than seeing my clients blossoming. To see them walking forwards through strive, and to be there when its extra rough, is an honor, and I try to remember that every time I`m afraid, have too much to do, or just think about everything that is wrong with the world. I also think that going to lectures and reading relevant books, has helped support my sanity and ability to help.

Help for the helper

I`ve read many good books this year, and one of them is “Help for the helper”. It is packed with quality advice and knowledge, and is also easy to read. P. Isdal recommended it himself, so I immediately ordered it and prioritized reading it. The ideas from the book were reawakened today, after reading “treating complex PTSD`by Courtis and Ford. I came to a part about sensorimotor psychotherapy, and it reminded me on features from “help for the helper”. I then remembered one of the sessions where I applied the theory, and wanted to share it with you. Some have said it would be good if I shared more from my clinical practice, and I want to do that, at the same time as I keep the privacy of my client and duty of confidentiality. 

My office.
 
We all have needs
 
We have thousand needs that we need to navigate around like a surfer who has to keep his balance in the waves.  Trauma-patients who dissociate find this harder than most: They can be immersed in something so intensely, that they forget to eat, be social or even sleep. When this happens a lot, the body and mind`s needs create a state of constant tension.
Most people know that balance is important; If we only eat sugar, we need salt. If we never saw white, we wouldn`t understand black. This principle of balance also has a name: Homeostasis. Homeostasis regulates a lot of the body`s needs, and also kicks in when people develop addictions and is generally alarmed when we start to wander too far away from the golden “middle way”.
When we struggle for balance
 
But what if this fine-tuned system could not work, since you had to keep needs separated to survive? For children who`re abused or neglected, it is indeed often necessary to ignore certain needs because having them is associated with danger. If neglect and abuse has been severe, they might split feelings, needs and actions apart from each other, and the machinery that once went smoothly, starts to misbehave. Many of them don`t register what happens with their bodies at all, especially after sexual abuse. It`s better to  float above the body and it`s feelings, than to experience and face the abuse. The only problem is: Some part of the body remembers anyway, and those parts also have needs.
Working with abuse is a lot about listening to signals from the body again, and that means that we have to explore memories and feelings that might awaken fright or terror.
How I used the book to help both myself and my clientsTo help my patients explore their own needs, I have to use myself: What happens inside me? What can I notice from their words and body-language? For example: When they talk, without  emotions about how they could not escape from a violent father, and at the same time raise their hand a little, I might say: “I see you`re raising your hand. What do you want to do with that hand? Can you complete the movement”? If they do, they might discover that they wanted to raise their hand, to protect themselves. By directing attention to this movement, and asking them if they could just do what they want, they might actually do just that and then feel better afterwards. Instead of frozen terror, energy and control starts to thaw up.shame
An example of an emotional reaction I often see with clients, is shame. It can for example come when they finally manage to say something that scared them to say. Their initiat reaction will often be looking down. They “shrink” together as if to protect themselves, and don`t meet my eyes. This is understandable, since their innocent gaze was met with hatred or ridicule before. Shame is many clients middle name, and I wish I could have been there when the mis-labeling happened.
Unfortunately, I can`t go back in time, but I can do everything I can to help them live the life they never had.
So there they sit, weighted down by shame and fear. I look at them, seeing the little child that never got what it needed. And so, softly I ask: Do you dare to look at me now? Painfully slow they turn their heads toward me.
Changing yesterday by being in the now
 
In addition to using their body-signals as a compass that shows me where they are and need to go, I also use my personal reactions to enlighten me about their feelings. I might sit there, and suddenly realize that I`m gritting my teeth. My reaction to this can be telling them about it. “Do you know what just happened? I suddenly find I`m sitting here with my teeth clenced”. A client can then look at me in surprise and say: “I do too!”
By being observant on what happens inside me, I actually help them realize what happens with them. It can be subtle things: That I suddenly breathe slower, or that I need to push my chair back, or maybe that I feel uncomfortable. When I get unusual reactions like, I ask myself like Rotschild recommends: What is going on right now? Maybe I have picked up on something they are feeling?
Working and thinking about this has been as surprising for me as it for them. It shows how easily we are influenced by others.
We are mirrors
 
Did you know that women who live together, start to menstruate at the same time? That people who live together start to talk the same way, and even change their gestures? Since we have mirror Neurons in our brain that actually repeats movements of others, we actually make it more likely THAT we move or do other things like the people we observed.
 8badc05312854ed310fbba54cb6ee6caWhen we see someone play the piano, some of the same nerve-cells for moving the fingers are activated in our brain as in theirs. When I subconsciously register that my client feel scared, I will “mirror” this and start FEELING scared myself, and often too a degree where my heart starts to speed up or my breathing starts to change. Monkeys who never showed fear toward some object, might actually feel fear for the same object later if they see another monkey react that way.
 
