Friday, November 18, 2011

The HPA Axis, Trauma and You

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis has been the source of much research over the last three years. If you have traumatic stress, your HPA axis has been affected. If you have severe or chronic PTSD, your HPA axis has been affected a lot! What does this mean?

It means that PTSD is a whole body event. The HPA axis governs the entire hormonal system within the body including: mood, appetite, weight, sexual function, fatigue, sleep/wake cycles and more. As I like to say, the brain bone's connected to the....everything bone!

What this means for you, suffering from traumatic stress:

1) You have to expect physical symptoms from traumatic stress.

2) You have to expect erratic moods.

3) You must find ways to relax your sympathetic (stress response) system on a regular basis.

4) Eat foods that calm down your body and nourish it.

5) Healing is possible, but not by just addressing the mind, although that is important. To fully heal you need to engage healing mechanisms at all levels of the body.

6) You must be gentle and persistent in your pursuit of healing.

It may or may not be obvious that traumatic stress affects the entire body, but the evidence is in. It does! The good news there are so many ways to heal! More on this in future posts. In the meantime, be well.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Love, the best antidote to PTSD.

The earthquake in Turkey has put me in mind of a very real truth. Bad things happen, yes. But a loving response counters the traumatic reaction. Now, by loving, I don't necessarily mean sentimentality or nice thoughts. I mean, real roll up your sleeves, grab a shovel, dig deep into your pockets and get to work love. Turkey, like all areas of disaster is in need of resources to respond to people whose lives are on the line. If the people and governments respond with on the ground compassion: resources, rescues, care and concern, then, we know the chances of lingering PTSD are lessened. When people have bad things happen and do not feel loved or lovable is when major trauma can set in. In a world where people's tragic circumstance and pain was met with an abundance of love and goodwill, PTSD numbers would dwindle down to almost nothing, and the cases that existed would resolve quickly.

What holds us back from love? Embarrassment, fear, laziness, lack of personal responsibility, disconnectedness, and lack of awareness are some reasons. Sometimes we feel we may be diminished if we express our love, give out our money or our resources, tangible or intangible. It's OK to feel this way, in a passing way. But these feelings are not true, they are based in fear. You know that sale slogan, "the more you spend the more you save", well, this is literally true about love - the more you give, the more people are saved by you. We do not know, cannot know who benefits from our kind glance, our soft word, our dollar given or our time donated. What I know for sure is that what patients tell me sustained them through horrible traumas were people who cared.

One last reminder: in healing the other, we heal ourselves. Without triggering yourself, just spend a moment sending your intentions of goodwill to the suffering in Turkey, and then follow it up with some concrete action. It doesn't have to be big. Rain nourishes the ground with many small drops! Just do something. Blessing to you all and to those suffering tonight in Turkey.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ribes Nigrum - a PTSD elixir?

A few months ago my naturopath suggested I start on the Unda formula of Ribes Nigrum for adrenal support. If you have suffered from chronic anxiety or PTSD, your adrenals are likely depleted. In fact my acupuncture friend, Michael Berletich, said that fully half of his new patients show signs of adrenal fatigue. This formula, made from the black current berry that is found in Northern Europe and Northern Asia, had a wondrous effect on me, and from what I am seeing on the web, on many others. First of all, it tastes delicious and wholesome. But more important, soon after I started taking it I had a clearer head, more even energy and felt, well, nourished by it. Now, whenever I have been through a stressful period and my adrenal function feels sluggish I go back to it. I did not discover this wonderful product until my book had already gone to print, so it won't be in the first edition, but it will definitely be in the second! Like all medicines, it is probably best to use under the care of a physician, but it is available over the counter.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Well, here it is, the cover to my book which will be released in May of 2012. I feel there is so much trauma in the world that it cannot come soon enough! I am very pleased with my publisher's design. It is a thrill to see your name in print, but it will be a bigger thrill to know that Trauma Toolkit is out in the world, helping people! What do you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Yoga in Chaos with Bibi McGill

