Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thank You and Thoughts on Seasons's Greetings

I will - I somewhat promise - try to be as brief as possible with this message (regular readers will know that brevity is not my strong suit). 

Since relaunching Taming the Polar Bears in the summer of 2013, it has become my world. It has, for better or worse, become synonymous with my online identity (though not my real world identity).

Which probably means if you are reading this, you are my world. 

Last summer I wrote a dedication to my daughter in which I stated she was the reason I go on, she was the reason I fight through the worst of my condition and so on to keep going with my life and the work I put into this blog. And while what I wrote and stated there is all true, of course, it's not the complete truth either.

In many ways it is my readers for whom I go on. We have built and have become a tangled web of mutual understanding and support. In many, many ways it is this that most keeps me going. In an odd sort of way, this is actually a stronger day to day connection to the world for me. Or not so odd. If you are reading here you are part of a sub-population of the world whom very, very few understand. Part of my goal and creation here is to provide an oasis of understanding for my followers, that someone gets what you suffer through. 

And so it is for me as well. It is only through my followers that I feel in any way understood. No one in the real world can do that, not even my dear daughter or other family and friends. Some of the people I've met through Taming the Polar Bears have become some of the most important and special people in my life.

Also this year, a special fund and account has been set up in the Polar Bear's name. I know nothing about it other than it exists. Very, VERY kind volunteers do all that is required to keep it going. It is to help keep me in a home after having to spend last winter outdoors and to keep me going with my Taming the Polar Bears research, writing, and other projects. 

In addition to that, very, very kind readers, followers and those who know of and understand my mission and work send me private donations through e-gift cards or in another case paying for an online course important to my neuroscience and mental health studies.

It's extremely humbling. 

I am lost for words about all this. It not only makes an immeasurable difference to my life in helping keep me going in the practical day to day world (bills, rent, etc), it keeps me going spiritually as well, just knowing that there are kind and compassionate people contributing to my life in this way. 

And for all of this support, all I can offer is a deep and sincere THANK YOU and acknowledgement of my gratitude. You truly, truly help keep me in this world and give me the inspiration to keep going with my efforts to provide the best insight into mental health disorders that I can along with the best and most hopeful support I can provide as well as to try every day to "pay it forward" as much as I can in my day to day interactions with the world. 

You ARE my world as well, and in ways much deeper than the vast majority of people could comprehend and understand. 

Thoughts on the holiday season and seasonal greetings

I grew up in a world of fabulous Christmases and, once I got old enough, as a provider of fabulous Christmases. Until that is, I started getting really sick five or six years ago. For a wide, wide variety of reasons, then, I went from Christmas being a great time of the year for me, one I very much looked forward to and could enjoy to the fullest, to the most difficult time of the year for me. 

The very worst of the horrendous psychotic episodes I suffered for a thirty month span of time came during the holidays three years ago (the 28th of this month will mark three years episode free). Two years ago I had to be hospitalized at Christmas (for my fifth and final time <knock on wood>). 

Last year I was homeless and alone for Christmas.

I do not consciously dread Christmas and I do all I can to enjoy it. I am blessed with wonderful family (though for some years, ironically this was part of the curse). Yet ...

So if you are deeply impacted by the holiday season in negative, depressive ways, I completely and utterly understand. You and I probably took very, very different paths to having what many people enjoy as the best part of the year to what can be the most difficult for many of us, but on some level I now do understand. 

As you all know, I work hard at everything. I simply flat out refuse to let this son of a bitching illness get the better of me and run my life.

Yet I know ...

there must always be caution. 

It is extremely hard for me to erase the memories of the psychotic episodes or the (famously dreadful and dangerous) bipolar mixed state episodes of the past. I use my usual techniques to block it all out, yet at some level it is - There. 

I will try to go about everything as normally as I can but that's what I tried in the past and yet still I got hammered by those states.

It's all a very fine balance, a tightrope to walk. 

And so it is with this understanding of the difficulties of the season for many that I do wish you a Merry Christmas.

I am unapologetically a "Merry Christmas" person. It is not said or meant to be exclusionary or offensive to non-Christians. I am not a Christian myself. It is simply my cultural heritage and it is in the spirit of my cultural upbringing and heritage that I say it. There are greetings all over the world that are simply traditional and meaningful to those people and when they say them to foreign or outside guests, they mean the greeting with full and deep warm sincerity. 

And so it is when I say to all of you, 

Have a very Merry Christmas. 

- BGE, December 22, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bipolar in Focus - On Empathy and Bipolar Disorder

Content removed until further notice

Support Taming the Polar Bears


If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears.

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project (Gregory Esau is his brother and the fund bank account is in his name). 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your paypal address and name in the email.

Thank you so much for your support!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Focus (or the lack thereof)

I've been having a bitch of a time writing lately. I've no shortage of topics to write about - dozens of posts for this blog, ideas I have for my neuroscience blog and my Worldly Bush Ape blog (which is where I put my more op/ed pieces), along with various works of fiction I started but ... 

Focus. I can't focus. 

This only came to me this morning when I couldn't sleep. Yes, this is also related to having difficulty in focusing. 

This is going to be very familiar to any of you who deals daily with living with a psychiatric disorder - the dreaded scatterbrain feeling. Mind all over the place, first over here, then over there. This is the big priority. No wait, it's that. No, no, no, it's none of that, it's this new thing that's just popped up. Ghah, shit, no. Can't do that until X, Y and Z are taken care of first. Oh, wait! Look at this cool video someone posted on YouTube! Oh! So 'n' so is pinging me on Messenger. I'll just chat for a while. 

Okay, now back to work. What was it I was doing again? Aaahh, right, it was this project. Oh, shit, the cat's made a mess. Now where was I again? 

Oh fuck, I'm exhausted. No, can't sleep, must at least get started on this. I'll make some coffee. Shit, look at the kitchen, what a mess. I gotta straighten this out at least a bit.

Okay, now where was I? I had a good idea going there, now where the hell did it go? You know what? I think I need some fresh air. I'll go for a walk first. 

Phew, that felt good. Oh! Look at all the notifications I got! I'll just check those quick while I relax a bit after my walk. 

Then - just as I'm about to finally sit down to start getting something done - the dreaded brain fog descends. Nothing moves. Okay, just lie down a bit. Try to read. Stare at the same page for ten minutes, nothing gets absorbed. 

