A lot of people with limbic system impairment (LSI) have taken a step back from the world at large, to varying degrees. This can be a very good thing for the nervous system as it rewires with, hopefully, fewer triggers. Exposure therapy or incremental training is introduced and we slowly make our way out with a small stimulus and get rewired around it. It sounds like a neat and tidy process doesn’t it? The idea of doing all the things I want with ease is my ultimate goal and yet this process, despite not being linear or as ideal as I would like, wasn’t really getting me where I wanted to go.
This time last year I was using my tools, mostly DNRS based, to do more formal and structured training on driving and walking/physical activity. There were a few things I would step out and do, but I was still largely at home focused mainly on basic needs. I had been engaged to my fiancé for almost a year and still had no idea how I would attend my own wedding. A date wasn’t set yet because I couldn’t imagine setting one. The idea of the wedding we wanted, an event with all of our close family and friends in a venue we love, was so overwhelming to me at the time. I had been training on driving and walking for a year and was at a point where I was feeling frustration with my incremental training. I had not made much progress and told myself it was okay because there were changes taking place that weren’t visible yet, which was true. There were plenty of negative thought patterns I worked with and overcame. I dug into core belief work and did everything I was “supposed” to do.
One day, in December of 2020 I felt like I was done with this and needed a change in direction. The approach wasn’t working well for me and I chose to try something new. My then fiancé and I set a wedding date for October 2021 and I said “I guess I’ll somehow rewire for this as I go along”.
This past October I had the most amazing, fun-filled wedding with a weekend full of social events and all-day activities. I pretty much drive myself anywhere I want/need to go and give myself the extra time to use tools. This year I have only had four days where I really did think it was best that someone else drove me to a destination. Training around activity was really intended to get me back to a full workout plan. I love to do weights and calisthenics training, so I decided I was going to start a routine again and see what happens. Now I work out at moderate to high intensity 4-6 days a week and walk pretty much as much as I want.
I felt like I was training around life. This meant I was going to live my life the way I wanted to the best of my ability (i.e. I wasn’t going from being challenged at small daily tasks to hopping a plane to Fiji….though I thought about it) and stop doing the more structured, baby step style of incremental training. Doing small exposure training is not wrong and is very effective for a lot of people. I want to highlight the difference in thinking “this isn’t working” vs. “this isn’t working well”. Small exposure training hasn’t worked well for me so far and I accept that it’s okay to do it another way.
To give a more specific account of what I call “training around life” looks like, here is what I did in more detail:
1- Driving: I made sure to leave early enough, if I had to be somewhere at a set time, to have 15-20 minutes to stop and pull over if my nervous system really started throwing discomfort my way. When I stopped I would either do a round of DNRS, list things I was grateful for, take some deep breaths and/or remind myself that what I was feeling was just my limbic system trying to protect me and everything was okay. Then I got back on the road and continued to my destination. If I had a day where I felt the physical sensations were enough where it wasn’t ideal to drive then I accepted that I needed a ride and was kind to myself about it.
2- Walking/Activity: I stopped trying to walk a certain distance and put together a weight training and cardio routine for 4-5 days a week and started with a few exercises each day. It took maybe a month to get my full routine going and I talked to myself a lot during my workouts. Instead of listening to music like I used to when working out, I found a few affirmations like “this feels great” and “this is so healthy and good for me” that I repeated in my mind over and over. If I needed some extra rest between exercises I took it and moved on. My tools were always there if I needed them. Gently smiling while working out has become a habit. This became part of my morning routine and something I love. Sometimes I had to do less than I wanted, but I always got started and did the best I could. After four or five months I realized I could walk much easier when I was out in public places that required walking distances so I decided to go for a walk in the park one morning. I walked three miles at a strong pace and still felt like I could keep going; it was awesome!
3- General Daily Schedule: I have a written daily planner with my top priorities for the day. I focused on those and at times life will pull in a surprise for me. Since DNRS is the program I chose, I did four rounds a day and not necessarily at specific times; though I always did one or two in the morning. If I happened to notice a heightening in the nervous system I would use any tool that I thought would give me mood uplift like a smile, soothing touch or sometime a full DNRS round. Talking to myself during these times and often all throughout the day proved to be another useful tool. It was suggested by my coach that I remind myself of why I was feeling what I was feeling. It was my limbic system trying to protect me and was creating all these silly sensations. I kept a short script I had written about what was really happening that I could resonate with and would repeat it to myself when needed. It was a few short sentences so it was easy to remember.
For perspective, my experience has been with 24/7 “silly stuff”. Just because I did things this way doesn’t mean I won’t choose to try a more structured incremental training approach in the future for some things. It also did not necessarily make it easier. In fact, I had more nervous system activation because I was doing so much more and my system saw that as a reason to warn me. I knew I was getting better because I could see the progression over time and handle so much more activity despite additional discomfort. For example, going to the grocery store used to be a rewiring opportunity that I completely forgot about it until writing this blog because it’s so much easier now. Yes, there were (and still are) days I didn’t do much because I knew I needed to back off and let my system settle; but how far I had come was so motivating and that is a feeling I want from the way I chose to rewire.
There were a few things that came up for me that I will highlight in upcoming blog posts that seem to be universal rewiring opportunities that I noticed getting back into the world so quickly and I see in others as well. These opportunities are- People, Overwhelm and Committing to Big Events.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: * You can still rewire your brain if the traditional approach to incremental training doesn’t feel like it’s working well for you.
*Use your tools! Give yourself extra space to use rewiring tools, any tools, when you are going about your day. Talking to yourself and reminding yourself what is really happening can be a useful tool.
*Just because something isn’t working well doesn’t mean it isn’t working at all. You are still rewiring by continuing to shift your focus to positive thoughts and emotions as best you can. You may simply get better results training around life than a more formal style of incremental training.
*Take what everyday life brings you and use it to your rewiring advantage. Everything is an opportunity!
Laura McCook is using DNRS and other rewiring tools to do what she loves and wanted before her perfect storm. After leaving the corporate world to focus on well-being, she’s now an active single and multi-family real estate investor, a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader and Certified Residential Indoor Environmentalist.
Throughout her healing process Laura
chose to explore her creative energy by learning to play the guitar and piano, which she practices regularly and continues to take weekly piano lessons. She also loves cooking, organic edible and butterfly gardening, volunteering with a local cat rescue organization and is starting sommelier classes purely for fun. Website: www.lauramccook.com Laughter Yoga YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP_QzxrEBxfwL1hd54oaizg