We are social in every way, and I must use my reaction to understand and feel what my patients do. When we both realize what`s happening, we can use the information to take a step back and do something different. We can slow down the fear before it spirals out of control, or we can realize anger is marching forwards, and calm down before we start to shout at each other. By repeating patterns like this, again and again, we lay the first stones of new knowledge that give clients more freedom to act in similar situations. Awareness means possibilities and flexibility, something that often lacks when “things just happen”. The extra bonus is that this also benefits the helper. By realizing where feelings come from, we lessen the risk of compassion fatigue and are more able to stay in the “now” ourselves. 

Turn on your right brain

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A rotating animation of the human brain showin...
A rotating animation of the human brain showing the left frontal lobe in red within a semitransparent skull. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is sometimes also included in the frontal lobe. Other authors include the ACC as a part of limbic lobe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Turn on Your Right Brain

This morning I sat down to write about how we can all learn to better use the right hemispheres of our brains-
For 30 minutes, I tapped restlessly
at a laptop. Nothing much happened, idea-wise. Flat beer.

Finally I resorted to a strategy I call the Kitchen Sink. I read bits
of eight books: four accounts of brain research, one novel about India,
one study of bat behavior, one biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and one
memoir of motherhood. Next I drove to my favorite Rollerblading
location, listening en route to a stand-up comic, a mystery novel, and
an Eckhart Tolle lecture. I yanked on my Rollerblades and skated around,
squinting slack-jawed into the middle distance. After a while, a tiny
lightbulb went on. “Well,” I thought, “I could write about this.”

The Kitchen Sink, you see, is one way to activate your brain’s
creative right hemisphere. Every writer I’ve ever met uses some version
of it, as do Web designers, cartoonists, TV producers—all “content
creators” who regularly face the terrifying thought, “Well, I’ve gotta
come up with something.”

If you’re not a content creator, wait a while. The 21st century is to
content creators what the Industrial Revolution was to factory workers:
In a world where information is superabundant, unique and creative
ideas are hot-ticket advantages both personally and professionally. More
and more people are finding more and more ways to parent, make money,
find friends, and generally live well by relying on creativity.  The
demand for creative thinking is both a challenge and an opportunity. It
requires us to use more than the logical left-brain skills we learned in
school. These days, we all need to get back into our right minds.

Brain-history

Historically, most brain science came from studying people whose
brains had been damaged. Depending on the injury’s location, these
patients had varying disabilities: If you lost one brain section, you
might be unable to do long division; wipe out another patch, and your
lace-tatting days were over. The famous Phineas Gage had an iron rod
rammed all the way through his head, permanently losing the ability to
be nice. One can hardly blame him.

People with left-hemisphere brain injuries may have trouble thinking
analytically or making rational decisions. Many with damage to the right
hemisphere, on the other hand, can still pass their SATs but become
unable to connect parts into a meaningful whole. Oliver Sacks wrote
about such a patient in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
This gentleman saw perfectly but could identify what he saw only by
guessing. If you showed him a rose, he might say, “Well, it’s red on
top, green and prickly below, and it smells nice…. Is it a flower?” One
day, while looking for a hat to put on, he reached for his wife instead,
perhaps thinking: “It’s familiar, and it goes with me everywhere…. Is
it my hat?” I’m sure this was awful for his poor wife, though it could
have been worse (“Well, it’s the size of a small house and it needs
cleaning…Is it my garage?”). But still.

For most of Western history the right side of the brain was
short-shrifted by neurologists intent on helping people think
“rationally.” Only in recent years have experts begun to laud the
creative, holistic right hemisphere. Interestingly, left-hemisphere
strokes appear to be more common than right-hemisphere strokes. Perhaps
we’re overusing our left hemispheres to the point of blowout. Or perhaps
illness is trying to nudge us back to the mysteries and gifts of the
right brain. Fortunately, we now know we can effect this change
deliberately, without having to survive neurological disaster.

In his fascinating book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle
describes how the brain reacts when a person develops a new skill.
Performing an action involves firing an electrical signal through a
neural pathway; each time this happens, it thickens the myelin sheath
that surrounds nerve fibers like the rubber coating on electrical wires.
The thicker the myelin sheath around a neural pathway, the more easily
and effectively we use it. Heavily myelinated pathways equal mad skills.

