Bio: Sharie Spironhi, renowned Motivational Speaker, Educator, Counselor and Author of ‘Why We Are Wired to Worry and How Neuroscience Will Help You Fix It’, is an undisputed expert in human behavioral science, who has dedicated her life to helping people get off their Worry-Go-Round™
Inspired by her overnight defeat of Bi-Polar disorder, Sharie is a living example of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change and heal) as exemplified in her compelling story of living with Manic Depression since a child and having it disappear literally over night, due to the brain’s ability to rewire itself.
For the last 19 years Sharie has explored every new discovery in neuroscience to help explain why our brains seem obsessed with problems, both real and imagined. Believe it or not, it’s not your fault—it’s your default! Since the beginning of mankind, our brains have been programmed to believe that impending doom is around every corner due to an outdated evolutionary trait that helped ancient humans survive. But in today’s world, this program is not only obsolete, it is making us sick! Just imagine never depending on external circumstances for your sense of happiness again! When you learn these techniques you will fee like you won the emotional lottery!
Sharie’s career began over 25 years ago teaching and lecturing in high schools and colleges to help students better understand their own behavior. Simultaneously she co-produced the David Toma show on WOR and in 1991 founded a drug treatment center in Tecate Mexico, all by the age of 27, But soon after she faced her biggest challenge when she was diagnosed as a Rapid Cycling Manic Depressive. Her incredible career and intense engaging energy being fueled by her manic states now brought her life to a screeching halt. Until one evening on March 31st 1996 at the end of her rope she dared to believe what others said was impossible and science had yet to fully comprehend.
19 years later she is better, brighter and stronger than ever before, Sharie’s new book Why We Are Wired To Worry and How Neuroscience Will Help You Fix It’, explores cutting-edge discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, and mindfulness alongside explaining how three neurochemicals and the brain’s amygdala steer all human behaviors, habits, passions, and attitudes. Because of her unique understanding and insight she has developed techniques and tools that teach people how to go from chasing “being happy” to finally “feeling a happiness” that is no longer reliant on your external experiences.
Zephan: Today we have Sharie Spironhi, and she is a renowned motivational speaker, educator, counselor, and author of Why We Are Wired to Worry and How Neuroscience with Help You Fix it. She’s an undisputed expert in human behavioral science, who is dedicated her life to helping people get off their “worry-go-round.” Inspired by her overnight defeat of bipolar disorder, Sharie is a living example of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and heal. And she just has an absolutely amazing story, so I don’t want to like, tell the whole story in the intro here. So Sharie, I just want to bring you in and say thank you so much for being here today, because as a few people know who follow the podcast, I was actually diagnosed with bipolar when I was in my teenage years. Thank you so much for being here today, and thank you for the story that you’re about to share with us.
Sharie: Oh, Zephan, thank you so much for having me, I’m really glad to be here.
Zephan: Yeah, so when I was 13, I was diagnosed with bipolar, and it’s debilitating, for what it is. So I’d like for you to just share a little of your past, and how that came about, and then we’ll fast-forward and talk about this idea of the brain being able to change itself, to heal itself, to re-wire itself.
Sharie: Sure. So I came into the field of psychology basically, in an official way when I was 24, and by the time I was 27, I had already spearheaded a rehabilitation program for drugs and alcohol under the name of David Tullman in Mexico. I’d written 2 books, and I was the co-producer of the David Tullman show, which was a nationally syndicated TV show. For all of you out there old enough to remember, he was the subject of the TV show Loretta. So, I had done quite a bit—Zephan, everyone was pretty impressed with everything that I had accomplished, but I was trying very hard to hide something that no one knew about, and that was very severe mood swings.
Now, for those of out there that understand anything about bipolar, or manic depression, what it’s sometimes called, you can have tremendous amounts of energy and go for days, sometimes without sleep, and then you kind of crash in your bed for weeks. When I was high-functioning, I was a force to be reckoned with, I was unstoppable. I mean, I was in my 20’s and I was doing some pretty cool stuff.
