A Science to a Catch 22?

Settle in and sit back for a long one… Something back in that first post’s been bugging me.

In that first post we talked about linking up bad times and black bits and fuck-ups to congeal into lived with excuses. Excuses might be too blunt a word. Call it a blindness to bright spots; a state of mind that ignores all the good because somewhere, at some point, I got selective by choice or by practice. Selective in either the memories that stick, or in the choices of what gets remembered.

So right there’s the bear that’s been bugging me: Why did this happen and how? Yes all the things in that intro did happen, but so did some big things, some great things. So why then do I slip and go full Leonard Cohen and dwell exclusively on the bad and the worse? Is it practice? Some conscious selection? Is it controllable, excusable, is it changeable? Or is it entirely with merit and it’s just been a bum a month (however damn long that that month’s been)?

Well here’s what’s been spinning around. Some more dots join up and think through. And before I get to some kind of answer, let’s begin with some things that stand true…

Our Environment Affects our Biology

Stress and anxiety tightens the gut, hunches the shoulders, raises the heartbeat. There’s a physical effect on our bodies. Prolonged stress has been linked to intestinal illnesses, heart conditions and worse, and all kinds of bad-body ju-ju.

Some of these Reactions are Useful!

In small doses at least, yes they are. Fear boosts our adrenaline, floods our brain and our bodies with chemicals and signals that increase speed of thought, power and stamina. This is Fright, Fight or Flight, it’s inbuilt. It’s necessary to our very survival and has been since amoeba met danger. Our bodies and brains have learnt to react to stresses in ways that help keep us safe and protected. We wouldn’t have got too far without it.

(Micro)Biology Affects our Wellbeing

And yep, it seems pretty conclusive. All that gumph (and yep – harrumph!) about good diet and exercise being good for your mind and wellbeing, it seems there’s some truth to that too. Healthy guts seem to make healthy minds, nature’s nurture is a powerful thing. Who’d have thought that our internal pinball machines bounce the good and bad all around inside us, from our bellies right up to our brains?

Epigenetics Exists

In breaking with decades of thinking, epigenetics exists. The idea that our cells and their functions are predetermined by the DNA we’re all born with, and that each cell’s DNA and job cannot change, well this has been close to disproven. Instead, we are subject to change, right down to our very genetics. Our cells and their functions, our most basic of blueprints, change in accordance with our environments and experiences.

Just take a second to take that all in… Our environment, our world, our experiences, have the power to shape us that deeply. Our functions and cells up for grabs for good and bad. Now apply that to our development through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Add the unique experiences of each and everyone of us, the effects of the positive and negative, or a prolonged exposure to either, and there’s a world full of cans full of worms.   

Enter the ‘Reflexive Model Of Consciousness’

And this pretty much sums it up: What is physically seen is as real and as true as our perception of what it is that we see. Now take hold of this idea and run with it. All the experiences we build up and accumulate change the word (or some parts) as we see them. It’s why we argue, make sense of and rationalise. After all, our ‘truth’ is the one that we work with. It shapes how we react and respond.

And why does all this get a Mention?  

So were back to that opening question. Just why oh why is it so easy to link up the bad and forget all the good or the better? Am I ungrateful, am I just being an ass? Am I wallowing in warm mud and misery? With all the above in mind I’m starting to wonder if there’s a black-magic catch 22.

Let’s say there’s truth in all the above. Our environment, our stresses, our worries, they all have an effect on our bodies. Now let’s say it’s true in reverse, that our bodies affect our environment – or at least how we perceive it. What if a prolonged exposure to worry and stress leaves us over prepared for those things? Our natural defences set up as default, waiting for next bad to react to. Could this be our Catch 22? I experienced it, so now I expect? Is this why I link up the bad bits and seem to see everything as a threat?

Or is it just that I’ve spent so long eating beige dipped in anything runnier than beige and my gut and my brain’s slumped together? All the answers on paper seem simple – eat better, behave better, exercise. But Catch 22 says get pizza. ‘Cus when things look bad, well why break the mould?

Further Reading (and references):

  • David E. Jones, Jennifer S. Park, Katie Gamby, Taylor M. Bigelow, Tesfaye B. Mersha, Alonzo T. Folge ‘Mental Health Epigenetics: A Primer With Implications for Counselors’
  • Eric J Nestler , Catherine J Peña , Marija Kundakovic , Amanda Mitchell, Schahram Akbarian ‘Epigenetic Basis of Mental Illness’
  • Jack Symes
    ‘Philosophers on Consciousness : Talking about the Mind’
  • Paula Nicolson
    ‘A critical approach to human growth and development’
  • Richard J. Davidson, Bruce S. McEwen
    ‘Social influences on neuroplasticity: Stress and interventions to promote well-being’
  • Susan Blackmore
    ‘Consciousness : An Introduction’

(And just how we got to this post, right here is where it all started….)