And on and on it goes. Days, then weeks and then into months. 

A year or two years ago, I'd have been in a great panic by now and probably on the verge of a massive suicidal breakdown. I am one of drive and ambition. I'd gotten so used to my mind working at a great pace (the great manic year of 2013 when I wrote hundreds of thousands of words, most of which came to me seemingly like magic out of thin air). I have great dreams for Taming the Polar Bears. I have books I want to write. I have photography projects I want to complete. I want to leave all this as a legacy to my daughter of who I was. I therefore find it very difficult when things grind on like this without any productivity. I find it gets enormously frustrating. 

If nothing else, I've moved on from allowing it all to plunge me down the rabbit hole so badly like in the past. Nonetheless, my own internal generated pressure begins to mount. Darker and darker thoughts begin to percolate and dominate. My mind gets more and more out of touch with my goals and ambitions. Ideas that seemed so clear not long ago seem distant or like dissipating mists. Things begin to break down. 

I'm sure this all sounds quite familiar to many of you. Bipolar minds can especially be like this because of the enormous amounts of mental activity they create and at times wildly varying mental states (bubbling optimistic energy here, dark melancholy there, much in between). 

So let's have a look at what's going on.

The basic issues are:

  • difficulty in focusing and maintaining attention
  • that ever delightful "scatterbrain" feeling
  • brain fog (mental mud, mental molasses, etc)

The first issue probably sounds to most people like a condition for which there is either a three or four letter acronym. According to some literature, this condition and bipolar very often go hand in hand and it certainly has with me, especially during my worst periods. This is a topic I generally don't go anywhere near. I have my own views on focus and attention issues but if I've learned one thing in nearing three years of researching and writing on mental health issues and the brain, if you want to be a lightening rod for angry comments and being vilified, dare challenge anything about this condition. It seems I can talk about and challenge any other mental health disorder, but this one is off limits. So I just don't go there (though who knows, I might some day).

Attention and focus is controlled by a network of brain regions, the most important of which are in the frontal lobes (the details of this will have to wait for another day and a dedicated post). One thing I learned very early on in my research about the brain was to do with its "energy economy". In times of stress, the brain will generally redirect energy to key core regions that are more vital for our survival (which are the more primitive areas of our brain). The frontal lobes are the first to get energy scaled back when the brain reallocates energy due to stress so poof, there goes most of the essential areas of the brain for regulating focus and attention. 

The brain, as I've said numerous times in my posts on the brain, is the single biggest energy consumer in our body, taking up a whopping 20 percent of all reserves (while accounting for only perhaps 1 to 3 percent of our total body weight). When energy from caloric intake runs low, the brain also reallocates energy to core regions, once again dialing back energy to the frontal lobes and other (what it considers to be) "non-essential" circuits and regions. Poof again.  

So, with that in mind, what (I ask myself) have I been going through lately? Starting from early June, mega stress involving living arrangements and moving (long story, but for me these are major stress and anxiety triggers). I've found a new arrangement but at this point it is looking neither stable nor long term. As well, it's shared accommodations and getting used to living with other people and the noise has been stressful and difficult to adjust to (though I've been doing everything to put my best foot forward). 

For a wide variety of reasons, I've been eating like shit or not eating at all, having totally fallen off the wagon of my good eating habits (not terrible, mind you, I'm not eating junk or fast food, but certainly not as good as it needs to be). 

So, high stress, grinding anxiety (asides from bipolar, borderline personality disorder and major depressive episodes, I met all criteria for major anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder as well) and piss poor eating habits. I can virtually guarantee you that that's going to challenge the ability of anyone to focus and maintain attention to tasks. That's going to challenge the ability to think, period.

Which takes us to the scatterbrain feeling. My mind can be a cacophony of snippets of songs, past conversations (from anywhere from those that took place that morning to some from decades ago), wild ideas, dark and distressing thoughts, ideas of all kinds coming and going in a constant revolving door, imagery of all kinds, haunting voices, visions of past mistakes and so on sometimes swirling around like the vortex of a roaring tornado. When it's all going full blast, you couldn't shoehorn an important task in there to focus on to save your life. 

Stress and anxiety are the big culprits here. Stress and anxiety (which is sort of a subset of stress that becomes chronic) have this troubling proprensity to do a couple of things to our thought processes. One, in times of stress the brain is disposed to start "rapid firing" looking for answers, looking for things in our minds and memories that might help. Unfortunately, and here we go back to that "energy economy" thing again, higher cognitive areas and better emotional control areas tend to get deprived of energy and go "offline", while more primitive subcortical regions get higher priority. And these lower regions are exactly where more panicked thinking originates, where memories of past mistakes are stored and emotions are generated. It all adds up to creating the kind of chaotic cacophony of thoughts and mental messiness described above. 

write about sleep and the brain here, but without making you go over there (though I quite recommend it), I can tell you that neuroscience has been uncovering tremendous amounts of evidence for how important sleep is to brain function and for memory consolidation. Chronic lack of sleep will greatly impact sharper brain function and contribute to scattered thinking. Sleep too has been an issue for me recently (more in a minute). 

If it's not rapid fire scattered thoughts and mental chaos, it's mental mud. You can't think, you can't read, you can't process anything. Memory seems inaccessible. Very, very disconcerting, I can tell you (and for those who know what I'm talking about, I don't need to tell you). If not downright terrifying. You're also going to tend to feel clumsier and process sight and sound slower. Every freaking thing seems overwhelming. Getting out of bed seems like a monumental task. This used to be guaranteed to send me into a panic. 

To understand this, we need to go back to energy (the whole universe is about energy and so it is with our brains). Now we must look deeper than short term caloric energy intakes, and even beyond that provided by sleep. We need to look into the very "energy engines" of our cells - mitochondria. For those of us who are bipolar and have been through many cycles of mania and depression (or during the depressive phase of any cycle, be it the first or the umpteenth one), or those who have been living with long term chronic anxiety and/or depression, we are going to have suffered damage to our mitochondrial function. 

