Stimulus/Response

One of the things I’ve noticed on one of my walks is how often I’m running from things. Not literal things. God no. If that was true, I’d be in way better shape than I currently am. For me, it’s sensations.

Feel tired? Immediately respond with caffeine.
Feel anxious? Immediately react by vegging out to video games for hours.
Feel depressed? Go out and get some form of carby, sugary junk food.

These responses have become so ingrained that I barely even think about them anymore. It’s like a little “click-whirr” motor in my head that goes off like a Rube-Goldberg machine and sets it in motion. Half the time, I’m three quarters of the way to the corner store before I even ask myself whether or not I’m actually hungry, or whether I can actually afford to eat out again for a while (spoiler: the answer to both is mostly no).

But I continue to do it, and so I had to ask myself why exactly that is. The conclusion I’ve drawn is that I’ve developed such a strong… aversion to any kind of internal unpleasantness that the MOMENT one of the aforementioned feelings arises, the subconscious first response system kicks in and I go into one of my coping mechanisms.

I’ve tried to replace them with more healthy coping mechanisms, with little success. What I think now is that I’ve skipped a step; namely, addressing that frantic, almost animal-like need I have to flee, run, hide from whatever I’m feeling in that moment by whatever chemical means necessary. Whatever I’m doing (or wanting to do in that moment) immediately gets pushed to the back of the list when this emotional fight-or-flight mechanism takes precedent.

As you can imagine, it makes it very difficult to do any work when I feel at the whims of my sympathetic nervous system. Medications help, but they’re only part of the solution. I think another component, the one I’m trying to address now, is the ability to not only be present and mindful (something I’ve been trying to do for a very long time), but also to… endureĀ when being in that present moment forces you to have to share space with something unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even scary. It’s like being stuck with a smelly, hairy, oversized commuter on a bus who is constantly twitching and murmuring abusive things at you. Add the fact that there’s not even any guarantee that being willing to sit next to your very own Hobo of Self-Destruction will make him go away, and it doesn’t sound like a very appealing sentiment.

However, what I’m just starting to understand is that while those feelings may not abate entirely, being willing to endure them in that moment at the very least provides me (I don’t want to speak for anyone else) with the powerful knowledge that you can weather the storm. That if you decide to not hit that oh-so-tempting eject button and go hurtling towards your coping mechanism of choice, you won’t fall to pieces. And once you withstand the hurricane and find you’re still standing, it can take a lot of the wind out of its sails the next time it tries to pay you a visit.

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Thoughts on A Philosophy Blog? (And Philosophy in General, I guess)

So, I’m a philosophy minor. More than that, I’m a big fan of thinking about things (sometimes too much, as the number of posts on here about anxiety will attest) and picking them apart. However, one thing that bugs me about mainstream philosophy (if there is such a thing), is how…. limited in scope it is.

I find as I ascend in years at university, I find the questions get smaller and smaller. For instance, in a Theory of Knowledge class I had, the question that the entire semester revolved around was that of what the professor called “Epistemic Akrasia”, or the question of whether or not you could rationally do something that you were aware was against your own self-interest.

Now, to me that question DOES sound interesting. But the class, as philosophy often does, devolved into minutia about questioning the definitions of “rationality” and “what we could define as ‘awareness’, as well as the usual questions about free will that normally seep into many a philosophy class like a gas leak (and potentially just as explosive). That in itself isn’t necessarily BAD per say, as one of philosophical thought’s most valuable traits is teaching the ability to tease out people’s assumptions about meaning and put them to the test. The problem I had was the heavy feeling I had in the pit of my stomach after the class was done. The feeling of “Where did we get to? What was the point of this?” and the general dread that it felt like a pointless exercise in nigh-masturbatory nitpicking.

I feel like when we engage in philosophical questioning, a good thing to do might be to take a step back and also ask “Why are we asking these questions?” “What are the implications for operations within the real world for the things we might glean from their investigation?” Too many times I’ve read a philosophical paper or essay that included the statement that “Answers to question X may have important implications for A, B, and C”, but then fails to go on and give any kind of detail as to what those might be. For a sub-branch of philosophy as potentially useful as epistemology for affecting how we relate and engage with one another both individually and societally, to spend hours and hours quibbling over the definition of “aware” not even in general, but for the hypothetical purpose of a single PAPER, seems like a tremendous waste of mental energy.

Meanwhile, so-called ‘serious’ academics scoff at what someone might disparagingly call “self-help” philosophies, notably the rise in the interest people have in scholars like the greek Stoics. As if it’s a sign of weakness or intellectual frailty to look to philosophy for ways to live a good life, to improve our outlook on the world, or deal with its pain and difficulties. I feel like I have to ask: if philosophy isn’t making peoples’ lives better, what GOOD is it? Having dealt with the usual assumptions from people outside the field that we’re all a bunch of closeted eggheads with interest only in pointless discussions, views such as the above make me shake my head. Is it any wonder that universities defund philosophy programs, or that people don’t want to even talk to philosophers, when all we talk about are topics that have exactly ZERO relevance to the average person’s existence?

It’s in this line that I’m wondering about making a dedicated philosophy blog. I use “dedicated” in the loosest possible sense, as I mentioned above that I’d want to keep it as open as possible in terms of topics and ideas. Philosophy is something you can do with ANY topic, no matter how personal, cultural, or global, and it can help provide comfort and healing in times of darkness, perspective in times of confusion, and a potential path forward when the road seems muddled and confusing. I just… don’t want to start it, and then be afraid to start writing because of potentially having an audience. Ugh.

Unclogging

Well, one good thing will come from me not being able to sleep at anything resembling a reasonable time: I’m writing again.

That’s not to say I HAVEN’T written, but incredibly inconsistently, and almost never when I’m not being paid. At least not for the past… 6-8 months or so? A big part of that are the changes that have been going on in my life otherwise. For instance, I’ve been struggling HARD with depression the past while. Less so the cognitive factors (though those are, as always, a bitch), but the constant fatigue. It feels like walking through a thick, black ichor… a deep, oily mire that pulls and drags on my body and mind to the point where no amount of sleep or recovery seems to make it lift for long.

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