Train yourself with deep practice

Throughout your education, you myelinated the left-brain pathways for
thinking logically. You were prepared for predictability and order, not
today’s constant flood of innovation and change. Now you need to build
up myelin sheaths around new skill circuits, located in your right
hemisphere. To do this, you need something Coyle calls deep practice.

Deep practice is the same no matter what the skill. First visualize
an ability you’d like to acquire—swimming like Dara Torres, painting
like Grandma Moses, handling iron rods like Uncle Phineas. Then try to
replicate that behavior. Initially, you’ll fail. That’s good; failure is
an essential element of deep practice. Next, analyze your errors,
noting exactly where your performance didn’t match your ideal. Now try
again. You’ll still probably fail (remember, that’s a good thing), but
in Samuel Beckett’s words, you’ll “fail better.”

Examples of people engaged in deep practice are everywhere. Think of American Idol
contestants improving their singing, or Tiger Woods perfecting his golf
swing. I once saw a television interviewer present Toni Morrison with
the original manuscript of one of her masterpieces. Morrison became
slightly distracted, running critical eyes across the page, wanting to
make changes. She clearly can’t stop deep practicing. That’s why she won
the Nobel Prize.

Deep practice is hard. It makes your brain feel like a piece of raw
hamburger. It’s also weirdly rewarding, dropping you into rapt
concentration, yielding quick improvement, and (if you’re lucky)
producing good work. Here are some tricks you can deep practice to buff
up your right hemisphere.

1. Sign your name every which way.

My favorite teacher and artist, Will Reimann, was brilliant at getting his students
to use the right side of their brains. There were many squinty eyes in
Reimann’s studio, much neural myelination. Here’s one of his exercises:

Sign your name.

Done?

Okay, now things get gnarly. Sign again, but this time, do it in
mirror writing—right to left, rather than left to right (just moving
your hand backward fires the right brain hemisphere). Got that? Now sign
upside down. Then backward and upside down. Repeat this until you can
sign in all directions. Good luck.

2. Have a bilateral conversation. For this exercise,
take a pencil in your right hand (even if you’re left-handed) and write
the question: “How’s it going?” Then switch to your left hand, and
write whatever pops up. Your nondominant hand’s writing will be
shaky—that’s okay. The important thing isn’t tidiness; it’s noticing
that your twin hemispheres have different personalities.

The right side of the brain, which controls the left hand, will say things you don’t know that you know.
It specializes in assessing 4cd2b76c2fec5bf0ec61c12400830822your
physical and mental feelings, and it often offers solutions. “Take a
nap,” your right hemisphere might say, or “Just do what feels right;
we’ll be fine.” You’ll find there’s a little Zen master in that left
hand of yours (not surprisingly, left-handed people are
disproportionately represented in creative professions).

 3. Learn new moves. You need your right hemisphere
to move in an unfamiliar way, whether you’re learning a complicated
dance step or holding a new yoga posture. Or cutting your own hair
(actually, don’t—I speak from experience).

Try this: Walk a few steps, noticing how your arms swing opposite
your legs. Now walk with your right arm and right foot going forward
simultaneously, then the left hand and left foot. Is this difficult? No?
Then do it backward, with your eyes closed—any variation that’s
initially hard but ultimately learnable. You’ll master a new skill,
sure; more important, you’ll build your overall right-brain facility.

4. Toss in the kitchen sink. Time to push your newly
awakened right hemisphere into useful service. Think of a problem
that’s had you stumped for a while: Your preschooler won’t nap, you
can’t make yourself exercise, you need to cut expenses without
sacrificing quality of life. With this challenge in your mind, read a
few paragraphs in several totally unrelated books. Then relax. Play with
your cat, wash the dishes, watch the neighbors through binoculars.
Think of the problem periodically, then drop it again.

This process encourages eureka epiphanies, like those moments in TV
dramas where the brilliant doctor or sleuth gets the “ping” of insight
that solves the case. Your first few ideas may not be perfect—many will
be awful—but there are more where they came from. Once you begin
encouraging the right brain to churn out solutions, it will do so more
and more abundantly.

Turning on your right brain is a skill, one that grows steadily
stronger the more you work at it. Trigger the sensation of deep practice
by mastering any unfamiliar task, feed challenges and stray information
into your right brain’s database, and see new ideas begin to emerge. As
they do, you’ll move more confidently and productively through an
increasingly complex world. When I see you out Rollerblading, eyes
locked in a vacant yet squinty stare, I’ll know you’re getting the hang
of it.

 

 

 

 

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