I write about this in quite great detail in a three part series starting here (links to parts two and three are at the bottom of that post). Mitochondrial function is something I've looked very deeply into in order to understand the chronic fatigue that has come with living with bipolar for so long (and following the mother of all manic-depressive cycles). We needn't get into great detail here, but to understand times of mental molasses, let's have a brief look. Mental functioning of all kinds means neurons communicating with each other on massive scales (remember, you have somewhere around one hundred billion neurons, all with important jobs to do in your noggin and mental processing). Mitochondria are absolutely essential for every step in the processes of how neurons themselves function and in how they communicate with neighbouring (or even distant) neurons to form thoughts, call up memories (or create new ones), and process every single thing your brain must do (including coordinating physical movement and visual and auditory input, which is why something as simple as even holding a conversation or reading a book is so challenging).

So with mitochondrial dysfunction, everything the brain must do is going to grind to a slow crawl, focus and concentration will suffer. 

Now, on to a personal note. 

While I manage all my conditions drug free, there are times when I do need something. Stress and lack of sleep are the two main factors that will prolong and exacerbate the crippling fatigue that I live with. So sometimes after a particularly stressful time or event (like being evicted from my previous residence because of my condition and the resultant big move to another town and starting over yet again) and if sleeplessness is getting to be more than I can handle on my own, I know it's critical that I do something to really rest up and "power sleep" for a few weeks. It is during that time that I will temporarily go on the anti-psychotic Seroquel. There are no good drugs in my very well researched and founded view, but I know from prior experience with Seroquel that it will knock me out in the evening and let me sleep through the night so that I can get some essential restorative rest and sleep.

The trouble with it - and this is one of its numerous side effects for many users - is that it leaves me with a persistent grogginess through the day (especially in the morning) which in my case at least, also has been contributing to the brain fog and mental mud. 

The several week period I'd set aside to use it to help recuperate has passed and I've been trying to go off of it but, for the first time, it's been proving very difficult and sleep has been very hard coming without it (I've been on it for far too short a time to being going through true withdrawal, however).

So this has been a factor for me as well. 

Add it all up and I've been having a bitch of a time writing or focusing or reading or accomplishing anything mentally. 

Meditation has been demonstrated to greatly help with sleep, focus and concentration and improved mental states but I haven't been doing that either. 

So no wonder I've sort of fallen apart lately!

The good news is that I have been getting out for lots of walks or long hikes in nature. No question things would be even worse if I weren't at least getting a good amount of fresh air and exercise. 

So what to do? (the sixty-four thousand dollar question, after all).

It's pretty simple, really (do not, however, mistake simple for easy). 

For one, I must not allow myself to panic about it. This is a lesson I've learned over and over and over again. Whatever a difficult situation or crisis is, panicking is like throwing jet fuel on an already burning fire. Easier said than done, however. But this is where all my study pays off, plus by now lots of experience with going through this numerous times in the past few years. I know that if I do things right and get back to all my basic fundamentals, my mind will come back, focus will improve, my better mental functioning and somewhat improved energy will return. 

Two, and you regular readers have to know that this is coming, I have to rededicate myself to my Positive Difference Making Fundamentals. That means making more effort to stay in the now and the day, getting back to my various (and very simple) meditative practices, devoting more mental bandwidth to practicing my approaches to spirituality (and I can't tell you what a difference simply focusing on gratitude can make to one's mental states). 

Three, get back to my nutritional basics, starting with simply having a nutrition and brain energy packed fresh fruit and vegetable smoothie every morning and get away from the crap that's been creeping into my diet again (like the all you can eat fish and chips I had the other day. Yummy, yummy, yummy, but so not good for my mental states and energy). 

Lastly, and probably the hardest of all for me - patience. I know the downward spiral took time and it'll take time to get the spiral going back up. But I know good lifestyle and diet habits will always work, even if I get a bit grumpy sometimes about having to practice them. I've searched the world over looking at how to restore mitochondrial function and the best I can find is what I've listed - rest, rest and more rest, as much quality sleep each night as possible, better nutrition and fresh air and light (not strenuous) exercise along with regular meditation (to calm stress). And as my brain health improves with better diet, habits and sleep, my focus will improve, the mental chaos/scatterbrain will diminish greatly and the brain fog will lift (for the most part).  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Brad's Brain Training Exercises: An Introduction

Like anyone who's suffered with severe and recurring depressive episodes - and probably especially those of us who go through bipolar depressive episodes (which for various reasons that I'll get to in a separate post some day are more intense) - my mind used to be a horror show of negative thoughts, very bad beating myself up self-dialogue, cognitive distortions, black and white thinking, very dark and negative future projections and much else to do with "thoughts" and our inner mental world. 

This is why I emphasize so much what consciousness is and what it's made up of - what I often refer to as our "conscious experience". Thoughts are a huge part of how our brains both "communicate" to us as part of our conscious experience and create our realities.

In the fall of 2013, I was deeply and badly struggling during the early parts of a massive and mind crushing depressive phase that was part of the 
mother of all manic depressive episodes. At the same time I was really beginning to fathom and grasp the neuroscience of thought and of the incredible power that thoughts can have in our minds and mental states. I was beginning to learn to examine my own thoughts and the roles they played in my mental states and it was at that point that I knew I had to work on my thoughts. That fall was also when the fatigue started absolutely hammering me and I was left with being unable to do much else than to spend most of my days just sitting staring out the window.

I also was beginning to deeply understand how much of our moods and mental states are driven by our own reactions to those very thoughts and to life around us. I understood that a great deal of what we needed to do was to "retrain" our brains to react differently not only to our own thoughts but to life events, circumstances, challenges and even to our own desires, wants and goals. And not only to retrain our brain's reactions to our thoughts but to create different thought patterns altogether. 

The question then became how to do this.

Through the study of neuroplasticity, I was quite familiar with the principles and benefits of online 
brain training games and could grasp their potential but a) I'd quickly become wary of the claims made by sites such as Luminosity and b) I'd tried some and quickly realized that these were not what we mental health peeps needed. 

What we needed was something that'd help us work on:

- distorted thoughts such as black and white thinking, cognitive distortions and negative self-dialogue

- learning self-compassion and forgiveness

- dark thoughts about the future 

- letting go

- more confident decision making

- creating better perseverance and resilience 

- creating better reactions to difficulties

- creating more positive inner dialogue

- our reactions to our own selves and the challenges of life

And much so on along these lines.

As well - and I can't emphasize how important this is - I knew that I needed something to keep my brain and mind occupied and distracted during the worst of the fatigue because what I discovered during those dark times was that if we don't find ways to keep our mind occupied when we don't have the energy to do anything else, it creates particularly fertile ground for our minds to run amok and for demonic dark thoughts to dominate. 

