Yes, I think too much

Archive for November 2010

Course Corrections

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I have been hoping for quite some time to write some blog posts, but my life has become incredibly busy in a variety of ways. One of the things that has happened since I have lost so much weight is that my weekends are spent outside of the home and I have little time to sit down and type posts, even when I have things I want to say.

I mentioned some time ago on my former blog that successfully losing weight in the long run is really about self-actualization, not simply adding healthy eating and exercise to your life. I have come to more fully appreciate what that means over the past six months, and it has not been easy. On the one hand, the manner in which I have reframed my relationship with food has not sent me scurrying to the pantry in times of stress, but the amount of stress has increased because the changes that occur have brought up other issues.

For one thing, being out and about so much brings up a serious approach-avoidance conflict for me. I want to get out more for the enjoyable aspects, but find the experience oppressive in so many ways because of the overwhelming sensory stimuli. Since I live in one of the most densely populated cities in the world (where people are literally crammed onto trains during rush hour by conductors shoving them into the doors), every step out of the door involves dodging people, listening to unpleasant noises (construction, loud speaker announcements, etc.), and having to adjust to a variety of unpredictable variables which directly affect my comfort but are utterly out of my control like whether or not I can sit on public transport (and therefore take pressure off of my gimpy knee).

These logistical issues and overstimulation were anticipated problems as a result of being more mobile and free to leave my apartment after losing weight. Related aspects which I hadn’t considered are also cropping up and tapping into other neuroses of mine. Going out and about involves more money being spent, and I grew up poor and have a lot of anxiety about money in general. This isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve spent the last 7-9 year focused rather strongly on saving money and being frugal in anticipation of leaving this Asian country and going home to America. Loosening my notions of what is “reasonable” to spend with certain unemployment in my future and after training myself to live as low on the hog as possible has been very difficult for me.

There is actually an almost humorous irony to the current situation that I find myself in. At 380 lbs., I used to avoid restaurants for fear that I’d be too fat to fit in the seating and be embarrassed (a fear I still have at around 225 lbs., but I realize that it’s irrational for the most part). Now that I am physically able to sit in a restaurant, I find that I have anxiety about the money spent on the meals. It’s hard not to feel strange paying about $25 for a meal when I can make something at home for 1/5 that amount or less (and have leftovers to boot).

Before I go any further, I must stress emphatically that I am not substituting a new anxiety for an old one in some psychological balancing act which will allow me to feel stressed and neurotic all of the time. That is not what is going on. This is an existing neuroses (about money) that wasn’t being brought as strongly into play because the circumstances were such that the responses came out less frequently than they do now. It shows in yet another way how being so fat as to be essentially disabled from normal life was actually beneficial to me. It allowed me not to engage in anxiety invoking behaviors.

The changes I’m going through and the new issues that are coming out have taxed me greatly. I am constantly battling my negative responses and trying to wrestle them to the ground with logic and positive conditioning. It’s the equivalent of talking myself off the bridge day-in and day-out rather than allowing that jump to happen. “The jump” in this metaphor would be deciding not to go out and live life as a “normal” person would and remain secure in my home with my neuroses ruling my behavior. It applies to more than simply my fears about money, fears that were built into me by my upbringing as a very poor person and my mother’s constant dialogs about our issues with it.

Every day is exhausting for me because of these needs to correct the course of my mental pathways. They want to go straight ahead and I keep forcing a right turn. It isn’t really all that dissimilar from the sort of mental conditioning I did when I changed my relationship with food. These other issues are just as persistent, but more ambiguous and vague than the simple choices related to food. This makes mental conditioning more complex as I’m not as certain of the outcomes.

I can tell myself that I will get a job in the future so I don’t need to save every cent from now until when I leave for home. I can tell myself that I have a little over a year left here and that I should take advantage of the time to see and do everything I might want to do and spending a little money on that is a good thing. In fact, I may regret not doing so. However, in the back of my mind is the thought that I could regret spending the money and the fear that I might end up broke and in dire circumstances. This is unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility. And even when reason succeeds in convincing me that I should spend a little more money now and worry less about later, it doesn’t mitigate the feeling in the pit of my stomach which remains.

