Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Who's Doing the Driving, Part II

In my last blog I talked about learning to recognize when you were in an altered state. Now I want to suggest you scrutinize the inside of your brain a little. What part of you is doing all this crap to you, anyway?

Jill Bolte-Taylor, in her enlightening book My Stroke of Insight, talks in depth about what it was like to come back to full functioning after a brain stroke. She says something very interesting. She says that eventually she noticed that there was a “storyteller” coming back alive in her mind. This storyteller function would weave various events and sensations together into a narrative, where A led to B led to C, and the meaning was D. She found it amusing, she says, until she realized that this part of her brain expected her to believe everything it said. And she probably would have, if she hadn’t managed so long without it.

This “storyteller” is the voice that talks to us all day long. Everybody has one. Most of us think this is the real “me,” since we have never been without it and it never shuts up. It’s important to understand that this is NOT all of you, nor is it the “real” you. There are other parts of your personality which are calmer and better informed (for instance, the parts accessed in meditation or hypnosis). Even more to the point, it’s important to recognize that when you are mentally ill, the storyteller is at least partially broken.

It sees causes and effects that really don’t make sense. It uses faulty data. It jumps to conclusions that the facts don’t support. Without any warning, and for no reason we really understand except that it’s partly chemical, it may suddenly jump the tracks and decide that the crabby people you’ve met today are really all trying to kill you. Just for example.

Play with the idea that your storyteller cannot always be trusted. See if you can find a deeper voice within you to consult. I once asked a very wise schizoaffective woman what she had gained from mental illness, and she said, “Now I know which voice to listen to.” Practice separating from this storyteller, or ego voice, if you prefer to call it that. At any point, while it is saying A and B mean C, stop and question it. Try a phrase like, “Do I  believe that?” or “I don’t have to listen to you” or even just “What if that’s not true?” You don’t have to do a knee-jerk rebellion and change your mind. Just start noticing that it is talking to you, and look a little deeper for other choices.

Since I’ve been working on this, an interesting thing has happened to me. My storyteller, tired of being questioned, sometimes recites nonsense rhymes. It seems just as happy to be chanting, “Higgity, piggity, diggity, figgity” as it used to be to beat me up all day with its endless criticisms.  It just wants to be talking. What does that tell you about the true importance of that voice’s opinion? Sometimes I feel very silly with these jingles going through my head. But it beats the hell out of what I used to have to listen to, so I’m not complaining.

Next time you feel an altered state coming on, or even just a crummy mood that you don’t want to indulge, you can say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s true,” or something to that effect. You can get a little bit of a grip on yourself again, a little distance and perspective. Every little bit helps.

The goal is to be able to look at yourself as if you were looking at someone else, and say, “This doesn’t make sense.” Then you can do something about it.

Next week: Emotions as chemical reactions.

Deborah is a speaker and author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Kindle Editions, and other major vendors. You may also order them from your local bookstore. Or visit her web page at www.lafruche.net.