Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Pain Is In Your Brain

My brain chemistry has been oppressing me quite a bit this past week or so. I've been struggling to ride the waves of bad feelings I've been experiencing. I hesitate to label the feelings depression because of what comes with the term--a ready-made definition that causes people to shut off their minds and not see the condition for what I believe it is--a debilitating physical condition that can take many forms.

Oh, sure, thanks to pharmaceutical marketing, most people are now aware that depression can be helped with antidepressant medications--and that's a good thing. Lately, though, those medicines seem to be working less well than expected--at least if you believe the drug company ads which encourage you to "ask your doctor" about taking an additional medication for your depression (a medication that is in most cases an antipsychotic and not an anti-depressant).

Other than increasing awareness of the problem of depression (only one type of psychic pain), I don't think pharmaceutical companies are doing us any favors coming up with more and more (and stronger and stronger) medicines to treat depression because such marketing is causing the average lay person and even some psychiatrists to believe that taking antidepressants or other psychotropic drugs are all that's needed to fix the problem.

My own experience has taught me that medicine is not enough. Long term psychic pain brings with it so many behavioral problems that I am convinced one cannot get better by taking drugs alone, even if those drugs are well tolerated and effective (not always a given).

The behavioral problems result from the person's response to the pain: seek out the source of the pain and try to eliminate it. Of course, most of the time the person doesn't realize that the source is his own brain, and not the world around him. Identifying what turns out to be the wrong cause and then trying to eliminate that  mistaken cause is what creates the problems.

If people didn't respond in trouble-causing ways to psychic pain then there would be no need for remedies. Yes, the pain is in and of itself a problem, but if one can tolerate the pain without responding in a way that complicates one's life, then at least the problem is smaller, more localized, and less debilitating. 

I'm advocating that people should respond to psychic pain in the same way they respond to physical pain. Even though psychic pain is physical pain, people don't experience it that way; moreover, they are not conditioned to think of it that way because of the mind-body split concept that people have believed in for millennia.  So thinking of your mind's pain as different from your body's pain, or that mental pain is not real and is somehow even shameful is part of what people must struggle against in trying to treat their depression and other brain-chemistry induced ailments.

Think about how we respond to physical pain: use medications if any are available, then just put up with it, work around it, or distract yourself from it. What we don't typically do is to blame ourselves for it, to feel ashamed because we have it, or look for causes outside ourselves.

For instance, if a person suffers from phantom pain from a severed limb, he doesn't blame his spouse or his boss or his job or his place of residence for the phantom pain. He doesn't believe getting a new wife will take away his pain.  Changing any of his life circumstances might make his pain easier to bear or more convenient to deal with, perhaps, but it won't eliminate the pain. And he would never imagine that such a thing could happen (if he is rational).

So why do people who suffer psychic pain believe that changing something will make them happy (i.e. take away their psychic pain)?  If a woman's brain is making her unhappy, what makes her think changing her job will make her happy? She still has the same brain, after all. She takes her malfunctioning brain with her to the next job, the next town, the next relationship where it will once again cause her pain that she will once again misconstrue as caused by something outside herself and start the cycle all over again.

The behavior that the psychic pain elicits is the problem that needs fixing--behavior that is sometimes dangerous, life-threatening, life-destroying. Sure, get rid of the pain if you can, but how do you get rid of the behavior that is now entrenched and habitual? By recognizing that the source of the pain is not outside yourself, that it is your brain. Think of it as physical pain, then deal with it the way you would a physical ailment. It's that simple. It's just not easy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Power of Ruby Slippers

Yesterday I was thinking about people who are self-righteous about their suffering. This is especially true of those who suffer mentally. Because they take some degree of pride in their ability to endure pain, they find it hard to give it up, I think, when they no longer need to feel it.

My theory that people with bad brain chemistry need to find things to feel bad about to make their bad feelings seem rational coincides with this phenomenon of being self-righteous about suffering.  They don't want to stop being in psychic pain because to do so would mean that they always had the power to change and stop suffering and that they are not tragic figures after all.

