A Conference of One

Mar 16 (6 days ago)

to me

Me and my negativity bias. Despite all the hundreds of times I have talked about negativity bias, about how (many) people have a neuropsychological tendency to fixate on and ruminate on the absolute worst possible aspects of a situation, casting the circumstances – real or imagined* – in the most dire light, how it makes no sense to dwell on puppies and kindnesses because those things don’t pose any sort of threat whatsoever…so why worry about them, hold such things in mind?

Despite the many times I have discussed and brainstormed the phenomenon of human negativity bias, had conversations with people who have all sorts of expertise on the subject of negativity bias – what is it, how it works, why it is activated, why might people who have experienced trauma be more prone to having an entrenched negativity bias in the perception and meaning-making around the events of their lives?

…regardless of the repeated suggestion to make a conscious effort to bring to mind and experience the more neutral or positive aspects of a day or a life, I still forget to do this balancing of the bias and end up faltering into sad, sour doldrums.

I have started to think about my negativity bias as an indicator that my nervous system is reacting to stressors with fight or flight or freeze activity. The amplification of negativity bias is probably the first line of defense, looking out for threats, trying to discern danger in one’s circumstances.

(As I am writing this, I am realizing that my recent spate of sour doldrums, which really was only about 4 hours long, with some brief bouts of prodromal doldrums and post doldrum doldrums, might indicate to me that I need to do some things to bring me back into what the Community Resiliency Model might refer to as my Resiliency Zone, where I am awake, alert, responsive, and not having an overwhelming stress freak out that utterly derails my mood, experience, and energy. My Resiliency Zone is a rocky path on a slippery slope. One of the things that I might advise myself to do to allow my nervous system to settle and reset somewhat, to the extent that a complex system can reset.

(In my thinking about my nervous system, a full reset is unlikely, because the starting point of operation occurred while we were still growing spinal cords in our mother’s womb. We are constantly shifting in some way or another, towards some new and tenuous stasis, which itself will change over time, as systems wear down and people keep living. Given the capacity for there to be specifics within the larger, more general homeostatic landscape, we are never – it’s reasonable for me to imagine – functioning precisely the same way in our brains and our bodies . . . like, throughout our entire lifetime, there is never an instance where all the various mechanisms of life are operating precisely as they may have been operating at any other moment.  We’re just too complicated, so many moving parts, so many different ways of living and being alive, from electrical signals and molecular receptors, to micronutrients and air and water. I mean, there is no way that all of these things could ever be the same as it ever was before.)

I acknowledge the reference to the Talking Heads. Same as it ever was. That has come up before.

I ought to go to bed in precisely one minute if I am going to get 8 hours of sleep.

Mar 16 (6 days ago)

to me

There are a couple of things I want to remember about tonight…the band concert and the feeling of crescendo, then flute. The symphonic band. How beautiful it was that high school students were creating such amazing moving sounds.

Look at pictures with my daughter. Show her my bad perm, age 13.

Note to self: I think running -or at least walking- helps me to not be stressed. It is a medicinal activity, in that the effects of the activity create beneficial changes in the body landscape.

Also, writing…

The day I had the doldrums, I had neither run nor written for a couple of days.

I felt a little better after I wrote, and running tomorrow night will be helpful.

Oh, and I want to make a functional mural on the kitchen wall.

Mar 17 (5 days ago)

to me

So, last night, I had this flood of ideas about me and my negativity bias and what I might say about it, and now – tonight – I am sitting here and struggling to even get through a single sentence about the nervous system. I keep thinking about a person who didn’t show up for their appointment today, and wondering why they didn’t show up, if they are okay.

I am thinking about how this morning I gave one of my coworkers a ride to work and that made the morning strange, but better in a way than it usually is. No, not better. Just different, in ways that were not unpleasant and were even kinda fun, to travel through the landscape that I usually move through alone with someone sitting in the passenger seat.

I had a harrowing moment at the off-ramp and at the on-ramp…terribly designed highway junctures on that side of town, unfamiliar lanes and mergings.

