In 2023, I gave a talk to Texas State Healthcare workers about trauma and its impact on us as a society. I shared my story as a doctor, incurable cancer patient and therapist. The takeaway resources include bilateral music, and two demos: Gazespotting and Vergence, for those who are new to Brainspotting or want to try it on their own. Brainspotting is also newly explained in this Forbes article.
This does not replace therapy. If your distress increases, stop and call 988 (the 911 mental health number in Texas) or your local mental health number. I can usually see clients quickly, however I am not an acute mental health care provider 24/7.
A beautiful interview with Nicole Bryant, doctoral student and Brainspotting consultant introducing Brainspotting to a Norway therapist. Take 14 minutes to enjoy! The more we see, the more we feel seen…which also can help us see a way forward.
As I complete my slides for the International Brainspotting Conference (Neurobiology & Research) in July 2021, I am fixated on a 4 circle Venn diagram of how we use our eyes to see and create clarity in our lives. The first circle is Focus, the fine tuned 20/20 vision and continuous concentration we try to do every day. We use this pathway to answer what it is we are seeing and seeking.
The eyes receive 1 to 10 million bits of information every second, filtered down to 50 or so manageable bites of data in our brains. In the process, we can lose the big picture and gain what I call an “inner cricket (critic)”. You may have 20/20 vision, but be more focused on what is wrong than what is right with how you see others and yourself.
A client this week said when her periphery is lost, she loses her perspective (beautiful!) and that is true for focus, as well. Especially if your default mode (called the default mode network in the brain) is negative, it is a sign that your focus is being railroaded by past trauma and ongoing stress. Brainspotting is just one way to rework those familiar tracks that are keeping you down.
Here’s an article on how to improve your focus before you lose your mind! Stay tuned for the next circle on the Venn diagram to your own Post-traumatic Clarity.
The second circle in the Vision Venn diagram is noticing where you are in your body and environment. The medical term is called Orienting and your eyes are big part of that. Where your eyes move (aka orient) while you notice your feelings is called “gaze spotting” in Brainspotting. My colleague’s video shows this in an actual Brainspotting session (with therapist/client post-processing of how different stages felt for them), check it out!
For me, my orienting involves my identity as a retired eye doctor, 13 year cancer patient and middle-aged (!) woman. Where I am in my life seems to be defined by how well I can observe my achievements and challenges while still feeling grounded and resilient. Often, I slip into “Super Mom Dr” mode and try to do too much while I am already exhausted, making me more stressed and irritable. Before my post-traumatic clarity, I thought that my value depended upon what I got done which was in conflict with what I wanted for me.
As a therapist, I created a Dual Brainspot protocol to let my shitty feeling be in one place and my need to escape be in another while I process between them. This leads to less double vision and dueling inner voices and a more relaxed Vergence feeling…in the next circle!
The third circle of how we see others and ourselves is the magic part. Our eyes move together on a Brainspot which is called convergence. Far from the dazed stare we have when we are stressed out (aka the 1000 mile stare), we find the spot in our visual field that connects to the issue we most want solved. There is stillness, certainty and insights at this spot. It answers the desperate question of where is it that we need to put our attention to feel better.
I call it magic because instead of seeing myself as victim or villain, I am trusting in the vulnerable place where the two polarities collide. I learned this when I went back to school to become a therapist after my incurable cancer diagnosis. I found a visual and psychological technique called Brainspotting that helped me (and my clients) to emerge from a collapsed tunnel vision that naturally happens when we feel shut down and hopeless.
This is the also the voice of “Busted” who is the part of me that thrives in crisis especially as she receives the help she so desperately needs. Most people feel better when they are calm and relaxed; Busted feels better when she sees clarity in the middle of chaos, the light at the end of the tunnel.
In Brainspotting, this is the time of powerful attunement which the therapist provides by reading eye movements and reflexes so that the worst feelings have biological and psychological presence and healing.
The final circle is when the healing that takes place in a session translates into real life. We literally see the world differently when we have had the experience of seeing our life stories more accurately (and kindly) and feeling seen by those who help us process it. There is an Emergence of emotions that are not so old and black-and-white but technicolor and 3D. We go from seeking an expert companion to help us to knowing we can be that for ourselves.
As I looked PTSD and cancer and troublesome relationships in the eye, I found a way to heal and express myself. These are the successful outcomes that arise as our traumas heal and move us to share with others in the How I talk about it? circle. I am delighted when this occurs in my Brainspotting clients and myself both organically and effortlessly because both eyes and brain hemispheres are “on” and recovered from trauma creating a softer, more resilient focus of post traumatic growth and clarity.
In Brainspotting, these are the insights that arise after we “squeeze the lemon” of residual thoughts and sensations that are subtle but present so that we get a full resetting of the nervous system and relief from our troublesome symptoms.
I am writing a memoir on this very thing so that the issues that suck all your focus, stop you from observing what might help, and diverge you from trauma healing can emerge into your very own post-traumatic clarity.
It’s happening. A text invitation to dinner. Vacation planning. Are we doing this? Venturing out in a vaccinated world. It’s normal to feel a little hesitant after being in “lock down” mode for so long. Like the band aid approach, do you slowly pull back your guarded feelings or rip that sucker off?!
It’s ok to take your time, be kind to yourself and take baby steps, finding your sea legs in social, emotional and mental invitations. Remember we dropped into the pandemic in an abrupt and surreal way. The antidote is to crawl out in an intentional and real way that feels right for you. It’s ok to push pause and curl into your favorite pajamas again for an evening. The world will wait.
I am in awe of how our perceptions give way to such raw and exhausted feelings in the tail of this pandemic. It has been post-traumatic stress to the nth degree. We can not even call it “post”, in the uncertainty of when we will be able to truly exhale (and not inhale what we just ate…mask mania!).
I found the below visual illusion to be particularly fitting to the feeling that we are floating along, above the horizon, like the boat in this article. Our eyes like when what we see fits what we expect. A year ago, I may have seen this image differently. Now, I kinda like it.
I do want to validate and empathize with how this late stage of pandemic muck messes with our functioning and quality of life. We are not alone in it, yet it feels like we are. Little things are so very important to buoy our moods, yet they are fleeting. It is easy to forget where we are in the rhythm of things. We miss the mundane, the exciting and the hope to have this difficult time in our rearview mirrors.
The incidence of anxiety, depression and PTSD has quadrupled. May this post elevate your mood since we are more than statistics and walking zombies. We are pan-durable.
For these endless/too fast weeks, I am remembering the words of Gloria Estefan about her daughter, Emily: Be you. Be kind. Be better. Be open, be careful if you feel unsafe, be LOVE. Anything else is icing.
Here are three things that have caught my eye and made me smile…neuroscience & art “icing”.