It's like Dorothy's ruby slippers.  As soon as she got them from the bad witch, she had the power to go home, but she didn't know it so she went on staying in Oz and suffering from homesickness.  I think Dorothy was pretty ticked that she wasn't told.  Sure, Glinda the Good Witch told her that if she had told Dorothy the trick the girl wouldn't have believed her.  I can understand how Dorothy felt, but I also think Glinda was right because I've noticed that when I tell people that the solution to their sadness is something as simple as scanning, they don't believe me either.  What would it take for the people I try to help to conclude, like Dorothy, that they can stop suffering by doing something simple?  Would they still go through all the suffering that Dorothy went through to get to that point?

I kind of like this analogy.  How can I go further with it? Well, if you really look you can find allegories in The Wizard of Oz.  Glinda asked Dorothy what she learned on her adventure and she said basically that she learned she didn't need to go looking for happiness because it had been right in her back yard all along. That's what people with brain chemistry need to learn--that they have the power within them to be happy, that they don't need to buy a lot of gear or food or pills or books or personal trainers or gurus.  They can simply decide to make their pain go away and believe that it's possible.

I think Glinda was right about Dorothy. She wouldn't have believed it could be so simple.  She liked the idea of a quest, suffering through the dark night of the soul until she vanquished evil and rescued her comrades who proved worthy warriors.  Sounds good until you remember that the quest was contrived by the Wizard who wasn't really a wizard (in the movie anyway) and couldn't bestow any of the things he claimed to be able to bestow.  He was a con artist, like the one who came to Dorothy's farm in the beginning of the film. Dorothy learned she was strong, and that was valuable, I suppose.  And she gained friendships she didn't have before. (Or, if you believe the "dream" ending, they were friends she had all along but didn't recognize how valuable they were.)

I think about these unnecessary quests when I read books by people who supposedly went through terrible trials to get to where they are today--someplace happier, healthier and on the other side of some treacherous divide where they look back in awe at how far they've come.  People love those kind of stories, probably because they conform to the structure of the classic good story, complete with the typical story arc: complications, rising action, crisis, turning point, denouement.  In order to please those readers, then, the writer has to contrive his or her story, make what might have been a much slower, more convoluted, more complex and much more subtle process into a straight-line quest--a journey to hell and back.

It makes me wonder--if the suffering person had learned the secret earlier--maybe learned that there was no need for the quest, that the answer was simple and easily obtained--would he or she have believed it? Would the suffering person have gone on suffering so as to come out with a great story later?  Would the person have figured it out early but written a fictional account just to satisfy the desire of readers to believe in the power of suffering to redeem us? That's what Oprah's pal did before he got caught.  That's what a lot of people did and do in order to sell a "true" account of adventure to the unsuspecting (but fervently believing) public.  Even in Shakespeare's time people yearned for the truth that was stranger than fiction.  So it's no wonder that the Wizard of Oz, old con man that he was, gave that story to Dorothy.  And Glinda let him because she knew Dorothy would never go for the plain, simple, unvarnished and decidedly less glamorous truth that to be happy all she had to do was click her heels together three times, saying "There's no place like home."

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Inheritance

So, if a person grows up in an abusive household, how does he or she avoid such situations in the future?

Well, becoming aware is essential.  Chances are the person who was a child of abuse has inherited the bad brain chemistry that caused the parent or parents to behave in the way they did (that and the behavior they learned from their bad brain chemistry suffering parents).  And so the child has also learned the ineffective behavior as well.  Knowing about both the brain chemistry and the learned behavior will help.  Part of the learned behavior is that method of survival that used to bring about a feeling of triumph or at least relief.  One needs an abusive situation in order to deploy such methods though.  That means that if one wants to avoid repeating an abusive home life one needs to find other ways of feeling triumph or relief.

Many people who weren't brought up in an abusive household achieve a feeling of triumph from accomplishing something other than survival or the avoidance of conflict.  Imagine that! Feeling triumphant over a personal achievement such as winning a debate or acquitting oneself well in a baseball game or getting an A on a particularly difficult test in school or even something as simple as figuring out how to fix a broken toaster.

