Thursday, February 4, 2016

Table of Contents and Reading Guide for Taming the Polar Bears

This is a somewhat organized contents and reading guide of most (though far from all) of the material that make up the blog for those who have shown interest in various posts and would like a (somewhat) easy way to locate them. 

The sole (soul) reason I exist and write this blog

Part I 

The Neuroscience of "You"


When at the dawn of 2013 I started looking into better ways to understand mental health problems and disorders and why people have such problems overcoming their disorders and improving their lives and inner mental states, it became very clear to me that we needed a better understanding of how our brains work and why. 

It is my position that a better understanding of brain systems and how they create our behaviours, mental states and moods and reactions of all kinds can greatly help us understand our selves and our difficulties. More importantly, it can help us understand how to truly change how our brains work - and thus us. Even more than that, however, I learned that understanding how and why brains work the way they do and how they got to be to any one state can help us work past self-blame and towards self-compassion and understanding and acceptance of who we are - or of who others in our lives are. 


Chapter One - Neuroanatomy 101 

A brief and fun look into some of the basic brain anatomy and neurobiology that makes up an individual, all of which "sets the table" for later chapters to come. Since originally writing this in the fall of 2013, I've received a great deal of enthusiastic and sincere endorsements of from laypeople to those from the fields of psychology to neuroscience itself. 

Chapter Two - A Brief Look 

at the Evolutionary History of the Human Brain

For reasons I can't quite fathom, most professionals in the study of human behaviour somehow either overlook how the human brain evolved or inexplicably don't think it's important. This is a gross oversight in my view (and I am not alone in this view). At any rate, this chapter is a very brief look at the history of human brain evolution. Understanding our evolutionary past can also greatly aid in understanding modern human behaviours and what we'll call for now "brain difficulties". 

Chapter Three - An Introduction to Genetic and Environmental Factors in Individual Brain Development


We are to a large degree our brains. This chapter begins to look at some of the factors that are at play in developing a given brain or "you". While both genetics and environmental factors are important, of course, starting in this post I argue that it is environmental factors that either trigger genetic pronation towards a given disorder or psychiatric condition or alter the brain's development in such a way as to give rise to various mental health disorders. 

Furthermore, in a future post (or series of posts) I will argue that there may be absolutely nothing wrong with a particular person's brain but that the mental anguish and suffering may be on account of being stuck in an environment that is unsuitable to that person's core personality, character and emotional needs. 

Chapter Four - Brains as Reality Creators: An Introduction

Something that is very hard for people to wrap their heads around is the fact that our brains "create" what we experience as "reality". Which is not to say that the world around us is not real, only that our individual perceptions of it are not exactly or necessarily "real" and that much of what is in our heads is not "real". While this would appear to have nothing to do with mental health problems, in fact it lays at the very crux of most of them. Understanding the concept introduced here is very important for when we start looking at cognitive distortions, delusional thinking, hallucinations and other factors involved in any one case of a mental health disorder. 

It is also vital in working to understand that many people who society see as "mentally ill" merely perceive the world differently and it is the difficulties of being different that gives rise to the mental perturbations that become viewed as an "illness". 

Chapter Five - Zombie Programs: An introduction

"Zombie programs" is a term coined by the neuroscientist David Eagleman in his book Incognito which he uses to refer to the vast and enormous numbers of neuronal circuit programming that hums away below our conscious awareness controlling all of our physical movements, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, actions, decisions and so on. When I talk about our "subconscious" running our lives (as I do repeatedly throughout this blog), this is for the most part what I am referring to, not in the Freudian subconscious sense (which is what will generally spring to most people's minds when they hear the term subconscious). What we are experiencing consciously is but a very small fraction of what's going on beneath the surface of our minds. In this chapter I begin my argument that much of what goes wrong with those of us with various psychiatric disorders is our deep autonomous programming running faultily. 

Far and away the most important discovery of neuroscience in my view is the concept of "neuroplasticity", the brain's ability to reform connections and networks and even its neurobiology in response to internal physical injury, to both internal and external events and mental and physical demands.

I said above that "we are our brains", and this is absolutely true. But it is also absolutely true that we don't have to be what our brains currently are (assuming we are suffering from some sort of neuropsychiatric disorder, mood disorder or emotional pain). It is all changeable, it can be trained to work differently. Change how your brain works, change how you work and experience life.  

Chapter Seven: An Introduction to Stress 

and the Stress Response System

A good deal of our behaviour and responses to life around us is originated in deep stimuli processing hardware located in the limbic region. Despite our higher evolutionary advancement, this area and its largely subconscious effects on our behaviour are gravely, in my view, overlooked. In this series we begin to look at what's involved, how it affects behaviours and drives many of our responses and emotions and most importantly, what we can do to change and improve it.

It is in this series that I will begin to establish how environmental stressors will shape and affect our brains and thus our minds, realities and our very lives. 

As part of one of the enormous complexities of the brain and all its myriad of functions, we have hundreds of trillions of synapses and at least a hundred neurochemicals that form the basis for tremendous amounts of critical brain functions. Here we begin to take a look at that through the dopamine reward system and the role this system plays in our behaviours and mental states.

Chapter Nine: Neurochemical in Focus - Serotonin 

 Serotonin is probably the darling neurochemical (or neurotransmitter) of the psychiatric world and pharmacological treatments and we are told a great narrative about its roles in depression among other DSM disorders. In this chapter we take a bit of a look at serotonin pathways and question this narrative. Along the way we learn more about brain functions at the synaptic level and the basic premise for how the very popular SSRI antidepressants work.

It is hard to understate the importance of sleep to both proper brain function and to stable emotional and mental health. Sleep disturbances can set off an enormous chain reaction of mood and cognitive difficulties and distress and greatly affect quality of life. This piece is borrowed from my other blog until I can rewrite a specific piece for Taming the Polar Bears.


