I shared some information about the brain to a friend who in in BWS (Benzo Withdrawal Syndrome) and she asked me to share it here with all of you.
This is what I told her:
Put your hand in the air, palm flat, fingers pointing up. Fold your thumb across your palm then bend your four fingers down over it. You now have a working model of the brain. Your four fingers represent the part of the brain that sits behind your forehead. That’s your Prefrontal Cortex. It is often called the CEO of the brain, because it is responsible for what scientists call Executive Function. It is responsible for life and love affirming thoughts, decisions and actions.
Now look at your thumb nestled behind your curled fingers. That represents your limbic system. It’s responsible for keeping you alive, hence the fight, flight or freeze response it generates. One of the regions in your limbic system is called the Amygdala. You have a right and a left one. The right one in particular, is seemingly the culprit when we are emotionally triggered. That little baby, (which looks like an almond) stores all of our painful, frightening memories, and not just the events, but the feelings. (Personally I think this is a flaw in evolution, but God didn’t ask my opinion.) So we humans have a region in our brain’s whose job is not only to start the action of stress chemicals needed to help us run, fight or freeze when in danger, but to recall how frightened we were fifty years after the fact. Coolio!
Keep reading…. it gets even better.
Ok, so you have a region in the brain that is determined to remind you of your past pain, shame, guilt, fear etc. at the drop of a hat, and then you have a region in the left hemisphere of the brain that is in cahoots with your amygdala to seal the deal on your angst. That is your language region of the brain, call Broca’s area. It is one of the main areas of the cerebral cortex responsible for producing language. It works like this: you are in a situation that consciously or unconsciously reminds you of situation that felt threatening. You amygdala fires up, sends out the signals to your HPA axis to fire. (Hypothalamus, Adrenals and Pituitary) You are flooded with stress chemicals (adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol etc.) and you feel anxious. You suddenly begin telling yourself you are in danger somehow. Maybe you tell yourself you are no good, or that no one loves you. Or that your will never get things right. Whatever the message, it is usually catastrophic in nature. Your Broca area is creating language based on fear. You create a story in your head and you believe it. Thus you make your anxiety worse.
It’s hard for us in BWS to avoid being triggered because we don’t have enough working GABA receptors to suck up enough GABA to counterbalance the effect of the stress chemicals. We can’t be calm, cool and collected in most situations because Glutamate is driving everything. Glutamate is the excitatory chemical. So even normal everyday stress and strain is tough on us in BWS, because we don’t have enough receptors working. Most of us have enough GABA in our bodies from the things we eat, however, it swims around without any place to go so to speak.
We can help ourselves by doing a few things. First, eat super clean. Goes without saying that proper nutrition is key to healing. Learn to do 7/11 breathing. Inhale to 7, exhale to 11. that helps calm the CNS down. When you get triggered, watch your Broca area jump into action. Listen to the story it is creating. Detach from it if you can and simply observe. Know that you can tell yourself another story, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Try. Tell your brain thank you for doing its best to keep you alive, but that the fear and the negative thoughts are not needed. And then tell yourself a different, positive story. And keep telling it, over and over and over if you have to.
I talk to Amy, ( I call my right amygdala Amy) every day now. See, I know she is like a smoke detector set on super sensitive right now. Its like someone strikes a match and immediately blows it out and Amy is all over it, sirens blaring their urgent warning that somehow, I am in danger. Amy’s working hard on the job, but a little toooo hard.
Right now our CNS are like super sensitive smoke detectors. If you know that, you can hopefully keep calm as it shrieks during the day.
I know this all sounds very simplistic and on some levels it really is. We fall prey to our own story telling created by an area in the brain that is being fueled by an over sensitive danger detector.
One thing I do is to watch my use of the words “always”,” never”, “everyone”, “no one”, etc.. usually I am telling myself something pretty catastrophic when those words are in my story… like… “I will never heal.” “Everyone hates me.” “I always screw up.” “No one loves me.” You get the idea?
Someone wrote and asked how I keep a cheery disposition in BWS. I don’t always. Trust me. Some days I want to curl up and not face another day of this crap. But I know that the quality of my life depends on my story I create and believe. I am telling myself I am healing. And when the next terror attack comes? I will breathe through it and do my best to tell Amy thanks, but no thanks, and to grab the pen out of the Broca area and stop the catastrophic story. And when I can’t do that? I scream “Bring it fucker,” and let it wash over me.
Today’s wave lets me know that I still have a long way to go so I had better brush up on my coping skills. Amy’s not done giving me a run for my money yet. 🙂