The medication problem still hasn't been sorted out-- I've got a doctor appointment on Tuesday to discuss a new approach. Ugh.
But I've also been working on being more engaged-- with people, with the present, with the moment-- and it's leaving me triggered and scattered and struggling to focus.
The opposite of engaged, really.
This is something that's going to take a lot of practice. It is not something I'm used to doing. But as I push myself to do it, I'm getting a glimpse of the gymnastics my brain is willing to do to keep me from doing it.
I was struggling to describe what it feels like to Dr. Oz the other night, and she seemed to know what I meant and was able to give me the language to use to describe it to you. I hope this makes sense:
It's as if my brain is refusing me access. It won't allow me to think about certain things-- why I disengage, how I do it, how to slow my automatic responses down and stay with the moment. I can't even hold these thoughts in my head for a moment, let alone put in any time thinking about them. I try, and my brain skips right off the surface like a stone on the surface of a pond.
It won't let me go there.
That sounds crazy, doesn't it? Not being allowed to think certain types of thoughts, or have certain types of inner dialogue, because your own brain refuses to let you get a grip on the idea for more than a second?
I can describe it to you like this, but I can't actually do it. It's like I try to reach for the thought and it disappears before I can wrap my hand around it.
What's more, I've learned this week, if I try to push the matter and keep bringing myself back to it, my brain starts to go into "don't go there" overdrive, and I get pushed further and further from what feels like my intellectual center and more to the outer surface of my consciousness.
Meaning: I become unable to concentrate on anything.
It's the strangest feeling, to feel locked out of my own brain. I feel like I can't think about anything for more than a few seconds, like my thoughts are so scattered that I can't gather them back together again.
Disengage, my brain seems to be telling me. DISENGAGE!
And it's true: the only way to stop this scattering process is to find something innocuous to distract me from what I'm trying to do and lull me into complacency.
Facebook. Fan fiction. Stupid TV.
Instantly calming, soothing, and clear in a way that my thoughts refuse to be.
Escapism at its finest.
"You're being triggered," said Dr. Oz, "and you're going into the fight-or-flight response. Your brain is switching off the processes it deems unnecessary, and throwing you into flight mode. You feel like you can't focus because your lizard brain has taken over and is pushing you away from what it sees as the source of the threat."
That makes sense. I mean, it works as an explanation for what this is. It feels true, to the extent that I can hold the damn concept in my head for a moment and judge its validity.
It sounds true. Let's say it that way. It sounds true.
What I don't get is why I can't stop it from happening. This is MY BRAIN we're talking about. It's not like I'm trying to have a conversation with someone else and can't express my thoughts coherently.
I'm only trying to hold a thought in my own fucking brain for a few minutes and have a dialogue with myself, and it's still impossible.
To feel out of control of your own brain, not just on an unconscious level (which, lord knows, I am quite used to by now), but on a fully conscious one?
That feels... crazy.
Words disappearing before my eyes. Disappearing from my own mouth. Disappearing from the theater of the brain. The inner lizard (as I've begun to see the amygdala-- a green, sleeping dragon within) throwing up obstacle after obstacle, force field after force field, until I sound my own retreat and give up the fight.
I step back from the work-- because that's what this is, it's the work that I need to do in order to get to the next phase of recovery-- and I look for what is soothing instead.
Don't push, I decide. Just float.
It so much easier just to float.
All of this, as you might imagine, makes me feel farther than ever from getting to the bottom of this thing.
I've torn down plenty of walls along this journey, but right now I'm bashing my head against a big one and I see no way in.
Is awareness enough? If I'm aware of this phenomenon and keep chipping away at it, will I gain access at some point?
Will the right medication help? Will I find a drug that will help me to hold my focus and actually have these conversations with myself, so I can get some of this work done?
Is it the medication that is causing this disconnect in the first place?
I don't trust my brain chemistry. I don't know what's working and what's not, in there. I don't know which reactions are true and which are affected by too much of this chemical or too little of that.
IT'S NOT RIGHT IN HERE, is what I'm saying.
I'm sort of afraid to post this one, because I don't know if what I've said makes any sense.
This makes sense, though: the things I usually choose to to to distract myself from the discomfort and exhaustion of trying to find a way in-- the mindless, soothing things that make me disengage further from the moment or the person or the presence of mind I seek-- aren't helping to reduce my anxiety or strengthen me for the next battle.
Mindless reading, Facebooking, TV-watching... those things aren't fortifying. They're not recharging my batteries, the way I've let myself believe they were.
In fact, they tend to make everything worse, because then not only do I still have the original problem, but now I've managed to create new ones by insulating myself from reality and letting everything else slide, too.
The truth of the matter is that my brain gets recharged by creativity, thought, and action, just like everyone else's, and if I'm not engaging in others, I'm not engaging in any of those things, either.
So I end up taxed, unfulfilled, exhausted, and no closer to a refueled tank than I was before.
I've been thinking, all this time, that disengaging was the only way I could recharge.
Turns out, disengaging is just as much a drain on my resources as fighting.
What I thought was a refuge from the battle has been a battle in its own right, and I never understood that until now.
I used to have a post-it note on my computer screen, years ago, that said, "THE OPPOSITE OF "STRESS" IS NOT "NOTHING."
Because that was my counter-weight for the stresses in my life: come home, shut down, disengage, retreat.
It didn't help me. I couldn't figure out why.
And then I noticed that there were times when I felt recharged. After I'd engaged creatively with something. Written something, made something, done something productive and satisfying. I began to push myself to choose those things, rather than continue my trajectory of permanent retreat.
It's time to choose that again.
The opposite of stress is not nothing. Stop turning off completely in response to threat. Turn instead to creative work, and come back stronger than before.
Hard to do in the moment, when things are as they are right now, but worth the challenge, in the end.
Does this all come down to breaking a habit? Instead of choosing the easy path to the couch, choosing the more difficult path to the creative spark?
It might. It might just be habit. And breaking the habit might just be as simple as repeatedly forcing myself to choose a new reaction.
Has this made sense to anyone? I'm not sure I can rewrite it any more clearly than this, right now. Does anybody else have stuff like this happen, where you can't get close to an idea in your head without being forced into distraction mode?
Well. Incoherent as this post may be, I guess it's a faithful representation of where I am in my head: locked out of the part that knows how to make sense of things.
I've done my best. I'd love to hear your comments if you think you can tackle what I'm trying to say here and shed some light on it for the rest of us.
Apropos of nothing, I thought I'd let you know that I just applied for the Amtrak Residency for Writers program, which grants up to 24 writers a 2-5 day round-trip "residency" with their own private sleeping car, desk, and inspiration from the changing scenery out the window. Just because.
Cool idea. Wish me luck!