Often people who are abused or grow up with an abuser are not praised or even noticed for their achievements.  They might think they don't have any, except what they've learned to stay out of Dad's way or avoid Mom's withering critique by being invisible.  Or perhaps they show their disdain for praise by being troublesome or being even more difficult than their abusive parents.

I need to think more about this topic.  Next time . . .

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Flee and Flee Again

Today I had a thought about people who stay in an abusive relationship.  There is something in the relationship that the abused person craves.  She does not crave the violence, necessarily, just the brain-effects that the violence provides her with. She accepts the violence as concomitant with the other.

And what is the other?  Perhaps it is the thrill of victory.  Living with an abusive person is like always being on the hunt, always having to read the environment for potential danger, as well as for potential sustenance.  The abuser provides the danger, but not always. Sometimes he provides the sustenance: peace and calm and even affectionate attention. Either outcome is unpredictable, however, so she must always be on the lookout for both.

Living in such a relationship is like constantly being in a fight or flight situation--never being able to relax. But the person who is hyperalert is a person who thrives in such a situation. She feels good about having survived, of having gotten the goods, even when she occasionally pays with physical or emotional pain. Unfortunately, she gets addicted to the thrill of victory and tries to make it happen, to reproduce the circumstances of triumph in other relationships, even the abusive one she wants to escape. 

And she does want to escape. Who wouldn't want to escape frequent near-death experiences in one's own home?  But fleeing (and occasionally fighting) is the goal of the agon and is therefore what causes her to feel good when she reaches it. Once she escapes, however, she will eventually crave that situation of fight-or-flight that resulted in her triumphing over death and feeling that exhilaration.  It's a kind of adrenalin addiction, I think, similar to that experienced by a dare-devil pilot or extreme athlete or combat soldier.

It's interesting, I think, that people heap scorn upon anyone these days who wants to suggest that an abused person (especially a woman) might play a role in her captivity, however small.  Don't blame the victim, they say.  "It's not her fault; it's the man's fault. He's the only culprit." But it's not that cut and dried, though we would like it to be.  Despite all the help people currently have to avoid establishing relationships with abusers or to escape those situations, including shelters and mental health professionals, educational materials and even more stringent laws to punish the abusers, they are still ending up victims. Why is that? Why do people still let themselves in for that?

I think that it's simply much more complicated than it first appears to be. How do people end up in abusive relationships? Well, there may be a variety of reasons for that. But once there, some stay. Those are the ones who puzzle the people who want to help.  Why do they stay? There are a lot of theories out there, but one I'd like to offer is that the abused and the abuser are co-dependent. Each is getting something out of the relationship. Both are suffering from brain chemistry that causes them to behave in a way that is not only counterproductive but may sometimes be downright toxic or even lethal.  That they don't change may be because what they are getting from the survival-mode existence is something they need and don't know how to get in a way that is more constructive.

But those directly involved in the abusive relationship are not the only ones affected by it.  If there are children, they suffer, too.  Even if they themselves are not being abused, they experience the same struggle for survival watching their parents go at it in their presence, except for them it can be much worse because they didn't create the situation and have very little control over it.  They might attempt to exert control by trying to intervene during a fight, by escaping temporarily, by running away, by acting out in school, by getting in trouble or getting hurt--all ways that work for a while, either to bring their parents together or break them apart or at least distract them for a time.

But all the while this is happening, the children are living with the daily struggle for survival, learning to deal with the dilemma of loved ones fighting--having to take sides but not wanting to. And those who succeed in figuring it out, who survive the situation, get something out of their success.  They experience the thrill of victory, too, and later, when they grow up and do finally escape for good, they crave that same intense, ultimately life-affirming experience they had when they were children.  And that's what it is--life-affirming.  The adrenalin junkie might be addicted to that high he gets from courting and then jilting death--the neurochemicals that pour into his brain during and after a struggle to survive--but he is also affirming life, and that is exhilarating.  And in this modern, safe, comfortable world where the true struggle for survival is almost non-existent, there are few opportunities for such exhilaration.

