20 December 2016

Stressed and Depressed, The Truth Behind My Mess!

Immediately evident, everyone sitting at the table could see it. My facial expression sold my feelings as quickly as they arose. Don't get me wrong I have a great poker face. In fact, more often than not I am incredibly hard to read, quiet, and keep to myself – cryptic, sometimes to a fault. However, as I ingested the words disdain, adamant opposition, and disagreeableness flooded over my appearance faster than I could verbally respond in the affirmative. Unlike, individuals who operate in the civilian sector, in the military you are expected to immediately comply with all orders and tasking from senior leadership. Actually, I can't say “Unlike the civilian sector” because I have no idea what that is like. Perhaps the world has evolved so that pleasing your boss, over choosing what is feasible for you as a sane individual, is the norm. 

For me however, not afforded this choice, but required to respond I now quickly tried to internally process the storm of emotions and clear my face to void their existence. Anger surfaced – that I was again being tasked with a plate that was over full – as I rushed to recognize that the root cause was in fact fear. Fear of failure, failure to keep up and continue to exceed expectation. Bitterness found its way in as I considered the amount of work I would make myself bring home. A continuous effort to balance the lack of hours afforded me at work. Panic, how would I fit in everything else I was trying to accomplish, my personal goals, my side jobs, my passions. Where would my family fit into all this? Why do I even bother? There is never any real reward other than my own pride in completing quality work. At the core I was simply overwhelmed, I was stressed to the max!

This was my normal. This was my existence. I would swallow up each emotion, orange-glowing coals pushed down deep inside. I would sacrifice sleep and rest. Quality time with friends and family would be stressful and devoid of enjoyment, my patience already eroded. There was no relief until I cleared my plate. Pretty healthy – right. Unfortunately, this was only one of the two wars daily fought in the mysterious realm of my psyche. On other days, when I had strived, struggled, driven myself to succeed and found myself still standing, breathing for a moment with my stress corralled, my “other normal” would surface. 

Sadness. A little blue, handwringing, worry-full, Inside Out version of myself – except without the glasses, I have legit eyesight – would grab the reigns. One minute all is well, and the next I am slapped in the face with depression. What only seconds ago was rest, became a jaded perspective of never ending stressful days redundantly relived. To avoid being trapped, I would again pour myself into my work and the pursuit of excellence, trying to out perform my seemingly destined fate.

How does this happen? What is wrong with me? Is everyone else like this? Is it the demands of the military? These questions swirled in and out of my mind as days, weeks, months, and time, precious time was swallowed up in the cycle: overwhelmed by internal pressure to excel, over-stressed without balance, striving and sacrificing without purpose, temporary relief replaced with depression. It is easy to understand where loss of hope and the mindset "that there is no escape" creeps into people’s lives.

As a man who believes in God, hope did not escape me. As a broken individual who has benefited from speaking with a counselor, there were tools and perspectives that helped to mitigate circumstances. As a strength and conditioning professional there was recognition for healthy exercise, nutrition, and recovery. Yet, as a human there was a gut instinct that something was wrong.

Then one day I took a test. No, not a written exam, not a blood test, not a pregnancy test – I took a personality test. I had been listening to a podcast, something I routinely make use of during my commute time, when Charles Poliquin began explaining the training protocols he employs with his Olympic athletes. Two athletes could be training for the same sport, to compete in the same event, at the same level and weight class and yet their training could be entirely different and individualized. As a coach I understood this, but what I didn’t know was his “Why.”

What came next was an explanation of the uniqueness and diversity of neurotransmitter dominance within individuals. A neurotransmitter is a messenger of neurologic information from one cell to another. Essentially, a chemical that when released signals the body to respond in a certain way. Mr. Polinquin began explaining that each of us has a single dominant neurotransmitter type, either dopamine, acetylcholine, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), or serotonin. Based on neurotransmitter dominance, training methods can be specifically applied to provide the most optimal stimulus for your system. My curiosity peaked.

Like most would assume, I imagined that the balance and measured levels of my chemical make-up would need to be assessed in a laboratory where vials of my blood or saliva were collected, cross-sections of tissue biopsied, and filling a small cup with translucent yellow liquid might take place. What do I know! Enter the Braverman Personality Type Assessment or simply the “Braverman Test.”

This unique T/F personality test aims to identify the level of each of the previously mentioned four neurotransmitters in your body. Here is a simplistic view of what each of these four are purposed to accomplish:

1. Dopamine – provides power to the brain
2. Acetylcholine – controls the speed of the brain
3. GABA – sets the rhythm of the brain
4. Serotonin – allows for recharging of the brain

With a basic understanding of what I was attempting to discover, but not realizing the gravity of the results, I dove in headfirst. Upon, finishing the assessment I was surprised to discover that my results of being heavily dopamine dominant described my personality and demeanor to the “T.” But what was more telling were my deficiencies. The test is oriented into two separate segments; the first section purposed with highlighting dominant neurotransmitter types and the latter half created to identify any deficiencies. I quickly discovered I was deficient in both GABA and serotonin. The point system used to assess deficiency is as follows:

0-5 Minor concern
5-10 Moderate concern, requires attention
10-15 Major concern, significant health risk
15+ Go to the hospital immediately

My deficiency score was an 11 for serotonin, AND a 16 for GABA. Deficiency in serotonin can manifest itself as:
Personality Issues: Codependency, depersonalization, depression, impulsiveness, lack of artistic appreciation, lack of common sense, lack of pleasure, social isolation, masochistic tendencies, obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoia, perfectionism, phobias, rage, self-absorption, shyness.
Memory Issues: Confusion, memory loss, too many ideas to manage.
Attention Issues: Difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, restlessness, slow reaction time.

Deficiency in GABA can manifest itself as:
Personality Issues: Problems adjusting to stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of dread, excessive guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, emotional immaturity, manic depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, rage, restlessness, thoughts of suicide, psychosis.
Memory Issues: Poor verbal memory, global memory problems.
Attention Issues: Difficulty concentrating, disorganized attention pattern associated with anxiety, high anxiety, impulsive attention errors (jumping the gun, erratic driving), inability to think clearly.

The words jumped off the page, each symptom staring back at me challenging me to action. My initial intention to discover how I should alter my physical training for performance, immediately transformed into learning what steps to take to balance out my body’s health. Fortunately, the assessment provides recommendations for supplementation to return your levels to normal (although, with anything concerning your health you should always consult a trained medical professional). Within weeks of supplementation with GABA (the body’s calming mechanism), and 5-HTP and magnesium to help balance out my mood, my symptoms literally dissipated. Random episodes of sadness became nonexistent. Panicked bouts of stress from seemingly insurmountable responsibility were erased. 

Yes, there are still times when stress adds up. But this is because I keep a hefty load of projects and responsibilities like working full time, being a husband and father, coaching, and writing a book. I recognize that continued growth, maturing perspective, lessons learned through experience and finding balance in life are all keys to operating optimally and soundly. However, I also have fully experienced both the tremendous disadvantage and side effects of an imbalanced system and the absolute wholeness of a system restored. Which is why I am now a huge proponent of this assessment. There is only one caveat, you can only take the test once. After that the responses are no longer as accurate or valid. What will you discover about yourself?

I invite you to assess your system and learn more about what makes you tick. Perhaps you'll discover something life changing, like I did!

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