You Are What You Think

You’re unique, just like everybody else” so the famous saying goes (although I am still unsure of its specific origin, nevertheless, it makes a good point – no two people are the same) However, what we do share is the fact that we’re all completely, and utterly, mind-boggling.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard it all. The stories of the brave, the challenges of the broken and the struggles of the wimpy. But is that what they are? Much like a lucky dip, did our personalities, life experiences and biological history get selected through the rummage in a box of mental health? What are we really a product of? And today, that’s what I aim to find out.

NATURE VS. NURTURE (That age-old debate)

It’s weird. I’m a human, too. I’ve been a good person, I’ve been a bad person. I’ve made good choices and I’ve also made some rather diabolical ones. To which, I think, “Why the fork did I do that?! I wouldn’t do that now.” And you know what’s even stranger? I still don’t know the answer for sure. I’m not sure any of us could ever know for sure. But, out of curiosity, I’m going to explore the options.

BIOLOGICAL: “It is important to appreciate that there are critical biological underpinnings to all social actions.” – Eric Kandel 

Okay, so we make choices because of our brain activity. Our chemical reactions can lead to us doing things that we may, or may not, regret. In a previous post, I discussed how our ‘happy hormones’ – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins – can play a BIG role in making us think differently about a certain person or action. It is their fluctuation (or absence) that can cause us to feel differently about things. I.E. happy or sad. (If you want to know more about how these little blighters work their magic before you carry on with this piece, then check out my post on ‘Is the Chick-Flick making us Love-Sick‘)

Right, back to business. From a biological perspective, people who suffer mental health issues are usually attributed to having said chemical imbalances and/or a family history of mental illness. So, for example, if you have a relative that has suffered from depression, you’re more biologically predisposed to suffer from it too, compared to someone who has no relatives who have suffered from it. Or, if you suffer from an imbalance in the brain (such as with serotonin) your mood will take a downward spiral. Thus, SSRI’s and such medication are used to ‘boost’ those chemicals and improve your mental wellbeing.

However, let’s flip this idea on its head for a minute (humour me, please) As much as I agree with the statistical evidence showing that our mental processes are derived from operations of the brain (Yes, Kandel, I know) there is also evidence that shows such treatments – like antidepressants – don’t support the correction of a pre-existing ‘chemical imbalance’ (according to Pat Bracken). In fact, further research suggests that it is not primarily biological, but something far more…experiential.

My thoughts…?: Interesting, but not wholly representative. Not everyone’s actions are down to an imbalance in brain chemistry. This idea removes the idea that an individual has free-will, and thus, states that changing things in the future would be implausible. 

LIFE EVENTS: “The simple truths are that human misery is largely inflicted by other people and that the solutions are best based on human – rather than chemical or electrical – interventions.” – John Read 

I think most of us can relate to this. I mean, who hasn’t been perfectly fine until they were bullied at school for being ‘different’ and developing a complex about that specific thing thereafter? Or, another example, been in a toxic relationship, suffered childhood trauma, loss – the list goes on. This is the idea that people make other people suffer; that our mental health has been adversely affected by the experiences from traumatic life events and is therefore only solved through the intervention of a more positive human interaction. I don’t know about you, but I can totally relate to this.

Again, another article you may want to read discusses the #MeToo story, and how people who suffer at the hand of sexual harassment can develop a mental repercussion from such experiences.

They say that “…childhood adversity is strongly associated with increased risk for psychosis…” – Varese et al. So, in simple terms, bad things happen to us and thus, inevitably drives us crazy. Whether that be certain people, certain situations, we are completely different versions of ourselves depending on the things we experience or have experienced. We’ve all been there, work stealing our time, too much to do, not enough to breathe – we get stressed, we get sad, we get angry. In fact, we could suffer a breakdown if the chaos doesn’t stop. But…as soon as you’re out of that shitty job or away from that person you think is an asshole, you’re on the road to recovery again. However, there are just some life experiences so painful, so damaging, that they eat away at your soul, no matter how long the time stretch…

My thoughts…?: I very much agree with this notion, but I also know that everyone responds differently to life events. Which still leaves the question unanswered as to why some people suffer more negative repercussions than others.

PSYCHOSOCIAL: “Our mental health and well-being are largely dependent on our understanding of the world.” – Peter Kinderman

This might be our answer: The notion that our experiences continue to shape us, and that our psychological processes – dispositional cognitions – are thus further impacted by biological, social, and circumstantial factors.

This combines the idea that the way we think about ourselves, and the world around us, can indicate our potential for suffering a mentally adverse consequence. Thus, if I am the type of person who is pre-disposed to overthink things, analyse to-the-max, then I’m more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, phobias etc. than someone without this trait who suffers the same life experience, event, or biological construct.

‘...rumination and self-blame were found to be the psychological gateways towards mental health problems‘ But are those thoughts/tendencies causal or consequential?

I know, from personal experience, that I am a MAHOOSIVE ruminator, so when shit happens to me, I tend to go on a rather long mental voyage to work out what it means, about me, them, it, my present, past, future, what I did, what I could’ve done differently and how to avoid experiencing it again. Let’s face it, we’re all different, we all make choices for different reasons, and a lot of it is down to the way we think (or don’t think, in some people’s cases). If you’re the type of person that doesn’t ‘care’, then you’ll more likely engage in something risky and suffer no mental anguish from it. But if you have my issue, whereby you do a Chidi Anagonye (if you haven’t seen “The Good Place” then please go on Netflix now and watch it!) and get a stomach ache every time you think about every single moral consequence of an action, you’re more likely to experience distress and mental suffering than your less-caring counterpart.

My thoughts…?: This idea allows people to have a sense of control over their own mental wellbeing. But, aren’t our psyches formed from experiences? Our thought processes may well be different if we’d lived a life following a different story. So, what is the overall predictor of our mental health? Is it causal or consequential? There’s still much to consider.

Image result for the good place meme

Using myself as a little idiosyncratic guinea pig, I’d say I’ve always been an overthinker. Ever since I was little I’d distinguish the ethical balance of a situation, what is the right thing, the wrong thing, and why. But it wasn’t until I suffered a traumatic life experience (or 2, 3…maybe 4?) that those cognitions started to adversely affect me. Also, yes, there is a history of mental illness within my family tree, but I’m pretty sure it’s in everyone’s if we go by the fact that we’re all not-so-secretly related to King Richard III. Plus, the way they suffered mentally (or recovered) has not been the same as mine. But is that because of rumination…?

ARGH! What a headache!

There are so many options and I think they all probably interact with one another somewhat. None can be isolated as “the main” cause (because, otherwise, we’re heading into chicken and egg territory.) However, it’s fair to say that we probably couldn’t have one without the presence of another, and the degree of the suffering is dependent on our own self-perception (wherever that came from) and the extent to which we believe what we have experienced is personally detrimental.

Agree? Disagree? Cup of tea? I’ll go with the last one – I’m parched!

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