And it was relatively easy, except all of a sudden I would crash and I would believe the world was one of the darkest places. You can imagine. So when I come back from Mexico, I had really, my mood swings were all over the place. And people suggested, go see a therapist, and I’d already seen a therapist several times from the time I was 20 on, you know, I knew something was up, nobody was pinpointing it, so I decided to go see someone, and after 3 visits, he said “It’s easy to see what’s going on with you. You’re manic depressive.” And in that one sentence, I went from being the co-producer of a TV show and being on top of the world to being thrown to the other side of the desk, and now I’m the person that needs help. To say it was devastating was an understatement. I looked at him and said “You’re crazy,” and I walked out. And for the next few weeks, I really tried to just reel myself in, and control everything, you know, see, extreme mood swings were not foreign to me because what we came to find out was that I was dealing with manic depressive as a child, but I knew that back then.
You know, I’m in my early 50s, back then, they weren’t diagnosing such things. you know, back when I was in grammar school, I, you know, would tell people that when I go to sleep at night, my brain feels like it explodes, and has millions of ideas, I would be up till all hours of the night, writing poetry and cleaning the bath for no one—you know, weird stuff, but no one ever said that they understood what I was going through, but no one ever said it was weird. So, other than the fact that I was not ADD or anything like that, so I could sit still, but I would talk a mile a minute, so, you know, that drove teachers crazy, but Zephan, other than that, there were no flags. Nobody caught this. So here I am, as an adult, going “Wow, wow, wow, you have to be wrong.” It was very rare to diagnose with manic depression, or even in hindsight to be able to look back, this was in the very early 90’s, to be able to say “Oh, wow, you were manic depressive.”
So I was like grappling with “Wait a minute, this is who I’ve always been! What are you talking about?” I didn’t just develop this, but I knew it had gotten very extreme, and, you know, I had run the gambit of, you know, the severe mood swings. I remember in 5th grade walking along the street and feeling like there was a party going on in my brain, and thinking “My god, why can’t I make this happen all the time?” I feel so confident, I feel so special, I knew something was up.
And then, of course, that took me into eventually drugs and alcohol, trying to self-medicate, then I became very suicidal, very depressed, I was in ten car accidents in a year, I was really a wild child, and other than all that, I did wind up going to rehab at 18 years old. And when I was going to rehab, they were like, well, you’re crazy because you’re on drugs. Well, okay, I stopped drugs, and I thought the rest was history, so now to be diagnosed with this illness, I was like “Wow, wow, I was in rehab for a whole six weeks, I was in a psych ward, nobody said anything about this. How did this happen?” And so, I finally said, I gave in and said “All right, I’m going to try medication,” because the depression I was dealing with was really brutal, and I had a lot of issues with wanting to kill myself, I mean, who wants to live in that state? To me, that was pretty normal, but I finally agreed to try the medication, and usually, as you know Zephan, that’s half the battle. Take my medicine and the rest will follow suit. And that wasn’t what happened.
For the next six years, I was in and out of hospitals. Sometimes two months at a time, 6 weeks at a time, always for wanting to kill myself, which again made the most sense, they would dope me up with so many drugs I couldn’t even make out a food list, I was so unproductive, I would sleep all day, you know, I went from the pinnacle of what was a great career to being an invalid. Emotionally, I was a mess. And I can remember, back then, looking at people in wheelchairs, and I used to think about how lucky they were, and please understand me, I’m not minimizing their pain at all. But I used to, they have their brain. They’re not betrayed by their own mind.
You know, I could have taken living without legs, I could have handled that, but to live without your mind? To have your own mind betray you, it’s so brutal. And unless you experience it, you don’t understand it. To want to be so happy, and nothing you do is working. Well, what they came to find out, was the reason medication was not really working on me was because they realized that I was a rapid cycling manic depressive, with mixed states. Which, for those of you who don’t know, basically means you can be hyper and manic, and depressed at the same time. This is a real special time of hell that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Zephan: And, while this is something that really hits home and is all too familiar to me as well, I don’t think this is the first time that I’ve mentioned that I’ve gone through an interesting scenario as well in a very similar way, but you know, at 13, for the listeners tuning in, I was diagnosed as well, in a very similar fashion. I know what you mean when you talk about the thoughts racing a mile a minute, I used to never be able to fall asleep. I would stay up all night because different ideas would just come to me—
Zephan: And so I totally get what that’s like, and I know what you mean when you say, seeing others that had certain shortcomings or disabilities, and thinking “Wow, they’re the lucky ones, because they can still think for themselves,” but I know exactly what you mean there. And so, I’m really kind of excited is the wrong word for this, but I’ve been really interested and curious to talk more about this, because I think it’s something that most people don’t bring up, and one of the biggest things that I try to stress here on the Year of Purpose podcast is that, you know, it’s really about bettering yourself and improving yourself and finding ways to really get yourself both, in your mind mentally, but also physically, emotionally with your relationships or your business or your career, running a 110%.