Not only that, I very, very well understood the dangers of losing my higher cognitive abilities due to the fatigue if I didn't train and exercise my brain in some way when I was really hammered with the all encompassing mental and physical fatigue. 

No available brain training exercises I looked into did anything like that. 

So I designed my own.

My brain training exercises work on multiple levels if approached and practiced correctly.This post is going to give an initial outline on how to approach them, establish further how and why they work, and how to apply the lessons learned to real life situations.

For "games", I just used the standard solitaire games that come with Windows OSes but I apply the same techniques when doing crosswords and then I began applying the same processes to virtually everything I do (the ultimate goal). You could use anything you like, as long as it's at least somewhat mentally challenging, holds your interest and keeps you engaged. You could actually apply the same principles we're going to learn here to any hobby you like - cooking (a favourite of mine), playing an instrument, woodworking, you name it! 

I talk with a lot of people privately (both in real life and online) about what I've been through, what I've accomplished to overcome and stabilize very advanced Type I bipolar disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, major anxiety and massive suicidal depression and how I did and continue to do it all without medications or any ongoing professional help. Most marvel at what I have done and can do (granted, the people that tell me this are those who deeply, deeply understand mental health issues and the struggles and challenges. "Normal" people - those who are mentally healthy or have never really gone through the worst aspects of long term mental health difficulties - don't get it at all). I get a lot of interest in wanting to know how I did it.

Looking back on it, I feel very strongly that my brain training exercises made the biggest difference (and I use them to re-enforce many of my 
Positive Difference Making Fundamentals). Now, if we go back to Neuroscience in Focus - an Introduction to Neuroplasticty and what we began to learn there, we can see that when we are trying to change deeply ingrained mental patterns such as very negative self dialogue or negative self-image (very closely related, of course), what we in fact have to do, is "rewire" actual brain circuits and this takes time and repetition and this is what exercises like I introduce here are designed to do. 

So let me try introduce my approach.

Brain Exercise:

Assuming we're starting as I did with the solitaire card games we're all familiar with, the most important thing to keep in mind for the best approach and for best results is that we must not think of them as "games", we must think of them as puzzles.The brain loves puzzles. Human brains evolved to solve puzzles and find solutions, to seek patterns in apparent chaos and so on. So right away, the appropriate mental approach and attitude is that you are giving your brain puzzles to solve. This is a form of exercise for the brain, just as Pilates is for the body. A huge part of my concepts for better mental health is exercising the brain; the principle being that a brain that works better and more efficiently and that taps into the brain's higher cognitive powers is going to lead to less overwhelm and negative results in life situations. A better exercised brain is going to solve problems better leading to a smoother life and less stress and all of this is going to by course of nature lead to better mental health. Make sense?

I have lots of other ways that I exercise my brain - I read a lot of challenging material, I poke at different languages, I do a 
lot of music therapy  (please refer that post as an introduction) and so on - but the following are the exercises that I do most and work at the most.

Now, not only are we going to exercise our brains by giving it puzzles to solve (crossword puzzles also work well and I often use them in lieu of card based puzzles), we're going to work on our mental processes and states as we do so.

As a Distraction and Change of Focus: 

Puzzle solving games can be a great distraction technique. 

Distraction, or changing one's focus, is a classic and powerful method taught by many psychologists for dealing with emotional overwhelm, periods of anxiety, racing negative thoughts, etc. So the games can at once give one's mind a different focus while also giving it something challenging and engaging to do.

There are times when one is getting pummeled with overwhelm and a breakdown feels imminent that some sort of distraction is vital. I just like to do my distractions with something with purpose (and we will feel less guilt as well if we feel we are actively trying to do something beneficial and purposeful). I also do a lot of mindfulness activities like cooking or baking, accompanied - of course - by music therapy (please see this 
introduction to music therapy and this post on some of the neuroscience of music therapy). 

Correct Mental Approach:

It is critical for the brain training games to be most effective (results will of course vary) to approach the games mindfully; that is, to pay close attention to what one is doing and not just mindlessly move cards around (or whatever is involved in solving the puzzle). To that end one must also take a goal orientated approach to the games. There are multiple goals one can set. The most obvious goal is to win the particular game one is currently playing (or about to start). But there is much more than just winning individual games. There are long term goals (winning ten games, achieving a certain winning percentage, finishing a game within a set time limit and so on). As well, one should take the goal of aiming for constant improvement. 

As it is not possible to win all the time, losing can feel quite discouraging and even frustrating. Feeling discouraged or frustrated with losing is perfectly natural but a) these are also automatic reactions we want to change and b) if one takes the approach of using each game as an opportunity to improve or to learn then no matter what, one can always take something away from each session. 

If you're not feeling discouraged or frustrated by losing then perhaps you don't have enough desire to win, something that itself must be changed. This, I find, is not uncommon among those who've been beaten down by life for too long. However, by winning, we needn't necessary think of winning as the ultimate goal, or winning at all costs, but as always trying to attain the best possible outcome for ourselves out of whatever situation we face. For some of you I know it means learning that you deserve the best possible outcome. 

Just a brief note on the "winning attitude"  before we move on. Looking back on the many challenges I have faced in the course of the last several years - especially being homeless through a Canadian winter and related ongoing basic housing challenges - training myself through these exercises to always look for the best possible outcome no matter "the hand that I was dealt" was easily, in my mind, the biggest difference maker out of these brain training exercises. I've been dealt some pretty crappy cards the last few years and in constantly training myself through the exercises to always look for the best possible outcome no matter what and not just throw in the towel or "fold", it's just something my mind tends to do automatically no matter how bad I feel at first in a given new challenge.

Okay, now bearing the mindfulness approach in mind (and the following section), you the brain trainer need to understand that the pace at which you play is probably going to be quite slow to start. Actually, I'll state that it should be slow to start. This is an important part of mindfulness; going very slowly, paying close attention to each step, paying close attention to one's mental processes, inner dialogue and so on. Taking this approach while solving the puzzles is going to start training your mind to do this with other tasks you perform as well.

