Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Good reasons to feel bad

Thought for the day: Just because you have a good reason to feel bad, doesn't mean it isn't brain chemistry making you feel bad. Your brain makes you feel bad, and when you cast around for a good reason to feel bad, you can find one sooner if something in your life is worthy of sadness. But you should still try to make the bad feeling go away if you can.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Ideal Team

As I discussed in the previous post, many people grow up in families that do not embody the spirit of the ideal team as it is envisioned by employers. Yet they are expected to function in a work setting as if they did grow up in such a team.  Or, they are expected to be able to learn to be ideal team players by merely being reminded that they should work as a team. Or, at the very least, they can learn to be good team players by receiving instruction in team work.

How many courses, workshops and seminars are given in teamwork: creating a team, developing a team, leading a team, working as a team? Businesses are very insistent these days that employees conform to the ideal team concept. You see it in every job description, every ad for a job opening, no matter how low-level. I think employers must often be disappointed when their employees fall far short of the teamwork mark, when even their leaders are not really skilled at teamwork. And yet functioning as an ideal team continues to be the goal of every group.

Is it a skill that can be learned? If so, then it does not consist of a simple set of behaviors. There's more involved, I think, in simply learning how to act in a group situation. And that is because every group situation is different, and most are not the type employers want in their workplaces. And the fact that they don't know that is hindering their progress in creating the ideal team.

But how can an employer find out what kind of team her employees grew up in? Just asking might be seen as nosy. Perhaps she'd be better off asking herself that question--start there, perhaps. But even if she could glean that information somehow, what should she do with it?

Good question. More later.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Everyone's a Team Player

For most of my life I've believed I am not a team player. When I was a kid, I didn't get picked for teams because I had no athletic skills, or so I thought. I probably did have such skills but didn't know it because no one encouraged me to play sports or do anything athletic, so I never practiced.

Since sports is where most people learn to be a team player, I felt like I missed out on that part of life. But being a part of a team, as I recently learned, is not limited to playing sports. People learn to be on a team because it's a naturally human thing to do. We are all on teams from the time we are born until we die because we are human and need to be with other people to survive.

Many times I've heard people say, "I don't need people. I don't need anybody." My father was one of those people. But he was wrong, and he knew it. We do need people, like it or not. And the liking of it is the sticking point for a lot of people who don't think of themselves as team players. Many of those people are proud of it, too. It's a badge of honor to be a loner in our culture, a maverick, a fiercely independent individualist. Unfortunately, that cultural value does not mix with the requirement of many occupations that an employee be a "people person" or to be able to "get along with coworkers"--to be a team player.

But the kind of team player most employers want is a very particular kind. He or she must be able to work together with others in a cooperative manner that results in getting tasks accomplished with creativity and friendly competition but no unpleasant conflict or strife. 

Unfortunately, that's only one kind of team and certainly not the experience of many, maybe even most people who grow up in families in this country. As I mentioned in the previous post, our first and most influential team is our family, and that team is probably not very much like the ideal team sought after by most businesses. But it is a team, nevertheless. And what people learn about team is learned in that first group.

For instance, I learned in my team to be anxious about my team mates, worried and uncertain about how they were going to react, trying to figure out what I needed to do to get attention from them.  I learned that helping and being cooperative were not valued. My father was an autocrat, so instead of cooperation, he got silent, smoldering acquiescence, or secret and sometimes bold, even at times harmful, rebellion. Constantly fearing rejection, my teammates never asked for help, or love, or attention from each other. They just got angry and sad when they didn't get it. 

And the the failure to give the desired but un-requested help was seen as a sign of disloyalty, as was being helpful or friendly to people from other teams (such as friends). In fact, how we looked at other teams and people in them was the clearest sign of our sense of being a team. We expressed our team spirit by complaining about, criticizing and fearing other people who were not part of our team. Despite our longing to be like the families we saw on TV (Cleavers, e.g.), we expressed disdain for them because they seemed like phonies or some other such contemptible type of person--not like us.