So, one of the reasons I haven’t been posting is that I’m constantly wearing myself out trying to deal with new feelings and problems. I constantly feel as though I’m being torn from safe and secure moorings and setting sail into unknown and potentially dangerous seas. The fact that I’m the one choosing to do it doesn’t make it any easier. I simply know, however, that if I want to “get anywhere” (continue to grow as a person and self-actualize), I have no choice  but to keep forging ahead.

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November 26, 2010 at 4:28 am

Subdivisions

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The French artist Magritte has a painting called “The Treachery of Images.” It’s a painting of a pipe which says under it, in French, “this is not a pipe”. Magritte was trying to point out that, even though if asked what it was when viewing the picture, we would say it was a pipe, though it is not actually a pipe. As he said, you can’t put tobacco in it and smoke it. It is an image of a pipe, a representation in two dimensions of a three dimensional object.

In terms of something even as concrete as a pipe, we can see that it is not only impossible to represent the real item in any way other than actually applying our sensory apparatuses to the actual object, but also that even the object itself is culturally or personally relative. What a European would have called a pipe in 18th century may  not have matched what a native people would have called a “pipe” in their culture. What is more, what we consider a “pipe” based on our senses – touch, smell, sight – is not truly what the “pipe” is from a deeper, more scientific perspective. It’s actually a collection of molecules, or, even more deeply, atoms, arranging themselves in a particular fashion. Not only is the image of a pipe not a pipe, but what we perceive it to be from a certain perspective isn’t the true essential nature of a “pipe”.

The way in which we conceptualize and represent various thoughts and concepts is often hamstrung by our ability to properly represent the deeper reality in concepts that are not equivalent to that real thing. With the pipe, we can at least more easily reach a consensus on what may be considered the “real” thing. With more sophisticated and less tangible things, such as the human psyche or personality, it becomes that much more difficult to verbally represent the true thing. We can’t see a psyche, nor touch it, nor hear it. Talking about something so ethereal is an inestimable challenge.

Like the pipe, talking about psychology is culturally and personally relative. My pipe may not look like your pipe so I may disagree that what you are holding is indeed a “pipe” and not some distorted looking contraption that performs a similar function to a “real” pipe, but no person in his “right mind” would call it a “pipe” in my culture. Terms that exist in one culture’s psychological practices may not exist in another because the behavior is not a priority or even considered a problem in another culture. In Japan, the word “amae” is used to talk about a psychological situation in which a person tries to manipulate, coerce, or rely on others in order to look after his or her own needs or interests. This is an issue in Japan because social pressure and responsibility are dealt with differently. In Western cultures, such behavior would be unlikely to elicit the desired response, so it is rarely a problem. Therefore, a term for this condition or action does not exist. The way in which we conceptualize personality, dysfunction, and consciousness is framed by our perspective.

Since consciousness, the psyche, and personality are broad, complex, and individual in nature, each manner in which these concepts are divided in order to understand them is a little different. Freud divided the psyche into the id, ego and superego. The terms are esoteric and seem unnecessarily unapproachable. The explanations seem a little bizarre, and don’t suit what we feel is our real mental interaction with ourselves, but I’m sure that they made perfect sense from Freud’s perspective. The terms themselves tend to undermine our acceptance of them, but so does the fact that we may not feel that Freud’s particular division of the psyche “fits” our concept of self.

Recently, I mentioned that I was reading a book on Transactional Analysis, and it carries a variation on Freud’s concept of the psyche. It uses the words “parent”, “child”, and “adult”. Unfortunately, these terms are so simplified and so well-known for their more common meanings, that they come across as trite and make the entire underlying concept smack of pop psychology. Using approachable terms which are well understood is as fraught with difficulty and unwanted nuance as using exotic ones.

