Just say, “NO”. 

How many times have you taken a day off and said, “today is my day”. And then you pick up your phone…. And the day is no longer yours. In order to have time to give away, you need to make time to get away. 
We live in a world of busyness. REST is just missing a few letters to read as STRESSED. We add too much to rest and then it becomes stress. Stress is DEADLY. Many evidenced based studies show the negative impact of stress on our life. Rest is the easiest cure yet we never get enough. 

We need rest. Sometimes when we get away from everything we take a vacation and we take our friends with us. This is not getting away from everything. This is taking your life with you and you are not truly getting away from it all. There is a difference between traveling and vacation. 

So many times, we find our identity in our work. This is not who we are. The problem is that we feel as though people need us. That’s just it. People don’t need us. Everyone is replaceable. That’s life. We can give more of ourselves when we are fulfilled and recharged as opposed to just being and constantly draining ourselves. How can you be inspiring and of use to somebody if you are no different and no more passionate than before, because you never stepped away to learn more and get rid of the old and allow yourself to receive the new. 
On the 7th day of creation, God rested. How in the world do we think that we don’t need what God wanted. We need rest. Sometimes we need to simply learn to just say, “no”. …. And when you say, “no”….. Be okay with it. Otherwise the stress from your regret or saying “no” will eat you alive and ruin your rest. Set boundaries in your life. 
We live in a world that doesn’t stop. We work so much and push ourselves so hard that we are literally killing ourselves. 

You don’t have to have the answer for everyone, everytime, everywhere. Take time for YOU. 

Murder/Suicide: Fate of our friend in Chicago

How do we process this?

 

In light of the recent tragedy, in the death of one of our fellow Couchsurfing hosts, (name protected) I thought I should shed some light on the background of the situation. Many are in shock over this incident and reasonably so. To see the Headline “2 dead in a Murder/suicide on Chicago’s north side” would not phase most. However, when you continue to read and you find that it was a friend, the element of shock settles in.

After staying at his place last year, I gave him a copy of my autobiography. After reading my story, He opened up to me about his background and I began to mentor him, as part of what I do. With the background He gave me, I can’t really say that I am shocked that he committed suicide, however the murder part was more of a surprise to me, although, with suicide comes desperation. I do remember one conversation  when we talked about our suicidal attempts in the past, he said that if he ever killed himself he would want to take all of his enemies along with him if was going to kill himself anyways. I understood the line of thinking, even though it wasn’t rational to most. This was over a year ago.

He was an interesting character to say the least. If you ask many who knew him, you would get many different opinions. Like everyone else, he had a story in life. His childhood was not the greatest. He went through much suffering as a child and young adult that most would never understand. He faced setbacks and challenges put before him the best that he could. He did what most of us who have been through tough times did, he survived. As an adult, after several life changes, and life decisions that brought him to where he was in Chicago, He came to a crossroads in hos life. He decided that his life was going nowhere and that his alcoholism was gong to get the best of him eventually. He had most of his “community” in online forums and blogs, where people understood him. He came across couchsurfing.org and that began the new chapter in his life.

He opened up his home to men and women from all over the world to stay for days and sometimes weeks at a time. The culture of Couchsurfing is that of helping each other out and experiencing new places and learning about new people. Each person who is a Couchsurfer has a different reason for why they are a part of that community. For him it was a unique reason. He had come to the place in his life where he needed a reason to wake up in the morning, and hosting Couchsurfer’s did just that. It gave him a purpose in life.

He began hosting multiple people at a time. People from all over the world wanted to come visit Chicago so he was busy EVERYDAY! When he had guests stay, it gave him a reason to keep his house “clean” and it gave him a reason to make food- most importantly it forced him to stop drinking everyday- which was one of his greatest struggles. To host surfers was a form of accountability on his journey to freeing himself from alcoholism. His great depression that he faced was easily forgotten about as he had joyful, new faces in and out of his home all the time. With each new person brought new stories to Michael’s world. He began to hear about journeys that others took and he began to gain perspective.