And so maybe let’s jump forward, because I know that you told me, or you shared with me a little bit about how overcoming this happened in a unique way, and you know, I actually had a very similar story, in that it really almost seemed like something that happened overnight, so let’s jump forward to where that happened, and maybe we can talk through how other people might be able to create that type of a transformation as well.
Sharie: Absolutely. Well, after 6 years of this, I had pretty much resolved myself the fact that I’d be in and out of hospitals for the rest of my life, or until I killed myself, I had, what I say, you know, I’d virtually lost all hope. And I wound up, you know, hope this doesn’t offend people, I can’t help how it happened, but I was at a church, and a little old lady in her eighties asked if she could pray for me. She happened to be there, speaking, and I thought “All right, knock yourself out, she didn’t know anything that was going on with me.” And she prayed for me for 2 hours.
Now I’ve—my next book will be coming out, and I promise, I’ll go into all the details, but suffice to say, she prayed for me for 2 hours, and consecutively three more nights. It was 4 nights, 2 hours each night, that she was speaking there, but she just kept coming to me and no one else. So the first night, when I went home, I drove home around midnight, and I felt like I was in a trance. And when I got in my house, it felt like sunshine burst into my brain. I cannot explain it any other way. And I’m looking around my house, and I know the lights are on, but it didn’t look like light. It looked like sunshine was illuminating my house, and it’s midnight. And, I’m a realist. I don’t get crazy about things, I’m like, I don’t know what this is, you know, the mind’s very powerful. I’m just going to try to go to sleep, and see what this is, and see how I feel in the morning.
And it was different. I mean, I felt different. I felt bright, and something dark, I felt like had left me. And so I did something that I don’t recommend to people out there, but I came off all my medication, and in about 25 days, and I was on over 20 different pills, all throughout the day, and I was on, you know, elephant-sized amounts of drugs because they could not regulate me. When I went back to my doctor, about 6 weeks later, and told him what happened, he looked at me and said “You know what? What you’re telling me is that you cut off your finger and try to tell me God grew you a new one.” And he said “He doesn’t do that any more.” And it made what happened to me seem even more mind-blowing and more powerful, and I just got up and said “Listen, I promise I’ll call you if anything changed,” and nothing ever did. I was normal, for the first time in my life. And, you know, what people on TV, and they’re suddenly jumping up and down on the stage, and they’re healed, believe me, it’s not like that.
When you’ve lived with something so horrible your whole life, you are so in awe. And so in shock. You don’t even know what to make of it, I mean, you’re treading lightly, you’re not running around telling anybody anything except that wow, something’s going on with me, and I don’t know what it is, and then time eventually begins to reveal that this is permanent, and I’m not crazy anymore! I have no more mood swings! I can sit and think and be still! I can be quiet for hours. You know, what happened? And I’m on no medication, and that was, you know, bizarre, and the only thing that validates it is that, you know, that was 20 years ago. It was 19996, so, we’re looking 20 years ago, and it’s never come back. And, you know, people say to me, did you have faith, you know, that night that you asked for somebody to pray to me, at first I would say no, Zephan, but you know what the truth is? Faith is what you don’t know. Trust is what you can believe in, because it can be proven to you. Faith is what you really don’t know,. but you go for it anyway. And many people out there getting up every single day because of faith, and you don’t know it, and you don’t realize it, but I’m telling you, that’s what’s in you. That’s what’s getting you up every day, saying something’s gotta change. Something has to be different.
What we came to find out, this was in 1996, and what we came to find out later on, was in 1996, neuroscientists had coined the phrase neuroplasticity. Now, what happened in my brain, they used to think that your brain was the way it was, it was the same from when you were born, you had a certain set of neurons, if they died off, you didn’t get new ones. Everything was static. They now know that could not be farther from the truth. This is why someone can lose their eyesight and develop hearing that is superhuman. Because that part of the brain used to be used for eyesight is now joining forces with the oratory system because it wants something to do! And it doubles the power of the hearing! This is where people can go into a coma, and come out and suddenly play the piano. Your brain can do all kinds of amazing things!