People who grow up in teams like mine develop into the particular kind of team player who will succeed in that kind of team. Unfortunately, when we are forced to join new teams--when we go to school, go to work, get married, join the military or a club or a church congregation--we might have difficulty. It's not because we are not team players, though; it's because the team we played for was different, sometimes drastically so, and learning how to play on the new team involves much more than simply learning the playbook. It often means learning a whole new way of thinking about the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Missing My Team

Yesterday I watched a TV program about how retired NFL players sometimes have a hard time dealing with no longer playing football. One of the experts in the film talks about how humans are essentially group animals, that we are at our best when we are around other humans, our team. This expert used that idea to explain why professional athletes are especially unhappy when they separate from their teammates at retirement. They find they must replace their team with another sort of team in order to feel happy.

Not only do they miss their team, but they miss their function within the team and the sense of purpose and accomplishment they gained from being a member of that unit.

People's families are like teams. Whether they are functional or not, one's family members constitute a team with which a person feels more or less close. Even though you may not like your team, it's still your team and you belong there, whether or not that's a comfort to you. When you lose members of your team, you grieve for more than just the loss of that person. You are also grieving for your team.

Recently I lost both surviving members of my family nearly at the same time, and that has proven hard, not only because I miss the people they were, but also because they were my team. I no longer have a team to belong to and so I feel that loss too. I no longer have a place and a purpose within that team and so I feel diminished. Like the NFL players who miss their team and seek to replace it, I need to replace my team with a group of people who will provide me with a purpose and a sense that I can contribute to that group in some important way.

I've never considered my family as a team because we all had bad brain chemistry and so most of the time we were at odds with each other, feeling fear and anger much of the time, coupled with a longing for more closeness, for real acceptance and a sense of unity that never seemed achievable for very long. But we were a team, and did feel that we belonged together, even if it was because we were all miserable. When you're part of such a team, you get some satisfaction from being screwed up together. But unfortunately, it gives you a skewed view of what it means to be part of a team.

I think that's part of the reason why children who are abused by their parents and other family members express outrage and despair when they are taken away from those terrible people, even though the child is likely to end up dead or permanently traumatized. People who don't grow up that way don't understand it, because they can't fathom how anyone would want to be a member of such a toxic team.  But you don't choose your original team, and it's hard to conceive of being without it; you don't see the foster family or the family you are currently staying with as your team. It's another team, and you might even see it as a rival team.

That people can hold such views is puzzling to people who grew up in a nice, helpful, well-functioning family. They believe the virtuous qualities of their family make them a strong team. They don't consider that it's mostly because they were born into this team and don't know any different that they want to hold onto it and to try to persuade others to leave their less healthy family group. Of course they're right to like being in a good family, but it's just luck that they were born into a functional instead of a dysfunctional team.

Anyway, it's kind of a revelation to me to realize that I do belong to a team after all, and that I had a purpose and a role in that team and now my team is gone and I'm alone and missing having a purpose in life. So like those NFL players who are sad because they miss playing football, I'm going to strive to find a replacement for my team.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Calm After the Storm

I have a temper, as other people often put it--a problem with sudden rage, a response to brain chemistry that I find hard to control. I start yelling at a coworker, friend or loved one for what must seem to that person like no reason, sometimes saying things I regret later.

What's interesting about this phenomenon is that though it looks like rage, the feeling is actually fear. The feeling is always fear, but the response differs. Sometimes it's flight, sometimes fight. Rage is fight. The best defense can be a good offense when you are being attacked.

But unfortunately, the rage is wrong when the situation doesn't warrant it. Chances are you are not being attacked; perhaps you're only being criticized, or thwarted, or confused. None of those situations call for sudden, uncontrollable rage. Yet it happens because the mind is reacting to what it perceives as danger. The stakes seem high but in reality they are not.

It doesn't matter that the response is wrong, however--not to the brain, anyway. Venting the rage works to make the person feel better, and that's what counts. Unfortunately, everyone else feels worse. The short-term effect is relief, but the long-term effects may be ruined relationships, loss of employment, or worse. People who take the rage past verbal abuse to violence might end up hurting or killing someone before they can stop.

For me, the rage is like a sudden, violent thunderstorm. It comes out of the blue and pow! Thunder, lightning, heavy rain, high winds. The storm wreaks havoc, then it's gone--just like that--and the clouds clear, the sun reappears and the sky is a bright blue behind a beautiful rainbow.  Looking around, though, we see the downed tree limbs and the destruction the violent storm left behind. Sometimes the consequences are severe--damage to property or even life. It's never as if nothing happened. In the aftermath, there are always signs of the storm's power.

