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Why Some People Disconnect To Deal With Separation Anxiety

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

When Tana Amen was a child, an environment filled with chaos and unreliability led her to feel anxious when alone. Surprisingly, one of the ways Tana chose to deal with her anxiety was to disconnect from all of those around her. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Amen and Tana explain why this is common in people with past trauma, and how past hurts can manifest later in a person’s psyche.

For more information on Tana’s new book, “The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child”, visit relentlesscourage.com

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Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome back. We are so excited you’re with us. We’re going through some of the stories in Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, but we’re not just telling you about Tana’s life, we’re trying to help you deal with your anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief, and we’re doing it through some of the stories that Tana writes about in the book. I want to talk about when you were nine, because the separation anxiety issue really dominated that year for you. It happens for so many people.

Let me read another testimonial. Robert says, “I can’t wait to try this for me and for my wife who has Alzheimer’s. This could be very helpful for us. What a great idea, thank you.” It was regarding an episode on how to heal yourself from trauma that we did with Dr. James Gordon.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Love that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

We’re so happy that this is helpful for you.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

One thing before we get into all of that stuff, because you touched on something. Writing a memoir, when everyone is still alive especially, it’s not an easy thing to do. This book, even though it really is the stories from my life, it’s the family-friendly version. It’s actually under … I had the editor called me and go, “Are you sure this isn’t over-exaggerated?” and I started laughing, and you started laughing because you’ve treated a number of people in my family and you’re like, “No, it’s actually under-exaggerated because they’re alive.” There’s only so much you can say when people are living, right?

But there’s no reason to write a memoir for me. I didn’t need people being voyeuristic into my life. I didn’t do it for years, even though you were nudging me, because I didn’t want that. But then between what happened at The Salvation Army and I had a woman come up to me and go, “I pray every day that God will do for my life what he did in your life. If you can do it, I can do it,” and I’m like, “I haven’t even really told her much about my life. I haven’t revealed it yet.” It was those things that made me realize, okay, I’m going to write a memoir, but I’m not going to write it from a victim perspective. If I’m going to write a memoir, the only reason to do it is to help someone. That’s my hope, my hope is that it will help someone.

Daniel Amen, MD:

What I discovered, when I was a young psychiatrist, is the more real I was, the more helpful I was. Too often people think of psychiatrists as blank slates and they’re just feeding back to you, you. That was just never me. I found when I would share the vulnerabilities I had, growing up, with my children, with our marriage, that people just saw me as more real and I was a more effective change agent.

Now, don’t just share all of your life story unless you process it, right?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right, right.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And I think that’s-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Because there is a vulnerability.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because otherwise it could be shared with anger and bitterness and it could end up being really messy and not helpful.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And it can hurt your relationships.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because we’re sort of going through some of these really important stories, and your dad was just not much of a big factor when you were young.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

No, he left when I … Well, my parents split up when I was two months old. He did drugs for a while with my uncle and was partying. He became a Baptist minister. All of a sudden he showed up one day with a new wife, who I ended up really liking, but he just showed up out of the blue and was a Baptist minister and now wants to see me when it’s convenient for him, in the summer for a couple of weeks or whatever and once in a while on a holiday, but I didn’t know him. He starts talking to me about Jesus and I’m like, “I think I’ve heard of this dude in the sky with white robes, but what does it have to do with my life? All I really want is my dad, who isn’t there.” I had this really hard time with God in my life at that time, because for me, since it was my dad trying to teach me about God, I’m like, “Why would I embrace that?” It didn’t make any sense to me.

He didn’t live the life that you would hope a minister would live, let’s put it that way. I write a little bit about it in the book. I don’t want to trash the memory of him now because I’ve healed from a lot of that, but he didn’t live that life.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Right, and we’re going to get to his story, about when you and I first met, but when you were nine, at least for me, because I’m also a child psychiatrist, what I see happening, and maybe it has to do with your mother and the shotgun and the sound of her racking the gun, that you begin to develop a separation anxiety disorder.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

It was terrible. I mean, I had it when I was young, but it just peaked when I was nine. I would sneak in the back of her car when she was going to work and then she’d find out and I would make her late and she would get mad. I mean, I was terrified because I was home alone and I was not close to my dad at all. I hated going there for the summers, except my step-mom was okay. But I knew if something happened to my mom, that’s where I would have to go and I was just not having any of it. If something happened to her, and she would work late at night … My mom drove big rigs, she was a bartender, she had a steam cleaning business, a janitorial business for big buildings. The woman would do anything to survive, but she was never home.