It can be argued whether this was a healthy coping mechanism or not. Couchsurfing was to Him as drugs are to addicts. It was an addiction. His “power hosting” became a race and a point of contention in many threads. He would take pictures of his guests and post them in groups to share with people how many people he hosted each night and what his new tally of Couchsurfer’s was. He began to cling too tightly to the numbers aspect of it and lost focus of what the intent of Couchsurfing really was. This made many avid Couchsurfers upset and uncomfortable and confused many who were new to the community. He began to have unrealistic expectations of guests and would be territorial when they would come and go. He was opening his home to people and yet they would leave during the days to go explore the city of Chicago and come home late at night to sleep and then be off to a new city the next day. To him this felt like abandonment. He then began to feel as though he was being used. This brought back many negative feelings from his childhood and he started thinking irrationally. He started drinking again and would get angry. He stopped hosting for a short period and even ran into some trouble with the Couchsurfing system where his profile got deleted.

There was a case where this was due to two homeless people that he let stay with him for a short period that refused to leave. The cops were back and forth to the home and it was very hostile. He felt like a prisoner in his own home. Once they left he drank heavily again and his past continued to haunt him. After many of us wrote to the Couchsurfing board, he eventually got back onto the Couchsurfing site and began to host. His thinking had already become irrational.

Through a separate online site he met somebody that was willing to move in to his spare room to help him with rent and also let Couchsurfer’s come and stay in the common rooms. This new roommate was a very hostile situation as well. When it got out of hand and He wanted him to leave, the man refused to go. He then became desperate. After cops coming back and forth to the home, and then resuming his drinking habits, He finally broke.

He had reached out to a few people and made mention of suicide and about “getting rid of this man and then himself” but the comments were easily overlooked, because who would expect that from him?! He reached out to his “ friends” on forums and messaged previous Couchsurfer’s, but everybody has their own lives and futures. The people who he considered his new “family” as he worded it, were now too busy for him and had forgotten to write back. It brought him back to a negative place in his childhood where he was neglected and abandoned and in many ways abused. This solution to his problems had now become another “attacking force on his persona”.

He had posted quotes about the imminence of death on Facebook and posted pictures of the grim reaper and graves to his public pages. It was easy to look past. Not many actually understood what was going on inside his mind. He was desperate and looking for help but he looked to all the wrong places. He refused to turn to God or have faith in anything because he wanted to figure it out on his own and not have a “higher power” decide his fate. So he chose his own fate.

That fateful day in June, He and his roommate had a disagreement and he had clearly pre-planned in his mind how he was going to handle it the next time around. I talked to him the day of and he was at a peace about things. The happiest he had been—in his mind, the suffering was finally going to end. Later that day, when he requested for me to call him, I, as many other was too busy to get back to him, and this was only hours before the incident. Who can say what it was he wanted to talk about, I doubt he could have been talked out of it maybe he just wanted to say goodbye, or maybe he wanted me to hear it. I will never know but I will remember the desperation and the hurt that he always talked about and I will always wished he had looked upwards instead of down, but he had no hope and he would not allow himself to look elsewhere for help.

With mental illness there is no rationale in these “psychotic breaks”. Was what the roommate did, worth losing his life over, I am not the judge of that, nor can I say that anybody ever deserves to be murdered- but what’s done is done, and many will continue to wonder, “why?” and we will always say, “what if?”.

What I will say is that you should not blame yourself if you were one of the people whom he reached out to that day or even the week prior. Everybody has their own schedules and lives to live and as much as we try we can not help everyone. As a mentor, and life coach, it is hard for me to accept when I lose one of the people I was trying to help, but it comes back to the fact that you cant help somebody to change if they do not want to change. Change comes from within.

