Brains are fascinating. The anatomy of the brain is truly unusual, but within the brain dwells our minds. How does the structure of the brain convert chemicals into feelings and thoughts? How does it synthesize feeling fearful when we hear the music from Psycho? How does it convert the tone of someone’s voice into self-doubt? How does it translate the curve of a hip or the smile of another person into feeling aroused?
How we THINK and how we FEEL may be very disconnected. I KNOW I have nothing to fear at the dentist, yet I feel afraid. I like my dentist. The man I had as a dentist when I was a child was another story. He was a true sadist and I am imprinted with fear regardless of what I know. The smell at the dentist and hearing the drill makes me instantly petrified.
In adulthood, we divide our feelings from what we KNOW. Usually, knowledge is the foundation of our worklife. For most of us, our emotions are not the commodity of our worklife. We pack up our emotions and leave then behind. Work is serious business and emotions are messy and clutter things up. They are unprofessional. Yet, emotions are not to be neglected. Kudzu in our minds if left unattended. In my education, I was tested and graded on my knowledge of facts. I studied hard and in many ways learned an entirely new language. Yet, no one was concerned with my emotional intelligence.
Somedays, I am emotionally immature. I am thinned skinned and have the responses of a typical 13 year old girl. Somedays I can be wise far beyond my years and surprise even myself. Emotionally, I am less structured and disciplined than I am intellectually. Can emotions be restrained? Should they be trained and pruned? Clinical studies have proven that extreme emotional fluctuations like depression can actually alter the STRUCTURE of the brain. So, can the converse be true? Can joy alter the brain’s structure? How plastic is the adult brain?
Now, medication can replace chemicals the brain fails to make, but in replacing them, the brain does not change. The chemicals are there in greater abundance, but the cells that should make the chemicals are not present. Medications may allow us to feel less depressed or anxious, but the structure remains defective. It is like a heart attack. If blood fails to flow to a certain area of the heart muscle, the muscle dies and cannot be regenerated. Well, depression changes the brain in the same way, causing areas to shrink. Could there be brain rehab after a depressive event, something equivalent to cardiac rehab?
I think it would be tricky, because mood alterations are subtle and often denied. We encourage the subtle mood and vanilla flavored emotions. People with bold emotional responses are considered bizarre, even dangerous. So, the “angina” equivalent for emotions does not exist. We discredit sadness and melancholy as a bad day, stress, hardship or some external factor. The sadness is our RESPONSE to the bad day, the stress, our hardships and all those external factors. What makes us sad is not those external factors but our own response to them….our very negative, self-destructive, internalization. Our MINDS take the hit and we let it happen. We do not recognize the shift in our mood, we simply assume the fault and say “I am having a bad day.”
Instead, I want to learn to say……This day was really awful. I may feel sad because the day was rough. I may learn to be thankful that it is almost over and tomorrow is a new day. I can change how I respond to my surroundings…..and I suppose that is a SKILL I am still learning.