When the rage comes over me like a sudden thunderstorm, it leaves just as suddenly. I feel better then, but looking around, I see that no one else feels better. People might be angry, stunned, even frightened. Those are the lingering signs of the destructive power of my rage. Coworkers, friends, loved ones remember what it was like. They view me in a different light after that, one that includes a knowledge of my potential for sudden harm.

My mind selects this stormy solution, but only because it's familiar, it's convenient and it works. At least in the short term, anyway. I need to choose a different solution to the bad brain chemistry, but that's not easy because doing so requires that I see the storm coming and avoid it somehow. Depression can sweep over me without anyone (but me) noticing right away, so I have time to do something about it before it harms my relationships. Rage, on the other hand, is immediately consequential. The harm occurs and is over before I even register that it is brain-chemistry-induced.

So, I'm still working on that early-warning system that will help me in my quest to avoid erroneous rage.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Brain Chemistry Map

Below is the map my husband John drew nearly 20 years ago when I described to him the process of responding to bad brain chemistry.  I think it captures it perfectly!

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Road Less Traveled

Today is the first day of the rest of my life without my immediate, my nuclear family, as they say. We all had the bad brain chemistry, some of us quite painfully and for quite a long time. I have spent nearly all my life trying to help them; I don't need to do that anymore. But now I have to replace the project because trying to help them was a way to help myself, to give myself a reason to feel bad so I could feel better. But of course there are plenty of ways to feel bad--I'm in no danger of running out; I can always find someone or something to worry about. But I don't want to do that anymore. I want to find ways to stop feeling bad instead, followed closely (I hope) by feeling good. So, what are those methods?

Ah, there's the rub. As I've said over (and over) in this blog, making the bad feeling go away is not easy. It comes over me so fast sometimes that I forget it's not real, not based in the empirical world, but developing from my brain and its inconvenient wiring. So to recognize it is the first step, as always. Then to make it go away usually requires a focused activity such as scanning, reading mysteries, writing, exercising, bookkeeping, or one of the other non-destructive activities I've devised to put a temporary fix on my pain. But then what? How do I move from not-feeling-bad to feeling good? They're not the same, after all. Oh, it's true that the absence of pain can be a relief, can be elating all by itself. But after a while, being pain-free becomes routine and the psychic energy one expended on suffering must be expended somewhere else.

And here's where the road diverges: at the crossroads, the former sufferer must find another source of pain or find joy. It would seem not be a tough choice--who wouldn't desire joy over pain? But the pain is familiar, well-known, an old enemy, a noble adversary, even. Getting back into the fight is attractive; anticipating the struggle, the agon, is thrilling. The ever-elusive joy, on the other hand, seems illusory, a sham, a fiction found in romance novels and Disney films, as insubstantial as a rainbow. And as we know, the quest to catch a rainbow always ends in disappointment. So why try?

Well, the answer is this: because joy is not a rainbow, it is a feeling every bit as real as pain and can be experienced as easily. It is not something you obtain or achieve. It's something you already have access to, that exists inside your brain. You just have to find a way to release it. I have to find a way. That's my new project.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Stepping into Joy

This morning I was feeling quite oppressed by stress and the fear of stress and wondering when I was going to get to a place in my life where I could relax.  But then I thought that stress is all in the mind and how I feel about what happens in my life makes all the difference. So if I interpret the challenges of life as stress and bad, then that's what they become. The fact that I'm predisposed chemically to fear all new experiences makes it harder for me to see them as positive.

Fear locks down the mind, forcing it to make fight or flight decisions.  But if there is no reason to make fight-or-flight decisions, then the mind is free to wonder, to explore, to investigate, to discover, to delight in what life brings.

Getting rid of, allaying, or ignoring fear can be a way to step into exploration and ultimately joy.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Good Reasons to Feel Bad: What to Do When They Fade

Question for today: what happens to people with bad brain chemistry when they have a good reason to feel bad?

When people with balanced brain chemistry have that problem, they may feel bad for a while, then they feel better. A loved one dies, for instance, and the non-BBC-plagued person responds in a rational manner, feeling bad for the length of time needed to heal from the loss.

Someone with bad brain chemistry, though, may experience something different. Because this is a good reason to feel bad, that person clings to the reason, and when after a time of mourning the day-to-day bad feelings return, he or she continues to ascribe them to this reason.  Now all the bad feelings that naturally cycle in and out in the suffering person's brain are blamed on this reason: bereavement.  If this goes on long enough, people around the suffering person begin to wonder why their friend/family member is still mourning after so much time has passed.

