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Allison Fink's picture

In reading these stories I

In reading these stories I have come to see just how complex and weird the brain can be, and to appreciate that complexity through the case studies that show them. Before I hated the chaos of the brain. I wanted it to be in order. Like, for example, why do songs get stuck in my head incessantly? I still do hate it, and that’s why I am starting to take up meditation as a mental discipline. At the same time, now that I’m taking this CSem and reading and thinking about these things, I’m seeing that the brain is so chaotic and unpredictable, with all its weird loops and quirks, but that’s the nature of it. It’s not pretending to be something it’s not. The brain I have is all I have to work with, and if I abandon the idea of finding some absolute truth and look for an interesting one, (us being like artists, as Professor Dalke mentioned, or like creators), analogous to what I see in an ambiguous figure, the picture I form in my mind given what’s there, it could be a liberating thing. This is just a thought. I still have to integrate it into my previously dominant absolutist, black and white world view. But today I thought that I was starting to grasp what it means to tell a story.

I found our discussion in class today very interesting. We were talking about how people make up stories about their illnesses. One student was asking today, do people really have depression when they are going through a crappy time in their life? Another mentioned the idea that people today are in general over-diagnosed with mental illness. We also talked about the moral implications of mental illness, like the guy with Tourette’s who violently made his son look at him. There are things that people do stemming from their mental illness that can really be hurtful to the other people around them. Are people in some way evil in that respect for having the mental illness? Do we have a responsibility to control ourselves, even though our brains work in a certain way? The brain is changeable. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder is one example. Also, as another example, can people with depression in some way see beyond their illness and think of the world outside their head, and in that way go on? If people are depressed, is there a reason for it, and they would be happier if they found something missing in their life? Or as psychiatrists claim, is it because of a biological disposition, without any particular reason for it, that needs chemical treatment?

People make up stories about themselves, and the stories literally create their own reality. People make up stories to fit the needs of their ego. They think that they are a self who is in control. Whereas they are justifying or filling in the random acts of their brain into a coherent story of a stable self. They will act a certain way and then say that they acted that way because they have a reason, and that, to borrow a phrase I read somewhere once, they are responsible for when something goes right, but not for something that goes wrong. People can be convinced of limitations, and then the limitations become real for them. There is a question of whether people have free will. And then one famous answer to the problem is that well, what if you acted as if you have free will? If your idea changes, your consciousness changes and different things become possible as choices.

When people come to believe that they have mental illness, that is another powerful story at work. I think that dwelling on limitations such as in the case when you become identified with mental illness, means that you become paralyzed. If you believe you have mental illness, you may see chaos and everything is totally not working the way it’s supposed to in your brain and how you try to act. But you do have resources within you to make sense of the world given what you have, given how your mind operates, and to order your mind in a way that makes you feel better about it. Or, if you choose, you can accept that your way of seeing things or your brain’s way of working is okay, too, even though it’s not what others see as normal or proper, or efficient. In that latter case, you’d be rejecting their story of there being something wrong with you.    


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