Debbie Hampton is from Greensboro in North Carolina. Her upbringing and young adulthood were very privileged and her married life included a million dollar house in a exclusive neighbourhood in Florida with a pool and a Porsche. On the outside everything looked good but she had never really had to deal with any challenges or hardships so didn’t develop resilience or learn the tools people need when life gets harder.
Following an acrimonious divorce, Debbie attempted suicide in 2007 which left her in a coma for a week. When she woke she couldn’t speak, didn’t remember she had got divorced, didn’t know her brother had died or that her second son had been born. She had no manual dexterity, her brain was seriously injured and her ex husband took her sons away and moved to different state.
After recovering a little over the first eighteen months or so after her suicide attempt, a near drowning experience while scuba diving convinced her that she wanted to live so she started learning about neuroplasticity and how she could start to repair her brain, her life and her faults. For two and a half years Debbie solely worked on retraining her brain and used practices such as neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, visualization, meditation, yoga and cardiovascular exercise. Debbie’s recovery has been remarkable and although she has some slight manual dexterity and speech issues, she now runs a website and has published several books using her knowledge and experiences.
Debbie believes in the idea that the brain changes from the day you are born until the day you die. Although it is more neuroplastic in childhood when it is incredibly absorbent, at the same time it is very vulnerable because the experiences you have in childhood and the things you learn from your parents, schools and society predetermine your brain. These connections and patterns that your brain sets up are based on these experiences, thoughts, behaviour and emotions but as an adult you can change these patterns by taking control and instead of keeping to habitual patterns, asking ‘What do I want to believe’, ‘What do I want’, ‘How do I choose to behave and act’.
Every day we’re faced with a choice ‘Do we want to help ourselves or hurt ourselves’ and your thoughts can help or hurt yourself tremendously. Your brain and body responds to the thoughts that run through your head but you can help turn the pattern around by challenging anxiety and negative thoughts and choosing what you want to think, how you want to act and how you want to go forward. Over time and with consistency, this neuroplastically changes your brain to make you more resilient and mentally healthy. It will not magically alter things straight away but the synergistic effect can change your life. By practicing this when things are going well you build your capacity so when things go wrong, you’re ready and have the resources to deal with problems.
Debbie also feels that the epidemic of depression is about lifestyle as our lives are so far removed from how are bodies are meant to work or is healthy for us. Over the last decade however nutritional psychiatry has shown that the majority of serotonin is made in your enteric nervous system that communicates and directs your brain. This means what you put into your body has everything to do with what goes on in your head. The effects of exercise, nutrition and calories, fats and diet in countering depression are underestimated although professionals are starting to prescribe these things as first level ways to combat depression and anxiety.
People who are depressed and anxious get defensive and take the victim mentality so don’t take responsibility. The first step is to realise that you do have power and a voice – you have to pick yourself up, bounce back from getting it wrong so the next time you do it a different way. Life’s a journey of constantly making choices, making mistakes, bouncing back and getting better the next time round.
The bad things in life are just as much a part of life as the good things. Being resilient helps you realise that hurt, pain, death and challenges are just as much a part of life as the good things. You should expect them to shock you but shouldn’t be totally chaotic and panic when they do. You need to understand that good things and bad things are both here to help you have a more fulfilling life. If you warn yourself and don’t allow yourself to feel negative feelings, don’t allow yourself to feel pain, suffering and disappointment, then you also block yourself from feeling happiness and joy. You’ve got to learn to feel both the good and bad things.
Listen to the full podcast with Debbie here.
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