**Trigger Warning - Accident Pictures below**
People often ask me how I got involved in brain health.
This picture explains my why. That's my son and I love him. This picture is from his 3rd traumatic brain injury (TBI). Yes, 3rd! He is 14 in that picture (2 years ago). And I was scared. Terrified. Reeling. Shaking. Determined. Bold. Insistent. Angry.
I've always been interested in health. My mom was a master herbalist (she passed away in March 2017). I learned how to meditate when I was 5 years old, and started doing yoga at age 10. I took courses in Ayurveda and Aromatherapy as a young adult. Before I finished college, I became a Childbirth Educator and Lactation Counselor. After my first 2 children were born (I have 4, ages 24, 21, 16 and 12), I returned to college and earned my BA in Human Development (my focus was Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health). I finished my MS in Health Education after my 4th child was born. I became a community health and parent educator, furthering my education by taking the intensive Parents as Teachers (PAT) certification and The Happiest Baby on the Block training. At home I experimented with diet and lifestyle, always refining my knowledge through reading, listening to podcasts and watching documentaries. Even now, I am always engaged in studying something - I love learning! I recently finished another certification, as a Brain Fitness Coach (CBFC). #nerd
But this brain journey began when my (at the time) 14 year-old son, Aidan, lay on a gurney in the emergency room, contusions on his face, shoulder separated and brain bleeding after crashing his bike in a skate park (with his helmet on - people always ask). That was the final catalyst, and while it was hellish, it also led to this important work. It was my son’s 3rd (yup, that’s right) traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2 years, which is an alarming number in that amount of time. The doctors in our rural mountain town were concerned enough to put us on an emergency flight to a larger hospital with a pediatric intensive-care unit (ICU) and neurologist. His 2nd TBI (1 year earlier) caused nearly a year of post-concussion syndrome (PCS) where debilitating symptoms continued long after the injury. I knew he could not tolerate another year of suffering and in that bright, loud emergency room I made a commitment to make sure he wouldn’t suffer like that again. Yes, I was terrified. Yes, I was in shock. But hell yes, I was determined that he could and would be healed. And fast.
My work is based on what I learned through extensive research and personal experience, including my work as a consultant with numerous clients helping them heal brain injury and increase brain performance. About 2 weeks after this 3rd accident, while following my customized protocol for healing the brain, my son was back in the rock climbing gym (going low and slow of course). At 3 weeks post-trauma, he was able to attend a bouldering competition (not as a true competitor; his goal was to attend - not win). About 2 weeks after that he was reading books (without symptoms) and finally, after twelve months, he could run again (with no symptoms).
This picture is 2-weeks after the accident (Aidan is outside by the river, visualizing his complete return to health with his little brother there for support):
He suffered no depression, very few headaches, only mild concentration issues, very few angry outbursts, no ringing in the ears, no visual problems, and only very mild aphasia. All in all, he has recovered from all 3 TBIs. We believed he could heal, were aggressive in his treatment and we followed an ‘alternative path’ that isn’t alternative at all, it’s r-evolutionary. The protocol I use in my work is a more cohesive and comprehensive version of the experimental approach we adopted for Aidan’s healing. My knowledge about how to heal TBI, concussion and PCS comes first-hand through my own experiences. My experimentation led me to learn about increasing my own brain performance and my husband's as well. Although I was already a health and parent educator, it's my role as a parent myself that motivated me.
You might assume that the brain is too complicated to effectively learn how to heal it without being a neurologist, but I found this isn’t the case. There is so much you can do at home, on your own, or by working with specific practitioners to heal or to get more functionality from your brain. Nothing I present in my work is truly ‘alternative’. It’s all based in evolutionary/ancestral biology. Currently, we have many evolutionary mismatches where our modern lifestyles don’t match what we have evolved to do, be or to eat. An evolutionary mismatch is basically where your biology (and what it needs) runs into something that doesn't match that need. i.e. Many of us sit for most of the day working on computer screens. This behavior doesn't match what we evolved to do (move, run, jump, walk) and we suffer for it.
My approach works because I turned to evolution first. It’s really just a commonsensical approach. I began by assuming that, as your body wants to heal a cut (and it does), the brain wants to heal and has a way. According to much research and data, this turns out to be true. I also assumed that although I didn’t know this particular way, I would be able to figure it out (learn) by 1) becoming a student in various fields of research and 2) closely following the rules of nature. We are biological creatures living on this planet and our optimal functioning happens within the physical laws of Earth. It’s just too easy for modern, industrialized people to forget this simple fact. Consider this note written by Florence Nightingale,
“It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of light; after a closed room, what hurts them most is a dark room, and it is not only light but direct sun-light that they want….People think that the effect is upon the spirit only. This is by no means the case. The sun is not only a painter but a sculptor.” - Notes on Nursing, 1860
The famous nurse wrote this after observing that men in her care healed faster if she made sure they got to sit in the sun each day. She may not have known about Vitamin D, but evolution did. It plays a critical role in many healing processes, and is highly beneficial to the brain. Unfortunately, the current Western medical narrative about the human brain is limited. It certainly doesn’t include considering sunlight’s effects on brain healing, or how much screen-time might be affecting sleep and mood. Most neurologists don’t ask patients about their intake of sugar or DHA (an essential fatty acid), and most often it’s because Western medical institutions themselves don’t require doctors and neurologists to learn about the effects of nutrition on healing. Or exposure to natural light or how exercise affects the brain.
We have a symptoms-only approach with modern medicine and it often fails people who need to heal their brain. It fails those of us who want to maximize our potential and it skips over important factors - like emotional stress or hormone levels - when considering which drug might be best to suppress a headache.
Having a child with active brain injury is terrifying. And now that I've worked with many clients, I can safely say that all people feel terrified by ANY brain malfunction. This is due to these factors:
1) Culturally, we have been taught that the brain is separate, different, special and unknowable (to the average person)
2) We are unaware of the brain's amazing capacity to heal and the specific ways in which the brain will heal given the proper support
3) Consciously or subconsciously, we all know that the brain is our only tool for being who and what we are. To have that threatened is scary. It's easier to pretend we have no control, that nothing is wrong, that we are 'just fine'.
Here is Aidan, 18-months post-last-injury, doing a street magic show for a local crowd. At age 16 (after 3 TBIs), Aidan is a magician, artist, blacksmith, rock-climber, dancer and gymnast:
My son's head injuries were only the tip of the iceberg. We ALL live in a neurotoxic landscape and I've learned that we ALL pay a price, via our brain, and this price is getting steeper and steeper. Check out this list of things that are bad for the brain:
- Excess blue light (from screens and artificial lighting)
- Lack of movement
- Too much noise (no silence)
- Not enough exposure to nature
- Too much sugar in the diet
- Lack of sunlight
- Chemical exposure (via food, air, water, body and home-care products)
- Excessive and/or long-term stress
- Stressful relationships/emotional stress
- Financial stress/poverty
- Certain sports
That's not a complete list by any means - but ask yourself how many of those factors you have now or have had in the past? This isn't just a list I made up either! I dump research on my website, and when my book comes out (The Primal Brain Solution) you will see a robust section of references - our modern evolutionary mismatch is creating severe problems for the brain. The awesome news though is this: You have the power to change the things that matter can actively heal your brain or improve brain performance.
You are in charge.
My son, Aidan, knows something most people will never be aware of: He is in charge of his brain health. He pays attention to how his activities, diet and emotional state are affecting his brain performance. My mission is to bring this knowledge to everyone - whether you have a brain injury or want to prevent brain disease in old age or are launching a start-up and need all the brain-power you can get!
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