"You need to get on with your life," the well meaning friends may say, thinking the person is fixated on the loss of the loved one.  But though the BBC person feels the loss, he is at this point trying to cope with his day-to-day BBC, and not the loss. He just doesn't realize that is what he is doing.

As I pointed out in my last post, people with BBC who go to war want to cling to that life-or-death experience because it made them feel better in a strange sort of way. Mourning the death of a loved one is that kind of experience that explains bad feelings in a socially acceptable way. Coping with a serious illness also provides that kind of paradoxical relief because the BBC person can now solicit sympathy and support legitimately.

But if something changes (the person recovers from the illness or returns from the war), or a reasonable amount of time passes, the "good" reason to feel bad loses legitimacy, and if the BBC person clings to that reason, he or she is in danger of deteriorating into a dysfunctional or debilitated state.

So what's the answer? The same as ever: recognize that your brain is making you feel that way by sounding a false alarm; then, find a way to turn off the alarm.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Problem with Summer in Sacramento

A student I know who is studying the brain with respect to post traumatic stress tells me that the latest research indicates that the brain is physically changed somehow by traumatic experiences such as war. It's an intriguing idea and one which seems to offer a solution to the problem that so many suffer, especially the last decade or so when we've sent military (and some civilian) members to war zones repeatedly.

The latest shooting at Fort Hood underscores the problem of post traumatic stress, although it's hard to predict how people will react to combat experiences, as those who were helping the shooter will, to their dismay, attest.

It goes back to my theory that the brain chemistry a person inherits predisposes that person to painful feelings that come from the brain, whether randomly or in a predictable pattern or cycle.  In an effort to explain those feelings, the mind fixes on a reasonable-seeming source of the pain and then sets about doing something to eliminate that source or mitigate its effects.  The problem then is not the brain, but whatever the suffering person decides is the source of that pain.

Of course, as I've often said, it's pretty easy to find something to be upset about. No one has a perfect life and many things can be the source of discomfort or trouble. The problem arises when the identified source does not really match the level of suffering the person is experiencing. But the sufferer carries on nevertheless, making the external event into something bigger than it really is, working to eradicate the falsely identified source of pain no matter how illogical.

For instance, a woman who has this kind of brain chemistry suddenly feels bad when there's really no reason to feel bad. In an effort to explain why she feels bad, she comes up with something: why did her husband not call her at lunchtime? Every day he calls her and today he did not. It must be because he is seeing another woman and was with that woman during lunch. Now she has a reason to feel bad: her husband is cheating on her. Of course, this kind of thought process, because it's fictional to start with, has no bounds. In an effort to "explain" her bad feelings, she's prepared to go all the way. He's seeing another woman and has been seeing her for months, maybe years. She looks back at all the times he didn't call her or even those times he did call her and she scrutinizes them for signs of cheating.  She remembers all the times he was absent or seemed distant and decides they indicate his preoccupation with that "other woman." She continues to accumulate "evidence" until she's convinced herself this is happening to her and now she has a reason to feel bad. When her husband gets home, she confronts him with this evidence and cries hysterically. If he is innocent he will be completely puzzled by her behavior. He denies the accusation, which only causes her to suspect him more and now she is really upset, crying hysterically and planning her future without him.

Paradoxically, it is this outburst that finally causes her to feel better. She has identified the source of the pain and has done something about it--confronted her husband. She has lanced the boil, so to speak, and now feels purged of the infection that was causing her pain. She may calm down while she contemplates her next move. The storm is over. For now, anyway. The husband's reaction may change the details of how she responds, but the end result is the same. Whether he denies it or not, whether he gets angry or offers comfort, she feels better afterward.

Moreover, even if she is right and he admits it, the same quiescence occurs. Whether or not the source of the pain is real, the outcome is the same: she feels better. In fact, the more real trouble she has, the better she feels.