Using the Games as a Mental Exercise:

These are exercises that, if approached and practiced correctly, will target and exercise specific parts of the brain and brain networks, just as practicing a new golf swing does (or practicing anything in a focused and directed manner). These kinds of exercise are important for the brain – and for you – because it's very difficult to practice and change all the things outlined above (among others) under real world conditions, just as it is for an athlete to learn new skills in game conditions. That's why athletes practice daily in private controlled conditions - so they can master new skills or strategies before entering the arena of competition. My exercises give you the opportunity to work on things like cognitive distortions, negative self-dialogue, etc. in safe, focused, controlled and specific conditions. 

In other words, the brain training exercises are like your own “practice field” and I (through these instructions and others to follow) am your personal coach (like a golfer even as great as Tiger Woods has a personal swing coach or a tennis player like Serena Williams has a personal coach). Like athletes, you can learn and master new mental skills and strategies before heading out into the arena of competition called Life.

Once one is making gains in a specific area, one can begin applying the new abilities in those “game conditions”; the real world day to day conditions of life. One may even notice that they are subconsciously beginning to change (IE: practicing new, more positive self-dialog without any conscious effort to do so), which would really be great!

Again, the exercises are designed to activate and strengthen specific brain regions and networks while weakening the connections in brain regions that have been overactive and dominating one's mental states, thoughts and so on. I will address the power of thought in a future post which will further bear out the importance of working on and making these changes.

Correcting Negative Inner Dialogue:

There are many things one can work on while solving the puzzles but the number one thing most people seem to want to start with is negative inner dialogue and self-criticism and I must agree this is a great – and very important – place to start because negative inner dialogue and that nasty self-critic has such an enormous impact on what we are consciously experiencing, our moods and mental health. Negative inner dialogue even shapes much about how we feel about and see ourselves (our self-image) and what we project to those around us. If we can change this, I can assuredly say that we can make profound changes and differences to our moods and mental states that will begin to change our lives along with how we and the world see ourselves. It's not a quick process, I must caution, but in time the difference can be striking.

Okay then, when we are performing almost any kind of mental task (or slow paced physical tasks), we are going to have a running dialogue going on in our head. We are going to use practicing the puzzle solving exercises to slowly change our inner dialogues by working to deactivate negative dialogue networks and to create, build and strengthen positive ones. Additionally, in doing so, we're going to start working on something I call Mindfulness Meditation CBT (
which I introduce in this post) – becoming more aware of our thought processes and questioning them more and building alternate thought processes and reactions to situations.

So while one is going through the task of solving a puzzle, I'm going to ask that you become very aware of and conscious of your thought processes and inner dialogue. What I'm going to ask you to do is try to catch yourself saying negative things or running negative mental approach “programs” then pause to replace them with more positive ones. Replacing “can't” with “can” is just one tiny example. Replacing self-recriminating remarks like “you idiot! What a stupid move!” with dialogue that acknowledges the mistake with something like “oh shoot, that didn't go well. Hhhmm, now how could I have done that differently?”.

It's necessary to try and stop each time you catch yourself running a negative inner dialogue and really focus on the new dialogue, repeating it several times. Then – and this is very important – you need to follow up with actual action. If there was a mistake (you saw that you played a card wrong, for example), you need to slow down, examine what you could have done differently, then try it again or if you can't try it again, fix it in your mind how you might approach the same or similar situation next time. It's very important to align better inner thoughts with better actions; the two work best when re-enforcing each other (and this is indeed a cornerstone of CBT training - cognitive = the mental processes, behaviour = actions. CBT works to align these in healthy ways). 

Also - 
very important to teaching ourselves better inner dialogue and reducing self-criticism - we're also going to start learning the habit of self-forgiveness and compassion. We can start learning to tell ourselves, "it's okay, it's perfectly natural to make a mistake". Because, in complete factual truth, it is perfectly natural to make a mistake, especially when we're worn down and stressed out. Retraining our brains to eliminate negative self-dialogue and the bitter inner critic is much, much harder if we don't, as we go along in these brain training sessions, learn to be more forgiving and compassionate towards ourselves in general - something I talk at some length about in this post on compassion and gratitude. This will also begin to apply to how we think of and talk to others as well. Change or improve this and I can one hundred percent guarantee that you will begin to notice an improvement in the relationships in your life. Improve the relationships in your life and your life begins to improve. Win/win, baby. 

There are many other mental approaches and attitudes in our minds that we can retrain. Sometimes you may look at the cards (or whatever it is you're using to practice) and think, "oh crap, no way can I win this game". We can train ourselves not to "forecast" what might happen (especially in negative ways) and just learn the attitude to do the best we can, to make the best out of a bad situation and see what happens. I found that training myself to use this approach prevents me from shutting off possible solutions and instead helps me find solutions I may have otherwise missed. 

I also found that when I trained myself not to jump to forecasting conclusions and not to either mentally give up (and only half-ass finish off the game, resulting in certain defeat) or just "throw in the cards" (literally or figuratively), that more and more games that at first appeared "unsolvable" ended up being - ta-da! - solvable! And - AND! - as this habit of not forecasting and jumping to conclusions and instead training myself to more calmly and mindfully work towards all possible best outcomes became more set in my daily mental make up, this new mental habit began to apply to real world situations and I got myself out of all kinds of pickles that I would not have otherwise done with the negative mindset that my mind had become in the years of my worst struggles (and of course at various points throughout my life).

There is much, much more but I'm going to leave it at this for now. 

To get the relative optimal results, it is best that one practice daily (like practicing any new skills or keeping skills sharp). One must practice in a very focused and mindful way (which is actually a key part of the training and what is being trained in your mind). I'd suggest giving it a minimum of thirty minutes a day, at least to start. You can do it at set times (I often use them first thing in the morning to help wake up my mind and get it "on stream") or, as I've said, times when you feel too exhausted to do much else is when they can work as a good way to keep your mind occupied, or as a vital distraction or change of focus if you are beginning to feel overwhelmed by your own thoughts or some external stimuli. And I'd ask that you try to practice them purposefully and not think you're just screwing around killing time (which utterly defeats the benefits). 

always combine my brain training exercises with music therapy (again, introduced in this post). Combining my brain training approaches and the proven benefits of music therapy is very powerful. 

It is my hope that this lays out a solid idea of what you can do to retrain your brain and thus so many of the undesirable mental models you'd like to get rid of or change. Again, I'd ask you in conjunction with what we learned in this post to take some time to reread 
the post introducing neuroplasticity where I begin to explain in a bit more detail the principles of how specific, focused and directed mental exercises can change the brain regions and networks involved in creating mental models that help drive depressive moods and states, both long term and short term. 