I angered two big white pickup trucks, and noticed in the back of my mind that I seem to have developed an association with big white pickup trucks and white supremacy, which probably has something to do with the linguistics of big white truck, the obvious big white aspect and the masculinity of the word truck.

It may also have something to do with my memory of trucks at the high school I dropped out of –  “rebel” flags flying from behind their fog lights, stuck on a pole over the wheel wells, a hand-painted banner, “It’s a WHITE thing.”

I don’t remember if those trucks were white, specifically, but there is a definite linkage in my mind regarding white and trucks. This association was, perhaps, reinforced several weeks ago when, after the US presidential election, two big white pickup trucks tore through my neighborhood repeatedly, almost like they were racing one another. They made me have to drag my older dog out of the road when they blasted up my dead end street, roared back down. I could hear them on the streets surrounding mine, heard them as they came back up to the intersection.

A terrible noise in the night.

The other day, coming home from the arboretum, a big white truck belched a diesel spew from its dual chrome exhausts and growled across the intersection by the outlet mall and the Long John Silver. My older child muttered, “I wish trucks like that didn’t exist.”

For people who have concerns about air quality on planet Earth and who are sensitive to smells and sounds, big trucks kinda suck.

So, yeah, as I was saying, I irritated drivers this morning, with my hesitating change of lanes, my lackluster acceleration. Two big white trucks.

If I was going to lose my mind, I might start getting really paranoid and seeing white trucks everywhere. It would be overwhelming, because there are – literally – white trucks everywhere.

Fortunately, I’m not going to lose my mind.

Part of why I am not going to lose my mind is ’cause now I am starting understand how my brain works, how experiences take on meaning, how and why we remember things, how my nervous system might respond to stressors and perceived threats…and, more importantly, what to do about these things, how to mitigate and regulate and ultimately change the way my nervous system responds to particular constellates of stimuli and factors impacting reactivity, such as whether I have slept and eaten enough food, but not too much sugar, what my general “baseline” might be at the moment, and how the cumulative effects of strains on regulation capacity may impact reactivity to additional stressors.

When I was 12 someone to me I had a chemical imbalance. In the era of early household internet technology, I researched bipolar disorder on a simple online encyclopedia.  I wanted to learn about what the heck is going on with people who have bipolar disorder, because a few years earlier, when I was 13, someone told me that I had bipolar disorder, and every morning I took medication for bipolar disorder, and it mattered to me that I had a disease of the brain, or so I had been told.

I wanted to know what the disease was and how it worked, what it was doing in my brain.

For the most part, all I found were descriptions of “symptoms,” which I could kinda see might fit my experience. I mean, I guess, if you look at a few situations a certain way.

I did find one stodgy and inconclusive research article on amines and their role in bipolar disorder, and so I tried to write about that some, the amines, because I wanted my paper – (A paper that I was writing for a high-school completion program. I don’t remember which program, exactly. I went to a few.) – to be…fucking factual and of some substance.

So, I sat in the room I had slept in as a child (in a bunk bed that my father made, my brother in the top bunk) and I typed in my search questions on a heavy-keyed vanilla plastic keyboard and stared at the awkward early online font until my eyes bled amines, and didn’t actually learn much at all that was of any use to me.

Since my brain disease was so mysterious, not clearly understood, I kept taking the medication, because that was what I had to do, per Dr. Martelli, who was a rather disgusting and inhumane human being at that particular point in his life and career. My very first ever gynecological examination was done by said psychiatrist upon my intake at the inpatient facility, because he did not believe me about never having had intercourse. I haven’t ever thought of the examination as sexual abuse. I mean, he seemed smug and sarcastic and a little disgusted throughout the examination. The guy was just an asshole. I do see how it was a hideous violation.  I definitely detect that I can’t really think about that whole situation.

When I was 17, I went to see the pediatrician who used to like me, because I was sick with lithium toxicity and didn’t know what was wrong. The pediatrician who used to like me was cold and flat toward me and I was embarrassed when I became very lightheaded and my vision went splotchy with dark and I had to lay down on the floor by the nurse’s counter. I tried not to make a scene.