Have you ever known someone who is always complaining about minor disturbances but when a real tragedy occurs, rises to the occasion beautifully, even heroically? I believe the reason is that the person is prepared to deal with disaster. His fight/flight apparatus is constantly honed and ready for action so that when real emergencies call on him to act, he can do whatever is necessary without thinking. That he seems overjoyed to get into the action is no coincidence. His brain chemistry gives him the tools he needs to respond to dire situations. Unfortunately, when there are no emergencies to respond to, he doesn't fare so well. The decorated soldier who redeploys home to his Army post only to find himself sinking into alcoholism or depression is an example of this phenomenon. His brain chemistry is still making him feel he is in a fight or flight situation when he no longer is. So he creates one to make himself feel better, not even realizing that that is what he is doing.

It's the kind of the situation Sacramento Valley weather forecasters find themselves in: there's not much to report on any given day, especially in the summer or during a drought--sunshine and heat, unremittingly. But because they make their money reporting on change, especially when that change is big or dangerous, they will try to find reasons to be troubled. When something does finally happen that causes trouble, they jump on it, barely containing their glee, it seems, at their "good" fortune. Thus "Rain Storm '98" or "Winter Storm Vesuvius" rules headlines for days or (if they can manage it) weeks.

Normal life for many Americans is like summer in Sacramento, California--every day is pretty much the same with safe, non-troublesome weather and the occasional short-lived, not-too-threatening storm of one kind or another. No tornadoes, no blizzards, no hurricanes, no floods. But if your brain chemistry erroneously sets off sirens in your head on a daily basis, you think your life is not normal and start believing there must be a storm around somewhere and go off looking for it before it wreaks havoc in your life.

The task for such people is not to find the reason for the siren, it's simply to find a way to turn the siren off. Simple, yes. Easy? Not so much.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Choice

Once again, I'm convinced my brain's chemistry delivers fear which my mind then must find a rationale for. Not hard to do. My sister's problems qualify quite nicely for a reason to be afraid. In fact, all her life she's given me a reason to worry, something she herself needs.

Right now she's quite upset over being so helpless, but if she didn't have the brain chemistry she has, she wouldn't embrace her misery so completely.  Having a reason to be miserable is making her happy, in a strange sort of way, because it allows her to explain why she is feeling so bad.

It's terribly hard to let go of that particular coping mechanism--believe me, I know. Feeling terrible is a way to feel better, paradoxically. It works, though, so people keep using it. Not only does it work, but it's hard to see it for what it is--something the person is actually doing deliberately. It's so automatic, so knee-jerk, it seems to be out of the depressed person's control. But we are doing it ourselves.

Just look at any depression-related website, especially blogs. There is a desire to have company in one's misery, to be self-righteous about feeling depressed. People should understand, we say, and not expect so much from us. They tell us to snap out of it, but we can't, so they should let us be the way we are. We want to cling to our misery, our suffering selves.

Medication is frequently tried these days but sometimes does not work, or doesn't work for long enough, or works in a detrimental way. If medication can't work, people must use their minds to help themselves to feel better. Unfortunately, many of the ways people choose to help themselves are ultimately destructive to them and people around them, such as abusing drugs or engaging in other behaviors that tend to increase adrenalin, such as cutting oneself, driving fast, compulsively having illicit sex.

It's rational to try to make a bad feeling go away. But it doesn't have to be a destructive method. It can be something innocuous like playing Solitaire or one of the other games people like to play on their hand-held devices. As long as it works, who cares how simple it is? There is, however, a danger that the behavior designed to solve the problem becomes a problem itself by becoming addictive. So you see people who can't stop playing with their phones even when it's a very bad idea to do so (during driving, for instance).

People don't have to miserable. They can choose not to.  They really can. They just don't believe that the way they feel is physical and that it can be dealt with in a rational way, like any other physical ailment.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

So There We Are

Feeling sad when there's no reason to feel sad--that's one version of bad brain chemistry. That's how I feel today. One could say I have a good reason to feel sad because of my sister's dilemma. And I do feel sad because of that. But other than that, I have no reason to feel as bad as I do, and if my sister wasn't hurting, there'd be some other reason to feel bad, at least according to my brain, that wants to have a rationale for feeling bad.