Now, technology now knows this is possible, we don’t know quite how to control it, we do know that genes are expressed at different times, in different ways, that we have much more not control but much more influence over them than we ever knew that we did, and for both of us, Zeph, when something changed, now this is also referred to as spontaneous remission. And this happens to people every single day. From cancer to diabetes to mental illness, this is a regular thing. It does happen. Technology, unfortunately, is not quite there to be able to give use the science as to how to control this and make it happen, but I’m telling you, it can. And this is one of the reasons that really motivated me to write my book.
Zephan: And so, let me hit the time-out button for like half a second, just to, even back up what you’re saying too. In my experience, only because while we have a very similar experience, you know, just for anyone who, everyone comes from all walks of life, and different backgrounds, and some have deeper religious beliefs than others, and so I had a very interesting part of this, too, where I kind of woke up one day and said “Either I’m going to take my own life, or I’ve gotta do something that’s going to stop this.” I never had any experience that involved faith in this, but I chose, just like you did, to stop my medicine.
I made the poor choice of stopping cold turkey, which, just as you didn’t recommend, I don’t recommend for anyone to do. Obviously talk to your doctors first, but I think that it’s so interesting to hear that you stopped your medicine, and I just had an ounce of clarity to know to stop my medicine, too, and almost like that, overnight, things changed, and for the better. I mean, I went through withdrawal for about 3-5 days, maybe a week or so, but after that week, it literally was like a switch had been flipped and things had been turned on in my brain and things started to work.
Just to provide a little bit extra to your story, and let everyone know who is tuning in, you know, this idea of neuroplasticity and that our brains can rewire themselves. It’s very real. And for some people, they don’t experience it through faith and religion, for some people they do. And so it’s so interesting to just hear you talk about this, because I went through a very similar process, in that you kind of wake up one day, and things just start turning on again. The lights just start lighting up again, and so it’s so interesting to hear you say that. Let’s dive into this idea of how the brain can rewire itself. I mean, because on the outside, it seems like this magical, someone waved a wand and I just woke up okay the next day. What’s actually happening inside, when we make these changes?
Sharie: Well, you know, there are changes that can happen because different genes decide to express themselves. They’re always on, they used to think that they’re not. They’re always on, but they begin to express themselves. There’s things that have to do with, certain proteins have to be available, they know that, and then there’s things where things begin to change in the brain itself. It just begins this neural patterning that becomes different. You know, you can change, let me give you an example. If you decide to buy a Toyota today, you go out and start driving on the roads, Zephan, you’re going to start seeing Toyota’s everywhere. Just a little circuit change, a little focus of your mind, giving yourself a little bit of guidance, turns on something called the reticular activating system. And your brain, like a laser focus, begins to search and seek Toyota’s everywhere, and it’s not by your conscious mind, it’s by your unconscious mind.
We’re talking about very powerful stuff here, and so people understand here, you know that so often coincides with religion, but I don’t mean it with that. I mean, faith is just something you believe in in the most minute way, but you don’t have validation for it. And that can be for anything. And, you know, for you, you just—Eckhart went through something very similar. He was ready for a nervous breakdown, if you ever hear Eckhart Tolle’s story. And he’s a very powerful man who teaches about mindfulness and all, you know, he’s a huge guru these days. I mean, he’s probably one of the biggest sought-out speakers and authors on Earth right now.
And he just woke up one day and everything was different. And he realized that he had to start taking in each moment as it is, and he saw things from a totally different perspective change. And when you see things differently, new neurons come online. And although your brain can sometimes feel like, you know, there’s patterns and habits, it takes 21 days to build one and 21 days to break one down, but your brain, that’s really for them to manifest, it takes about 21 days, but the second you determine that you want something different, your brain will do everything in its power to join forces with you and make that possible. And most of that takes place in your perspective. You change your perspective, you change everything. It’s believing, it’s like when someone broke the 4-minute mile, which no one had done for many years, forever, everyone started breaking the 4-minute mile. Because the limitations are suddenly understood that they can be broken.
