Sharing a few more drawings and two quotes from a book I am reading at the moment: Uncharted: How to Map the Future by Margaret Heffernan,

“When we trade the effort of doubt and debate for the ease of blind faith, we become gullible and exposed, passive and irresponsible observers of our own lives. Worse still, we leave ourselves wide open to those who profit by influencing our behaviour, our thinking and our choices. At that moment, our agency in our own lives is in jeopardy.”

“Instead of abdicating the future to those who know no more than we do, experiments are bolder, enlisting every kind of imagination in pursuit of more options. They show us what we miss when we cling to the shore, pinioned by forecasts or orthodoxies, doubt or fear. Each new insight adds detail to pictures of the future as they start to emerge.”









“How is it when the tree withers and the leaves fall?”
“Body exposed in the golden wind.”
(Zen haiku)

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.” (From When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Chödrön, Pema., p. 11)

Today I’m sharing some charcoal drawings I’ve started making this month (excuse me for the poor quality of the photos, but I currently don’t have access to a scanner). Lack of canvases due to the lockdown has made it necessary for me to turn to things available on the arts supply shelf, but it’s also something I’ve felt I needed to do for some time now, but kept postponing it. Actually, I don’t think I have used charcoal for over a decade. One of the last charcoal drawings I made was the artwork posted in the previous post, and a portrait of the national poet of Bulgaria, as part of something I was asked to do for a small art exhibition I took part in, while supporting my husband’s work concerning outreach programmes at the time. In the past I’ve mostly used charcoal to make portraits of people, but this time I decided to focus less on precision and detail, and allow for more spontaneity and rawness to enter the images.


Also, sharing two links for two podcasts I’ve listened to over this last week. Both podcasts contain humor and it’s a pity there are no transcripts to make it easier for people in Greece to read.

One is a talk between Dr Rick Hanson and his son Forrester on the holidays and the difficulties that can come up as old traumas and past bottled up emotions can collide with current difficulties and expectations, as well as, the impact of Covid-19 on people’s circumstances and capacity to get together this year. It’s titled: Sadness and Disappointment around the Holidays. It moves through topics like the associations that we make between current sad experiences and unmet expectations and our past material, ways to soften around emotions and release them, the use of imagery to deal with sadness, identifying underlying beliefs, how to let in positive experiences alongside the painful ones, finding agency in the midst of disappointment, communicating our needs and discerning sadness from depression. They conclude that having strong hopes and intentions and weak expectations could potentially help us.

In the second podcast:,  Natalie Haynes , a British writer and broadcaster, talks with Andrew Copson about the modern relevance of the work of the ancient classical world and the value of curiosity and inquiry. Haynes values open inquiry, being curious and interested in learning and considers these as the root of happiness without underestimating luck and circumstances. She refers to generations of people being penalized for curiosity when they were young or were judged as not good enough to study the classics or other things by educators, and how this has robbed people of opportunities. Many of us may go back and think about our own experiences in Ancient Greek and Latin classes if these subjects were part of the school curriculum, She refers to the study of the Ancient Greek and Latin as limited to the elite and the importance of exposing all children to classics, which is our collective history and can help us journey through life. This she says is one reason why she has dedicated her life to taking classics to schools and working on giving everyone the opportunity to choose to learn. She also refers to her book, Pandora’s jar, and mentions how most modern narrators of Greek myths, for instance, have been men, who have not shown much interest in telling the stories of the women in these ancient stories.

A quote from Natalie Haynes’ book: A Thousand Ships

“But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”

Angry faces and brain plasticity

Continued from the previous piece I wrote on the impact of early adversity and maltreatment…..

It seems that children who have experienced adversity seem more likely to be biased towards threat in the way that they perceive the world. This increased sensitivity to threat is consistent with frequently being in a heightened state of high alert. It has, for instance, been observed in research settings that children with early histories of maltreatment can become more sensitive to angry faces and they may often interpret ambiguous emotions in adult faces as threatening. Additionally, research has also shown that children who have experienced maltreatment, seem to process angry faces differently than children who have not experienced abuse. For instance, researchers showed that children who have experienced physical abuse can detect anger in adult faces with higher accuracy than children who have not been maltreated. They were also able to demonstrate that children who have been maltreated judge ambiguous and unclear adult facial expressions more often as angry than children without similar experiences.