But my life is good, really, and for that matter, so is my sister's, if she would only acknowledge that and get on with the business of trying to fix what's wrong. She needs to work harder at losing weight and getting strong, but she chooses instead to be the victim, which gives her a reason to be angry and depressed. And that is truly sad because it just doesn't have to be that way. All that needs to change is her attitude, but she doesn't believe that. And she doesn't believe she can change her attitude even. So there we are. And there's not much I can do. I'm no leader, as I've often stated. But maybe I'm giving up too easily too. Maybe.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Experiencing Peace and Happiness

I was thinking about my sister whose main method for dealing with her brain chemistry seems these days to be rage. She used to be depressed often and only angry sometimes, but now she's angry all the time. This is not real anger, of course. As I've said in earlier posts, real rage has a cause. A legitimate cause. Her rage is coming from inside her, but she won't acknowledge that, of course. I don't know if I'll ever get through to her; she completely rejects my theories and remedies. I don't know what I'm thinking, trying to come up with a solution for people that involves sacrifice of their favorite methods of dealing with their brain chemistry.

Yesterday I was feeling depressed right after I talked to my sister. While that is certainly understandable, since she was singing her same tune about "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," I've used that excuse for many years, and I don't think I want to anymore. And really I've been trying to examine it whenever I feel myself slipping into that mode. Here's how that works:

Instead of telling myself that I'm depressed about my sister's fate and leaving it at that, I tell myself that while I have every reason to be depressed about that, the magnitude of pain I feel is not commensurate with the reason for the pain.  This particular time, the bad feeling came over me around that same time, but I recognized the bad feeling as the same bad feeling I have when nothing is going wrong in my life. The bad feeling is actually independent of what's going on in my life. Or maybe there's something more subtle going on--an interaction between my finely tuned, sensitive-to-trouble psyche and the external environment. I'll have to think on that more later.

Meanwhile, instead of focusing on the usual "what's going to happen to my sister?" worry, I focused on "what can I do to get rid of this bad feeling?"  But when I say that it sounds selfish. I can hear my mother (and probably countless other people who have the same notion) saying: Don't you care what happens to your sister? That is the refrain my mother (and sister) sang my whole life--if you're not worried, you don't care. But worry is so useless.  Do something, yes, if you can, but worry about what you can't control? That might actually cause more harm than good. Why do you think alcoholics in AA embrace the serenity prayer: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In a Wikipedia article that delves into the origin of this prayer, there is a long history of people expressing the basic tenets of this prayer. I found it to be enlightening, especially the parts about ancient writers who promoted the philosophy it contains: Serenity Prayer.

I especially liked Epictetus' advice:  
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us [eph' hêmin] and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions-in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing.
It's as if this fellow from first century Greece (55-135) had the same idea I have, except I put a modern spin on it. Here is what the Wikipedia article says about Epictetus:

Philosophy, Epictetus taught, is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control; we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, it is our duty to care for all our fellow men. Those who follow these precepts will achieve happiness and peace of mind. 
Epictetus is considered to be a stoic philosopher, but my understanding of stoicism was more or less negative until I read that passage. The sentence that seems to echo my vision is the one that says we are responsible for our own actions. Now, the stoics were big on control, but that sounds a lot like our notion of self-control: be Vulcan-like in denying your emotions.

But I'm not talking about denying your emotions, only understanding where they come from, especially if they're coming from your brain [read: body] and are not prompted by outside events. Understanding emotions leads to happiness much more efficiently than merely trying to hold them in or pretend they don't exist, the way Spock seems to. In the Spock vs Kirk debate, Kirk always wins, it seems, because we (and TV show writers) tend to favor the passionate person over the stoical person. But uncontolled passion is just as inappropriate as rigid stoicism, and just as likely to cause suffering.

So, what did I do about my bad feeling yesterday? I did some Solitaire, followed by a bit of walking while listening to a mystery novel, which helped, then when the bad feeling came back, I ate a bit of chocolate (remedy of last resort). Finally I started to feel better and could get on with what I was doing. Later I was able to receive information about my sister's decisions with more calm, which is good for me. But perhaps as important is that it is also good for her.

The more I respond to my sister's irrational behavior with calm and compassion, the more I will help her in the only way she will let me--by not rejecting her when everyone else does. If I don't let her behavior upset me, I can see the suffering she is inflicting on herself. I do not suffer from her bad behavior. I feel bad that she can't see her way clear to stop suffering, but that's not the same as her making me suffer. I can't control how she behaves; I can only try to do what I can do. And since I can't control her, I can accept her and still love her and try to help her as much as she will let me.

And I can only do that if I understand that my bad feelings (and hers, too) come from the brain we were given. A good brain but one that doesn't always work in a way that's helpful for experiencing peace and happiness.