This, then, may be one of the reasons abused (or abusing) people stay in such painful relationships--they grew up in an abusive household, which means they not only inherited the brain chemistry of people who crave the agon, but they learned how to create it and play their parts in it.  That there are other, better methods does not occur to them, of if it does, then they are afraid to try them for fear they will not work.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Uncovering Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is something we like to think of as constitutionally guaranteed in this country. We have the right to pursue happiness, whatever that might be for us, as long as we don't run afoul of the law. Like many people, I used to think happiness was some elusive state, difficult if not impossible to achieve. One who is unhappy must do something, go somewhere, change somehow in order to be happy. If only I could figure out what that something was, I could be happy.

Lately, however, I've been thinking that happiness is not something "out there," in the future or in another place, a state that I have to get to. Rather, I've come to believe that happiness is a quality I already possess, something that exists within me and need only be uncovered, drawn out, revealed.

My brain chemistry works to muffle happiness, to hide its existence, to prevent me from experiencing it. Why is it doing this? I suppose it's trying to protect me from what it mistakenly believes are mortal threats to my physical body. Happiness is, after all, a state of relaxation. To feel happy is to experience a time away from vigilance, to dwell in a place where peace and cooperation, creativity and curiosity hold sway.  If one is afraid for one's life, one cannot afford to relax, to be curious, friendly, open, joyous, inventive--that is, happy. One must concentrate on surviving.

Hyperalert people whose brains make them believe they are in danger cannot afford to relax vigilance.  They must stay alert to attacks from the outside world where predators lurk, where hunger and hurt await. Unfortunately, the source of the threat they feel is the brain itself, causing pain in the name of survival.

The hyperalert brain is creating a kind of autoimmune disorder, you might say. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body mistakenly believes its own tissues are a threat; it treats its internal tissues like external invaders. In much the same way, when the brain produces fear-inducing chemicals, the mind does not recognize the threat as internal and therefore harmless; instead it immediately looks outside the body for the cause of the fear, for the invader; and when it finds something, it responds by fighting the perceived threat or fleeing from it. The mind's response is like the body's response: it acts to protect the organism.

What does the mind do? It prompts the body to attack, perhaps, through yelling or hitting. Or it prompts the body to flee through literal or figurative running: taking to one's bed and refusing to get up and go to work, for instance, or escaping via a tried-and-true route, such as changing jobs or drinking alcohol or gambling.

Though it may seem such actions are intended to remove obstacles to happiness ("If I could only find a job I like"; "If I can just get enough money to pay my bills"), they are in effect creating those obstacles by perpetuating readiness for a threat that doesn't exist.  It's as if the person is patrolling through a war zone, anxiously alert for the hidden mine that will take his legs or even his life. "Be alert or be inert," as soldiers say. But that kind of vigilance takes its toll, even when the threat is real. At least a real war will end at some point and if he survives, the soldier will be safe. When the war is brain-created, there's no actual reason for vigilance and thus no hope of safety--no hope for a future happiness.

So, what to do? Look for the happiness that is hiding behind the artificial cloud the brain creates. Dispel the cloud, and reveal the sunshine behind it. Simple--but, of course, not easy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Half-Empty Glass

Today I had a revelation about the "glass-half-empty" folks (like me).  Seeing the glass as half-empty is looking for a reason to be unhappy, according to our critics.  But as I have tried to explain in this blog, looking for a reason to be unhappy is a result of a brain chemistry glitch.  Our neurotransmitters make us feel bad (erroneously) and in order to make sense of that bad feeling, we go looking for what could be causing it.  Why do I feel bad?  What is wrong in my world?  And since people can always find something wrong in their world if they look closely enough, the "cause" of the bad feeling can always be found.

This discovery, of course, is seen as a good thing by the sufferer, because once a problem's cause is determined, a solution can be sought and possibly found.  Half-full (HF) folks often criticize half-empty (HE) folks for their negative outlook: "You like to be unhappy," they say.  But though it seems that we like being unhappy, what we like, in fact, is finding the reason we're unhappy so we can do something to fix it.

