Friday, April 6, 2012

Magical Thinking Outside the Box

I fall into the category of a patient who holds the erroneous belief that ones thoughts, words, or actions will cause or prevent a specific outcome in some way that defies commonly understood laws of cause and effect. Magical thinking is defined as believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation.  In clinical psychology, magical thinking is a condition that causes the patient to experience irrational fear of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because they assume a correlation with their acts and threatening calamities.

 In other words, you believe that by doing a certain thing, or by thinking certain thoughts, that you can cause bad things to happen.  The outcome can also be a good one. I have had these sorts of thoughts since my childhood, and indeed magical thinking seems to be a normal part of childhood development. (Except I never outgrew it)   I think that if I focus on one thought, one idea, one sentence even, and if I repeat it over and over again, many many times, then I can cause a particular event or outcome.  I also believe in performing rituals, such as turning off the lights a certain way or counting the number of times I lock the door.  Locking the door in and of itself is a ritual, for after it's been locked, I must unlock the door, open it, unlock the screen door, open that then slam it shut, lock it, then close the wooden door and lock first the deadbolt and then the door lock. I will repeat this process 3 times.  Later that evening, I will have to check the door locks (repeatedly, as it's one of my compulsions), and to check the main entrance, I must repeat the ritual of unlocking everything, opening both the wooden as well as the screen door, and start over again with the shutting and locking of the doors, again 3 times.  I believe that if I don't do these things each and every time I walk past the door, something bad will happen.  I'm not sure what, but something along the lines of the boogey man getting inside the house and hurting me and my family.  I have to protect my family, so I perform the locking of the doors ritual every single night.  As far as magical thoughts go, I can give you an example from just the other day.  I had to take my mother to the hospital for pneumonia, and I believed that if I said a certain phrase over and over again, that it would cure her.  Since she wasn't cured immediately, I believed that I'd not said the phrase a sufficient number of times, so I tried harder.  I repeated my magic phrase over and over as I walked through the hospital doors, walked up the hallway, and got on the elevator.  When someone got on the elevator with me, I quit saying my phrase out loud, but continued repeating it to myself in my head.  When that lady stepped off the elevator, I resumed my oral recitation.  When I got to my mother's room and found her to still be sick, I blamed it on my period of silence while riding in the elevator.  I change my magic words to suit each situation, and while I don't know how the rituals get started, I do know that I feel tremendously ill at ease if I don't perform them.  Most of the rituals which I do are far too personal and embarrassing to admit here in the blog.  I will tell you that I have rituals for driving my car, which are designed to keep me safe on the road and accident-free, and I have rituals for when I am sick which involve lighting specific candles, candles whose flames I believe will shorten my illness and make me well again.  Some of the rituals I perform are quite simple, such as writing a phrase on a sheet of paper over and over again.  I believe that the more often I write the phrase, the more likely it is to work.  I do believe these rituals and magic words will work if I can only do them properly.  When they don't work, I assume I must've screwed up the ritual or said the wrong words or said them an unlucky number of times.  I have a conviction that thinking equates with doing.  Magical thinking is characterized by lack of realistic relationship between cause and effect.  Intellectually, I know that I can't alter reality using only my thoughts...yet I believe that I can. Different parts of me hold different beliefs, and sometimes the various K's contradict one another.  In other words, not all of the me's perform the rituals.  The turning off of the lights.  The counting. 

Everything revolves around the number three, and I must perform each ritual a minimum of three times, or a number divisible by three.  This does not apply to the TV-yes, I have rituals associated with watching television-whose volume must be turned to a certain number on the control, rather than based on the actual noise level.  Also, I tune in to specific channels based upon their numbers rather than the programming,  Some numbers are good-3, 6, 9, 13, 23, 27, 30, 33...I can go on and on.  I just instinctively know which numbers are good and which ones are bad.  My belief that the number 3 holds special powers is a strong one, so strong in fact that as an artist, I feel it is my responsibility to hide the number 3 within each of my paintings or pieces of art.  I also have the number 3 represented in all of my tattoos, the ones I have and the ones I hope to get.  Three is my own personal magic number. I suppose it's common for people to believe they have a lucky number; well, I take it to the extreme.  I do everything 3 times. If I enter a public restroom, I always enter the third stall.  I always take the third item off the shelf at the grocery store.  In every aspect of my life, the number three plays a role.  I remember the first time one of my doctors brought up the subject of magical thinking.  I got really paranoid, and assumed she was trying to trick me into giving up the secrets of my power. Years later, I understand that this is something that ALL of my doctors believe I engage in, but I still can't wrap my brain around the fact that it's considered a symptom of my mental illness. It's not a symptom, it's a philosophy. It's a lifestyle choice.  I push the elevator button 3 times, I count the stairs as I walk up them, I avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks.  Do these things make me more mentally ill?  I think not.  I consider all the little rituals I do to be a part of what makes me ME.  It is just who I am, these are my personality traits, or quirks if you must.