As I continue to read this book, the idea that dividing the psyche and labeling its elements is an impossible task became clearer than ever before. Such theoretical subdivisions are necessary as a means to help to understand our thought processes, but they will always fail because something as vast and complex as the processes which underly human consciousness cannot be accurately divided into pieces. In order to continue studying psychology, I have to accept the imperfections in the various theories and applications and find the value in what rings true and embrace the fact that these concepts are designed not as perfect representations of our psychological mechanisms, but as crude representations that are the best that we can do. Just as an image of a pipe is the best you can do to convey the idea of what that object is in the absence of the real thing, concepts like the id, ego, and superego or parent, child, and adult are possibly the best that their creators can do to convey their theories.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

November 7, 2010 at 2:41 am

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Why I’ll Always Be a Negative Nelly

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Recently, I started reading a book on Transactional Analysis. The beginning of the book cites an intriguing study in which people’s brains were stimulated using electrical probes to stimulate memory recall. Every time a memory was recalled, the feeling that accompanied it was also brought forth. If the same area was stimulated a second time, the same memory and feeling resulted. This research shows that we not only store memories of experiences which are significant enough to be placed into our long-term memories, but whatever feelings that came along with them.

The book labored to point out that we cannot erase either the memories or the feelings. They are like data burned to a non-rewritable DVD. Once the pairing of a feeling and a memory is laid down, it is there for good. No matter what you might prefer, you cannot unhook your feelings from your brain’s storage of an experience. This is why the probes elicit them together. There’s no cognitive process or interpretation involved in pulling forth the memories so there’s no bias in this conclusion.

My reading about this study was particularly timely because I had an unexpected experience related to this very issue recently while discussing a situation with my husband. We were talking about a friend of his who we have socialized with on a few occasions and I remarked to him that I felt this friend wasn’t particularly fond of me. I said this because we had a discussion in which she expressed a viewpoint and I expressed a countering viewpoint which ended with her being silent rather than responding to my supporting arguments. I should note that the argument was not heated, nor particularly aggressive, but I found the way in which she stared ahead and essentially went silent to mean that she didn’t like my point and perhaps was not fond of me for having made it.

My husband, who at the time wasn’t aware that this is what motivated me to say that she didn’t like me, said in response to my assertion that she perhaps felt that I didn’t like her. I asked him if she had said something to him and he said she had not. However, at one point in the past, she asked if I would meet her at a local coffee shop near a train station about a half hour walk from our apartment. On the day that the request was made, I had a work-related appointment (I work from home) and told her that I didn’t have enough time to make the round trip to the station and talk, but if she’d like to come by our apartment, we could chat for an hour or so before my work started. She declined this offer and that was the end of that.

My husband believed that she may have the expectation that I would invite her to a similar appointment at a coffee shop if I wanted to be friends with her and my failure to proffer such an invitation could be viewed as a rejection of her. I told him that on a subsequent outing, in which the three of us ventured far afield to do some specialized shopping together, it had been my idea to invite her along. While I didn’t invite her to coffee, I did invite her on this long journey in which we spent many hours together, and during which the aforementioned argument occurred. Surely, my inviting her on this outing counted for something in regards to expressing a desire to be friends.

As he and I discussed this, I became increasingly unhappy and frustrated because he mentioned that there may be a social convention in which I must meet her outside at some point (alone, not with him) if I wanted to convey a sense of becoming friends with her. After he asserted this for about the third time, I felt pressured to do this because he has expressed that he wants she and I to be friend. He actually didn’t mean to pressure me, but this was how I felt. I became increasingly uncomfortable and apprehensive at the prospect of meeting her outside of my apartment.