My mother used to have an ingenious explanation for her bad brain chemistry attacks.  She called them her "feelings," and when she would experience one, she'd interpret it as a kind of telepathic message: someone she loved was in distress.  She would then call each of us and ask how we were. "I've had one of my feelings," she'd say. "Are you alright?" If nothing was wrong, she would try to find something, however minor, that would serve as distress so her bad feeling could be explained.  At times, I would find myself coming up with something so that she'd be appeased and stop worrying.  It wasn't until recently that I realized what her "feelings" were.  The other day, for the first time in a long time, she mentioned she'd had one of her "feelings." I tried to tell her it was just brain chemistry, but she didn't seem to like that explanation very much, preferring to see herself as special, I suppose, as endowed with extraordinary psychic abilities.  I can't say I blame her there.  Bad brain chemistry is viewed as a flaw, after all--a disability, an illness.  Having a poorly functioning brain marks you as defective.  It's not something people want to accept.

And therein lies the dilemma: convincing the "half-empty" people that they can feel better is difficult when they don't even want to accept that they have a problem, when they want to believe the way they see the world is realistic and the only right way to see things.

But I continue to work on changing that, one day at a time.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I'm On to You, Brain

Today I had a thought concerning the idea I've had all along--that the bad brain chemistry that produces the pain is actually a physical phenomenon and therefore should be treated as such.  If you have a headache or a backache or a stomach ache, you don't start thinking of what has gone wrong with your life to make you feel so bad.  You don't start wondering what you can change in your life to make the headache or backache or stomach ache go away. You just go looking for a remedy.  You don't blame yourself or your spouse or your boss for your stomach ache (although maybe you do if you think it's due to stress).  You just look for a way to make it go away.

Brain chemistry pain is the same. It's a temporary condition that will go away in time.  You don't have to change your life to make it go away.  And even if the pain is severe and chronic, if it's physical pain you don't assume getting a new job is the answer to your future happiness.  Unless there's a definite connection between your work and your pain (your assembly line job is causing you carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance), you don't blame your surroundings.  You seek to change only what you need to change to go on with your day.

But when you're in the midst of a bad brain chemistry attack, you don't at first think to ignore it.  It's so painful and so sudden that it's really hard to ignore.  About an hour ago I had such a feeling.  It swept over me like a sudden downpour.  I felt terrible instantly.  I couldn't help reacting with an impulse to do something to make it go away.  The quickest action is to eat something like chocolate or other fat/sweet substance.  I tried instead to make myself pay attention to the feeling.  What is the physical part of it? How is it different from feeling "normal"?

Since I'm feeling that way right now, I can tell you that it's not easy.  It's like a hot flash.  You try to remedy it before you know the reason it's happening.  Over the years I've had hot flashes, I've taken to asking people around me, "Is it hot in here or is it me?" before I go to change the thermostat or complain about the temperature in the room. Usually people will answer, sometimes with a slightly amused look, as if they are aware of the reason I'm asking.  Pretty safe bet, knowing my approximate age (and gender).

So, what does the bad brain chemistry flash feel like? Well, I think my heart rate goes up, though I can't say for sure.  My breathing gets shallow, I think. I feel kind of nervous-fluttery.  Is this the fight or flight response? Maybe.  Maybe it is.  Can I ignore it?  No, it's hard to ignore.  But can I not react?  Maybe.  Maybe I can do what I do when I feel a hot flash come over me, sometimes--wait a few minutes and do nothing.  Say to myself: Oh, this is a temporary bad feeling. It will pass momentarily. It's just my brain doing this to me. After all, the brain is what produces the hot flash, too.  The brain produces the cravings that lead to addictive behavior.  The brain does a lot of things based on internal signals that are not really connected to the external world.  The brain doesn't necessarily need to be obeyed.  The brain can be ignored by the conscious mind, if the conscious mind is alert and ready to get involved.

Maybe I can make this work.  Just say something like, "Okay, brain, I'm on to you. So just get it over with, would you? I've got things to do." I'm going to have to try that method, see how it works.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Power of Positive Thinking

So, how to get from controlling anxiety to actually enjoying life? Good question.

