Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Monster in the Middle

There's something else going on in the middle that prevents me from carrying on through to the end. Middles are not just non-stimulating; they can sometimes be downright frightening.

Because the ever-present anxiety is not as effectively muffled or distracted in the middle, it can reappear. The fear is like a basso-continuo in a music score. It's there, you can feel it, but not really notice it until the the other, busier, higher register instruments have stopped or quieted.

So more than any other phase of a project, the middle is where fear dwells. It's like a monster waiting in the clearing for me to cross, or like the enemy waiting to let loose on the troops who have to cross open ground to reach their objective. It's easier to stay where it's safe, but eventually I have to try to cross. Think of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg.  That's what moving through the middle is for me.

What to do about it? I'm working on that.

The Trouble with Middles

Lately I've been considering my trouble with middles.  I'm good at starting projects, but when I get past the "honeymoon" phase, I start to bog down and eventually stop (not quit, exactly) until the mood strikes me to take it back up again.  Of course, at that point it's more like a new beginning because I've been away from it for so long.

This attraction to starting things has to do with my brain chemistry, I think. I like beginnings because I'm learning things and my brain is focused on understanding and acquiring skills and knowledge. Once I get past that phase of rapid and stimulating learning, however, doing the project helps me less and less. And because my brain is not absorbed in something challenging, there is room for anxiety to creep in, anxiety which will need to be put aside in order to continue. So, since the now familiar activity is no longer giving me the help I need, the anxiety stops me from continuing.

But unfortunately, starting but never finishing projects is not very productive, especially with those projects I really want to finish. So I've been working on how I can help myself to push through the middle and get the satisfaction that comes with finishing something.

Those few projects I have finished were difficult to continue with, and when I was finished I had a feeling of relief, but also irritation that the project was so difficult to complete. I didn't get the satisfaction of having completed it because I was remembering how hard it was to slog through.

So there has to be a situation where I can keep going but still enjoy the doing of the project while I'm doing it, not just the joy of having done it, of getting it over with.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Misinterpreting Sensations

This morning when I woke up and felt the way I usually feel--terrible--I tried to identify the actual sensation. I determined it is not pain--in the physical sense, anyway. But people do talk about emotional conditions as painful. What kind of pain are we talking about, then?

It feels like fear, as I've said many times in this blog. But is fear painful, then? What makes it painful? Perhaps it's the autonomic responses to threat, such as blood pressure, heart rate, adrenaline rush. Are those things painful? I guess they are because the body is being stressed to the limit, but when the threat is real, the response is intended to be short-lived. Fear that is not based on real threat and that doesn't go away is called anxiety. The pain comes from the long term nature of the response, maybe.

Here is a quote from NIMH website that discusses panic disorder, when the full-blown fight or flight response is triggered by something other than a true threat:
Researchers have found that several parts of the brain are involved in fear and anxiety. Some researchers think that people with panic disorder misinterpret harmless bodily sensations as threats. Panic Disorder
I believe that the lesser form of fear sensation, anxiety, is also the result of misinterpretation of bodily sensations, primarily originating in the brain. But maybe there are non-brain sensations that are being misinterpreted. I've never thought of that. I'd have to do some research to find out. By that I mean, try to pay attention to what is happening in my body when I feel afraid.

Can I make myself stop feeling it by not focusing on it? Or by focusing on it in a different way?

I have always said that the next step people who suffer take is the one that causes the problem: the misinterpretation of the sensations as threat, followed by the search for the source of the threat.

I'm doing some more thinking about this idea of misinterpretation.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Curiosity Killed the Fear

Spike the curious cat, taken from Wikimedia
I've been feeling bad a lot lately, and when I feel bad, it's mostly fear that I feel (occasionally anger). The fear is not rational, I believe, but is real nonetheless. It is a collection of sensations that are unpleasant and often interfere with my functioning, especially when they keep me from sleeping.

I try not to give in to baseless fear, but it's not easy. As I've said in this blog and elsewhere, fear is only one response to new phenomena. The other is curiosity. Instead of being afraid of changes in life, we can be curious about them, investigate their contours, see what there is to see that is interesting, amazing, strange, wondrous.

As we age, we experience more and more change, most of it unwanted, such as the death of loved ones, changes in physical capabilities, etc. How can we do something other than fear those changes? That's a good question. One way is to be curious about them. But how to do that? I don't know yet, but I'm going to work on it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let It Be

Taken from

A feeling--whether good or bad--is just a collection of sensations until we identify it as a feeling. But we don't pay much attention to those sensations because we jump right to the identification, the judgment, if you will. Then immediately after identifying it, we look for the cause or the origin of the feeling so that we can control it--either make it go away or stick around a while longer. Usually we decide that the feeling is coming from something or someone outside ourselves.

"You make me happy," we say, or "You piss me off!" You is identified as being the source of the feeling in these two instances. If only I could get You to stop or continue doing whatever is causing the identified feeling, then I would be happy, we think.

Mental health counselors recognize this tendency people have to blame or credit others for our feelings, so they urge people to describe their feelings in a way that leaves out the blame by using "I" instead of "You": "I feel bad when you do that," or "I feel angry right now."

I think that's a good idea because it gets away from claiming a source outside oneself for a feeling. However, I think we need to go one step further: Don't be so quick to identify the feeling; instead, focus on the sensations. The sensations, after all, are what are actually occurring. They are the empirical evidence being used to draw your conclusions about what you're feeling. It seems very few people even pay attention to what feelings actually consist of.

But how does one do this? Well, you can pay attention to your breathing, your heart rate, whether or not you feel pain or congestion or cold or heat. Look at your facial expression: are your eyebrows up, down or neutral? Is your mouth turned down, poked out, open, closed? Are you smiling, grinning, snarling? All these are observations that can be compiled to determine what is going on inside of you.

So, instead of saying, I feel sad, you can describe your symptoms in a more physical way. Make empirical observations about sensations, facial expressions, body position, etc.

This not only slows down the rush to judgment, but it also allows you to pay more attention to what is going on inside of you. What you are sensing may be different from what you think you are sensing. And it helps you to calm down, to not immediately act on your sensations.

Think about how actors determine how to express feelings in a play or film: they observe others emoting and copy those expressions, body language, gestures. You can do it too if you make the effort. Look at an array of faces showing different expressions: chances are you can read them quite well. In fact, those who can't are at a considerable disadvantage in social situations. Then add body language, gestures and you get closer to identifying what is going on with the person.

But I think it's helpful to suspend judgment, even when you have what you consider to be a good set of clues. What sensations are you feeling inside when you're sad, angry, happy, scared, neutral?

Then, when you've got all the data you can collect, what do you do with it?

Nothing. Just let it be. Whether the sensations are pleasant or unpleasant, just hold on to them. Try to experience the sensations without labeling them or trying to act on them. Just note their presence.

Say to yourself, "I'm experiencing rapid heart rate, breathing is quicker, my chest feels heavy like I can't breathe." Think about how what you're experiencing now is different from what you were experiencing earlier. Then just let those sensations be there. Don't try to control them, but don't act on them right away, either.

Many of the feelings that cause people trouble start inside their brain with bad brain chemistry. Acting to get rid of bad brain chemistry involves doing something that doesn't cause harm to you or others. But before you can act constructively you have to recognize that the sensations are something other than what you first think they are.