Now the real cool thing about mental exercises like this is that when we begin to regularly exercise our brains in controlled conditions like this (again, just as athletes do to improve and grow), we in very deep and interesting ways kind of jump start the whole neuroplasticity processes in our brains (the deeper neuroscience on this is 
very interesting). And what this means is that once we "wake up" our brain's ability to adapt and grow in new ways, this can cascade into all kind of other new positive habit change, something Kelly McGonigal observed in the course of teaching thousands of Stanford students the science and methodology of habit change, which she documents in her book The Willpower Instinct. Which is why I concluded that doing these exercises regularly and daily made the biggest difference - because the better brain processes I trained into my brain cascaded over into so many other things I do and other areas of my life. 

One last thing ... 

As with all my approaches for attaining better mental health, my brain training exercises should not be taken in isolation or viewed as a "cure" or anything like that. This was and is just one part of my overall approach, one that includes lifestyle management, a specific diet, physical exercise and movement and much else (all of which I'm gradually getting to). 

Support Taming the Polar Bears


If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions: paypal.me/BradEsau

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project. 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address -TamingThePolarBears@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.

Thank you so much for your support from the Taming the Polar Bears team!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Taming the Polar Bears - A Dedication

That is my daughter.

The photo is from 2006. I chose that picture because ... for reasons that are too personal. Anyway, she is older than that now. 

My daughter is the reason you are reading these words today and any of the tens of thousands of words that make up all the content of Taming the Polar Bears. She is the reason you are reading these words because without her, I would no longer exist. 

She is my sun, my moon, my stars, my galaxies, my everything. 

But most importantly, she is my anchor. She keeps me tethered to Terra Firma on Spaceship Earth. 

I'm not sure how to describe adequately what an anchor is in ways those who have never been there could understand. Most simply, an anchor is something that is going to keep you from stepping over the last and final line in to the deep dark abyss from which there is no return called death. 

There are several different ways a mind will take one over that last and final line. I went through almost all of them but the two most terrifying and closest to that edge are the most dangerous in my (well earned and well researched) estimation. 

One I liken to being like an astronaut doing a space walk. The only thing that stops the astronaut from drifting off into space, getting sucked into space where the laws of physics will quickly vaporize him or her, is that tether they wear. That's their life line, the most literal lifeline we can imagine. 

One form of almost going over that edge into the abyss is that your mind narrows down to such a narrow dark tunnel that you lose touch with every single thing in your life, in the world, in your mind - you lose contact with everything. And it feels like there is a vacuum sucking you further and further down that tunnel and away from Life. There comes a point where there is just no return. And it feels exactly like being that astronaut and the tether has been cut and you are being drawn out into that black void of space. And it's terrifying because you can sort of look back on where you were but the powers are drawing you away, slowly away, drifting, drifting, drifting until ... 

There were several times I was being pulled down that tunnel or that feeling of being pulled out to the dark void of space. It is unbelievably powerful, it is beyond your imagination. It's beyond the imagination of almost everyone because you have to a) experience it to understand it and b) survive. I don't think many people do. 

And the only thing that will bring you back is an anchor, that tether. That is what will pull you back and reconnect you to the world.

And for me, that anchor was my daughter. Somehow through the darkness of that tunnel, the darkness of space that I was being pulled in to, somehow, somehow her light would shine through, her image would come to me. Sometimes maybe her voice. And that would draw me back.

And for that reason and that reason only, I did not die that day. 

[I can't tell you how extremely hard it is to recall this and write it down]

Another way is psychosis. I'm not going to clinically define psychosis today but they are forces from I don't know where that just take you over. These are visions, voices, dialogues, scenes that you are just strapped into and cannot escape. You cannot turn it off, you cannot "wake up" from it, you cannot make it go away, you cannot dismiss it from your mind. There is no technique of psychology or anything that will make it stop once it passes a certain threshold. And in me, all those demonic forces were demanding and directing me to either cause myself great bodily harm or to in some way end my life (there were around ten of these episodes between July 2010 and the final one December 28th 2012). 

I have yet to talk to anyone (and you have no idea how many people I talk to seeking out similar experiences and answers to these episodes) who has experienced anything like it. Again, I believe, for the simple reason that there are so few survivors. I cannot even begin to relate to you how difficult it was to come out the other side of them. 

And again, the only reason I am here at this moment typing these words is because of my anchor, my daughter. 

For through all these terrifying visions and voices and commands that were like a tornado in my mind, somehow, somehow something about her penetrated the terror of it all to give me something to cling to, something that somehow - and I have no real idea how - gave me the strength to fight off those demons another time. The. Only. Reason.

Was her. 

She was my anchor. 

When I had my first episode of psychosis and subsequent break down in July of 2010 and was about to end my life, it was because of her that I walked into a hospital and started my road asking for help. At that time I was on a manic drive towards death and she was the only thing that stepped in the path of that drive and knocked me a different direction. The. Only. Reason.

Was her. 

*  *  *  *  *

From the day she was born on November 24th, 1994, everything I did was dedicated to making her future the best it could be. 

I did all the things you were supposed to do. I built equity so that when I passed away, she'd have something. For fifteen years almost my entire life was dedicated to building something that she could inherit so that her life could be easier than my life. So she could go to university, or start a business, or buy her own home in which to raise her own family. I just wanted her life to be easier than mine. That's what fathers do. 

Then in long manic swoop from the end of 2007 through 2009 when it all fall apart, I lost every single penny of the approximately quarter million dollars in equity that was to go to her (and would have been more; it was all very soundly invested). Every. Single. Penny. 

And then some. 

So now what can I leave her?

And not only did I lose all that, my daughter lost the father she'd grown up loving. 

I'll get to this another time, but it is now well documented the horrendous impact on children of those with severe mental health disorders. 

And as I crumbled and broke down and lost my mind and my sanity and everything I ever worked for and was losing her mother, she had a front row seat to every single minute of it. All the breakdowns, all the hospitalizations, the manic looniness, the weeks of dark depression where I never left my room, the loss of every single thing I used to be, the heartbreaking attempts to find a job - any job - and pull myself out of it that were all in vain: the whole sickening descent from the life loving, fully in control home owner father, to the man who ended up homeless and living out of an unheated 37 year old van. 

And she watched it all. 

At some point I realized the only thing I could leave her was my mind, the products of my mind.

