republished from T-Can’s Planet Thrive blog with permission
I said in my last blog post that I was going to share with the Planet Thrive Community the brain retraining tools that have been helping me. These are tools that are freely available and searchable on the Internet, and in fact most of them have been mentioned here at PT and that’s how I discovered them. I have taken bits and pieces from several different techniques and retrained my brain by implementing the things that seemed to work for me. In two weeks time, by using these techniques I’ve gone from being about 60% better to pushing on 100% cured. The largest improvement happened literally overnight, and I believe was due to a very simple, fast but incredibly powerful technique called HAMR. More about that later.
It is my hope that by sharing this information, what I have discovered and used with success will help other people, particularly people who can’t afford the brain retraining programs that are for sale, but I also hope that it will be of help to people who are doing other brain retraining programs and who have hit a “ceiling” in their progress. I would be thrilled if the things I am going to share would help other people blow the roof off their retraining progress. Even if what I share only helps one person, that will be worth it.
I want to first give credit to Annie Hopper and her Dynamic Neural Retraining System™ (DNRS™). For the first two and a half months of my brain retraining I exclusively used the DNRS DVD program. In only six weeks of practising Annie’s exercise for one hour a day, I experienced a 60-70% improvement of my symptoms. This is a subjective progress rating, so to try to make sense of it these are the gains that I enjoyed in such a short time:
1. Pain in legs during/after exposures–gone
2. Burning/numbness on face, lips and inside mouth–gone
3. Brain fog–gone
4. Acute sense of smell–becoming normalized
5. Anxiety and fear around chemicals and fragrances–lessened considerably
6. Acute startle reflex–vanished
7. More joy and happiness and new hope of getting better
I was (and am) thrilled with these improvements. Prior to DNRS, I had been largely housebound for eight months and my symptoms and reactions were getting progressively worse. I had lost my job due to downsizing and wasn’t sure what was going to happen to me. So 60-70% improvement in only 6 weeks was (and is) incredible. As I mentioned before, if you can afford the program, I recommend it fully. During the five months prior to DNRS, I was spending around $100/month alone on supplements to follow (as well as I could afford) the Pall Protocol. I was also spending money outside of my budget to include only organic produce and meat into my diet, filtered water, and costly natural-based cleaning products (personal, laundry, and household cleaning products). I purchased the DVD program with money I didn’t have (good old Visa), but I have since made that money back because I stopped taking the supplements. I don’t miss them. I only continued with Vitamin C and B12 supplementation (previous tests showed I was deficient in the latter).
In spite of the tremendous gains, by the end of December 2011, I lost some of the improvements in my sense of smell and taste. The pain in my legs was recurring, although sporadically and thankfully of a lesser severity than before retraining. At the same time, I was dealing with a bit of resurfacing grief from the second anniversary of my mom’s traumatic illness and death, and that probably contributed to this setback in my healing. For 2-3 weeks I had seen no progress, no matter how much I practised the DNRS exercise. I felt I had hit a ceiling and was feeling frustrated.
I know this likely makes me sound extremely impatient, and I admit that I can be. After all, there are people who have taken a year or more to completely heal from MCS with brain retraining, and both DNRS and Gupta programs recommend giving the brain retraining at least a full 6 months to see results. And I probably would have eventually gotten 100% better with just DNRS alone, because many others have done so. But I’m actually grateful for my impatient character flaw, because it prompted me to search and try out other methods to accelerate my healing. (In all honesty, I’m impatient for practical reasons too, because I have a deadline of May 2012 to be working at least part-time. I need to be able to support myself financially and if I don’t get better, finding work will be a huge challenge and I won’t know how I will afford to support myself otherwise.)
Let’s hope the fruit of my impatience to get better will help someone else!
So, keeping in mind that I have already seen great improvements in my MCS with DNRS, I’ll now share the techniques that I believe took me from 60% better to closing in on 100% better in only two weeks. If anyone tries any of these techniques, please do so at your own risk. I am not a doctor, and I am not otherwise professionally trained. They worked for me, but I can’t guarantee they will work for others, but I certainly hope they do!
If you do decide to try any of these techniques, take note that I used them in a very organic manner, tweaking and changing them as I went along, and I suggest anyone else do the same. I think that the more personalized one can make one’s brain retraining program, the better.
