STIGy-wigMA

We all live in our own worlds, if someone says the world is a scary place, their world is. You might be thinking “what are they on about, why can’t they smell the flowers?” They probably can but who stops to smell the flowers when you’re being chased by a pack of wolves? It’s all context and everyone’s is different. Our genetics, our emotional learning, what parts of the brain were activated or not activated enough throughout our lives (especially in our youth) all create the world we experience.

For those of you who think mental health difficulties are a sign of personal failure (https://www.stpatricks.ie/survey-only-53-agree-people-mental-health-difficulty-are-trustworthy) please consider my wolf pack analogy; It’s a big ask to expect someone to behave like they are not under threat when they’re brain is sending them signals that they indeed are, their world isn’t safe, they are unprotected. How would you fare in a similar situation? Would you “pull it together”? Yet, that is what we mental health sufferers have to learn to do, that is what we have to wade through to recover and currently most of us are doing it in the isolated arena of stigma.

There is a supposition out there that people with mental health difficulties are irrational, unreasonable. We can be at times, just like anyone else, we can also be very cool-headed and logical. Trying to shrug off emotional distress as just hysterics, being over-dramatic or over-sensitive is just shaming people. Plus watch out for karma because your brain functions essentially the same way as our brain does, throw a knob of trauma into your circumstances or a pinch of loss, a dollop of being undermined or unsupported, boil off a coping mechanism or whatever is enabling you to keep feelings and fears buried (maybe you run out of distractions or can’t access them) and viola! your kitchen is on fire.

Joseph Conrad’s quote from Heart of Darkness comes to me sometimes when I feel really lonely, “We live as we dream – alone . . “. Are we all really shut off from each other, dreaming of a connection and intimacy that in reality can only ever be fleeting? An absence we must constantly live with because our taunting minds can dream? Or can we love and care for each other, understand each other, help each other?

We do have the capacity for compassion and empathy, we are able to relate to other people’s emotional burdens, we can try anyway. Sure why not give it a bash, all any of us really have for sure is an undetermined amount of time, let’s spend it together.

Feelings are Coming to Get You!

I tried for a long time to logic away my feelings, I was ashamed of them, I tried to force them out of existence with cold rationale. Feelings are crafty feckers though, they persist, sometimes bubbling up out of nowhere and out of place. It takes a lot of energy to keep burying something you can’t kill, so, one day, you get a little tired or stressed, and up they pop, all mucky and disorientated and pissed off!

The (sometimes unfortunate) fact is that the human brain contains a part that produces emotions, it’s there, we have evolved with it. Humans (and other mammals) need to feel connected, relatively secure and loved to be physically well, otherwise our emotions can cause all kinds of havoc by spouting out various stress hormones. When we feel more peaceful, as a result of serotonin, oxytocin, etc, our bodies run smoother and we’re fuelled up for creativity.

As humans we tend to be more imaginative, innovative and passionate than cold and logical. More fiery than binary “if, then” thinking allows (the scope of that if can’t really be measured after all). Don’t get me wrong, we have a great faculty for reasoning but perhaps it’s unreasonable to pretend feelings can simply be overridden and they don’t have a valid function. It’s like planners and engineers thinking they could just build over floodplains and nature would just comply. If anything, the part of the brain that produces feeling overrides the reasoning part because it’s too slow and that seems to have given us the evolutionary advantage to still be extant today with our fight, flight, freeze or appease responses.

Feelings/emotions are part of who we are and we need to respect them in ourselves and others, work with them as part of life, stop teaching young people to suppress them and start teaching instead how to listen to them, understand and balance them. Criticising yourself or someone else for feeling a certain way won’t achieve anything. Engage and address the feeling – What is it telling you? What do you need? Trying to logic away something that just is – senseless really.