For instance, Professor Eamon J. McCrory and his team conducted an fMRI study to see if children who have been exposed to abuse processed angry faces differently in the brain, compared to their peers while they were in the fMRI scanner (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is a method that is used to infer where neural activation takes place in the brain when we perform a task), They found that children who had suffered violence had an increased brain response to threat in the amygdala, compared to their peers. This brain region plays a role in signaling threat and processing fear. The researchers also found an increase in activation in the insula, which is thought to be involved in signaling bodily sensations and the anticipation of pain. Interestingly, this pattern of brain activation has also been observed in soldiers before and after they were deployed in combat, and in people who suffer from anxiety.

So, even though adversity does not create a deterministic outcome, it does create a set of adaptations and risks for increased vulnerability. Among other things hypersensitivity to negative social cues can lead to children and older individuals to feelings of rejection or social exclusion and can hinder relatedness. So, even though changes at a behavioural level and in the neurobiological systems due to less than optimal experiences in childhood are usually advantageous short-term adjustments that help the young person survive, they can become problematic in other contexts like school, etc, and also, lead to health problems later on in life, if trauma is not addressed. Neuroscientists would call these neurobiological changes latent, meaning existing, but not yet developed or manifest because they are measurable before the young person has developed a mental health difficulty, and also, observed changes in brain function might be temporary and not permanent because resilience and brain plasticity are factors that can ameliorate the effects of early adversity.

Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt throughout life in terms of its connections, structures and function. The brain is described as being plastic because we can continuously learn new skills and information and it can continuously adapt to one’s environment. And although the brain is most plastic during childhood, it remains plastic throughout life, allowing an individual to learn and adapt well into adulthood. This is very important in the context of childhood trauma because as much as the brain of a young child adapts during adversity, it can also learn to adapt to a normative environment following adversity. I will briefly refer to a longitudinal study conducted by 1 Gunnar, M. R., DePasquale, C. E., Reid, B. M., & Donzella, B. (2019), which examined whether puberty opens a window of opportunity to recalibrate the HPA axis toward more typical reactivity when children shift from harsh deprived conditions in infancy into supportive conditions in childhood and adolescence.

In this paper it is supported that humans exposed to depriving institutional care in infancy show reduced HPA axis responsivity, even years after they are placed in supportive, well-resourced families. Institutional care during infancy impairs the responsiveness of the HPA axis to psychosocial stressors and it is associated with reductions in risk-taking and sensation-seeking; increased amygdala responses to threat and increased anxiety symptoms that are associated with alterations in brain connectivity and white matter pathways, and studies have shown that early institutional deprivation results in a blunted cortisol response to stressors. The causal nature of the blunting of the HPA axis is also demonstrated in studies of nonhuman primates randomly assigned to nursery rearing instead of maternal rearing. So, non-human animal models also reveal that the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) axis calibrates to the harshness of the environment during a sensitive period in infancy.

The study conducted by Gunnar and his team indicated that pubertal development reopens a window of opportunity for the HPA axis to recalibrate based on significant improvements in the supportiveness of the environment relative to that in infancy, even though, simply removing children from deprivation and placing them in supportive, well-resourced homes does not always appear to be sufficient to allow the HPA axis to recalibrate even when the parents in those homes score very high on observational measures of parenting quality and children report high levels of perceived support. However, development can potentially allow windows of opportunity for recalibration. This possibility is supported by studies in nonhuman animal models, too. In particular, for the HPA axis, puberty may reopen the system and functionally create a second sensitive period.  Finally, even though I have focused on neuroscience, it is important to remember that while neuroscience provides some insights into childhood trauma and other life experiences, it is one perspective only, and in order to understand the impact of childhood adversity, one needs to bring together other perspectives from teachers, social workers, caregivers, therapists and doctors.