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.