There is still some part of me that rises up in total outrage about the idiocy of the whole situation, and I can feel myself get hooked into the list of insults and grievances perpetrated against me and my youth by the psychiatric industry.

…and lately, when I feel outraged my voice goes silent, and there is so much to say, to fucking scream about, but I don’t want to say anything, because it is destabilizing to me to feel such a powerful anger response, still, about things that happened years ago…and it’s not so much that it happened to me, that it fucked me up, and fucked up my family, but that – dammit – they got away with it. They, in this instance, being the psychiatric pharmaceutical complex. Worse, they are still getting away with it and there are millions of kids now that are going through hell because some asshat adult determined that the problem that they have is a problem with them and with their brain, not an issue of what happened to them or what is currently happening to them.

I mean, trauma and in-utero exposure to toxic stress and substances of abuse or environmental toxicity and even someone’s genes depending on what sort of terrible things their blood lineage has been through…all of these things definitely impact the brain, but medicating the effects of trauma and seeking to remediate behaviors that are rooted in developmental differences by sedating young people is…

…etc. etc.

I just realized I have been writing for a while and am actually tired and want to go to sleep. I might watch a movie. I need to watch more things, because there are some good things to watch out there.

I think part of my reaction to stressors lately, especially big cultural and systemic stressors at the intersection of the personal and political, is to just sort of quiet down.

…which may not be the most effective way to achieve healing justice.

Mar 18 (4 days ago)

to me

This list of things I’d like to remember to do…look at pictures with my daughter, my old photo album, her photo album…help my mother to get the dead lady bugs out of the upstairs part of her home, to model the behavior of people helping people they care about in the upkeep and maintenance of shared household environments…to rent a movie that I actually want to see…to experiment with drawing the processes that effect my life, graphic representations of the phenomenon of experience and what might be called ‘wellness’…to engage the youth in contributing to the design and creation of the functional mural…which will feature a section of blackboard paint so that I can write down things to remember and words that I want my children to know how to spell, maybe part of the background, maybe banners as part of the design…to write down some of these fleeting thoughts, about how I noticed that I began to feel the sensations of anxiety when on the phone with my mother, when she began talking about a movie she wanted to see and did I want to go this afternoon and her sisters told her that it was supposed to be visually stunning, at the theater downtown…i wanted to get off the phone…and the wanting was a restlessness in my belly, a tightening in my shoulders, a blanking out in my attention, a slight closing of my throat…and that makes total sense, given all the times I have wanted to get off the phone with my mother when she starts going into some plan or another from out of nowhere.

…thinking about how this connects to my recent interest in articulating how I understand the mechanisms of my own personal negativity bias and how it impacts experience and functionality…ugh, I just got an unpleasant rush of sheepishness, a tremoring across my chest…a “Who gives a f*ck?”…”So, self-absorbed! People are dying and you are sitting in front of the fire thinking about your own pithy little processes.”

So, now, I will take a deep breath and exhale slowly and try to modulate the response to this gross and invalidating and totally out-of-freaking-line “negative self talk.”

Initially, the effort to regulate this sort of thinking and feeling manifests as an effort to counter it, to respond with defense and justification. “…but, shouldn’t I be ‘allowed ‘ to think about such things? I mean, people spent oodles of time considering much more pithy aspects of life, the world is full of self absorbed people…and, besides, my figuring this out for myself actually helps me to be able to better support other people who are trying to heal from the not-so-great shit that has happened to them in their lives, so that then they can actually be a little more free, happier.”

There is no actual and obvious reason for me to feel humiliated and foolish about spending time writing about my negativity bias. I am also writing about other things.

…what is this rising of defensiveness in me?

The other night, on Tuesday when it was snowing, I tried to do a drawing of Saint Martha with a dragon at her feet. I have been lighting a candle for Saint Martha on Tuesdays, even though I am not Catholic and didn’t know who Saint Martha was until sometime back in the Fall.

I enjoyed drawing, the focus on paper and graphite. I was using not-amazing tools, a dull wide-tipped number 6, fine lines a strain, imprecision.

The dragon had the face of a possum. Martha herself had strabismus.