I deeply desire for her to know that her dad was more than that person who underwent all those horrible breakdowns and lost everything and became a homeless man.

And since that time, every single thing that I study, that I write, that I photograph, that I envision and create is to build a legacy that I can leave for her.

And that's what this whole blog and my photography website are about - a written and photographic record of who her dad was, how his mind worked, what he did for people, how he saw the world, all of it.

Every single thought, every single word, every single photograph, every single effort.

When my fatigue is so bad and my mind so darkened by its inability to create the energy to turn on and function and I cannot get out of bed, or the circumstances of life are crushing me down it is for her and this legacy for her that I somehow find a way to.

Everything I do and all the passion that drives it for all of you - whomever is reading and gaining value from my words is

For her. 

For she is my sun, my moon, my stars, my galaxies, my everything. 

And everything I now do is dedicated to


My anchor. My everything. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for being here.  

Support Taming the Polar Bears


If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project (Gregory Esau is his brother and the fund bank account is in his name). 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.

Thank you so much for your support!

On Belief - Introduction

On Belief

That's the Chinese (and Japanese, which borrowed from Chinese) character for belief. I happen to enjoy the study of Chinese characters and this is one of my favourites. Chinese characters can be elegantly simple or they can be enormously complex. I like this one because it lies somewhere in between, retaining an elegant simplicity while displaying some of the intriguing complexities that Chinese characters can also have. It's also one of the easier ones to decipher so it's quite fun as well. 

Most characters are combinations of what I call the 'basic characters' but which are formally known as 'radicals' (of which there are 214) and each radical will add meaning to the main character. In the character for belief, for example, there are two radicals. On the left, you can see a two stroke radical which is a variant on the character for 'man'. On the right is the seven stroke character for 'speech'. So together the character for belief might say 'man speak' or 'man speech' (I'm not sexist, by the way, but merely directly translating from original Chinese). So perhaps in ancient China (and Chinese language predates any modern western language by a good number of centuries if not millenia) the concept for belief was based on what a man spoke. He spoke what he believed, hence 'man speak' equaled 'belief' hence those two radicals becoming the character for belief. 

At any rate, Chinese characters are not only beautiful to look at, they're a lot of fun to study and I thought this brief and interesting (to me at least) preamble might be a fun way to introduce today's topic. 

Belief is a deep part of what makes humans "tick" and it is my position that critical parts of our belief systems become "broken" in long term mental health disorders and this broken or distorted belief system becomes a big part of the tangle in our minds that we have to sort out - and rebuild. I'd say with some certainty (and neuro-psychology evidence) that the powers of belief are also major components of how our brains 
create our realities but today I just want to stick to the concept of belief. 

I also consider belief - actually "remanufacturing" belief - to be critical in turning our mental disorders around and getting to a healthier brain and mental equilibrium, so let's start to have a little deeper look at what this thing we call "belief" is all about.

In studying neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience (as I like to say - and have several times in various pieces - the former is about the nuts and bolts of the brain, the latter about the mental phenomenon those nuts and bolts produce), understanding belief has become a favourite pursuit of mine. 

There is, I have found, no one way to strictly define "belief". The general concept covers a whole spectrum of human mental phenomenon which includes such things as trust, confidence, faith, feelings of assurance and credence, "hunches" and "gut feelings" and so on. The more one studies and observes human behaviour, the more one can see just how much various forms of belief are integral to and drive individual and mass human behaviour. 

We're not here to try understand all that too much today, however. What we need to do here is to get you the reader to a better understanding of how beliefs or lack thereof play a role in mental states and mental disorders and in order to do that we first need a basic understanding of what belief is and why we have the capacity for it. As well, we'll be looking at belief in all forms in more detail in numerous other posts and this is mostly just to set the table for that.  

Belief is actually an essential survival tool and that humans have this incredible capacity for belief is no evolutionary accident (I think certain animals, especially social animals with more evolved frontal lobes, have some capacity for belief but nowhere near the capacity that humans do but this is not the time nor place to get into differentiating between human consciousness and that of other species). 

In strict evolutionary terms, and why our species is endowed with the capacity to believe, is that throughout the millions of years of our evolutionary development belief is what pushed people to continue, and often ultimately thrive, despite what were very, very often overwhelming odds against survival or success. The capacity to believe was also an adaptive measure to conquer stress, anxiety and worry in times of shortages. 

For an example of the former we can imagine a time of conflict with a rival people. Your people may be greatly outnumbered, have inferior weapons and any honest and truthful evaluation of the situation would tell you that you were about to get slaughtered. This would mean just giving in to slaughter or surrendering, neither of which is ideal for the continuation of your people's particular genetic line (see Dawkins' 
The Selfish Gene or any of hundreds of sources on the basics of evolutionary genetics). Slaughter of course means your genes disappear altogether and surrendering means your genes get assimilated into the genes of the rival (and triumphant) tribe and thus all but disappear as well. In evolutionary genetics, where continuation of genes is the whole point, this is A Bad Thing. 

Chronic stress has always been both an outright killer or greatly impairs one's ability to act (acute stress response is a life saver, chronic stress response a killer). So in evolutionary terms, this was not ideal either. Chronic stress arises when a threat cannot be resolved. This could be a prolonged conflict, prolonged food shortages and other such threats to survival that keep the stress response system continually activated. Chronic stress kills or badly breaks down the brain and body, so this is obviously not optimal for genetic survival either. 

In either case, in either scenario of immediate or long term threat, there is one thing that will help overcome both the odds and the chronic stress - belief. 

The belief that you can defeat the enemy or threat (be it from a rival peoples or animal or environmental condition) will greatly up your odds of doing just that. It doesn't guarantee victory or survival of course, but it greatly ups the odds and in the world of genetic survival, it's all about increasing the odds. 

The capacity for belief during a chronic stressor like famine is very handy too. Again, a raw, honest evaluation of the situation - years without rain, no crops, no animals to kill for food, nothing to survive on in other words - would tell you that the odds of survival are incredibly slim and as with a battle situation with overwhelming odds against survival, the natural tendency would be to give up and just die. Again, strictly genetically speaking in which the passing on of genes is the whole point, this is a Bad Thing. But with the belief that rain is just around the corner or that food sources might be found elsewhere, you will push on despite what all the evidence is telling you. 