Well, I've been thinking about what happens when I have anxiety. Usually what I'm doing is trying to come up with reasons to feel anxious, so I invent dangerous scenarios that would explain my being fearful.  What if instead of inventing the reasons to feel afraid I were to start with the fear-inducing situations and change them to safe situations? It's all in my brain anyway, so why not invent different scenarios?

How would that work though? Well, I think it would be akin to changing a tragedy to a comedy.  Take the scary situation and make everything come out alright instead of all wrong. For instance, the comedy As You Like It has the makings of a tragedy. The daughter's father tells her she must marry the man of his choice or be sent to a nunnery or die. She's in love with someone else and so tries to run away with him to avoid the fate the father has planned for her. Now in some societies of today, the girl would suffer that fate mentioned in the play.  Everything works out okay in the play because of the intervention of fairies, who make the father's choice uninterested in Hermia and fix instead on her friend.

So, I fix on any terrible scenario and change it in my mind to one where everything comes out alright. Will that work to make the bad feelings go away?  Will it help me to experience joy instead of anxiety?  I guess you could call it the glass-half-full solution. There's been a version of that in existence for some time. Think back to The Power of Positive Thinking. All you have to do is think positively instead of negatively, right?  To count your blessings instead of your misfortunes.

Yes, yes, yes, but easier said than done, no? Especially when your brain chemistry wants you to do the opposite.

Maybe if it gets to be a habit, it will work. I start out thinking negatively, then turn the scenario, almost as if I were writing a play. Take the elements of the tragedy and create a comedy from them.  Ah, but then I start to feel anxious about writing.  That won't work.  Okay, don't think of it as writing then.  I'll have to work on that.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Surviving in a Non-dangerous World

Well, lately I've been having a lot of bad brain chemistry attacks, and my usual means of dealing with them--scanning, for instance--is not working as quickly or as well.

Maybe it has to do with eating too much of those substances that have powerful stimulus effects, such as chocolate. I know that eating chocolate takes away the blues for a time. My reintroduction of these substances has had the effect of creating more neuroreceptors which then must be fed. And when they're not fed, they cause trouble.

But even solving the bad brain chemistry problem leaves me with another more intractable problem--going beyond not feeling depressed or anxious or enraged to feeling joyful, content, relaxed, curious, hopeful. Will I ever achieve that? Hopefully it won't take another 20 years.

I go back to my original analogy of the creature who is trying to survive in an environment that presents constant challenges in the form of predators, scarce food and water supplies, threatening weather, rivals and bullies of his own species, disease or injury. With all the dangers, there is little time for relaxation, play, socializing, discovery, creativity. Humans have been in this situation in the past. It is only when people have removed a majority of those dangers, when humans have relatively assured their survival, that they have had the ability to learn and grow, create and invent, "progress," as we term it.

Imagine living in an environment which actually is a daily survival challenge. Many people on this earth, in this country, in fact, are in that situation currently. How can you expect them to progress when they are using all their energies to survive? It's difficult, and those who somehow manage it are extraordinary indeed.

This is the situation bad brain chemistry induces in the otherwise non-survival-challenged person. Your brain thinks you're in survival mode and responds in that way.  In order to experience joy, creativity, contentment, a person must feel safe.  But how can she feel safe when bad brain chemistry is making her feel afraid? This is the dilemma.

I think about the extreme case of a recent NFL player now on trial for murder. He left his environment where bad brain chemistry was an advantage and went to one where it was a disadvantage. He should have been happy that he made it to the big time, but instead he was afraid.  His brain chemistry wouldn't let him make the transition to a safe, easy existence.  His fears made him try to answer a survival challenge that didn't exist.

So taking away the physical challenges doesn't change things for a bad brain chemistry afflicted person. What will change things? This is the question that I can't as yet answer.

But I'm working on it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hyperalertness and Neuroreceptors

I went back and read my post on biological psychology where I talked about what Phillip Corr calls a "consistent level of stimulation,"  how the brain tries to maintain that level and creates more or fewer neuroreceptors in an effort to do it.  And when the brain increases the neuroreceptors, and then the level of stimulation suddenly drops ("deficient chemical state," the person suffers because the brain is slow to change back.