Part II

 Taming the Polar Bears

Positive Difference Making Fundamentals

Everything I do and teach pertaining to better mental health is based on neuroplasticity and retraining our brains. These are the basic fundamentals that can help you or anyone do that. 

The original post needs some rewriting and brushing up again but it still stands up well as an introduction to the basic fundamentals to better mental health, resilience and improved mental outlooks and in the end, an improved life. 

Spirituality - Gratitude and Compassion 

Gratitude and compassion are two age old concepts and practices for taming our minds (or polar bears). I introduce and talk about them in this post. 

A shorter, snappier "to the point" post on self-compassion. 

Brad's Brain Training Games

One of the principles of neuroplasticity is to have regular ways to stimulate specific brain regions (and de-stimulate others). I devised my own approaches to working on better mental states, problem solving strategies, correcting negative self-talk and attitudes and so on. I introduce the principles of the approaches I developed in this post. 

An Introduction to Music Therapy

There is now an enormous amount of neuroscience and real world evidence for the benefits of music therapy on the brain. In this post we look at a bit of the neuroscience, what music therapy did for me and how you can begin to develop your own music therapy program.

A bit of a fun look at some of the aforementioned neuroscience of music and the brain

An all important difference making fundamental - creating better and healthier habits for both our physical and mental health. A primer into the neuroscience and difficulties of habit change, along with some very useful and well grounded tips for getting started. 

An Introduction to Meditation

People get turned off by the concept of meditation because of popular notions about it. Here I explain more the importance of it and introduce some very simple and doable starter steps that serve as a perfectly good foundation for most of us mental health peeps. 

An Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation CBT

Mindfulness Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be enormously beneficial but again, people get turned off because it's not properly explained or it seems overly complicated. Here I give a brief introductory look into how we can learn to practice it on our own. 

Belief is a tremendously powerful part of the human mind and it plays a huge role in what makes up our "reality" and conscious experience. It also determines our levels of optimism and pessimism and the roles those play in our life outlooks. 

Here we take a brief look at the evolutionary basis for belief and why we have the power of belief.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of living within each day on its own while leaving all the yesterdays behind and avoiding getting caught up in future days that have not yet happened. It is, of course, very hard for many of us. Here I outline why it's difficult, why it's vital for mental health and improved cognitive functioning and give some powerful tips on how to stay within the present day.

Taming the Polar Bears in Focus

As I try to point out and teach, there is no single human behavioural aspet or trait that is completely necessarily "good" or "bad" and so it is with empathy or empathetic feeling. As we first saw in the post On Empathy and Bipolar, there are a good number of people who struggle with the pains in the world through greatly taking on those pains - in other words, they are weighed down with over-active empathetic pain networks. In this post we look at both the negative aspects of empathy and ways to "tame" them. 

As we are learning, and as you likely have experienced yourself, there are many things that can "go astray" in the human mind. The power of imagination is a powerful force in our mind and in this essay we learn more about the positive and negative aspects of imagination. 


Part III

Building a Different 

Understanding of Bipolar Disorder

(other disorders to come)

It quickly became clear when I started my quest at the dawn of 2013 to attain a better understanding of my disorder that the psychiatric and pharmacological model of mental illnesses was vastly incomplete, overly simplistic, one sided if not flat out wrong. This position was reached not only from reading through enormous amounts of research conducted by researchers from the fields of psychology, neuro-pyschology and even from a great number of psychiatrists who'd become disillusioned with psychiatric treatments, but also from advanced studies of neuroscience and learning how brains create behaviours and responses to environmental conditions and are in fact greatly changed and shaped in response to environmental conditions. 

I then from my own experience with my disorder and reviewing hundreds of case studies began to build my own models for understanding mental health disorders. 

In this section, I begin to build a different understanding of what is referred to as bipolar disorder, what creates the symptoms and how to live with it. 

Part IV
Psychological Factors
in Psychiatric Disorders

The psychiatric and medical establishments miss vast areas of the psychological impacts of our disorders and how our minds are impacted by those. I attempt to address that in these (and more to come) posts and essays that don't fit the other categories. 

Essays on Mental Health Issues

Deconstructing Quick Fixes for Psychiatric and Mood Disorders

In Praise of Quick Fixes for Depression and Other Disorders

Mania and the Story of Icarus and Daedalus

Planes, Why, Black Swans and Mental Illness Stigma

The War Over Our Minds and We the Victims

On Mental Illness and Communication

Let's Talk - to Whom?

It's Okay


Flower in Darkness

On Storms and Suns and Moons and Stars

On Psychiatry and
Pharmaceutical Drugs

Through a relatively brief period of personal experience (only thirty months along with two briefer periods in the summer of 2013 and the winter of that year) and through enormous amounts of extremely in depth research, I discovered that the psychiatric industry is wildly and tragically inept at understanding, diagnosing and treating any psychiatric disorder. Furthermore, that in alliance with the pharmaceutical industry much of what they do is designed - in a very literal, and very well documented sense - to create life long consumers for psycho-active or neurotropic drugs. 

I wrote at great length about this in a now abandoned manuscript back in 2013. I'd hoped to get to outlining more about the false claims put forward by these two groups (the American Psychiatric Association (and their counterparts throughout the Western world) and pharmaceutical industries) but it's an enormous task and I decided instead to focus on what I found instead to be going on in psychiatric disorders and positive ways and approaches to understanding them and working through and even past them. 

I did write briefly about both, however, and I'll include some useful links for further reading. 

The Myths of the Benefits of Psychiatric Drugs

Endorsements and Testimonials

A few samples of feedback I get from followers, readers, some of my neuroscience mentors, those who just come across certain posts, people I associate with, people who I am helping, etc. 


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