The drawing was a little dark-seeming, a little spooky or ghosty…and I knew I wouldn’t post it on Instagram because I would not want my daughter to think I was being a weird Mom and I wouldn’t want to share the drawing with my father, because he would not like it and it would be “too creepy.”

I could not, definitely, talk about why I have been lighting a candle for Saint Martha on Tuesday nights or share how, as I recite the Novena and the Lord’s Prayer, which I remember from when I had to go to a sketchy Catholic School in North Florida, I get a feeling of belief and gratitude, a feeling of brief grace, or how lately when I immediately find something I am looking for in the home or when I am particularly effective in tending to household tasks, I quietly thank Saint Martha for working in my life…and how I kinda do believe – sometimes – that maybe there are forces out there that can attract certain tendencies or energies to our lives and that, even if there are not such forces, that perhaps the belief in these forces and the focus on moving through the challenge at hand is enough to make a difference in how I feel about folding the laundry on any particular day.

Mar 18 (4 days ago)

to me

The youth wanted to spend the night at my folk’s house tonight. To relax in a different space, sleep well in a different bed. We had a nice day and I feel peaceful about the plans, actually kind of glad that my kids who are adolescents would want to spend the night at their grandparents’ house.

Tomorrow we are going to walk and make pizza. I would like to start some seeds this year, scarlet orange gomphrena, black hollyhocks. I might have to get into native ferns, because of all the shade and roots that have developed.

I am hoping that I will succeed in these tasks of doing things that I love and that bring me happiness.

There seriously is some ugly ethical guilt that comes from privilege. That gardening seems selfish when people don’t have homes.

I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t reconcile it, because there is some deep conflict in values and lifestyle that makes me feel like crap about enjoying my life and my makes me feel additionally crappy about feeling like crap in the first place, because I know that it is stupid and pointless to ( consciously and subconsciously) deprive myself of a pleasant and beautiful life because other people are suffering and it’s not fair.

My life is already pleasant and beautiful, by the way.

I think it could be even more pleasant and beautiful and I could be doing more things that I love…but, why should I get to do what I love and other people have to work in some shithole factory manufacturing toxic commodities all day, every day?

I definitely get that there is no justice in not gardening because of privilege guilt.

Yet, I still cannot reconcile it and every time I experience something beautiful I think about the people whose lives are much harder than mine. There is a feeling of gratitude in the mix of all this, but there is also a feeling of unfairness, that it isn’t fair that I should get to plant flowers when children are living in cars and the world is full of places that are grey and stinking and not especially safe at all for anything that lives there.

I could volunteer at the community garden, but I want to plant flowers at the house I live in, too.

I took a couple of pictures of clouds today.

Aside from the privilege guilt “barrier to abundance,” a big reason that I don’t do more things like gardening really is related to simple time, the number of hours in a day and how long things may take…because in all my privilege, I am still a working mother.


Sent: March 18, 2017 10:48 AM

Subject: Re:

10:50 PM (22 hours ago)

to me

I have been trying to account for the ideas that stick, the ones I keep thinking about.

– to paint graphic representations of the progress from wellness to states other than well, just in the forms of the movement and incidences, the line quality and depth of color, the relationship between compositional elements

This morning, I heard this episode of Hidden Brain on NPR, and they were discussing the ways that scarcity actually impacts people’s ability to make plans and decisions and keep track of day-to-day information. I’d hypothesize that that probably has something to do with the “hypofrontality” associated with fight/flight/freeze reactions…interesting that the researchers discussing scarcity acknowledged that any sense of scarcity – real or perceived* – across biopsychosocial domains can create the scarcity response, a sort of “tunnel vision” that focuses attention on what is missing to the exclusion of other things the person might need to be thinking about. They talked about time and loneliness, and how people in a state of scarcity actually may perform more poorly on IQ tests than they would if they were not experiencing scarcity. That is pretty relevant to the work I do, because every single person I work with is affected by scarcity in some fairly major ways…and it is also relevant to me…because I am a human being.

*I was going to say something about the subjectivity of the real and imagined, but whatever…


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