Daniel Amen, MD:

She was entrepreneurial and a very hard worker.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Hard worker. When she started bartending, that’s when it sort of went sideways because she wouldn’t get home until, even if … Normally she wouldn’t get home until three, but then all of a sudden, a couple of nights she didn’t show up, and so I went into a full blown panic. We didn’t have cell phones. I went into a full blown panic attack. I mean, I was vomiting and hyperventilating and it was awful. I was calling, I was going through the phone book, calling all the 24-hour restaurants and bars I could find. Initially, they paged her. Then it happened again and I called and they were like, “What? No. Okay, this is weird.” Then by the third time they wouldn’t do it anymore. They were like, “This crazy kid keeps calling here.” She was like-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Are you home alone during those times?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I don’t remember, actually. I think my grandmother was staying with us, but she never came out of her room. When I asked my mom, she actually said, “No, your grandmother was there,” but I never saw my grandmother, she was always holed up in her room, and it didn’t change the fact that it was my mom I was afraid of losing. My grandmother never really knew what was happening, but she didn’t come home. I would make her promise me, if you’re not coming home, she was like, “I went out to breakfast with friends. I just needed to unwind.” She’s like, “I’m sorry.” I’m like, “You need to promise me you’re not going to do that again. You have to call me.” She’s like, “I just didn’t want to wake you up. I thought you were asleep.” I’m like, “Don’t do that again,” and then she would do it again.

I finally just started panicking, but then I started to disconnect. There was a point where-

Daniel Amen, MD:

And you would imagine-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Her dead. I just began to imagine her dead. I couldn’t take it anymore and so I started visualizing if she were dead in the streets, you were in a car accident, the police will come to the door, what would they say to me, just like when my uncle died. I pictured that whole scenario. How would I handle it? Where would I go? What would I do? Pretty soon I began to be able to handle her not being there, not well, but I mean-

Daniel Amen, MD:

So you can see why you might develop an attachment disorder and why when we fell in love you didn’t trust it.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, absolutely not.

Daniel Amen, MD:

You kept going away, you kept pushing me away.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because your primary caretakers, both your mother and your father, taught you that they were unreliable.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right. Yeah, one because she couldn’t help it and the other one because whatever. He just didn’t-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Well, we’ll get to him. We’ll get to him. That’s actually how you overcame the separation anxiety disorder, is you disconnected.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s my point, that strategies that work for you for survival when you’re young, because it kept me safe, it kept you sane when I was young, but they don’t work for you when you’re 40 and you’re trying to fall in love with someone who’s really amazing and you keep thinking the other shoe is going to fall and this guy can’t be real, right? I’m like, “No, stay safe.” The same strategies don’t work.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Now, she tells me that if she’s running it’s only because she’s chasing me.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Till death do us part, yeah. You wanted me attached? I’m attached.

Daniel Amen, MD:

If you could go back to that nine-year-old, what would you tell her?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I would hope that I could just tell her it’s going to be okay and show her a picture of me now. It’s like, “It’s going to be okay, this is going to be your life. You’re going to have a purposeful life.”

Daniel Amen, MD:

Perhaps when the societal unrest started, it triggered her pain.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, not perhaps, there’s no perhaps about it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Because it’s triggered so many people. The incidence of depression has tripled since March, so really crazy.

All right. When we come back, we’re going to talk about stepfathers and more trauma in the Relentless Courage of a Scared Child. We have a great event coming December 12, Overcoming Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, and Grief with Tana. I’m going to talk, as well as Pastor Derwin Gray, you’ll love him, Dr. Caroline Leaf, Pastor Miles McPherson. We’re going to give you very practical strategies, the same ones we teach our patients at Amen Clinics. If you stay to the end, there’s going to be a raffle for a free evaluation at Amen Clinics. You can also pre-order the book. We’d love if you pre-ordered the book at relentlesscourage.com, pre-order it on Amazon or barnesandnoble.com, anywhere great books are sold, but relentlesscourage.com. You can enter in your receipt number and download it, just really some amazing [inaudible [00:12:08]. Stay with us.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode. While you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen:

If you’re considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.com. For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.