I wonder if this explains why people who are hyperalert get depressed or anxious or angry.  They have too many neuroreceptors to begin with and require a higher level of stimulation, maybe.  Then when they don't get that level of stimulation, they suffer by becoming anxious, or depressed, or angry.  The brain responds slowly to the decreased level of stimulation, and meanwhile, the mind makes the person feel bad so he/she tries to feel better by increasing stimulation in some way through eating, taking drugs, or fighting with someone, for example. 

But how does depression help?  Does depression only look like a lack of stimulation?

If I go back to my primitive human analogy, depression is like hiding or fleeing, I've decided.  It removes the person from the situation of fear.  In modern life, it allows people to step back and retreat from their daily lives. My mother sleeps all day to avoid the pain of living where she doesn't want to live.  But I think that it's not so much that she doesn't want to be where she is, but that she doesn't get any stimulation where she is.  As a younger woman, the stimulation of life's requirements filled her day and propelled her forward.  No one needs her to do anything anymore, unfortunately.  Her neuroreceptors are craving the stimulation she no longer gets, so she shuts down and waits for them to catch up. 

Maybe that's what depression is designed to do--shut down the organism until the brain catches up and takes away some of the neuroreceptors.  Then when there is a stimulus, it will seem greater because there are fewer neuroreceptors.  Hmmm. That reminds me of my problem with "the middle."  I know there's a chapter in the book that talks about depression.  Maybe I should go there and read it.

Meanwhile, what does this revelation mean? Well, I think my "cure" (that is, scanning) for depression or anxiety or anger makes sense, then, because it gives the brain some stimulation, and in a way that is less harmful to all concerned.

A hyperalert person needs stimulation more than normal folks, so that person tries to maintain that level of stimulation, sometimes by doing things he or she shouldn't, such as drinking, eating, gambling, taking drugs, having sex, beating on or killing someone or something, driving fast, participating in a dangerous sport, shopping, etc.  We think of those people as adrenalin junkies sometimes.  But other, less obvious ways of maintaining stimulation can be crying, complaining, gossiping, surfing the net, texting, being late, hoarding, responding to phobias, watching TV, playing video games.

None of the solutions people come up with for easing the pain of understimulation are bad in and of themselves in small doses.  But when people are constantly doing these somewhat negative things, the consequences are negative, especially for one's daily life.  Compulsive gambling wrecks lives, as we all know, but compulsive gossiping does, too.  Constant crying puts people off, as does constant complaining.  One has to try not to do these destructive things too often, but when one gets addicted to them (because, unfortunately, they work, even if only short term), it's much harder to stop and do something else more constructive.

So, substitution is needed, as any substance abuse counselor will tell you.  The substance doesn't have to be a substance, though.  It can be an activity.  I have a few that I do, such as writing.  Reading, too, is helpful, especially through headphones, I think, because that engages the brain more directly and with more senses.  Not only am I listening (and hearing words, voice, inflection, tone), but I'm also seeing my surroundings and smelling or feeling the temperature of the places I walk through as I "read."  And those become associated with the book, so that memories of the story are more vivid.

My sister tells me that watching TV and doing other things like that distract her from her pain.  But what if they are actually doing more than that? What if they are actually taking away the pain, even if only for a few moments?  She'd say "no" immediately, I'm sure, if I asked her.  But I wonder . . . A person who feels intense pain may be someone who is hyper-hyper alert.  After all, pain is neurostimulation, isn't it?  What if my sister's brain is causing her to feel pain more acutely than the normal person?  Maybe she has many, many neuroreceptors--way too many--that allow her to feel things normal people do not feel?  Maybe stimulating her in other ways can take the place of pain stimulation that her brain is accepting?  The more she is stimulated by other than pain, the fewer neuroreceptors are available for pain.

I wish I could get through to more people about this method of dealing with brain chemistry.  It could be that bi-polar disorder and anxiety disorder and the others are simply the problem of maintaining a higher level of stimulation, but without getting addicted to any one particular option.  I need to write a book on it, but who will listen? I don't have a degree in psychology.  Should I get one?  I don't know . . . it's pretty expensive, after all.  I wish someone would help me, someone who does have a degree in psychology.  But who?

