Turning Tough Days Around: The Brain & Improving Moods
By Hackie Reitman, M.D.
When Bad Moods Give Way to Good
Like so many who are consuming the news lately, I was having a tough day. So many heart-breaking current events all mingling with the “another day at the office” feel of this strange coronavirus era — all combined to have me feeling down. So I figured I’d check my email.
BOOM! An email from our DifferentBrains.org board member Debbi Siegel appeared in my inbox that snapped me right out of my doldrums. It was a link to an article with a headline that read: “High School Senior with Cerebral Palsy Shocks Classmates as He Walks Across Stage at Graduation”
An Achievement By Hunter Wittrock
The article by Joelle Goldstein painted a picture of a great event, brought on through one young man’s dedication: “‘It was a wonderful, surreal moment and he was ecstatic,’ Jeff Wittrock said of his son Hunter.” Wheelchair bound from cerebral palsy, “Hunter started working toward making it happen, working multiple times a week with physical therapists, who helped him build up muscle in his legs, according to GMA.”
Hunter started off with small goals: standing for long periods of time, then walking 5 feet at a time, then ten. He continued his progress five feet at a time until, in early March, he was able to successfully make the 150-foot graduation walk by himself, according to GMA.
How Does The Brain Turn a Bad Mood Into a Good Mood?
My spirits soared when I read it! At least for the moment, I had a reprieve from dread and uncertainty! I had hope! I suddenly felt happy!
Filled with this positive feeling, I thought it was a good time to review what was actually going on organically in my brain. This led to me thinking about what is the neurochemistry and the neurophysiology of this very moment. It was a good excuse for a review.
Enter Google. I thought that a few clicks and quick skim reads, and my memory would be rapidly refreshed of what was going on in my brain organically. And I am feeling so good, I thought I would share the knowledge with you! Why not?
Our Complex Brains
Well, I was soon reminded that it’s quite a bit more complicated than that. Like so many aspects of the brain, it’s multifactorial. And it’s at the intersection of where the mind meets the brain. This was both psychological and physiological. Maybe reading the article had caused my brain to release some combination of our friendly “happy” chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Maybe a touch of GABA was blocking out the unhappy stuff? MY brain is unable to give you any quick, organic recipes.
One thing I do know: The GOOD news allowed my brain to take a break from stressors and let in something positive. I was in the moment. I needed a positive route to happiness, and that’s what Debbi’s link presented to me. Because of that, I am able to enjoy the uplifted mood that young Hunter Wittrock has given me through the tale of his determination.
Taking Advantage of a Positive Mood
Another important thing, once you get distracted from stressors, is to take advantage of this for more positive actions. I will immediately do some of the things that we all know are good for our mood, brain, overall heath and wellbeing: I’m going to shut off the TV news; I’m going to change into my exercise garb, get in a good workout, eat some healthy food, hydrate, give a virtual hug to somebody I love, do some good work, and socialize the best I can with proper social distancing. And I remembered, one of the best ways to help yourself feel better is to help others!
So, I’m going to toast Hunter Wittrock who walked across that stage with courage and determination. I’m going to think about how I can do something positive to help heal our community going forward to make something positive happen. And I’m going to finish editing this article for DifferentBrains.org, overcome my writer’s block, and maybe give YOU something positive for your day. I’m going to use my different brain to take these tough times and turn them into positive good times.
I’m going to try to help — and my brain and I feel better already!
Different Brains® Inc. founder Harold “Hackie” Reitman, M.D. is an author, filmmaker, retired orthopedic surgeon, former professional heavyweight boxer, the past chairman and president (and current board member) of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, and a neurodiversity advocate. However, it was his role as a father that led to the creation of the DifferentBrains.org website.
Hackie’s daughter Rebecca grew up with epilepsy, 23 vascular brains tumors, and underwent 2 brain surgeries before the age of 5. Her struggles and recovery put him on the road to, through 26 professional heavyweight boxing matches, raising money for children’s charities (to which he donated every fight purse).
Rebecca eventually went on to graduate from Georgia Tech with a degree in Discrete Mathematics, and Dr. Reitman wrote and produced a film based on her experiences there (The Square Root of 2, starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s Scandal). After graduation, Rebecca received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Hackie, shocked at his own ignorance of the topic despite being an M.D., embarked on years of research that culminated with his book Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity (released by HCI books, publishers of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series).
This experience revealed to Hackie the interconnectedness of the conditions that fall under the neurodiversity umbrella, while alerting him to the in-fighting and fractured relations that often plague the organizations tasked with serving the community. Convinced that overcoming these schisms could help all of society, Hackie forged the Different Brains philosophy of inclusive advocacy: “Supporting Neurodiversity – From Autism to Alzheimer’s and All Brains In Between”.
In the company’s initial years of operation, Hackie self-financed all of the content on DifferentBrains.org, all of which offered free to view to the public. Currently he is the host of our weekly interview show Exploring Different Brains, writes blogs for the site, and tours the country speaking at conferences, conventions and private functions, all with the goal of improving the lives of neurodiverse individuals and their families, and maximizing the potential of those with different brains. Separate from Different Brains, Hackie is the founder and CEO of PCE Media, a media production company focusing on reality based content. He recently co-executive produced the documentary “Foreman”, the definitive feature documentary on legendary boxer and pitchman George Foreman.