The Best Brain Possible
July 11, 2016
Prevail was lucky enough to connect with none other than Debbie Hampton to find out a little more on the release of her latest book, Sex, Suicide, and Serotonin, and some of her other exciting projects. We hope you enjoy! If you are also passionate about helping people to optimize their brains or have interesting information to share with the community, please reach out and we would be happy to connect.
Prevail: You are an inspiration to so many! Could you please tell us the exciting news about your new book? (And where to buy it!)
Debbie Hampton: I just self-published my memoir, Sex, Suicide and Serotonin, on Amazon. It tells how I came to be “The Best Brain Possible” lady via a suicide attempt and brain injury. It’s the story of how I got to the point in my life, at 43 years old – after a Divorce Court-ugly divorce, the death of my brother to AIDs, and years of wrong turns – that I wanted to die. But instead, I ended up giving myself a serious brain injury. Right after the suicide attempt, my ex -husband sued me for custody of our sons, won, and moved out of state with them. With embarrassing honesty, I tell you how I got to and climbed back from that rock bottom place to not only survive but thrive.
P: What is one thing about you that most people probably don’t know?
DH: That I have six cats. I’m the “crazy cat lady.” ☺
P: Why have you been able to build such a strong following on social media?
DH: I think it’s because I’m honest and authentic. Right after the brain injury/suicide attempt, I was crippled with shame. However, somewhere in that first year, I realized that if I openly talked about the gasp-worthy things I had done, it took the shame away. The shame only existed if I tried to hide my past and thus imposed it on myself. I refused to do that.
Many people tell me that they can relate, or they have “been there.” Heck. I’m even OK with people reading my story and thinking “At least, I didn’t screw up that bad!”
P: How does writing help you?
DH: After I had tried to commit suicide, I could only make sounds when I woke up from the coma. I was severely speech impaired for years and writing was my primary means of communication. With years of therapy: neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen, cranio sacral massage, acupuncture, music, voice, my speech has improved, but it’s still not normal.
Writing the memoir helped me to release the pain of the past and be done with it. That wasn’t my intent upon writing the book, but I soon realized the healing benefits along the way. Putting everything into words allowed me to expunge it.
When I read the book now, it’s almost as if it all happened to someone else.
P: You are an avid yoga fan. How do you see the connection between mental and physical health?
DH: Oh they are intricately connected. It’s been irrefutably proven by science that the mind and body are linked in ways not fully understood. I knew this to be true firsthand and witnessed the relationship time and again during my recovery from the brain injury. Leaps in physical healing always accompanied mental and emotional gains.
I read Carolyn Myss’ book, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, in the first year after the brain injury, and it became one of my guides for spiritual and physical recovery. In it, she asserts that a strong, focused willpower is essential for repairing physical tissue.
I put my mind to work for me in healing both my brain and body through visualizations, meditation, affirmations and thought reframing. Yoga facilitated me in learning to work with my mind.
P: What’s your experiences with meditation?
DH: Meditation is the closest thing to a happy pill that I’ve found.
There are many philosophies of meditation, which can get fairly involved and complicated. To me, meditation is a mental health tool. It’s learning to work with your thoughts in a healthy way to your benefit. It’s learning to observe what goes through your mind without reacting to or acting on it. Meditation allows you to control your mind instead of it controlling you.
I used to knee jerk react to everything, which can make a bad situation worse really quickly. Meditation allowed me to become aware of my habitual emotional reactions and internal dialogues, slow down, and consciously choose my thoughts, actions, and behaviors in accordance with who I want to be and the life I want to create for myself.
P: What strategies, tools, or practices help you to better understand the connection between your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions?
DH: Over the years, I’ve assembled what I like to call my “mental health too box.” It’s comprised of practices that I can take with me and use wherever I go to stay balanced – no matter what life throws at me.
Meditation is a staple. I have a daily practice, and it keeps me mentally healthy. Plus, there have been numerous scientific studies which prove it physically improves your brain. It’s like Botox for your brain.
Exercise, including yoga, is another must-have. You may not think of exercise as a mental health tool, but it is about the best thing you can do for your brain physically and mentally. It oxygenates the brain, causes the release of all kinds of good neurochemicals and is a natural antidepressant.
Working with my thoughts through practices like mindfulness, thought reframing and visualization are the necessary nuts and bolts in my toolbox. Instead of just automatically accepting the thoughts that pop into my head, I question them, argue with them, and intentionally decide which ones I want to believe in and act on. It has made all the difference in my life.
Over time and with repetition, thinking differently actually changes your physical brain, through a process called neuroplasticity. Neurons that fire together wire together. Science has proven beyond any doubt that your thinking changes your brain, cells, and genes.
P: When will mental health become normalized and accepted just like going to the gym for our bodies?
DH: It’s slowly, but surely getting to be more accepted. When I had my brain injury in 2007, all of this stuff was considered to be very alternative. Over the years, science has validated many concepts and will continue to do so.
Think about it. Your brain affects everything you do. Literally everything.
With the alarming rates of Alzheimer’s and depression, every person needs to start taking their mental health seriously. We’ve got to start realizing that what we do in our everyday lives shapes our brains. You have the power to influence your brain and mental health. Most of the time, it happens unconsciously to our detriment. We have to use the power for our good.
P: What are your favorite inspirational words of wisdom?
DH: Your experience of this life and your brain are shaped by what you choose to focus on. You can change your brain and life with your everyday choices. It’s up to you.
Debbie is a courageous leader in the mental health space. She is active in a variety of channels, from writing, blogging, and interacting with many to help people live a better, happier life. A brain injury monumentally changed Debbie’s life and forced her to live in a new way with new perceptions. By better understanding the connections between her thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, Debbie transformed her world.