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Sometimes I get tired of having to deal with this bad feeling all the time.  This week I've had a lot of bad brain chemistry days, and I haven't been able to make it go away as well as I'd like.  I don't like having to take time out to judo my bad feelings out of my way; I don't make much progress that way.  Oh, well.  What are my alternatives, after all?

I'll keep trying, as always.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fear of the Middle

Lately I've been thinking about why I have trouble finishing projects.  It's a funny kind of blockage, I guess. It presents differently with different projects, but the end result is the same: unfinished projects.

I have started many projects: quilts, reading, exercise, learning to speak Spanish or French, learning various computer programs like Excel, Word, Publisher, HTML; learning Physics or Math or some of the other subjects that I have on my lecture DVDs.  Then there's crocheting or model building, but probably the greatest stall is writing.  And even in this there are variations: fiction, screenwriting, non-fiction, poetry, oral history, autobiography.

I like starting new projects.  I like buying all the gear I'll need for those projects.  But somewhere down the road to completion, I stall.  My beginning efforts look good, sound good, read well, etc.  But when I have to keep plugging away, for some reason I avoid it.  Then after a while I start something else.

Obviously, there is a psychological boost from starting something--the hope of a new adventure, I guess. But what causes the bogging down half way through?  That I'm not too sure of, but I want to get to the bottom of it.

I know a lot of people suffer from this particular malady, and I also know it's got something to do with brain chemistry, so that's why I'm writing about it here.

It's a kind of fear--I know that much, anyway.  Where does it come from, though, and how to fix it?  Those are the big questions.

Where does it come from?  Well, it comes from my brain, of course, but why? How to explain my brain's apparently irrational response to the requirements of the middle?

If I look at it from the point of view of the primitive human, maybe I'll think of something.  Does my primitive brain fear the middle for some reason?  Hmmmm.

Let's say the beginning represents the quest for food. Out on the hunt, you might say, looking for a new source of sustenance--berries, let's say.  The hunter's walking along, fairly close to home, finding berries and gathering them, excited to find so many, maybe eating some of them, not noticing how far afield she is going.  But then the supply of berries begins to peter out and eventually the berries are no longer there and she must stop and look around her.  She's gone too far; she doesn't know where she is any longer.  She's alone and possibly in danger because now she's in unfamiliar territory far from fellow humans and--she fears--close to predators.  So she hightails it for home and safety, retracing her steps, and no doubt, eating all the berries she's gathered in the process.

That fear of being in unfamiliar territory, where there are no longer any rewards and possibly punishments on the horizon--could that be what's behind the fear of the middle?  Maybe. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fight or Flight or Chocolates

I was trying to explain to my mother the other day why scanning works to make a person feel better when she is anxious or depressed or angry.  What I said was that it hearkens back to ancient times when there were still predators out and about which could kill and eat us.  Scanning the horizon made us feel in control of our lives; if we could see whether or not a predator was there, we would feel better.

Because we are not in imminent danger from predators anymore (at least not the non-human kind), we don't need to scan the horizon.  But if a person is hyperalert, he has the desire to do so and just because there is no necessity to do so doesn't mean the desire goes away.

Satisfying the desire to scan the horizon, to respond to life or death emergencies, is necessary to feel calm and "happy." But the real crises are not available; one must, therefore, enact response behaviors that quell anxiety through accumulating knowledge about the external threats.

Now, the feeling of anxiety can be satisfied by eating highly fatty or sugar loaded foods, probably because those foods are stimulating, and they are stimulating because they are needed for fight or flight.  The fact you don't need them for fight or flight doesn't diminish their power to make you feel better.

Unfortunately, since you don't burn up calories fighting or fleeing, the fuel you're ingesting just gets stored along with all the other fat stores on your body.

If you can satisfy that craving to respond to the false alarm in some way, then you can avoid eating those fight or flight foods that are only going to be wasted on your body.