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.