My life, all things considered, is going pretty well. Almost half a decade into brain surgery recovery, and I have moved to NYC and began a career, and my mind is at its most peaceful in years. One of the biggest improvements to my life is the new found outlook to life, which, until then, had been bound with anxiety and depression. Until recently, depression, anxiety, neuro-fatigue, and paranoia ruled my life.
My Mindset Challenge for Positivity:
The only person that can make me feel the way I feel is myself
The very first time I told myself, “I am the only person that can make me feel this way. No one else has that power over me,” I was rocking myself in bed, sobbing. I don’t remember what the exact circumstance was, but my little heart had been wounded in some way or another, and I was having one of my meltdowns.
I repeated to myself that I had a choice: to allow myself to be sucked into the Negative Loop, and spend the whole day in bed crying, or I could break the cycle, convince myself that it really doesn’t matter, and I shouldn’t have to waste a perfectly good day.
To my surprise, after a while of mental tug-of-war, I stopped crying, my heart rate slowed, and I was able to breathe. I spent the weekend actually doing things and occupying myself with activities, as opposed to spending it in the dark confines of my bedroom, blinds closed.
It was an epiphany: I can feel horrible and hurt and angry and sad all I want, affected by external or internal circumstances (real or imagined), but in the end, the only person who is sad and angry is ME. Why should I suffer and ruin an otherwise perfectly fine day by brooding and being angry, when I could be having a great time?
As a matter of fact, the person who was the cause of my anxiety probably has no idea I am under such duress (though to be fair, my paranoid response to their actions/words are in most cases excessive, given the nature of anxiety disorders- in most cases, the physical or emotional reaction is an overreaction to a stimulus 1).
From then on, whenever I feel my anxiety welling up, panic setting in, or depression starting to shadow over me, I repeated the magic words: “The only person that can make me feel the way I feel is myself.”
Most of the time, it didn’t work, and I had a full blown attack. But increasingly, I was able to slowly talk myself out of the ditch. With practice and repetition of my “thought curving,” events that incapacitated me before no longer affected me as strongly. My recovery time became much quicker, enabling me to enjoy my days more freely.
For the first time in my life, I learned to convince myself that I am in control of my own emotions and reactions to events, instead of being dragged through the ride.
Why the challenge?
The above mentioned concept is probably one which comes naturally to many. However, to many, like me, who have been living through life-long battles with social/general anxiety, depression, self confidence issues, and insecurities stemming from anything between social awkwardness to physique, Think Your Way Out Of Negativity was never really a possibility.
After all, Depression isn’t just being sad. It engulfs you. It eats you from the inside. It whispers dark and damning things into your ears, at the raw core of your existence, where you are most vulnerable. It stabs you where it hurts, and sometimes, it just hurts so good to wallow in it, allowing negativity to spiral out of control around you, swallowing you whole.
I was an unwilling subscriber to this lifestyle for many years. Diagnosed with depression in 7th grade, I was constantly medicated with cocktails of drugs to control my mood disorders (the diagnoses just kept piling on), until that one fateful day, half a year after my brain surgery, when my neurologist and neurosurgeon gave the okay for me to stop taking my medications.
They meant the seizure medications, which I had been taking before and after my surgery to keep any residual seizure activities under control. But my mother and I made the decision to cut me off all medications, if only to see what would happen. My psychiatrist was opposed to the idea (of course, since the only reason why I kept the 15 minute appointment every 3 months for $90 was to get a refill prescription of my medications…), but we figured, “Why not.” Summer vacation was coming up anyways.
The result was a myriad of disorders and conditions that we were completely unprepared for, but that’s for another post… Long story short, for the first time since pre-adolescence, I had to deal with my brain and its fickleness, along with the healing brain injury, without medications. Since medications could not help me anymore to keep my anxiety or panic attacks controlled, I had to develop ways to “think my way” out of the attacks and bouts of depression that hit me from time to time.
I began therapy that summer, when my world fell apart, leaving me raw to come face to face with my brain injury. Through trial and error (on both the therapy methods and choice of therapists), I began to understand that with my brain injury in the frontal lobe, my anxiety and executive functioning were highly affected, leaving me an anxious disorganized mess.
What I experienced, every time I was startled, or I was affected by someone’s look, tone of voice, or words, was called a Negative Feedback Loop 2, and by allowing my brain to loop itself deeper and deeper into a panic or depression by Negative Self Talk or brooding on a situation, I was allowing the Feedback Loop to noose tighter and tighter around my throat.
It is difficult to explain how anxiety could debilitate someone as much as it can.
How every subway ride could potentially trigger a panic attack; how I could burst out in random tears while being jostled around Times Square during rush hour.
How I had to read over every Cover E-mail 10 times, and be riddled with anxiety for the next few hours after pressing “Send;” how every snide comment or expression could haunt me for days, as I scrutinized every word, expression, and tone, chiding myself for my stupid remarks.
Being content and happy came laboriously, but catastrophe and jeopardy were quick and swift. My inability to prioritize tasks and execute them raised my anxiety, which in turn made me less able to organize and get my work done, my teeth brushed, or feet out the door.
Me & My New Brain
I don’t know what’s going on with my left frontal lobe. I don’t know if there’s activity there again, or if the neurons have simply remapped themselves around the mass of fleshy gray that got damaged when they took my AVMs out. I haven’t seen my scans since my surgery, so all I know is that, at the point after my surgery, that area of my brain was no longer in commission. What I know for sure is that have been seizure-free for over 4 years, and I am functioning fairly well for someone with substantial damage in the frontal lobe.
The frontal lobe is the control center for the brain. It is where the thinking, decision making, and planning happens, as well as where your personality lives. It is also essential for fluent, meaningful speech. It is the Executive Function Control Center, as well as Personality Control Center. (Want to learn more about parts of your brain and what they do? Here’s a good place to start!)
Damage to the frontal lobe can cause “changes in personality, limited facial expressions, and difficulty in interpreting one’s environment, such as not being able to adequately assess risk and danger,” along with executive function and speech issues 3. In my case, I developed Executive Function Disorder, Anxiety Disorder (along with Panic Disorder), Stress Gait Disorder, and Non-Epileptic Seizure Disorder. Majority of the symptoms loop back to my Executive Function Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. They themselves do their own Negative Feedback Loop, as not being able to organize and do tasks spiked my anxiety, which in turn made it impossible to plan, organize, and execute tasks.
Have you made any recent changes to your mindset or lifestyle to invite positivity in your life? Please share with me! 🙂
- “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, uneasiness, and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration.” (Wikipedia) ↩
- Addressing Anxiety and the Negative Feedback Loop @ GoodTherapy ↩
- Frontal Lobe Anatomy & Pictures @ Healthline ↩