I saw a very moving episode of Scrubs the other night on the Comedy Channel.
Michael J. Fox was on, playing an over-achieving doctor with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Dr. Kevin Casey. At one point, when J.D. is about to dump a problem on Dr. Casey, Dr. Casey says, “Everybody has their own burdens JD, and im not gonna be one of those people that dump mine on somebody else.”
Well, I’m not gonna be one of those people, either.
But I do need to bring this up to make a point.
Has anyone reading this studied how the brain works? Depression isn’t like an illness, where you eliminate the problem and then you are no longer depressed. It’s not like your car breaking down, where you replace the part and then everything runs smoothly. No, your brain tends to follow the paths it has already followed…much like water dripping down will follow the tracks of the drops before it, until a track is worn into the dust…and then the more water that runs down, the deeper that track is carved, until it becomes a river bed, then a canyon, then a gorge.
So when diagnosed with depression, you need to create new paths of thinking, and repeat them until you establish a groove and a pattern. But you still need to be careful to avoid going back to the deeper grooves of depression you are more accustomed to. This can take years.
So you want anti-depressants, eh? Makes things quicker/easier, supposedly. But anti-depressants don’t fix anything. If I understand the whol process, your brain follows its accustomed paths because when the synapses fire in the patterns your brain knows, you get neurotransmitter reinforcement. Yes, you actually get some mental reward for being down on yourself. Yes, that means that on some level, it actually feels good to feel bad. Depression itself doesn’t feel good, perhaps, but it is so close to self-pity, where you do feel good. There is a sense of rightness and righteousness to tell yourself, no one loves me, no one cares, if I died, the world wouldn’t even notice. Or, They don’t care about how badly they treat me, but if I die, they’ll be sorry but it will be too late! Yeah, that sort of thinking gets reinforced by seratonin or dopamine or one of the neurotransmitters. So most anti-depressants give you the same neurotransmitters no matter what you think. You don’t have to have depressing, self-pitying thoughts to get your neurotransmitter reward!
But here’s the tricky part: the patterns are still there. You still need to go through counseling (or work really hard on your own) to change your thought patterns. Because one of the interesting things about your brain/body is it is lazy. Once it realizes that all the neurotransmitters are coming in for free, it stops making ’em. That’s why if you are on anti-depressants for years and years, you end up more depressed than when you started (see: the Columbine shootings). So the neurotransmitters kind of temporarily smooth out all the established channels in your brain’s thought process, and make it easier to establish new paths/channels of thought. Then when you have those paths established, you drop the anti-depressants.
It is literally self-reprogramming your brain.
It can be done without it. You can reprogram your brain if you understand how the thought process works. It takes time, and mental discipline. Basically, you are slowly training yourself to a new set of values by way of internal (mental) rewards/reinforcers.
We grow up with a certain set of thought-patterns that are pretty much established by the time we are adults. In fact, they are already well on their way to being established before we are even capable of being aware of them (when we hit the Formal Operational stage of Piaget’s development cycle, around age 11). That means our genes, our environment, and our choices have already set much of our personality before we even know we have choices.
The old debate on why we are who/what we are has been “Nature vs Nurture” or “Free Will vs Destiny”.
Well, I offer a 3rd effect on who we are, and that effect is just as strong. A trinity of influences, if you will:
Nature/Genetic: the raw material you start with
Nurture/Environment: the forces that affect the starting material
Self/Choice: How you choose to embrace or reject your environment, how you attempt to enhance or minimize your genetic inheritance.
If you have a lump of carbonized steel and a grindstone, you don’t automatically end up with a knfe, do you? You only get a knife if the metal is applied to the stone at the proper angle.
If you have flour, eggs, butter, sugar, chocolate, and a stove, you don’t have cookies yet, do you?
We all start with our genes, and can’t choose that. We all get hit with life, fair or unfair, advantageous or disadvantageous beginning, and can’t choose that. But we can choose to embrace or reject, to be active or passive, to seek out what we want or take only what is given to us.
UPDATE: I’m posting this as the first installment of a point I’m trying to make. Many people won’t like the point, others will. In any case, you’ll just have to wait for it. This is just one of the topics I’ll hit in doing my part to try to persuade toward the social conservative view in the Marketplace of Ideas.
UPDATE 2: Okay, I changed the title. I was trying to be a little bit edgy and opaque…but maybe too much so. Cookies are more innocuous, eh?