 I can't explain it rationally, I just know that in my mind, I completely believe that by burning a light blue candle, I will cure my cold.  That by flicking the light switch on and off 3 times, I will keep the negative energies from entering the room.  Keeping bad spirits away is a huge part of my magical thinking, and many of my rituals are designed to keep negative energies away from me and my world.  I'm not sure if this counts as magical thinking or if I'm just being superstitious, but I believe that spirits who exist on an alternate plane of reality come into our world and affect our lives, touch our souls.  Whether these spirits are positive or negative depends upon what rituals I've performed that day, what mantras I've repeated, what thoughts I've had, even what colors I'm wearing.  I guess that does sound irrational...but to me it's completely rational. To me this is truth.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Empathy Extremities

Empathy is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. True empathy means understanding a person’s pain and suffering because you have experienced something similar, you know what it feels like, and their situation has inspired those same feelings in you, on their behalf. If you haven’t had that same experience before, you can feel for the person, feel sympathy for them, but empathy may not be possible.  This is something that certain people have trouble with. I am one of those people, but not because I'm incapable of feeling empathy. No, I'm on the other end if the spectrum.  I feel too much empathy.  I physically ache when I'm in the presence of those who are suffering.  I literally cry when I see someone else crying.  I take in all their hurt and it radiates throughout my heart and soul, and I become that hurt.  I suffer with them.  Whomever it may be-the heartbroken, the sick, the losing team. I can relate to them all, and I feel just terrible, for them. I hurt because they hurt.  It's very difficult for me to be inside a hospital, for I can sense all the rooms filled with people on their sick beds, many upon their death beds.  I can feel the physical pain as well as the sorrow, the desperation, the agony of fear and of loss.  My memories of all these things build and build until I can take no more. I feel as though I might explode from all the suffering, on so many different levels.  I try to avoid places like nursing homes and funeral homes because I simply cannot tolerate that much emotional and physical pain all at one time, coming right at me.  I've been spending a good deal of time at a hospital this past week, as my mother was admitted for pneumonia, among other things.  I've been going there every day, walking the halls, hearing the cries of physical torment coming from some of the rooms, seeing the tears of the frightened, and feeling every little agonizing detail as I walk past hallways and rooms. I am extremely sensitive to any type of emotional pain, and the over-the-top sensations coming from within the walls of a hospital are very nearly too much for me to bear.  I cry with strangers. I literally hear someone crying, and my eyes well up with tears, and I begin to cry for that person, even if I can't see them.  I only need hear the crying, and I'm enveloped in emotions and unable to contain my tears.  This makes it especially difficult for me to visit my mother right now, for she has shingles, one of the most painful conditions a person can have.  Shingles is a nerve infection caused by the chicken pox virus and is common in older people or those with weakened immune systems.  It's a nerve pain, a totally different kind of physical suffering.  She cries out suddenly and often, and each cry is like a dagger through my heart. My whole being aches for her, and with her.  I wish I could take the suffering for her, take it all inside of me and bear it for her. I'd give anything to make her pain go away.  But I am powerless to help her.  The doctors can barely do anything. She's on some of the strongest pain medications available, and they make her talk crazy and go out of her head.  She hallucinates and talks to people who aren't there. "Welcome to my world, Mom. Sorry you have to experience this."  I don't think I can adequately describe how much I ache for my mother and how much it kills me to see and hear her in that much pain.  It's the worst form of torture for me.  This is creating flashbacks....  When my father was dying, he was in a tremendous amount of pain due to a rare neurological disease, and he would sometimes scream, and it ripped through me each and every time.  I had to witness my father's suffering for two years before he finally died and was at peace.  Now I'm having to watch my mother suffer as well. I guess my complaining about it only succeeds in making me seem selfish, and for that I am sorry. I don't want to be selfish, I just don't want anyone to hurt so badly. Mom first developed the shingles rash in February, and while the rash is fading, she's developed a complication called PHN (postherpetic neuralgia) so the pain is still excruciating for her and has the potential to last for years, possibly even for the rest of her life.  Add to that her pneumonia and asthmatic bronchitis and anemia and she's a very sick woman.  And so I must go to the hospital every day and every evening and sit with her for hours at a time.  During those hours, I feel her pain.  Every jolt of nerve pain that courses through her body also courses through mine. I cry with her. In fact, it would be much easier for me to bear the pain if the pain were all my own.  I can tolerate great amounts of pain and I'd love to take over for my mom and let her be at peace.  I can't imagine continuing this degree of physical torment for very much longer.  Every day when I get to the hospital I have to take an Alprazalam just to be able to walk in the front entrance.  Everywhere I look are sick people, dying people, people in agony either physical or emotional.  I absorb it all like a sponge until I am doused in suffering.  This physical and emotional and psychological pain will stay with me throughout my hospital visit, and lingers long after I've gone home.  When I try to sleep at night, I can hear the cries of pain, the moans of my mother, the screams coming from down the hall.  The doctor said Mom might get to come home in 3 days, and I'm banking on that.  I don't think I can stand much more of this. Watching my mother suffer is the hardest thing I've ever done, second only to watching my father suffer and die.  Part of me wishes that I were incapable of feeling empathy. I don't want to hurt for strangers who neither know nor care that I'm aching for them.  I don't want to shed a tear every time I wander through the emergency room.  I don't want to feel so much.  But I guess it's better to feel than not.  Feeling empathy to any degree means I'm feeling, and that makes me human. At the very least, I have that. I may not be "normal" but I am still a human being.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Someone Else's Tears

It's happening again.  Right now.  I've just come to, or "just woke up" or something.  I feel like I've been gone, away from my physical form, and just returned, but my body hasn't moved.  (I don't think.)  Anyway, the point is that I have just regained consciousness or regained my sense of time or something, something has changed, and I find that I'm crying.  Tears are pouring down my face.  I don't have any recollection of when I began to cry or why. I don't know if this is important, or whether my doctor will find it interesting or helpful, but I wanted to make a note of it.