Bibi McGill, musical director for Beyonce, volunteers with the Portland based organization, Street Yoga, a group that brings yogic practice to traumatized and disenfranchised youth. Yoga is one of the best practices for overcoming PTSD and anxiety. Watch and be inspired as Bibi brings beauty, breath, and being into chaos!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Metaphysical Functionality of the Kidneys I


In Chinese medicine the kidneys are very important in healing from PTSD. Click on the title and the link will take you to an excellent article about kidney power and its relevance to extreme stress, fear and anxiety. Some people I have worked with have had significant kidney imagery or symptoms. It's worth meditating upon. Also, I highly recommend acupuncture for balancing and harmonizing a system filled with traumatic stress.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mind fitness routines fight combat stress - Marine Corps News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq - Marine Corps Times

Mind fitness routines fight combat stress - Marine Corps News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq - Marine Corps Times

Yes! This is exactly what I do in my psychotherapy practice. The first step to managing and overcoming PTSD is to strengthen the mind. The mind is like a horse, you can master it and have it go in the direction you want it to, or it can run away with you. Mindfulness, relaxation exercises, focusing, and meditation are invaluable skills that anyone can learn. And like any skill, it takes regular practice! 5-10 minutes a day is a good place to start.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Heal Your PTSD!

Michele Rosenthal of Heal My PTSD has a wonderful video here that underlines the principles behind my upcoming book The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. PTSD is a multidimensional injury and requires multidimensional healing modalities, or, as she puts it, a combination of traditional and alternative treatments. I think you will enjoy her website:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PTSD and Core Muscle Function

I have been in physical therapy for the last few months to repair damage done years ago from pregnancy and then a bad skiing accident. This past week I had a setback. I literally was back to a state where I could not feel my core muscles or many muscles in my back and trunk. My wonderful therapist, Amy, had me lie down on my back and gave me an exercise to turn them back on. It worked.

The next day it happened again. I remembered the exercise and did it again. Then I had an “aha” moment. 9/11 is a big trigger for me (and thousands of others). I had been re-experiencing some PTSD symptoms all week but had not until now connected them with the lack of core muscle function. Fascinating!

I remembered the numerous times in years past I had hurt myself and was more ‘accident prone’ during PTSD recovery. Now I realized why. It was not, as some therapists might think, a lack of self care or even groundedness – although grounding has been a big one for me to focus on. No, it was this core disconnect. At times it has felt like my muscles were not responding, and now I’m finding out that that is literally true (and probably responsible for my skiing accident).

I thought of Peter Levine’s work and his elucidation of the ‘fight, flight and freeze’ response. He points out that when an antelope gets grabbed by, let’s say, a lion, then the antelope’s body goes limp even before it is killed. I am wondering if this freeze response was more than an emotional response in humans but also a very physical, muscular response.

In writing The Trauma Toolkit I have not run across any research linking muscular function, physical therapy and PTSD, probably because it has not been looked at yet. Check it out for yourself. Lie down on your back with your feet on the floor and your arms resting beside you. Do a big Kegel core muscle contraction and press your upper arms down into the ground. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Notice any difference? Let me know! All comments will get a personal response.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Realization of Dawn

This poem comes courtesy of my ancient 14 year old daughter, Maya. She knows a thing or two about traumatic stress and healing.

The Realization of Dawn

What is this light that I see?
Could it really be what we have all been waiting for?
The warmth from the rays eases my aching brow
It gives me the strength to lift my falling head

To embrace what this impossible answer might mean

I hear the ticking behind me
On the peeling paint wall
The clock knows what time it is
And it's time that knows what we have to do

The time has come to flood our dried out deserts
To calm our overflowing seas
The time has come to embrace this beacon 
It is time to understand

We need to fill our cracking despair
With this light and love that is so bright
But yet so dim to our non understanding eyes

The answer is here
Almost in our grasp
It is time for us to wake up
It is time for us to see this glowing dawn
Emerging from this blinding night

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Behind The Walls

This is a fascinating account of what happens when a traumatized population becomes pathologized, marginalized and basically thrown away.  Tragic, fascinating and relevant. The Irish are arguably one of the more traumatized populations in the world, having been dominated by the British for 900 years before claiming their independence. Their considerable psychic and literary gifts have long been overlooked by the world.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Thoughts

Like most of the country, I have been engaged in a review of thoughts and feelings on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 yesterday. As well as being a national trauma anniversary, it is also a personal anniversary for me.  