As the discussion wore on, I suddenly launched into an explanation of why I didn’t want to meet any of his friends in a location outside of our home. I became increasingly agitated as I explained why, and at the end was completely emotionally overwhelmed and crying uncontrollably. I told him that I didn’t want to go out in public with anyone except him because I knew that people would make comments about my weight, stare, point, or gawk at me and I couldn’t bear the humiliation of this happening in front of new potential friends or people who I didn’t trust. I told him that I remembered all too well when I lived in my hometown and walked around stores or went to restaurants with friends and people would make fun of me because of my weight and I would flush with humiliation and my friends would adopt this certain look and demeanor which tried to hide the fact that they heard but wanted to spare me by pretending that they hadn’t. I remember how horrible it felt each time this happened and how being with someone else made these experiences far worse than enduring them alone. At the end, I put my head on my desk and wailed repeatedly that I absolutely could not bear that type of experience again. My husband felt terrible about eliciting this, and he hadn’t meant to pressure me anyway, but it really wasn’t his fault. I didn’t know this was what was going on with me, so there was no way for him to know about it.

This situation illustrated several points made in the book I’m reading. One is that often we don’t remember the experiences themselves immediately, but we recall the emotions associated with the memory. I was apprehensive about going out to meet his friend at a coffee shop, but I didn’t exactly know why. As I was pressured, I had an increasingly fearful and panicked response that I couldn’t quite track. I just knew I strongly did not want to do it. Eventually, the remembered feeling and the actual memories found each other, and I relived in very vivid emotional and visual detail these humiliating and degrading experiences from more than 25 years ago.

The other thing this showed very clearly is that the memory and the feeling definitely are intertwined and that we unconsciously may act on a memory without recollecting it because the associated feeling comes forth. We avoid something or are drawn to something, but we may not understand exactly why. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I didn’t.

The thing which this research reveals is exactly how much your life experiences, especially those in your early life (particularly childhood) affect your later life. Since you cannot uncouple the remembered emotion from the memory, it will always be there. If I have copious memories of suffering, pain, embarrassment, rejection, and fear, I cannot erase those by force of will. The brain doesn’t allow that level or reorganization. The only thing you can do it “negotiate” rationally the connections. I may connect public places and embarrassment, but I can attempt to regulate my response to the emotional and memory pairing through analysis and effort. This is no small task nor is it easy. It takes a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological effort to work through such issues, and I have realized that my recent depression is, in part, a result of burning out on exactly this type of self-directed movement away from my natural emotional responses. This started a year and a quarter ago when I started to lose weight, but it has been ongoing ever since with other issues and problems as well as continued weight-related ones.

Since the vast majority of my memories are full of a variety of problems and pain, I’m constantly trying to manage my responses. There are so many experiences which I have a painful memory association with that I’m spending copious amounts of my thinking time trying to “talk myself out of” my default response. I didn’t choose to be negative about so many things. These things are written in the library of memories and every book I open is full of painful experiences. Relative to the card catalog of my entire life, there are few books which have happy pairings, and almost every one of them involves my husband. This is why I rely on him so heavily. He’s the only one with the influence over me (and motivation) to create new and sufficiently meaningful memories which will be paired with positive responses. Without him, I’m spending my days negotiating with my old memory pairings rather than building newer, more positive ones.

So, now I have some biological insight into why I’m so negative much of the time and why fighting my nature is such a chore. I’m not saying it’s not a battle worth continuing to wage, as I want to be healthier psychologically, but I am saying that I can only accomplish so much in a certain period of time. One thing that is for certain though and that is that people “blame” their parents for their problems and this evidence (which is factual) would seem to indicate that that blame is well-placed. Your earliest memories and the feelings associated with them are laid down in large part by your parents, and the worse your circumstances are growing up, the harder it will be for you to ever be happy and whole. The template they lay down with you is there forever and no amount of motivation, willpower, or “can do spirit” can delete these associations.

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November 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

“Empty Larder Syndrome”

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Most people have heard of “empty nest syndrome”. That’s when a mother finds herself feeling at loose ends, blue, or depressed because a child has moved away. I imagine (since I’m not a parent) that building one’s daily routine, not to mention identity around a child and then having that child fly the coop leaves a big hole in one’s life. Lately, I’ve been experiencing what I call “empty larder syndrome”.