It has been confirmed that he shot his roommate and then he shot his dog, (She did not die instantly, as of 3-4-15, she is at a local clinic and they said that she should survive but will need therapy) following these two gunshots, the final one was to his own head. The autopsy report proved that it was his own hand that shot himself based on the forensic ballistics aspect of the gunpowder and size of the exit and entrance wound on each subject. His ETOH level was extremely high. He had drank heavily prior to this all taking place. Does that justify it, NO! However, it was a factor and alcohol makes people irrational. When you have a mental illness alcohol intensifies the neurological patterns of psychosis. This was a sad day in the heart of Chicago and many are mourning his death while others are sitting back to say, “I told you so”. Regardless, It has happened and his pain was valid and his story affects others.

Maybe this will be a motivation and reminder to you to pay attention to red flags when people are crying for help. Never ignore the small comments about guns and suicide, rarely are they minor comments. Every word spoken has a purpose. Please take mental illness seriously and remember that we all have a purpose in life and our stories all connect somehow. Don’t get caught up in the busy-ness of life where we get task oriented and we forget about the people we meet along the journey. Everybody that you meet is for a purpose. Try to figure out what each one means. Don’t waste your life…it really is short.death

Brain Functioning and Neuroscience – The Basics You Asked For

Recently, after having a traumatic brain injury and sparking an internal interest in finding out more about how the brain works, I have been researching neurological processes. I have been studying different scientists and theories about neurological functioning and cognitive abilities. I have been going to conferences to hear specialists in neuroscience lecture about these different subjects. A lot of the subjects are on memory, PTSD, OCD, anxiety, depression and stress. Many people have asked me what I have been learning in the conferences and self-study.

The first key point in learning about the brain was about memory. Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes so quickly that you hardly remember it. When things in life happen so quickly that you don’t have time to process and realize it, you can never remember that certain things happened. That is why some people don’t remember certain facts and details about certain events. You can only remember what you personally experienced. The brain has multiple memory systems and skill learning habits. The studies that have been done are on individual research studies, subjective and objective on patients as well as brain imaging studies using MRI. There were qualitative quantitative studies done.

The brain uses automatic and controlled processes.

STRESS- Stress is a negative emotional experience by predictable biochemical, physiological, cognitive, and the febrile changes that are directed towards altering stressful event accommodating its effects. There are normal and abnormal responses to stress. These responses are learned, taught, and picked up at various points along the way. There are many things we can do to reduce stress. Some of those are scheduling better and rest periods from work and not overdoing it on the social end. It is all about balance. A huge part of relieving stress and balancing the stress levels in the brain is getting adequate sleep. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol as well as avoiding pharmaceutical sleep aids.

MEMORY- there was a study done on Henry Molaison. Henry had a seizure disorder. He went through surgery to treat the seizures. In the surgery they removed his Hippocampus area of the brain. The surgery was successful in treating the seizures but it left him with a memory deficit. This deficit was studied in detail and later study another patients undergoing the procedure. People with traumatic brain injury’s or any damage to the hippocampus will have problems with memory loss.(If you pointed directly at your ear towards your head that is the area of the hippocampus). With damage to this area you have a complete inability to learn and retain NEW facts and events about the world. The remote memories which are old memories will be intact. Those tracks have already been laid in your brain and you remember the information as memories. You can go back neurologically into your brain cells to retrieve these memories for what you have already learned. After having brain trauma you are unable to consolidate new information and keep it. Nobody will know there is anything wrong with you until they ask you to recall new information. The current conversations that are held or remembered as long as the conversations kept active that day. Once the conversation is ended, the person will not be able to remember what was talked about. New introductions, processes, locations and anything else will not be retained. People in these scenarios have to learn to make Post-it notes and put reminders in their phone to remember peoples names and locations and job skills.

