Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Truth, Fear and the Quagmire

The trouble with the truth, is the truth.  The truth as we each see it is different of course.
But how do we tell our own truths without irreversibly hurting and alienating the people we love and work with?  

How people behave towards us is so much a product of their own experiences.  I get that.  And therein lies the problem.  

I have had lots of therapy.  Loads.  Gallons of it. So much that I’m now so hyper-aware of the nature of emotions, mine and other people’s, that I can not just react any more.  Because I know my thoughts and feelings are “only” thoughts and feelings.  That I can choose how I react and that I don’t have to act on my impulses.  I am in control.  I am not a chimp, I am a human.  I am a rational being who understands that emotions are transient.  They can lie. They are inconsistent.  They feed on ingrained experiences that are hard-wired into our brains from an early age.  They are not always helpful.  

I know all that.  But being in control of your emotions is hard.  It’s hard bloody work to stay on top, to keep a lid on it, every day. Especially when emotions change so rapidly, and half of what you think is not real, or based on fact.  But I am so practised now in questioning my emotions and my reactions that I don’t trust any of my feelings any more.  I am so aware of the impact of my actions on other people, that I struggle to act at all.  I am scared to express myself for fear of upsetting someone else.  

Am I perverse in my envy of people who just say what they think with no regard to others? The Jeremy Kyle show types who shout and scream and spit and blame? I do envy their freedom of emotion, but to live with the aftermath of these outbursts? No.  

Have you read The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters? It’s a bestseller and a really enlightening read. I managed about a third before it lost me but that third had a huge impact on the way I see myself and think of myself as a human being.  If you haven’t read it, do get hold of a copy.  Well, the first 100 or so page at least.

Anyway, Steve Peters says that we have two brains. Actually he says we have several, but let’s start with two: the Chimp brain and the Human brain.  So the chimp brain is our “old” brain.  It’s reactive, emotional, survivalist.  It’s the part of our brain that deals with flight, flight, sex, addiction, desire, hunger, love.  It’s essential for our survival but if we’re honest, a bit of a pain too.  It’s the whining child. It’s the philanderous partner, the angry, grabbing, jealous, greedy, exuberant, joyful side of us all.  

And then there’s the Human brain.  This is the boring bit of us that is rational, analytical, socially responsible, the “Best not have that third glass of wine,” the “Go to bed at ten O’Clock you have an early start,” part of our brain.  And these two brains are in conflict.  And the Chimp brain is something like eight times stronger (eight? Not seven or nine?? Search me?). Eight times stronger and faster than our human brain.  So our initial reactions are always Chimp.  But as social, rational, sensible humans we must learn to control our inner chimp. To not react emotionally to everything but to take a breath and think about our actions and their likely consequences before we do something inappropriate and fuck things up for ever.

To be able to operate in full Chimp mode is tantalising. Tempting.  It would allow us to express our feelings in the raw. To get them all out regardless. But it would also leads us into a quagmire of other people’s reactions that might be impossible to crawl out of.  It is not taking responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings,  but rather shoving them onto others. Blaming others for our misery.  Transferring our misery to them.  

Yet to have empathy and understanding for others is difficult too.  It is what prevents many of us from expressing how we feel.  It leads us to bottle things up and lock them in, which we all know is unhealthy.  I guess that’s why talking therapy is so good.  Because it allows us to get all that stuff out in a safe place, to a person who couldn’t care less whether we drank that third glass of wine or shagged that idiot at the proverbial office party.

And I think this is the fundamental reason why talking about mental health outside the therapy room is difficult.  It’s scary.  Because how do you talk about the stuff that’s going on in your brain, without revealing the details of difficult things that have gone on in your life?  And how do you reveal what is difficult in your life without hurting or upsetting the people involved in those difficulties?

I am how I am because A, B and C have happened to me.  Because I hate having to deal with D, E and F, because G said something that upset me. Because I did H, I and J.

I believe that depression is intimately linked with an inability to express emotion and feelings. Being creative - writing, doing art, inventing things - is a way to express our feelings.  For me, writing is joy.  It is escape and distraction from what is going on in my head. Yet the thing I really need to write about, is the thing that I actually can’t write about. Because I can’t take the risk that anyone I care about might read it. I don’t want to hurt or blame or expose others.  I don’t want to throw myself into a quagmire so deep and tangled that I am unable to ever claw my way out.

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