Thursday, 8 May 2014

Attuned To Misery, Or: My Brain Lies To Me

In an earlier article I touched upon the functioning of the human brain, in particular the 'inner universe' which surrounds the conscious mind. This inner universe is what filters, pre-selects and fills in gaps in the information trickling in via one's senses. This IU is also what gets modified when one suffers trauma, causing the whole process to derail significantly. This is the particularly troubling thing I experience when it comes to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Simply put I regularly lose touch with reality.

Where things begin to go wrong for me are with my expectations and responses. This particularly when anything I attempt goes wrong it serves as a massive feedback loop, reinforcing the major concept in the IU that something is wrong with me, that I'm incapable of doing things right, that I'm a failure. This same feedback loop occurs when I interact with people, where everything is interpreted in the most negative way possible with the ever-present expectation that people will always want to hurt and/or abandon me. I call it a feedback loop because after it gets triggered it doesn't just destroy my self-confidence and ability to appreciate being alive, this reduction in motivation will more readily cause further negative responses.

After a decade of essentially just suffering through extreme misery following an earlier fifteen or so years of social rejection due to being 'different' I can only say that I would be more surprised if I hadn't ended up like this. Of course I cannot trust others when they never trusted me, including many of my own family members. Of course I hate this body I was born in when it's the subject of so much controversy and has led to me getting tortured in so many interesting ways. If I didn't feel like this something would be truly wrong with me. Being this heavily traumatized is normal and expected, albeit far from healthy.

Of course it's all lies. Everything my brain tells me is twisted and manipulated, barely resembling reality in any form or shape. Of course there are people who I can trust and of course things can turn out fine with the medical help I'm seeking. Yet that's just my intellectual side which is capable of seeing beyond the IU's lies and deceptions. My emotional side is completely incapable of this, a mere toy for these manipulations. This is why I have come to loathe emotions and feelings in general. For no matter what my intellectual side tells me, my emotional side will be completely in the thrall of the IU's imaginations and will be hurting.

As the emotional side is also linked to the centers of the brain responsible for feeling pain and as recent studies have shown that there is no appreciable difference in the way the brain experiences physical and emotional pain, the pain I experience on a virtually daily basis is beyond excruciating. In a sense it's like being terminally ill. Suffering agonizing pains which keep you from functioning at all. There is only the overwhelming pain, as its own micro-cosmos.

The isolation from society which PTSD sufferers report is due to the attunement of their IU not matching up with that of their surroundings. Where their surroundings are focused on happy, joyful things, the IU of a PTSD individual has become attuned to what can be summarized as misery. That's why they can no longer truly feel happy or experience joy, yet they will respond very strongly to both negative experiences (e.g. suffering of others) and highly positive ones such as kindness.

This is why one of the best ways for me to deal with PTSD is actually not to focus on happy things, but to watch a movie or play a game in which there is a lot of suffering. For some reason this matches up with the expectations of my IU: everything is about suffering, most people will betray you, death is right around the corner, hope is a futile delusion. It may sound negative and pessimistic, but it calms me down.

Of course, fixing the causes of my PTSD is even better, especially in the long-term. This is where hopefully the upcoming surgery will make a first sizeable dent by destroying most of the uncertainty and trauma of the past decade by giving me some real, proper medical facts to embrace and come to terms with. Even if the results of the surgery will be disappointing, at least it should end those horrible ten years with some kind of conclusion instead of letting it fester on like a never-ending nightmare.

It's probably the only way I'll ever be able to tweak my IU back into proper working order.



Patrick Horgan said...

As usual I was moved by your writing. One difference between emotional/mental pain and physical pain is that physical pain kicks off endorphins that ameliorate the pain. Psychic pain doesn't. That's why so many traumatized people scratch or cut when they are suffering because the kick off of endorphins give's huge relief almost instantly. I cut shallowly for that reason when things are so horrible with my PTSD that I begin to think that suicide would be just a way of putting the burden down. It's not good for me to sit with the pain. I was interested in what you said about watching a negative movie being soothing. I haven't tried that but I will. You are my hero. You don't know how much you inspire me and others. Thanks.

Maya Posch said...

@Patrick Horgan: That's the second part, yeah: the part where one hurts oneself so much in a physical way until the physical pain compensates somewhat for the emotional pain. Probably because of endorphins as you rightfully say that emotional pain doesn't trigger the same release of this painkiller.

Much of the emotional pain with PTSD is due to the dissonance between the 'happy' outside world and one's 'programming' which dictates that it's all wrong and fake. When indulging in something like a movie, game or anything else which matches these expectations, the emotional dissonance disappears. I think that's why it is soothing.

You're welcome :)