McDonald’s and Meltdowns: The Fragility of the Mind

My choices matter — and there are paths towards making wiser ones — but I cannot choose what I choose. 

Sam Harris

Today was a real wake-up call that my brain is on the brink. It was the first time I truly realised that “me”, my mind and body are totally separate entities. And yet, they are physiologically bound and tethered, inextricably dependent on the other to function. If one goes down, like a ship and its captain, they all go down with it. Saying I’m overwhelmed right now feels like an understatement. But after a terrifying sequence of anxiety-fuelled events, I now know that if don’t take a step back from everything, I’ll be engulfed – I’ll disappear into the void. My mind, like the ocean, is capable of swallowing me up and only spitting me out when it wills it. There’s no motive behind it, only cells firing away. I’m just collateral damage.

Upon this horrifying epiphany, I was unsure of how to process and deal with certain things without going to that place again. Or, worse still, being completely consumed by my seemingly fragile mind. All I know is that I can’t keep pretending I’m okay. Despite having a face for radio, my body is up against a horde of uncaged chemicals, and in this battle against life’s challenges, they seem to be winning.

Perhaps it’s evolutionary? A fight or flight response, readying my body for action. Unlike a sabretooth tiger gatecrashing my cave, however, trying to fight this contemporary war the same way is aimless. They say that knowledge is power, though, which is why I’m currently lying in bed (deliberately avoiding sleep at all costs) trying to understand how my neocortex (me) can triumph over the premade compositions within my head.

We simply do not have conscious access to the neurophysiological processes that underlie our choices.

Tom Clark

Whenever I hear someone telling another person to “just relax” I want to smack them with a wet fish. Because when it comes to anxiety, depression or any type of psychological instability, no matter how hard we try, we cannot simply “will” ourselves to feel better. If we could “think” ourselves out of cognitive decline then this situation wouldn’t even arise! This is something I’ve learned about the brain, whilst desperately keeping my eyes open with metaphorical sticks – we don’t choose our makeup, and more often than not, we act on compulsion. In my case, I had no desire to have a meltdown. What happened as a result of feeling overwhelmed was absolutely involuntary. In fact, if it were up to me, I’d never want to experience it ever again. But, it isn’t that easy. And I knew this, which is why, after calming down somewhat, I decided to gobble some McDonald’s chips, as a means of comfort. This action was desired and, therefore, voluntary.

Choices appear to be key in unlocking our mental prison. Every exchange makes a difference because it allows for new neural patterns to be paved. I may not be able to control how my brain was built to react to things, but if I become more aware of how it functions (and why it dysfunctions) I may be able to channel a beneficial outlet that really relaxes me and rebuilds my strength. The more competent I become, the more free I will feel and the more ready I’ll be to face the world again.

I may only be at the beginning of this difficult voyage and still have much to understand (and will probably have a hell of a lot more wobbles along the way), but I know that being productive is vital, having good conversation matters, and keeping in mind the goal of fulfilment will make the journey easier to navigate.

Key in ignition, I’m hoping my Headspace app will begin the driving force for change. If I find anything else helpful, I’ll share it with you. By all means, if you also know of any helpful techniques or websites, I’m all ears.

Wish my neurocortex luck.

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