The question most asked about this is how does somebody with this memory deficit remember to put up Post-It notes and set reminders. The interesting part about this amnesia and brain injuries in the hippocampus is that it leaves intact the ability to acquire and express skilled performance. Routines are key. The technical term is that with hippocampus injuries the declarative or explicit memory is lost. The non declarative or implicit memory is intact. This means simple classical conditioning, skills and habits, non-associative learning, and priming. This is due to a division of labor in the brain. There are different systems that provide evidence for multiple memory systems. This is evident during MRI brain scan’s during questioning patients to recall past events and short-term events. They look at what area lights up during this recollection or non-recollection.

An example of this is mirror reversed reading. If you put three words written backwards over and over and read them you would eventually learn how to read them faster. People with intact systems on both ends will memorize them and remember them. The brain injured patient will eventually be able to learn to do them faster, but will never remember practicing to learn them.

When you drink too much and don’t remember how you got where you are after blacking out – this is an example of this type of memory. The person will know that they missed the time period. But they don’t know what happened or why. The fact that you understand you missed a time period is what happens with brain injury patients. They are aware that there is a deficit, but they don’t know what it is. The brain can continue to learn through experience. It won’t know that it is learning but through experience it builds routine and remembers the expertise. This is how people can maintain a job afterwards. Is long as it is a job they had prior to the accident. You don’t have to be consciously awake to remember skills habits and behaviors.

THE AMYGDALA- This is the area of the brain that I find most interesting. This is the area that stores the emotional memories. It is at the end of the hippocampal region in the brain. The hippocampus remembers what happened exactly, while the amygdala recalls the emotions surrounding what happened. Therefore, people may not remember specific events that took place, but they will have emotions associated with events they can’t remember. This is also known as sensory memory. This explains why adults will have different quirks when they are touched by a stranger or they hear yelling or have weird phobias. They don’t know why they are scared of something or why they jumped when they are touched but it reverts back to when they were a child and had traumatic instances that they can’t physically remember but they remember the emotional response surrounding it. Many cases in child sexual abuse when a child hears a familiar voice of somebody who has hurt them when they were younger, they get scared. Nobody understands why and the child won’t be able to verbalize why because they don’t know. Their bodies and sensory memory remembers that this was a voice present during a traumatic event.

The amygdala is learned through experience and it tells you to avoid something. It is a fear system. It causes you to take pause. Your signals that you should avoid something. I don’t always know where this fear came from, but it gives me fear reactions. So you do not need your hippocampus to learn fear. You can teach and condition fear. When you see a facial expression, whether it is angry, happy or sad your amygdala picks up on that reaction and forms and an emotion based on the face you saw. That is what puts up the red flags. It has learned in the past that there was something negative associated. The AMYGDALA is hyperactive in PTSD patients. That is where hypervigilance and the exaggerated startle response comes from.

MEMORIES ARE MALLEABLE – When they say that you can convince yourself into believing anything it is true. Memories, in the simple nature of how they are stored, recalled and encoded are able to be reconstructed. Our memories are not always accurate. They are reconstructions of our past. It’s like a kaleidoscope, all the pieces are there of what happened, but you have to go back and be able to put all the pieces together every time you bring back a memory. So every time you put the memory back you place them differently in the brain. Therefore every time you recall them some details will be different. Many studies have proven this fact. This is how cognitive behavioral therapy works. You ask people with post traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic psych issues to recall events. Once they verbalize them you manipulate the facts surrounding the event so when they move forward from the conversation it is stored differently than the way it was originally brought up. Therefore the stress response related with this memory is less and each time it’s talked about and manipulated.

This is why leading questions are not the way to handle patients or subjects in the courtroom. Eyewitness and courtroom testimony has been brought into question because of this study from Loftus and Palmer in 1974. Studies have shown that leading questions will give you different answers then non- leading questions. This is because they remember the base of what you asked and they form their response based on certain words asked.