I found myself needing to talk, cry, and tell my story again. I also wanted to listen to the stories of others affected by this day. I am always surprised at the power of anniversaries, as if a divot is made in time where we can fall into old thoughts and feelings so easily. The trauma waves surged and moved around and through me until I came again to the shore of myself, tired and depleted, but ready to go on once more.

It was a good reminder that some things continue to live inside of us, even after their resolution, that grief is a perennial flower that crops up at intervals.  I pulled out my old tools: kleenex, smudge, epsom salts for a cleansing soak after the storm.  I am grateful that there is life after PTSD for all of us, for hope and for healing.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Leslie's Illusions: "total stranger to itself"

Leslie's Illusions: "total stranger to itself"

I just found this blogger and think she's got some real gems for people struggling with PTSD. Enjoy!

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Coronary Atherosclerosis, and Mortality

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Coronary Atherosclerosis, and Mortality

I am just putting finishing touches on my forthcoming book and found this recent article, published this summer. If you click on the title it will take you to the full journal article. We must begin to treat PTSD as the public health issue that it is. Abuse, wars, and traumatic events threaten us all. I have known for some time that heart issues and PTSD go together because I get so many referrals from my cardiologist husband, and the stories are truly horrendous. A life full of trauma will certainly predispose people to heart disease.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Brain Scars From PTSD

PTSD always leaves a big old trail of damage in the brain.  I predict one day soon we will be able to tell not only whether someone has endured trauma but what kind of trauma.  Then maybe we can get over our collective denial about the prevalence of child abuse and the immense damage wrought by abuse and by wars on whole cultures around the world.

Friday, August 19, 2011

PTSD Impairs Detection of Emotional Cues

This article has significant relevance for first responders, especially police.  Police are often a traumatized population.  In the last few years they have made many mistakes interpreting motives and danger levels of people they are responding to.  Here in Portland several mentally ill or traumatized individuals have been shot, some fatally, because officer misread cues about the suspects' danger levels.  Now we can see that first responders themselves may become impaired. This new information highlights a need for increased training and psychological awareness on the part of police and others.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nature, the best healer!

I could say it's the Vitamin D from the summer sun, or the slower pace, or even the sesquiterpenes from the pine trees that are the source of so much healing in Nature. But I'd be wrong.  Nature is just pure magic when it comes to healing from PTSD and other stress related ailments. Swimming in rivers and lakes of pure prana; biking over luscious terrain, or just sitting around a campfire in a fire induced trance, find a way to bring nature into your life on a regular basis. Even just one day will bring noticeable benefits! (credits to daughter, Maya, for this beautiful picture)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

187,133 Veterans Have Been Diagnosed with PTSD


Hi Friends,

I've just put up this poll about ways people handle extreme stress or PTSD.  When you are triggered, where do you go for relief? What's most reliable for you?  You can check more than one answer.  If your favorite treatment is not on the list, please share it for others in the comments section below!  I look forward to seeing your responses!

Love and Blessings, Sue

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Helane' Wahbeh, ND

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Helane' Wabeh for lunch yesterday.  Helane' (pronounced Helen-ay) is a doctor of naturopathic medicine here in the Northwest.  She is on faculty at the National College of Naturopathic medicine and is conducting research at Oregon Health Sciences University on the effects of mindfulness meditation on people with PTSD.  Like myself, Helane has become convinced that healing from PTSD is a multidimensional process that needs to incorporate a spiritual component.  

In her private practice Helane' uses a process called "drainage" to work homeopathically with stress related disorder, a treatment that was pioneered by Dickson Thom, ND.