Things I Did Before/While Retraining My Brain
This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are things that have helped me. Numbers 9 and 10 are especially important:
• Drink lots of water, particularly during brain retraining.
• Eat well balanced meals. The brain uses lots of energy during brain retraining. I also use a heap of ground flax seeds in my morning oatmeal for my omega 3 and 6. These brain fats can’t hurt.
• Get lots of sleep if possible. I personally think a lot of the work in our brains happens while we sleep, so the more sleep we can get the better.
• Exercise if possible, even if it’s just walking. Anything to get the blood flowing and the limbs moving.
• Avoid situations that elicit stress, fear, anger, or anxiety. This includes avoiding literature about the dangers of chemicals, negative television programs, debates, etc. Try to surround yourself with things that elicit positive feelings of joy, gratitude, peace, safety, and belonging. I find it very helpful to watch television programs with positive messages, particularly if they are heart-warming (reruns of The Waltons has worked for me). The reason I think this helps is that we need to avoid things that can reinforce the trauma neurons that are responsible for the MCS response.
• Smile as often and as broadly as possible, even if it’s fake and especially if you encounter something that triggers an MCS response. You can train your brain with this simple technique. By smiling consistently you are telling your brain that there is nothing to be afraid of, that it doesn’t need to react as if the item is life threatening.
• Change your responses to products that usually trigger you. If you have a negative response, make it positive. For example, whenever I encountered perfume I would automatically feel disgust and think judgmental thoughts about the wearer. To facilitate brain retraining, I made a concerted effort instead to fake a smile, and think to myself, “There goes someone who is probably trying to make a good impression on someone” or “There is someone who is taking care of themselves in their own way.” If you have a flight response—then make a concerted effort to walk away calmly with a big smile on your face.
• Fill your day with activities that bring you joy, and minimize things that don’t.
• Take a personal inventory of all negative thoughts, and write them down. Especially if they involve MCS. Some of my thoughts were, “I’ll never get better,” “I’m scared of chemicals because they make me sick,” “I hate people who wear perfume and cologne,” “People who use chemical cleaners are stupid,” etc. These thoughts will be targeted with the techniques I am sharing. I believe that these thoughts are part of the trauma neuron.
• Create a personalized “safe space” visualization.* This is something that therapists often utilize, especially for PTSD. This was/is pivotal to my brain retraining success. Your “safe space” can be anything you want it to be. It can be a wonderful memory from your childhood, a romantic time with your partner, a spiritual experience, or even an imagined place. Your “safe space” should evoke positive feelings like joy, calm, safety, gratitude, beauty, friendship, love, belonging, etc. Whatever details you need to use in order to evoke these feelings, include them in your “safe space.” Close your eyes and visualize this safe space often, so that you are able to elicit this visualization and positive feelings whenever you need to. (See the following video on youtube for a really good description of how to create a safe space, also using the “Butterfy Hug”: Safe Space Relaxation Exercise)
Since this post is getting quite long, I’m going to make this a two parter. I’ll share the first main technique here today, and the others I’ll include in another blog entry over the next few days.
Technique One: Tapping, Humming, Counting
This has been my primary brain retraining technique. You may be familiar with EFT, or TFT, and these are the bases for my technique, but I think the way I use them is simpler and it works amazingly well for me. The main difference is that I don’t use the setup or wording that EFT typically uses while tapping. These EFT points are also known as acupoints, the same points used in acupuncture or acupressure.
By stimulating these acupoints, I am calming my amygdala. If I calm my amygdala prior to and during a reaction, I believe I am training my brain to rewire around the trauma neuron that is responsible for the MCS reaction. David Feinstein explains this much better in the following quote about acupressure treatment of PTSD. I believe the same concept can be applied to treating MCS:
The lateral nucleus of the amygdala is at once activated by memories or cues involving the traumatic event and deactivated by the acupoint-generated signal. Such reciprocal inhibition is the antecedent of extinction and may also bring about the depotentiation of neurological pathways that were sustaining the fear response (e.g., Ruden, 2010, from Rapid Treatment of PTSD).