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER- Patients with this have recurrent thoughts or images that are inappropriate and distressing. In order to be diagnosed with OCD it has to be excessive or unreasonable. It has to cause marked distress and be time-consuming to the point that it interferes with life. It is caused by the Caudate area in the brain. There is a failure to filter in the system. It causes anxiety and avoidance in the patient. There is a new treatment for OCD where they put an electrical stimulation system into your brain and it focuses on the caudate. When this area is stimulated the patient does not experience OCD symptoms as bad. In all the studies there was a 20% reduction of the OCD symptoms. This may not seem significant but when the compulsions are to hurt people then it is justified.

ADDICTION- Addiction is related to cue- reactivity. Dopamine is the key chemical here. Dopamine reward circuits are associated with the drive, push to respond, and wanting. A dopamine release means whatever it is you just did repeat it. This is the same driver for athletes- People who get runners highs. This is an incredibly powerful motivational system. The nucleus accumbens is the dopamine reward center in the brain. Dopamine is the craving response. That is why if you see a picture during a neurological study you will have an increase in heart rate you will start sweating you will have subjective cravings and mesolimbic dopamine activity. When patients in the study were shown pictures of cocaine, alcohol, sex, and nicotine, these were all activated. If you see something you know you want dopamine is what activates and you were motivated to do it. That is what makes addicts so difficult to help. When they have a buddy who does it with them it motivates them to do it even more. When you remove an addict from the situation there are less cues that initiate that response. Even a picture, a smell or mention of it will activate that dopaminergic response. That is why it is crucial with severe addiction to remove the person from the entire environment and start them over elsewhere. Pornography is also a dopaminergic response to a cue-reaction When they see the picture they respond. This could have maladaptive consequences. It is an addiction. It is crucial to convince people to want to self regulate the systems. There is something to be said about getting people to want to end their addiction. If that is not there then nothing you do will change that. It truly has to come from within.

SLEEP- Sleep is important for memory consolidation. Astrocytes after the neurons going to the brain. When you sleep they get bigger and they do what they need to do to clean up. If you don’t sleep for a long period of time your internal organs start shutting down. This is because the chemicals are not getting cleaned up after they are supposed to. The science of it is – Any action inside the body causes a metabolic response. Free radicals and trace chemicals are leftover of the body processes signals, thoughts, actions. GET MORE SLEEP= BE HEALTHIER.

These are just basics from what I learned…. I found it all very interesting especially with having a traumatic brain injury myself.

Kelly, B. Ph.D- Dartmouth College neuroscience was a main neuroscientist I have been researching through. Keep in mind that if you talk to a dozen different scientists they will give you a dozen different theories. That is why it is important to research empirical evidence that studies have found. This way you are getting accurate information.

Forced Rest

Forced Rest

I am a workaholic and it is hard for me to slow down. The MVC I was in forced me to take some time off work. I was not a fan at the time, because I hate to even call in sick. during the time that I was off I was able to finish writing and finish the editing process of a book I was working on. The book was finally finished and I published it this week .( http://www.createspace.com/4271634 ) That was a huge accomplishment for me. It cleared a lot of stress that I was holding in. At the same time it opened up a lot of stress as well. The book is an autobiography so having my story made public is a big deal. I have been struggling with the fact that people who know me and are close to me are going to see the back story of what I went through to get where I am today. The target audience is people who are going through rough times and faced with a depression that so many people go through when we dont think we can stand back up. The theme is resilience. Even through this accident, I am recovering and will be going through 6 weeks of physical therapy to get back to baseline. My goal is never to get back to baseline but to end up farther ahead. that should be everyones goal….never aim to get “back to where you were” always aim to be better than what you were. Time changes everything. you never know what tomorrow will bring. all we know is where yesterday took us. If we don’t want the yesterday to continue we need to change something. If you don’t like where you are headed in life change directions. Sometimes a Higher Power will make that choice for you and slow you down if you don’t listen right away to what your heart is telling you to do. I may have been in a bad car accident but there are many silver linings and there is always hope….and things will end up brighter because I am choosing for them to be.