Saturday, May 28, 2011

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle...

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.
-John Watson

I have what I call my "Blue Meanie Days," in reference (and reverence) to The Yellow Submarine. The Blue Meanies were these awful cackling creatures that went around sucking the joy and happiness out of everything turning a technicolor world gray. As both a symptom of my migraines, and a symptom of chronic illness, I get Blue Meanie Days. All these nasty thoughts come creeping up on me about how awful I am, how my life is nothing but problems, that I'm getting nowhere, that I have no options, yadda...

A great counselor I had in Seattle explained some of the brain science to me. The way the brain builds memories is that is associates certian "flags" to events. They can be flags that help us remember how to gain rewards, how to avoid consequence, how to respond to similar situations. It's how we learn. So when we're feeling bad, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever... the brain will immediately start bringing up everything else associated with that feeling. It can feel like our brains are out to get us! "Hey, while you're feeling terrible, let's bring up every other time you've ever felt terrible and take a skip down memory dark alley... try to get mugged. It'll be fun!"

What our brains are actually doing is a form of problem solving. The memory manager is flipping through every other time we felt like this, examining every event in detail like a detective,  to see just how the hell we got out the last time!!! The problem is, this "memory mugging" can be totally counter-productive. Maybe time was what it took to get out the last time. Perhaps these are all situations that continue to baffle us. What then? I've come up with five ways of dealing with this.

1. Denial. It Ain't Just a River in Egypt...

Okay, okay... I can hear all my 12-step friends *screaming* at me, but let me explain. I believe in accepting reality.

Let's say I'm driving in traffic. I'm in a hurry because I'm late to an appiontment. The car in front of me slams on its breaks. I don't want traffic to stop. I don't like that traffic has stopped. But you better bet I'm gonna accept reality and slam on the breaks in order ot not wreck!

The type of denial I'm talking about is this: I know that my Blue Meanie Days are unnatural. It's a place my brain goes because it's being attacked. That would make me grumpy too! But I don't have to listen to it. I don't have to believe the Blue Meanies. I can check for a moment to see if my ruminating is constructive (because sometimes there are lights of insight in dark places). But if the stewing isn't helping, or if it's a broken record I've heard before, I'll just tell those Blue Meanies to shut up.

Sometimes, too, all my tactics fail me and I just have to wait the whole thing out. Some temporary escapism can be and absolute survival tool. I just can't allow myself to use it to escape responsibility. ;)

2. Finding Lights in Dark Places...

My writing happens during my more painful days. The most painful days, and I couldn't stand to be in front of a computer! But if I'm in agony and I want to keep from just wallowing in misery, I'll sit down and write in the "no whining" zone. I force myself to talk through it as if you all were sitting in pain in front of me. Telling you how much it sucks is redundant. That gets you and me nowhere new. Sharing what's gotten me this far... well, now that could actually be useful.

And when I can be useful because I got sick, not just despite the fact I got sick? YES! Then the darkness turns to light.

3. Therapy...

I'm pretty good at beating myself up. I know just were my soft spots are, just where to land those sucker-punches. And I fight dirty with myself. Real bare-knuckles, take it to the mattress mean... And I was tired of it. So I took it to that great counselor in Seattle.

When I would beat myself up, it was usually in the guise of some authority I had at the time:: my mother, my maternal grandmother, that one high school teacher that scared the crap out of me. And they had their favorite familiar phrases... "You dummy!" said with a particular inflection that can make you feel lower than worms.

But what I learned was this. I was trying to pysch myself out! I was using the memory of that authority figure and what they said and the way they said it because inside I was terrified of screwing up and I was trying to protect myself. And I wasn't being kind, gentle, or forgiving with myself when I did screw up.

My counselor and I wrote a script so I could face those voices down when they came up:

Thank you for sharing. I understand that you are trying to protect me. But this is not helpful right now. I know that I'm scared, but I need to be calm and clear headed right now. Thank you for understanding.

And I was able to break the cycle of behavior in what felt like no time.

4. Get a New Perspective...

Now, this one took me YEARS to figure out and I couldn't believe I'd missed it all that time.

Sometimes, I can spend so much effort and hours in problem-solving that soon, the only thing I'm looking at is problems. Not that I'm actually surround by them. Not that I'm imagining problems everywhere. What's happening is problems of success.

I'll fix a problem, and then instead of stopping to celebrate and relax, I'm on to the next one. I'm jumping hurdle after hurdle like some track star, and pretty soon I feel like I'm going in circles! But that's an illusion....

It's like rock climbing. You can be so focused on this foothold or that handhold or making it to the next rest spot that you completely forget where you are and how far you've come. So when a moment comes that I actually remember to stop and look around.... Holy COW! Now that's a view...

I may be encountering problem after problem, but that's because I keep clearing problems away. I keep succeeding: I make progress. It's not always perfect, but it's progress.

5. Get a New Prescription... (Responsibly)

I use a medications to replace the hormones I don't produce. I see no problem in taking a medication for the neurotransmitters my brain has difficulty keeping around.

Have I had some scary experiences with 'head meds'? You betcha. But I've also had some surprisingly good experiences too. My only suggestion is not to have contempt prior to investigation.

And when someone asks me how I'm doing on my bad days, I always answer: "Hanging in there." It's honest, and I don't have to make them any the wiser to the battle I'm actually going through if I or they don't want to.


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