So today, to get to the point, humans are endowed with the capacity for belief because over the millions of years of our evolutionary development, the power to believe played great roles in upping the odds of survival or success. Or a given people thrived more - and thus genetically dominated more and thus passed on more of their genes - because they developed stronger rituals around belief, this belief system helped them more through times of difficulty and thus accomplished more. 

So that's a crazily brief, concise and simplified summary of the human capacity for belief. I'm tempted to get into where we get beliefs from but as that is a vast topic, I think that may be stretching the boundaries of what can be contained in a single post. I do need to break it down into the basic elements though as these are important to understand in order to grasp what I mean by 'manufacturing belief'. 

Like most human capacities, in any one individual there are a number of basic sources for belief. They are:

  • "pre-loaded"
  • "downloaded" into you
  • what your own brain will manufacture at any one time

"Pre-loaded" is a bit hard to verify but there is some compelling evidence that the capacity for certain beliefs of the religious kind might be part of the "neuronal package" some people are born with (genetically speaking, this makes sense in a hereditary sense). Most brain functions are learned through environmental adaption but some come "loaded from the factory". Recognition of and reaction to certain objects is one of these (basic facial recognition is present immediately at birth, for example, and the recognition of and fear of things like spiders, snakes and fire is another). Certain tendencies of belief may be another; IE: certain people may come "pre-packaged" with a higher capacity for belief in a higher being, for example.

This kind of "pre-loaded" capacity for belief may also be true of the kinds of belief we associate with "optimism" and "positive attitudes". 

 Beliefs that have been "downloaded" into you would be any of the popular belief systems over the past several thousand years. These we are not born with, but are acquired through cultural exchanges or memes. These could be religious belief systems or beliefs as explanations for things. These are very malleable and changeable in the brain. We used to believe that the sun revolved around the earth for example. This form of belief is easily verifiable as learned or "downloaded" into us (though as noted, some people may come "pre-packaged" with a stronger neuronal basis for beliefs of these kinds). 

What your own brain will manufacture at any one time is perhaps most interesting. This will be how a number of specific, subconscious brain regions and systems evaluate incoming information. This information will be a combination of what you consciously perceive and actively seek (which would likely be a small minority) and what your subconscious perceives and compiles (the vast majority). With this conscious and subconscious information your brain will then come up with an inferred mental model to present to your conscious self about the chances of any given situation or thing you need or like happening. You "believe" you'll get the job, for example. You "believe" your team will win the World Series. And on and on in countless beliefs for which you have no proof, no way of knowing, but which are mere mental models on which you base future actions (like betting on your team to win the World Series for instance). This too is incredibly powerful (and as we'll see, perhaps the most dangerous). 

There are two other important basic components to belief that are very important for us to understand as well. And they are:

  • faith based belief
  • evidence based belief

While these are very simple to distinguish, I believe they are crucial to differentiate. The former is easy - it is belief in something despite a total lack of evidence. All religions are examples of this kind of belief. But this does NOT mean we can dismiss this kind of belief for this kind of belief is critical to our survival or success. This is the kind that helps us despite the evidence of overwhelming odds against us. These are sometimes considered by many to be "delusional" beliefs. Which they may well be, but research shows that this capacity for delusional belief - beliefs that one can win, succeed, move forward, accomplish, that things will work out - is enormously beneficial to one's overall mental well being and can indeed often help one to achieve levels of success that may not have appeared to be possible at first. 

Evidence based belief is the scientific or investigative kind. This system of belief comes from assembling the best known facts and inferring or extrapolating a conclusion. It's still considered belief because the absolute proof of the inferred conclusion is not before us, but through all the evidence, we can put very well founded belief in that conclusion. An example of this is detective work. Nobody saw "A" kill "B", for example, but through all the carefully accumulated and assembled evidence, we can strongly infer that "A" killed "B" and comfortably make a decision based on that. And the same process works with all our scientifically based understandings of how things work in nature. This form of belief is a relative new comer to the human operating systems that our brains are made up of, but it too is critical to modern day survival. Or at least I'd argue it is, though of course we can see that it is not completely necessary. 

All beliefs and belief systems are enormously powerful and influential drivers of our behaviours (and thus such a critical element of ourselves to better understand, in my estimation). 

Now I'm not just prattling on about all this philosophical stuff for the fun of it (though it is fun for me), for I believe (in the evidence based sense) that a firmer, more scientific understanding of how our belief systems work is absolutely critical for learning how to survive  mental health issues - and I literally mean surviving in the sense of not dying either through suicide or the more common slow death through drug and substance abuse. 

For it is warped, or impaired, or distorted belief systems created by the brain that we can see in mental health issues that can often lead to suicide and "death by bottle or needle". In fact, I believe impaired belief systems are the very crux of mental health issues. 

Examining my own suicidal episodes and suicidal blackness, so often it was that my brain was often incorrectly examining "evidence" and giving me false beliefs that was leading me towards being driven to suicide or having an inner reality so dark and hopeless that I wanted suicide. 

On the other hand, often I cannot block out the harsh truth of my physical health and prospects for survival in my world and circumstances and this will give rise to suicidal darkness. 

Bipolars in particular struggle greatly with belief because manic and depressive phases create two entirely different beliefs - polar opposite beliefs. These can yo-yo back and forth so much that we're left literally not knowing what to believe about our selves, our abilities, our worlds - and most importantly, our odds of moving forward. 

So my very firm position is that it is untangling how the brain - your brain - creates belief or not is a crucial thing for you to learn as part of your bag of tricks, your "rucksack of tools" (as one of my readers puts it). 

It is yet another critical and fundamental aspect of how the human brain functions that too many of those charged with our mental health somehow no longer understand or reject outright.

This is all very important to understand as we learn to recognize and work through 
cognitive distortions as well as things we can begin to work on in our sessions of Mindfulness Meditation Cognitive Behaviour Therapy where we can begin to question and push back on some of our negative or distorted beliefs and begin to build more positive and optimist beliefs. It's a process, and a slow one, but the more we begin to do this and to "manufacture" more life affirming beliefs and to tie those to the new core values that we are building in our CBT sessions, the more we can build defenses against the dark times or a brighter and stronger light to lead us out of the dark times. 

Support Taming the Polar Bears


If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions: paypal.me/BradEsau

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project. 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address -TamingThePolarBears@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.

Thank you so much for your support from the Taming the Polar Bears team!