The New Way I Deal with Sadness

Now I’m off my anti-depressant medication and following a 12 Steps program to recover from addiction, I’m starting to experience stronger and more frequent emotions.

Argh! Big, scary emotions! Like sadness… the dreaded precursor to depression!

Fortunately, thanks to mindfulness, I have a new way of relating to feelings of sadness which make it much easier to deal with.

My Old Thinking

“I feel sad” ->
“There must be a reason why I feel sad” ->
My clever brain tries to find the reason(s) why I’m sad ->
“Found it! I feel sad because X and Y” ->
My clever brain makes mountains out of molehills. ->
Ever deeper spirals of sadness ensue. Sometimes anger. ->
Tears and depression
. Boo hoo.

My New Thinking

“Hmmm, I’ve noticed there’s a feeling of sadness here. Interesting.” ->
“I’ll just allow the feeling of sadness to be here, without avoiding it.” ->
My clever brain gets on with something else. ->
Some time elapses. ->
“Oh, I don’t feel sad any more. Nice.”


Full Mind -> Mindful

I’m feeling irritated this morning and I’m not quite sure why. I don’t often get irritated these days, thanks partly to the max dose of SSRIs I take every day.

There are a few possible reasons:

I have a part-time, minimum wage job which isn’t stretching me at all. I mean, I do kinda enjoy it. The money is useful and it gets me out of the house and socialising with people.

But if it wasn’t for the lovely people I work with, I may have killed someone by now. I keep telling myself that I want to earn more money. I want to do work which challenges me, makes full use of my potential and which feels meaningful… and yet I’ve barely even taken the first step in that direction.

What’s holding me back? Fear? The unknown? Who knows, but my frustration is reaching the point where something has to change soon.

So, what work would I do instead?

Well, the work would need to be flexible hours and ideally I could do the majority of it from home, enabling me to continue looking after our dogs.

Ideally I would be self-employed, or at least have a high level of autonomy. I really do think my days of shutting my mouth and dealing with corporate BS are well and truly over. I’d give myself 3 days before telling some prick to go fuck him/herself.

I have skills and interests in writing, in IT, in videogames and music. Maybe I should stop procrastinating and start actually making the videogame I want to make.


What else might be causing my irritation?

We currently have an intractable-seeming family problem, but I won’t go into detail publicly. It feels very important to get it resolved in the next few days, but every solution I consider seems to tell me, “Nah, that won’t work.” There’s a moral element to this situation too, which I think is making me angrier.


Or maybe there’s no real reason for me feeling this way. Maybe I’m just a bit dehydrated and need some caffeine.

Maybe I should stop obsessing over how I feel and just get on with my day. When I put my focus outside of myself and onto something meaningful, life has a way of sorting itself out. If I want to, I can choose simply to witness the thoughts and emotions as they pass through my mind, allowing me to rediscover a certain level of mindful peace.


For now, I’ll pray to my Higher Power to guide me and give me the patience, wisdom, and courage to deal with all the issues I’m facing in the best way possible.

Science and Belief

As I’ve stated before, I used to think of myself as quite a pragmatic scientist. If I couldn’t touch, hold or measure something, then I was deeply sceptical about its existence. I now feel slightly embarrassed at this arrogance.

There’s a certain class of scientific thinker who is so blinkered about knowledge that they dismiss out of hand anything which hasn’t solidly been proven using the scientific method. In my experience, these people are also quite likely to identify as militant atheists and be fans of Richard Dawkins (a man for whom I hold the utmost respect, but I also believe he’s wrong about certain things).

“Do you really believe that what we currently know [makes a small circle with his hands] is the same thing as all knowledge [makes a large circle using his hands and arms]?”

Russell Brand (I’m paraphrasing)

In my opinion, it’s not particularly scientific to say, “Yeah it’s bollocks” to all spiritual, supernatural and religious questions.

A better and more truly scientific stance would be agnosticism. In other words, we could say, “There isn’t enough evidence either way to prove X is true or not true, therefore I’m going to simply say I don’t know.”

In other words, it’s surprising to me how closed-minded a lot of people are, even if they profess to be scientific thinkers.

Being 100% certain, or closed-minded, is incompatible with the scientific method.