In this case, I’m talking about the effects of food having exited my life as a source of entertainment, comfort, and even preoccupation. While I no longer want food to serve those functions, I nonetheless suffer emotionally without them because having so much of my life wrapped around something and having it gone continues to have an impact on my psychologically. The profundity of this continues to hit me in waves. The loss of food as entertainment or comfort was the first wave, but it was hidden or mitigated by the preoccupation with food that came with restricting my eating and food planning for the better part of the first year. Over the last 5 months or so, as the rumination on food and dieting dissipated, rather mercifully in most ways, I’ve come to realize that there is a profound sense of depression coming upon me.

One of the things that I have realized is that the sources of joy in my life are dwindling, just as a mother’s source of pleasure and purpose may leave with a child. Not only did the consumption of food comfort and amuse me (yes, we do “entertain” ourselves with interesting food), but the pursuit and purchase of it did as well. When I used to be happy to find some rare or interesting foodstuff, I now feel rather flat about it. The loss of irresistible temptation has the flip-side of the loss of elation when it comes to food. There’s one less source of joy in my life.

This would probably be okay if there were other things in my life that I was excited about, but I already expunged the habit of acquiring things (i.e., shopping) for amusement. Beyond that, I’m stuck in a holding pattern in my life because I will leave this Asian country and go home in about a year and a half. I can’t really start anything deep and new, and my options are already limited anyway. It’s not like there are tons of volunteer opportunities to begin with and pursuing them generally means forfeiting income or time, neither of which I can afford to lose as my departure  and all of the expenses that come with it move closer at hand. I have to keeping working now while I can. I have to push myself to keep losing weight. I have to do what I have to do, and it leaves little flexibility for discovering new joys.

I have, nonetheless, tried to find new sources of pleasure to cope with this “empty larder syndrome”. I’m reading more. I’m getting out more. I’m trying to explore available avenues, but the depression that comes along with this loss and others (which I will not discuss here, but suffice it to say, there are some other important issues at play which further gut the joyful times in my life) makes it harder to find the energy to leap with any enthusiasm into other pursuits. Frankly, as of late, I’ve felt the beginnings of near-clinical depression lurking in the shadows. For those who don’t know, one of the things that marks serious depression is the inability to take pleasure in anything. When you are in this state, you can’t pep talk yourself into new things, and even if you happen to manage, you likely will find them to be unfulfilling.

Because of this state of mind, I’ve found blogging here falling by the wayside. In fact, I’ve found writing of any kind (including the type I get paid for) to be a chore rather than a source of pleasure. It’s not just about the loss of food, though that is clearly a significant piece of this picture. It’s also about the added responsibilities that continue to pile on and a loss of more and more time and contact with my husband as time goes by (something he is working hard to do something about).

There’s also the inevitable “middle place” with someone who is trying to lose weight that is impacting my sense of happiness. I’ve lost immense amounts of weight (considering I started at about  380), but I’m still fat. All that I have done has yielded improvements, but those improvements are currently “old hat”. I’ve grown accustomed to them so they are no longer a source of pleasure. Now, I’m just fat with no foreseeable significant quality of life improvements in the near future. Sure, the numbers on the scale keep going down, but that was never a big part of what I was about anyway. Today, I weighed in at 103-104 kg./226-229 lbs, down from 107 kg/235 lbs. last month. (My scale is terrible and weighs in metric numbers, so I can never be sure of what the true number is – it always starts high and ends low so I go for the most repeated number or a reasonable average. In this case, it his 105 once, 104 once, and 103 twice.) This means I continue to do the “right thing”, but it seems no big deal. The goal isn’t to be something “good” (as I don’t expect to be greatly happier with my overall condition or appearance at a lower weight than I am now), but to stop being something “bad”. This is hardly a source of joy.

What is more, the constant need to push myself ahead in terms of movement continues to ensure that I experience pain all of the time. While my back has gotten much better, my knees are suffering from even my modest amounts and types of exercise. It starts to feel a lot like there some scale out there which has to be balanced so that I am always in pain. If one things gets better, another will get worse to replace it.

So, I have been losing weight, but I haven’t been posting. I’m not happy, and find it currently difficult to do much about it. That’s pretty much the end of that.

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November 1, 2010 at 5:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized