I had another meeting with my doctor today, Dr Cook. It was the first since he gave me my assignments last week. The appointment was tough, but ultimately productive. (I hope!)
One of the things I’ve said, which I’ve discussed here before, was my frustration at still feeling lousy. That is, I’m doing what I want to be doing: transition(ing/ed), performing, writing, freelancing, dating. In another way, I’m doing all the right adult things: getting my teeth cleaned, paying my bills, shopping for groceries, and so on. So if I’m doing everything ‘right,’ why do I still feel like shit? Why do I still want to hurt myself?
In response, my doc talked a lot about how we ingrain our behaviors and – ultimately – write certain paths in our brain. When I was younger, wanting to hurt myself as an escape was entirely legit. (Wow, it was awesome to have a medical professional validate that.) I couldn’t transition, felt like I couldn’t come out, was developing in ways that were absolutely wrong for me, and felt very trapped in many ways. In that situation, the escape of self-harm (which I fortunately did avoid) is a release valve when everything else is stuck.
But now, everything else isn’t stuck. But my brain is still trained to go straight for that release valve.
Dr. Cook talked a lot about What The (Bleep) Do We Know?, a movie which apparently discusses this idea a lot. That, in our behaviors, we not only develop habits but actually strengthen certain connections and physiological paths in the brain. That makes sense to me as a performer and as a pianist, because I know how doing something a certain way over and over absolutely – and seemingly magically – causes connections to strengthen. And, suddenly, you know your lines. Or the fingering for a specific song.
But what Dr. Cook argued (and, apparently, the movie argues as well) is that these paths aren’t only created for lines from a script or notes from a song. That every behavior builds up or breaks down these mental and neurological paths. Until you reach the point where, even though there’s no longer an external need to be so anxious or depressed or inflict self-harm, the internal path still exists: slight amount of stress equals MASSIVELY DISPROPORTIONATE negative mental response.
And so, I keep walking over the same well-worn dirt path, reinforcing the very real neurological consequences.
The question, then, is how the hell to get off the dirt path. Dr. Cook said the What the (Bleep) Do We Know? has some good visualizations, but also just to think about going back to those assignments. To internally use positive ‘I’ statements following praise, or even just when feeling down. To acknowledge successes before failures. Dr. Cook admitted this all sounds a little touchy-feely, and that upping my antidepressants is still a backup option. But he said, and I agree, that it’s much better to retrain the brain to do the work itself than simply give it the chemicals that’ll do the work for you.
So here we go!
(And in that vein, I’m proud I wrote this blog post today, instead of procrastinating.)