15 May 2012

I Went to See a Man About a Dog...

It's taken me a while to be able to write this, and even now I don't quite know where to begin.
Two weeks ago I went to see a Man about that Old Black Dog that's been hangin' round for so long... and for the first time in my life, I understood myself, and why I am the way I am.

That's pretty huge.
The man was Ray Andrews, a Temperament Therapist who lives and works in Coffs Harbour, NSW. People from all over the world come to see him and be helped by him.
Before Ray even talks to you, there are forms to fill out, questionnaires and surveys galore... so by the time Ray shakes your hand and you sink into his grey vinyl armchair, he can tell you what goes on in your house every day. He's never met you but he knows you.

It's uncanny. Me and Mr G sat there as Ray described the way we relate, the "discussions" we have, and who we are down to a T.
With my jaw dropping, I asked him, "Did you put a camera in our bedroom?"
Ray laughs. People ask him that all the time.

Ray has made a study of temperament, and neurology. He attends lectures and forums for neurologists and psychologists and he described to me, in a way that made sense for the first time, what's been going on in my brain.

Ray drew me this picture...

On the left we have a healthy tree, representing the neurological connections in a healthy brain (dendrites).
On the right we have my shriveled up tree, with all it's little branches fizzled and frazzled.

Under prolonged stress* the dendrites in my brain have been damaged.
1400 different chemical reactions flood my body every time I am stressed and my dendrites have become more and more shriveled.

My poor brain frantically sends messages between dendrites, but they no longer connect properly, so the right chemicals (especially serotonin) don't get released.
Instead, my brain gets overloaded with adrenaline and cortisone - the "fight-or-flight" chemicals.

In the end I can't cope with stress of any kind. My brain acts like a deer in the headlights, my thoughts refuse to flow. I panic, get anxious, can't make decisions and at times, simply can't function.

The result of dendrites shriveling is:
  • Depression
  • phobias
  • panic attacks
  • fatigue
  • lethargy
  • exhaustion
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • loss of creativity
  • headaches 
  • memory loss. 
I experience every single one of these except phobias.

Anti-depressants do not fix the problem. As Ray says, they only "stop the leak" of any more serotonin.

In the past, doctors thought that once dendrites get into this state, they could never be repaired.
But new research has shown that the dendrites can recover and grow new connections, given the right conditions.
I can get my brain healthy again, and one day be able to come off the antidepressants.

The right conditions? A calm stress-free environment.
{Hahahahaha. Anyone else see the irony here? This will take MAJOR WORK!}

This is only the beginning of what I learned. The next part is completely revolutionary for me.

The Pendulum.

Based on my answers on one of the surveys, Ray showed me this diagram, and in doing so, read me my life.
The pendulum swing applies to people who scored high in a particular Box; approximately 2% of the population will identify with it.

We start out overcommitted, considerate, giving, serving; we work hard, we volunteer for things, we are people pleasers.

But the pendulum swings when we push ourselves too hard or too far. We exceed our ability to perform. We can begin to feel used. The pain of our past and the things we deep-down believe about ourselves resurface under pressure.

Suddenly the over-achieving people-pleaser becomes dependant, selfish, negative and self indulgent.
We fell rotten so we indulge ourselves with things like food or alcohol. We try to fix how we feel by spending money or changing our environment. We withdraw, disappearing into books, TV, the internet. We get Bitchy. (Ray's word, not mine)

Which of course makes us feel really really guilty (because we want to please people and have them like us) so we spiral down into depression, moods and self-hate.

Until we reach the point where we pick ourselves up by our bootlaces and decide to work harder, be nicer, give more... and the cycle starts again.

This has been my life.
For so so long.
Yes, even the "Bitchy".
This is why I always end up back in a hole.
This is a weakness I have. A temperament predisposition.

Discovering this was only the beginning of what I learnt and will continue to learn, I am going to continue working with a lovely counselor here in Auckland who uses Ray's model.

Ray said to me as I was hugging him goodbye, Now there is Hope and there is Help.
And I replied, Because there is help, I can finally have hope.

{Does this sound familiar to anyone else?}

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