When people hear stories like this, why people go to conferences is because they become inspired by the testimonies of other people, and they realize so much more is possible. And that’s really just step one. You know, you educate yourself with everything you can. Every time you get educated, you understand more about your brain. You understand more about how it operates, and how it works. You become, and you grow closer to becoming the person that you want to be, because you’re able to influence your own mind and how it works. What fires together wires together. So you start doing things slightly differently, and your brain wires itself accordingly. Now, one of the things that I teach in the book is becoming a happier person. And that this is in platitudes. Now there’s a lot of teaching that goes on in this, but let me just give you a quick story on how this all came about for me.
Sharie: I was in a very anxious place, a few years, going back about 4-5 years. And I had just been feeling anxious by the most minute, mundane thought, like I had to get the mail. I call it squirts, because it’s like squirts of Cortisol, because I’m obsessed with neuron transmitters and that’s all I ever focus on. And I literally can feel it squirting for every thought. Now I refer to this as a loop, which basically my brain is getting stuck, and my brain starts to interpret that just every thought it needs to do this because what fires together wires together. I know I needed to break this, but I didn’t know how yet. So I went on vacation, down the shore, and I’m at the beach, listening to an audiobook, and the audio book was about art, and it was very inspiring, and I was doing art at the time, I’m a painter.
And all of the sudden, I have an epiphany, that my best artwork is ahead of me. Now, that was a big epiphany for me, because at the time, for whatever reason, I did not know that I believed this, but I had subconsciously adopted the thought and the belief that my artwork, already my best stuff had happened, and I’d be going downhill. I never consciously made that decision. So step one to making changes is learning to understand what you believe in. You’ve gotta know these things in order to dismantle them. So all of the sudden I have this epiphany, and I’m like “Oh my god, I feel like I’m on top of the world!” Great, amazing feeling. I go back up to the house, and once again, the littlest thought is filling me with anxiety. I stopped in my tracks, and went back to the memory of my best artwork is ahead of me!
Instantly, I released neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and the anxiety stopped. Immediately. And I thought “Oh, that was cool!” Well, this was happening every few moments, so next minute I felt that anxiety, and I went “My best artwork is ahead of me!” And it vanished. I kept doing this, and in three hours, something miraculous happened. When my brain would release the cortisol, like it was doing these little squirts, before I thought the thought “Oh, my best artwork is ahead of me,” my brain released the serotonin for me and the dopamine. It released my happy chemical automatically.
This happens in three hours, because what fires together, wires together. Your brain’s very efficient, so it quickly learned “Wait a moment! When she feels that anxiety, release the good chemicals.” I didn’t have to think the thought anymore! And I stopped dead in my tracks and went “What the heck did I just stumble onto?” It was a year later that I read a great book by Rick Hanson, who’s a great neuroscientist, about the science behind this and the understanding, and it became eventually a part of my book, Why We’re Wired to Worry, and I actually talk about this. This is one of the steps in the book to how to implement these positive experiences to offset the negative. And eventually, your brain lines up and goes “Okay, just start looking for the positive, because you’re wired to only seek out the negative.”
And people don’t understand this, and we probably don’t have time for me to go into it, but our brains love the negative. It thinks that that’s going to keep you alive. It doesn’t give a hoot about whether or not you’re happy, because it figures if you’re alive, you will be! It’s very old programming that we have to overcome. And you can do this in about 3 weeks. And you can change everything, and it’s again, going back to your perspective. And I mean, I get emails every day from people who were seriously depressed, on medication, they’d been in and out of therapy, and they say that this book has changed their life. And it’s simply because they put it into practice, and their brain followed suit. Any brain is malleable; you can change your own brain.
Zephan: Yeah, I mean, it’s truly remarkable to see what the brain is capable of, and, you know, I think the problem is that we live in a time where we still don’t know everything about it yet. You know, despite all of the advances in technology, and all of the things that we do have and are capable of, it’s just one of those things that is going to take so much longer for us to fully understand, but, I mean, you’ve gotta admit, it’s pretty great that we know it’s possible, now. You know, we kind of had this starting point of where we can go from there. And I bet this talk could go on about the negativity, and how we search for negativity, and I know exactly what that’s like, especially having suffered panic attacks myself.
