Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wow, isn't this so cool!

I haven't posted a blog for a while, very unlike me, but there is a reason why.

While drafting Injury Science, Pain, and the Martial Arts, I used a quote from Jill Bolte Taylor. She is an amazing women with an amazing story which she shares in My Stroke of Insight. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who suffered a debilitating stroke.
Jill Bolte Taylor was a 37-year-old Harvard-trained and published brain scientist when a blood vessel exploded in her brain. Through the eyes of a curious neuroanatomist, she watched her mind completely deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of how the brain works, her respect for the cells composing her human form, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered her mind, brain and body.
It is truly an amazing story. In the book she writes, when she realised she was having a stroke, that after she thought, Oh my gosh, I'm having a stroke. I'm having a stroke!, the thought flashed through her mind, Wow this is so cool!. She writes that she kept thinking, Wow, how many scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain function and mental deterioration from the inside out?.

I'm having a 'Wow, this so cool!' experience of my own. No, I have not suffered a stroke,thank God. Rather, I have been diagnosed with extreme physical, mental, and emotion fatigue. I have 'burnt out'. I won't bore you with the boring details of the reasons why I burnt out, nor the boring symptoms, nor what I need to do to recover. But what I will share with you is that burn out relates to the activation of our stress/fight-or-flight responses.

While I'm writing a series of books, the one I really want to write is tentatively titled Beyond Fight or Flight. In that book I integrate the theories and concepts of the stress discipline and emotion discipline to develop a stress/fight-or-flight/survival process model that can be used to understand and explain the naturally evolved response mechanisms that are designed to assist us survive in the face of danger or threats.

The responses to perceived threat, harm, or opportunity are interrelated feeling, physiological, and behavioural responses. Combative methods and training methods are designed to improve on the evolved responses. However, most of what is used to critique or design survival or combat training systems (as Bruce Siddle puts it)is based on the work of the stress discipline and tends to focus on the physiological response which defines the output of the process in terms of effects on health or performance. The emotion discipline studies the exact same process, but focuses in more detail on the perception/appraisal of a stimuli that elicits these responses, the feeling and behavioural response, and defines the output of the process in terms of the intended effect on the initiating stimuli - the threat, harm, or opportunity. Quite remarkably, these two disciplines studying the same process, but focusing on different parts of the process, do not refer to the work of the other discipline. I refer to these two disciplines as being two blind men of Indostan who are studying the same 'stress elephant' by feeling one part of the elephant, and describe the whole based on the one part they are feeling. 'Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!'

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is the activation of this process by subconsciously reliving a traumatic experience. One of the recommended treatments involves a three step process with step number one being an understanding of the process itself. In this way, the person experiencing these responses can interpret them on an intellectual level rather than an emotional level. This lessens the intensity of the responses and provides the means to manage them. This is the same approach used to manage acute or chronic pain. Pain can be understood in the same way using the stress/emotion process model, and can be a stimuli that elicits these responses or be a response to another stimuli. You'll have to read my books to understand more.

I've discussed my work with relatively few. The first was with the teenage son of a very old friend of mine who had been mugged by two older assailants. One of the assailants attempted to slash his face with a stanley trimmer when the teenage son attempted to rise from the ground after being king hit. He put his hand up to protect his face and received a deep cut to his hand. He contacted me because after the incident he was feeling intense anger at times and he didn't know why. It concerned him enough to reach out for help. Wise beyond his years. When I showed him my process model and explained the evolved process, he understood what was happening to him. This took away the confusion of not knowing, a source of anxiety itself eliciting its own responses. It reduced the intensity of the anger as he could intellectually understand where it was coming from, and provided him with tools to manage it. He was experiencing a degree of PTS, and this approach appeared to help him recover.

I wished I'd had this knowledge in my teaching past. I can vividly remember a young man who did private lessons with me after being bashed unconscious by a group of men. I now understand he was suffering from PTS to some degree, and now I could help to a far greater degree. There have also been any number of women who attended our women self defence classes that could have benefited from this knowledge. And through the ripple effect, many other women who have been assaulted and who are experiencing some form of PTS.

Another friend explained that my explanation of this evolved process assisted her in dealing with a situation involving an argument with her partner. She understood what was happening to her on an intellectual level which gave her pause and allowed her to deal with the situation on an intellectual level rather than an emotional level.

Now me. I was like the teenage son of my old friend. I was experiencing extreme emotions with no apparent cause. Extreme anxiety, sadness, and depression. I, being me, suffered alone and buried myself in my work. When I realised I was in serious trouble, I reached out for help. One of the people I reached out to was the father of the aforementioned teenage son. Immediately, he suggested I might be suffering from burn out. A bit of research confirmed the suspicion, as did a psychologist's diagnosis, and that it comes from the activation of the stress/fight-or-flight process that I had been studying.

'Wow, how many people get to experience the stress/fight-or-flight process that they have been studying from the inside out.' I can vouch for the fact that knowledge of this process and what is happening to me is a huge source of comfort and takes away a stressor that in it self is responsible for activating these responses. By processing the responses on an intellectual level rather than an emotion level the intensity of the responses are lessened. Knowing it's an evolved response in all humans, in fact all mammals, takes away the self-judgement that is also the source of its own responses. I've been given a tool to manage my condition, and to develop a strategy for recovery based on an understanding of what is causing what is going on, and what is going on.

My experience has confirmed what one friend who read a draft of my original work on the subject said about this work - I am on to something here.


  1. John,

    I was wondering where you'd been. Good to have you back. I'm sorry to hear about what you've been going through, but happy that you've identified it. It also sounds like it may assist you with your various writing projects.

    I also want to congratulate you for being honest enough with yourself to know that you were in trouble and needed help. Many people, especially in my, or similar professions, see it as weakness to admit they are suffering. It is the opposite. It takes a great deal of strength. Good for you.

    As you mentioned, one of the big stressors can be managed just by understanding what you're experiencing on an intellectual level. Also, the knowledge that what you are going through is not uncommon really helps. I think this is why support groups or group therapies are successful (at least part of why). Knowing that others are experiencing similar feelings and or reactions can really help. Knowing you're not the only one can help immensely.

    From reading you blog, I've gleaned you throw yourself into whatever you do with everything you've got. It's a great quality and a trait of driven successful people, but it can be exhausting, as you well know. I've been working on living in the moment and stopping to 'smell the roses". It takes practice but is proving beneficial.

    Stay well. We all understand if you posts come a little less regularly. So don't worry, we'll keep checking back.

    Congrats on your new blog, by the way.


  2. Congrats on your new blog and we'll follow you there.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.