[Bollinger, R. 2019]

A key tenet of real science is that we have to remain open to possibilities which, at face value, may seem preposterous.

This may mean that we intuit, or predict, things which may be wrong. And it can be hurtful to our egos to have to admit we were wrong.

I mean, I get it: being certain feels comforting. But certainty is often not fully aligned with reality.

Don’t be arrogant in your certainty. True science is humble.

Before physicists discovered the experimental evidence for quantum theory, it seemed utterly unscientific and ridiculous. It’s incompatible with well-established (Newton’s/Einstein’s) physics. Even Einstein couldn’t believe that quantum theory could be true. And yet, AND YET, nowadays it’s very much a mainstream pillar of physics, with a strong evidence base to match.

99% of mad ideas may well be crazy and prove to be untrue. But 1% of them might just be absolute genius. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

[Bollinger, R. 2019]

So, don’t be so quick to mock or pour scorn on ideas for which we don’t (yet) have much evidence. They might seem too ridiculous to be true, but the more honest and truly scientific attitude is to simply say, “We don’t (yet) know.

[UPDATE 28/08/2019: I’m not saying we should automatically accept all religious ideas and conspiracy theories as true until disproven. I’m saying we should say “we don’t know” until science can either prove or disprove a particular set of beliefs.]

Intuition

Do you believe in magic? (We’ll come back to this question later).

My career has mostly been in IT. Technology geeks like me tend to think very logically and rationally. As a stereotype, we don’t pay much attention to things like emotion or intuition.

For me, that started changing a few years ago. I started to have much more respect for emotions and intuition.

In his latest book, Everything Is F*cked (which is fantastic and you should definitely read it), Mark Manson uses a brilliant analogy of the human brain.

We can imagine our brain has two halves: a logical, adult side, and an emotional, childish, irrational side.

We can imagine a car being driven by our brain. Most of us think that the adult logical brain is in charge – it’s in the driving seat. And the emotional childish brain is sat in the passenger seat, along for the ride.

But for those who’ve studied a little psychology and neuroscience, it seems like we’ve got this backwards.

In reality, the childish emotional part of our brain is in the driving seat and has immediate control of the car (our life).

… And sometimes it decides to do some crazy shit, like drive off a cliff.

Our rational brain tries to plead with the emotional side to be reasonable. “Adult” us can see further into the future and is fantastic at navigating, but ultimately it has to relinquish immediate control to the emotions.

This is not necessarily a bad arrangement. Emotions are incredibly powerful. Often they provide far greater fuel and energy for change than pure rationality.

Ever notice how the entire advertising and marketing industry seems set up to appeal more to our unconscious emotions, rather than using plain logic?

Emotions are what make people act. Weirdly, our rationality only later provides the justifications for our decisions, post-hoc.

I find it fascinating looking at how our rational, conscious brains attempt to negotiate with our emotions to make ourselves do what we want.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with this in my own life. It’s a bit of a tennis match between the two halves of my brain…

Rationality: “I’ve had this cool seeming idea about X, Y and Z. How do you feel about this idea, emotional me?”

Emotions: “Yeah, that feels exciting! Let’s drop everything and focus on that cool idea immediately!”

Rationality: “Well, we have other priorities too. We need to take care of these other more important things first. But I promise, you can have some ice cream later after we’ve got all the boring stuff done.”

Emotions: “Woohoo, I love ice cream! Let’s get that boring but important stuff done right now! Let’s go!”

For me personally, I don’t think it’s wise to lean too heavily on either half of my brain. Thinking isn’t more important than feeling and vice versa.

My life seems to work much better when I assign equal priority to both sides and try to have a negotiation process between them. Like a lot of things in life, balance is key.

And so we come back to the title of this post, Intuition, and the question, “Do you believe in magic?”

Intuition is a kind of magic. Our emotional brain is very good at taking a quick look at a situation. It can rapidly give us a gut feeling about whether something is good or not.

So, don’t write off your emotions as if they are are inferior to rational thought. Equally, don’t dismiss rational thought merely because it takes longer and can feel difficult. Use both together.

Use your inner child and your inner adult. Become an integrated whole. That’s where the magic happens.