Let’s just jump into, people probably are looking for answers right now, right? Like anyone who’s tuning in who wants to do this themselves is probably like “Okay, you know, tell me what I need to do. Where do I go next?” And so one of the big ones is you’ve got this book. It’s called Why We are Wired to Worry, and how Neuroscience will help you fix it. This is one of the great places for people to get a wad of answers on how they can do this themselves. What other means, or methods, do you have =, you know, for people to work with you and to understand what their brain is capable of, and ultimately rewire it so they can overcome certain things, whether it’s, you know, thinking negatively, or dealing with depression or anxiety or even just a lack of happiness?
Sharie: Well, it all comes down to the first step, which is understanding our brain. Zephan, we know more about our smartphone than we do about our brain. And that has to change. Now, one of the things I did in my book is there’s a workbook in the book. You go through the book, you’re reading, and then there’s workbooks. It’s not a silly workbook, like what did I say on page 22. It’s about you, and your brain. So you begin to understand the beliefs you have in place, so that you can disrupt that whole system, because it’s the beliefs that hold hold us back. Because when you have a belief, believe me, your brain will not allow you to see anything that’s contrary to it. Now, as a therapist, one of the things I do is EMDR work with people. Where we take core beliefs, and in an hour, you can eradicate them. This is a much, much more efficient therapy than the traditional talk therapy. We’ve gone way beyond that now, it’s been around for 20 years, EMDR, but it is a fantastic way for you to break through your beliefs. Because that’s really a great place to start.
So, find a therapist in your area who does EMDR therapy. That’s Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It’s about being able to enter into a state of mind like you’re in when you’re in REM sleep while you’re awake. And it allows you to dismantle things that have been a part of your belief system your whole life, and you can do it in an hour with an effective therapist. I do this every day I work with people. And things that have held them back forever are just completely eradicated. It’s amazing work. Again, it comes down to knowing what you believe, and then tearing those false beliefs down so that you can start to re-orchestrate the proper way to thing, and simply implement positive ways to thinking. It’s not hard, look, again, in the workbook, I break this down to the most simple steps that in three weeks you’re different. I mean, three weeks is all it takes. And we’re only talking about 15 minutes a day. You know, there’s steps involved. You have to know why you got here.
You have to know how your brain works, and please, don’t allow the terminology neuroscience freak you out. It’s just science, okay? But I broke it down into laymen terms, so that anyone can read this book and get it. And understand, there are things in this book that no book has ever done, like I break down the three chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and I break them down with all the different events in your life that will trigger their release, and also diminish them so that you can begin to understand when you’re feeling yucky, why you’re feeling yucky, why you’re feeling yucky. There’s nothing worse than losing your sense of purpose during the day because your serotonin will drop off immediately, leading you to feel like crap. Well, now you’ll know “Wait a minute. I’m floundering, it’s because, you know, how to I get that back?” And I’ve got these all kinds of techniques that you can implement and boost it right back up. So, you know, there is a lot to know, but it’s in laymen terms, and gosh, in three weeks if you want to be different, I’m telling you. Get this book, and find a good EMDR therapist, and I’ll tell you, by, in a couple of months, you won’t recognize yourself.
Zephan: That’s absolutely amazing. So Sharie, what’s the best place to find your book so that they can also get that workbook that comes along with it, and really get started on working through that? If they find that, you know, if anyone tuning in right now has gone through some of these things we’ve discussed today.
Sharie: Oh, simply just go to Amazon, you can just put in Wired to Worry, my book will come right up, and, you know, you can get it even as an audiobook, because I know that people are so busy, and I really wanted to make it easy to people to the information, even while they’re riding back and forth to work. So you can get a Kindle, or an audiobook if you’d like, and, you know, just start the process. You can go to my website, which is shariespironhi.com, lots of resources. Lots of podcasts. Much of what I teach in the book, you can just get from my podcast! They’re all for free. So help yourself, and don’t lose that faith that says tomorrow might just be better, because it can be.
Zephan: Perfect. Well, I don’t think that we can wrap this up in any better way. Sharie, thanks so much for being here today, and it’s really been great speaking with you.
Sharie: Thank you so much for having me! This was really a pleasure.