She has a Mindfulness Meditation CD available for purchase at $20.00.

As Helane's research proceeds, I will keep you up to date!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Your Brain on PTSD

We all have those days!  When your traumatized brain is not quite up to life, take some time for restoration and recuperation. You may not need to announce to your boss you are taking a mental health day, but take one anyway!  Anything you can do to calm down your mind and relax your body will help you cope and function better. Stay tuned for more blog posts on how to do just that!

The Promise of Complementary Therapies for PTSD

I was happy to see that our cousins across the ocean are so open to working with traumatic stress in a variety of ways.  I had the pleasure of meeting with David Marteau, the head of substance abuse treatment for offenders in London, England.  He felt that the complementary therapies "showed real promise" for helping with traumatized people.

Here at home the military is increasingly turning to alternative therapies for PTSD in their personnel.  The great thing about the American military is that they are intensely pragmatic and great at following protocol. Treatments that have been researched by the Pentagon and/or used to date include:  acupuncture, aromatherapy (yes, really), yoga, reiki massage, relaxation techniques, mindfulness.  The Ft. Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center has an integrative model that has treated dozens of officers with multidimensional holistic treatments.  They went from a 10 percent redeployment rate of officers with PTSD to a redeployment rate of over 60 percent for those who completed the program!  Complementary therapies work!

Monday, June 27, 2011

In London

Well, today is the big day.  Today I tell people in the House of Commons why a multidimensional program of healing is necessary for those women coming out of prison.  Few people consider it, but people in prison have suffered lives of excessive trauma.  Studies are showing that 70-90% of the women in prison have suffered sexual abuse.  One study from University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that of 120 violent inmates, over 90% had pathological neurologic findings. When researchers looked at what this meant, they found that a substantial number of these prisoners had been hit so hard that they had lost consciousness.  In other words there was abuse related brain damage.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a big topic among those treating soldiers returning from war.  We are finding many soldiers with TBI and it often co-occurs with PTSD.  What we have not yet considered is that so many in prison also have a history of TBI.

It is human nature to blame, to make some people good and others evil.  Yet to progress in our civilization and to fix what ails us (prison overcrowding, economic pitfalls, healthcare burdens) we need to address what truly ails our citizens.  We must find a way to look more deeply at PTSD, TBI and the ways they manifest in people in both sympathetic and unsympathetic ways.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


After having passed the hurdles of agents, publishers, initial editing, rewrites and title, The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out is in line editing, the final stage of editing where all i's are dotted and t's crossed.  Very exciting. It's been a long journey.

Ever since I took my very first job in mental health, working with severely autistic young children, I have been working with traumatized populations: staff and clients alike!  Traumatic stress is the unifying field that links all fields of mental health.  Some people are disturbed because they are traumatized.  Some people are traumatized because they are disturbed.  And all human services staff become traumatized at some point in their career.  (I actually left the field twice! But I couldn't stay away.)  But many people with traumatic stress appear to be completely "normal", whatever that is.  A friend of mine says that normal people are those we don't know very well.

Anyway, after 35 years in the field, 20 years as a therapist and 20 years of my own healing, the time was ripe to put all the tools I have learned out in the world for all to know. And so, the book.

A funny thing happened on the way to publishing.  A reader friend of mine in England recently launched a proposal for rehabilitative group homes for women coming out of prison.  She decided to use Trauma Toolkit as her model.  One thing led to another and lo and behold I am heading to London this weekend to make the case for restorative justice and more rehabilitative models for prisoners, the vast majority of whom have been traumatized long before they were sent to prison.  England has long been a leader in human rights (since at least the 1600's) so I'm hoping they are ready to embrace their role again as a progressive force in moving humanity forward.  In a few short days I will make my case to a group of leaders at the House of Commons.  

With recent research and a burgeoning understanding of the cause of social ills and the technology to remedy them, imagine the possibilities!  You know that song:  I'd like to teach the world to sing.... well, I'd like to teach the world to heal from traumatic stress! Wish me luck.

Blessings and thanks for stopping by, Sue