Thursday, July 30, 2015

On disrupting patterns and déjà-vu.

I had a session with Ranjana yesterday. It was hard. Not because of something necessarily difficult to discuss or move through, but because I'm really tired these days, and yesterday I was a little despondent. She even called me on it. I tried to explain that it was difficult for me to engage her, and that sometimes I get stuck in myself, and that she might need to pull me out. She said she felt she needed to lead the conversations. I agreed.

Oooooof. I just ha a déjà-vu and now I'm nauseous and confused.

That was a nice little pause. I checked out Wikipedia, and it basically goes over a lot of the assumed reasons behind déjà-vu but there doesn't seem to be any real data about it.

For me, I think they're things I've dreamed that I remember / overlap with something as it's happening. Sometimes I'll remember the dream as the déjà-vu is happening, and it's overwhelming and I get nauseous.

All of this, the ways in which we don't understand something that two-thirds of people experience, something routine yet almost metaphysical and magical, is extremely interesting to me. We just know so little about the brain, and it just seems like there is so much left to unlock. Déjà-vu feels like something else. Like something outside of the conscious, left-brain/right-brain experience.

A déjà-vu is such an odd, out of body experience, it's no wonder that in the past it was attributed to be prophetic. Left alone in the woods - I would have accepted it as being something bordering superstition and instinct.


Yesterday's session was good. Ranjana talked to me about patterns of thinking, and ways of talking to myself. For this week, she'd like me to make a point of doing things for myself, out of pleasure and self-care, and not as acts seen through a lens of negativity.

For example, I explained to her how I often self-isolate when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I describe this as a type of quarantine. A quarantine, to me, because during this time I'm despondent, detached, and so internally distraught that I might not be particularly open or pleasant for those around me.

Ranjana re-framed that as maybe just needing some alone time, and just telling yourself, "I'm going to go read for an hour," and it ending there. It being something you're doing for yourself, because in that instance it's what you want for yourself.

We talked about cognitive behavioural therapy, and what I've read on the subject. I said that I read a few books, some being too clinical and difficult for me to really relate to and absorb. That conversation lead to a funny exchange:
R: You're very conscious. You're very bright. You're not like other depressed people. 
K: Well those things and depression aren't mutually exclusive.
R: I know, but with you, it's different.
What does that mean!? Ranjana sometimes says things bluntly, and then when I challenge her on it she explains it. But this was at the end of the session, while she was filling out my receipt. I told her there is a seemingly high depression rate with authors, artists, comedians and creatives of all types. That maybe my being highly sensitive mutated into something darker through trauma. . . . But we didn't talk about it much. Time was up.

She then gave me a piece of writing. Why Habits Are Hard to Change by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, written sometime in 2010. The article discuses a research study that showed participants a tennis match, and gave them a computer program that made default in or out calls. They were to then accept the default call (is the ball in or out) or actively disengage from he default call.
These brain analyses suggest that going against the default in difficult decisions requires some kind of extra motivation or confidence. Otherwise, the decider in our mind is puzzled, and the doer in our mind is paralyzed. 
Knowing this can help explain why changing habits can be so difficult. If you aren't sure why you're changing, don't fully believe you're making the right choice, or question whether what you're doing will work, you're likely to settle back on your automatic behaviors. That's why self-efficacy-the belief that you can make a change and overcome obstacles-is one of the best predictors of successful change. The decider and the doer need a boost of confidence.
All of this makes sense, being depressed comes with an automatic assumption that things will not get better, and that you're doomed and hexed. Ranjana was trying to get me to see how making active choices can lead to changes. She referred to it as "making a dent" which I appreciated. One dent at a time. Let some light in.
So next time you're trying to make a change, figure out what your current default is, and remind yourself exactly why it isn't working. Then look for ways to change your default (clean out your fridge, set up direct deposit) so you don't have to fight the old default as often. And feel free to be your own cheerleader when the going gets rough. Look for the first evidence (a pound lost here, a dwindling credit card statement there) that what you're doing is paying off. The status quo is seductive, and we all need a little encouragement to lift our fingers off the keyboard.
I mean, the concept of "being your own cheerleader" when you're already down or in the midst of a depressive episode is laughable. But I can understand the value in re-setting habits and trying to re-route patterns that are disruptive or painful. But it's so very difficult. If you're in a painful space, the default also represents a tried and true way to self-sooth. Maybe it isn't ideal, but it's known and there's comfort in that.

I don't know where to begin with all this. I can try to make dents, and I have been, but it's a big ask. It's so much work. I'm so tired.

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