Marisa Boelk is our guest blogger. She writes how developing her own lower centers of the brain and reframing unproductive thoughts have resulted in a very different outlook on life for her and her family.
Our child is now 6 years old, and the first 5 years of her life were a true emotional, mental, and physical roller coaster. As her parent, I had a challenging time finding my place, along with hers, in this world of what seemed like perfect families. All this really shifted for me last year, during the Brain Highways program.
Our family believed so strongly in the Brain Highways program that the whole family enrolled. Mom and dad and little brother went through both the pons and midbrain courses with our daughter. (This was before the program made it possible for parents to organize their brain alongside their kids.) Even grandma enrolled!
And this is the difference it has made: I no longer see our family as imperfect, and everyone else’s as perfect. My emotions are no longer an extension of my child’s.
I recently read an article by a parent explaining what it is like to grieve and hurt from having a child with special needs. This parent explained the pain and grieving of looking at her child’s disability (in this case Asperger’s) and seeing it be more marked and separating the child more from peers as the years go by, instead of getting easier or better or less noticeable.
And this parent also explained how her emotions are attached to her child’s. In other words, if her child is doing well, so is the parent and vice-versa. Though I identified with everything she said (to the tee), I realized that I now identified with this parent only in my memory of what it used to feel like before Brain Highways.
Today, I no longer feel hopeless and sad. I am no longer grieving. I now know that my brain will believe what I tell it.
Prior to a year ago, I would sit on my therapist’s couch and tell her how hard it was to have a child with special needs. She would agree, and I would cry. By the end of my regular visits, I would cry more, then get home and cry some more, then hug my child, and then cry again.
Those visits were so helpful in giving me words to the feelings inside, but they never helped me feel any better about myself or my child. It was my own brain organization work, the Brain Highways reframing exercises (that dealt with unproductive subconscious tapes and messages) and their numerous other techniques that made a difference.
You see, my child’s brain development has shifted, for sure, since we started the pons and midbrain work last year. But I also knew that I had to change.
For many years, I had trained my own brain to be unhappy, disappointed, always wanting more signs that my child would be okay. But I have now learned that if I am not content with where my child is right now, I will never be content.
I have often heard at the Brain Highways Center (from Nancy) whenever I’d point out something that still had not changed for my daughter (while glossing over all that had improved): “At what point, will you ever think your child’s brain highways are good enough?”
Well, today they are enough. Daily, they are enough. Even if my child does not build one more highway, my child is enough. That is probably the most valuable thing I have told my brain to believe since starting the Brain Highways program.
However, since I had allowed my brain to go to unproductive thoughts for so long, I still catch myself going there at times. The difference today is: I no longer stay there or believe those thoughts as facts.
Like the parent of the blog I noted earlier, I, too, felt sad, afraid of the future, pretty much hopeless. Some of my thoughts were so unproductive and hopeless when I first came to Brain Highways that it was nearly impossible to get through a class without breaking into tears.
Slowly, I learned that I have no crystal ball to know what the future holds for my child or our family, but I do know this: I can live in gratefulness, and I choose how I act and feel.
I have a very close family member who continues to speak of my child as “autistic” even though our family does not adhere or embrace such labels. (Heck, some days I still think I can diagnose other children based on my extensive years of zero professional training to do so.) Over the holidays, this family member was being very assertive in expressing the kind of environment and help she thought my child should be receiving, to which after a couple of attempts at changing the subject, my pons responded in full-blown mode.
This is where the Brain Highways work came in play. After admittedly yelling at my family member, I excused my self from the situation by saying, “I need to leave now.”
As soon as I walked outside, I started reciting all the things I was grateful for. Shortly thereafter, I walked back inside . . . and hugged and talked to that family member.
I have also made it a point not to retell this story in a negative way. Instead, I have said how much this family member loves my child and our family, and how much this family member cares that my child is well taken care of—and that’s the end of it.
This was nearly impossible to do prior to Brain Highways. I would have played and re-played in my brain all the horrible things that were said, and how horrible of a person she was, and poor me. But Brain Highways has also taught me how to ensure that we record events in our memory in a way that includes more than just our own perception and our first negative, emotional response to whatever happened.
Our family has recently made a decision to do the Brain Highways program for the second time, almost exactly a year after the first time. So you might ask: “If you are doing so fabulously, why are you re-enrolling with your child?”
Great question, one I have asked myself. Here is what I have so far.
My own brain development is still not complete. I have a child whose brain development is still not complete, and I know there were concepts I missed the first time around because I was so wound-up, so fricken’ tight. I know my child will find it refreshing to come back to the Brain Highways Center and have other adults help facilitate her brain organization, and my husband and I will also find it re-energizing to have others help us facilitate this work.
But most of all, while we may now “get” what kind of thinking moves us forward, it’s much harder to do when so many around us think differently (and even try to get us to change how we’re thinking).
Enter Brain Highways. You walk in the door, and you’re instantly surrounded by people who truly accept parents and kids just as they are—where no one makes anyone try to fit in (which only brings on misery) or then judges people if they don’t meet someone else’s expectations. At Brain Highways—right from the beginning—you feel connected, that you belong (which is a very different feeling that trying to fit in) . . . just by “showing up.” That’s good enough.
Of course, that’s not how much of the rest of the world thinks. So, it’s always uplifting to be around others who think the same way. And then, there are mirror neurons, meaning it’s additionally great to hang out with people who reflect positive thoughts since those also affect our own brain.
So, I am grateful for the opportunity to come back to the Brain Highways Center. And at this point, who knows? Until we’ve all finished our lower brain development, maybe refresher courses will just become a family tradition.