The tapping points, or acupoints, that I use can be found on a chart at this website. The points can also be seen in this EFT video by Brad Yates. I have also added three acupoints to my technique: LI-4**, LU-9 and SP-6** because they are known to be calming. Stimulation of these points has been shown to deactivate the amygdala on MRIs. I included LU-9 in my routine because it is used to relieve grief, regret, and loss, which are things that came along with MCS for me.
**WARNING: LI-4 and SP-6 are also used to induce labour, so do not use if pregnant.
I tap the EFT points in the following order, though I’m not sure the order matters:
Karate Chop, Top of Head, Eyebrow, Side of Eye, Under Eye, Under Nose, On Chin, Under Arm, Collarbone, LU-9, LI-4, SP-6, Gamut. Don’t worry about getting the exact spot, just follow the chart and tap with several fingers, you will end up on the points.
At every point, while tapping, I hum the first line of a song (“Happy Birthday” is an easy one), then count to 5. I believe that the tapping deactivates the amygdala, and the humming and counting serves to involve both sides of the brain during the brain retraining. I find the tapping more powerful while simultaneously humming and the counting. I do this whole process over and over again. For the first two days of using this technique, I did it almost every waking moment, probably about 10 hours each day! I was able to do this because I could multitask while tapping, humming, and counting. I could do this while watching an entire tv program, while doing yoga stretches, walking outside, and even in the shower. I believe it helped me because I did it as often as possible throughout the day. Repetition is the key to brain retraining.
Every now and then, I also do some eye movements (I believe this is Roger Callahan’s technique) on the gamut spot of the hand (see EFT chart). I still tap, hum, and count while doing these eye movements as follows. It can be a little tricky because it uses so many parts of the brain but perhaps that is why I find it so effective. Keeping the head stationary,
1. Close eyes
2. Open eyes
3. Look to the left and down
4. Look to the right and down
5. Roll eyes one rotation clockwise
6. Roll eyes one rotation counter-clockwise
7. Hum first line of Happy Birthday
8. Count to 5
Then I will start all over again with the tapping, humming, and counting. It doesn’t matter which side of the body you tap on. You can tap on both sides at the same time if you want to switch things up. Sometimes I will tap on both collarbone points using alternating taps just to keep it interesting. By doing this, in two days my symptoms dramatically decreased.
I do this particularly when negative thoughts or feelings come up. I also do this whenever I come in close proximity to a trigger, and whenever I begin having a reaction. The point is to continually deactivate the amygdala and retrain the brain to bypass the trauma response. I have lots of opportunities to do this in my apartment because my neighbour’s air freshener is always coming into my unit. It used to be debilitating and I taped the door, but I haven’t had to do that in two months.
I also found it helpful to make a list of all the items that trigger my MCS symptoms: fabric softeners, scented detergents, fragrances, cleaners, paints, etc. I would do the tapping, humming and counting while imagining being exposed to one of these items at a time. I found that by doing so I could evoke some sort of response, such as the fear of being hurt, or anger, etc. Sometimes I would have an actual reaction; for example, often I could actually smell and/or taste the imaginary product, like a phantom odour/taste. I would tap and hum and count until these reactions dissipated. By eliciting a mild reaction and then simultaneously deactivating the amygdala, we can bypass the trauma neuron. By so doing we train the brain to stop overreacting to stimuli that are innocuous to most people (and that used to be innocuous to me).
I also practised with real products, such as perfume strips in a sealed jar, essential oils that bother me, hair gel, etc. First I placed the sealed item on my lap, did the tapping etc. until I felt calm. I would gradually get to the point of being able to open the lid and smell the item, close the lid and put it down, and do the tapping until any reaction subsided. It’s not “fun” necessarily, but I believe this type of exposure therapy has been essential to my progress. If you do this, just be careful not to jump into exposures that you aren’t ready for. Small steps.
If this technique of tapping, humming, and counting doesn’t seem to be alleviating negative feelings or sensations, try doing it while visualizing your “safe space.” Or simply stop the tapping altogether and get lost in your “safe space.” This will also calm the amygdala and reassure your brain that you are safe and that it does not need to overreact to stimuli.
If tapping is too painful or irritating, try gently massaging the points with a few fingers instead. I do this from time to time. When out in public, I sometimes massage the LI-4 point while humming and counting in my head. I find it effective as well.