When You Change Your Thoughts, You Change Your Life

A lot of people attempt suicide.

In fact, someone commits suicide every seventeen minutes in the US, and a male is four times more likely to succeed than a female. While poisoning is the second most successful method overall, it’s by far the method of choice for women.

Many people who ingest toxic substances, get their stomachs pumped, go back to trying to cope and put their lives back together with little lasting evidence. When I tried to commit suicide, too much time had elapsed from when I took the pills to the time I arrived at the hospital, and my stomach wasn’t pumped. Over 90 pills, mostly brain drugs: sleeping pills, tranquilizers, antidepressants, went all of the way through my system wreaking destruction.

When the the paramedics busted through the ER doors with me on the stretcher, I was coded a triage acuity level one, the worst rating a person can receive and still be alive. I was in acute respiratory failure with a breathing tube down my windpipe, had an abnormal heart beat, and wasn’t even responding to pain.

After the initial crisis passed and I’d stabilized later that night, the hospital staff quit monitoring me for hours, I am told. My fever climbed to over 107 degrees, and I started having prolonged myclonic seizures (shock-like jerks of a muscle or group of muscles). At that point my mother, literally, pitched a fit to get me a cooling blanket and doctor’s care  (Eternally grateful, Mom!) and witnessed a nurse stomp into the hospital room, slam down my charts, and frantically scribble notes for the time period she hadn’t been checking on me.

For a long time after the suicide attempt, I was seething mad about this lapse in medical care. Yes, I had tried to kill myself. Yes, I was messed up.  You’ll get no argument from me about that, but, once I got to the hospital, the medical personnel had a responsibility to do everything in their power to help me at best and, at the very least, to do their jobs. There was a time when I wanted to sue the crap out of that hospital.

A New Perspective Allows Healing Thoughts

In the years that followed, instead of pursuing a lawsuit, I invested my energy into myself and healing physically and emotionally. Even if I had brought and won a lawsuit, would the victory have really changed anything? I’d have more money, sure.  However, I’d still talk funny and my other deficits would have persisted while I exhausted my limited resources, physical and financial, on the lawsuit instead of towards bettering myself and my situation.

With time, I learned to have compassion for the nurses and doctors on duty in the busy ER that night. Because I don’t know the reasons behind the negligent behavior, I can pick a perspective that causes me pain or one that brings peace.  I choose to think that the hospital personnel had finite resources and, believing I was going to die, allocated their attention to others with better odds.  I can only imagine the surprised look on their faces when they realized that I was going to pull through.

As in this case, I’ve found that with conscious effort and practice, I can take any situation, put some distance between myself and it emotionally, and try to look at it objectively. Without fault. Without blame.  Without causing myself undue pain. I didn’t say it was easy, but it can be done. And in doing so, the hurt dissipates and healing can follow.

I didn’t say it was easy, but it can be done. And in doing so, the hurt dissipates and healing can follow.

Over time, because of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change form and function based on behavior, experiences, and thoughts, your brain will rewire itself and reinforce pathways so that this new way of thinking becomes the default pattern. Neuroplasticity requires a person to consciously make a consistent, repeated effort to alter their habits and brain circuitry, but it does work.

How To Change Your Thoughts

 In her book, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie explains how to do analyze your thoughts to alleviate struggling and anguish in any situation. According to Katie and many philosophies, all suffering is caused by our thoughts and judgments about what happens, not by what actually happens. The challenge is to change your thoughts patterns which, in turn, changes your brain. The Work consists of four questions about your thinking and a turn around:

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?

After you’ve analyzed the situation with the four questions, you turn it around. Each turn around is an opportunity to experience the opposite of your original statement and see what you and the person you’ve judged have in common. Katie says the turnarounds are the prescriptions for happiness. I would agree!  For example:

Thought causing pain: “The hospital workers should have done more to help me” turns around to:

  • The hospital workers should not have done more to help me. They had to make a judgment call as to the best use of their time.
  • I should have done more to help myself before ever getting to the hospital.

Applying the four questions can help to ease anger and suffering about any situation and allow a new perspective. You can find a full explanation of The Work and worksheets at  Katie’s website.  Try The Work with some troubling situation in your life and turn it around by changing your thinking about it.

Try The Work with a troubling situation in your life and turn it around by changing your thinking about it.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/princess_devils/

11 Comments

  1. Mark Langer / @gotbrain Reply

    Debbie – As much courage as it takes to fight through the ongoing process of brain injury recovery, I'm sure it took you so much more to be honest about your situation and to take responsibility for it. I "had it easy" in that respect – having MS, crashing while flying down a hill – these things are almost normal and, in a sense, I was blameless.

    I applaud your strength and honesty. I feel it will allow for even greater recovery and discovery of a new and improved life.

  2. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Mark, thank you so much for your kind words. Being honest and open has, indeed, been integrally intertwined with my healing both emotionally and physically. I hope that through sharing blatantly, I can help others by them relating and maybe learning from my experience. It is great to be here and to be able to look back. Looking back and learning, but onward with enthusiasm!

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  5. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    To my very brave and wonderful daughter: you are an example and inspiration to each of us. I’m so proud of you. Mom

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