Let me preface this post with the “I’m not a doctor” disclaimer. Because, seriously, I’m not a doctor. I’m more of a theorist. I love to think about the mechanics behind things to arrive at the right solution for a problem. Some people call it high instincts, but I think it’s more like paying attention.
One of the key enlightenings I’ve had in learning to live with Howie’s anxiety was the realization that he’s stuck in the emotional brain.
You see, our human mind has two basic phases in which we process information. First, the emotional brain reacts. It’s why they say “sleep on it” or when you need time to cool off. Literally, the first way your brain reacts is with emotion.
Then, the rational brain kicks in. Here is where you mull, weigh the pros and cons, combine the emotional response with the rational facts to arrive at a (hopefully) balanced reaction.
Now obviously, everyone is different. Some people are emotional, while others seem to have no emotion at all and instead seem very calculated and logical. Most of us are pretty balanced. Think about it. When you react emotionally, it’s always at the beginning when the information is new. Kinda cool right?
So what has this meant for me and how I think about Howie. Well, one day I realized that it seems to me that anxiety causes Howie to be mostly stuck in the emotional brain. During episodes, it takes him a lot longer to get out of the emotional reaction and into rational thought. And it takes an effort. He really seems to have to work through it. It doesn’t happen easily or naturally for him.
To make it worse, I think sometimes his rational brain even works against him. In my experiences of my own bad anxiety moments, my rational brain was basically working overtime to feed me seemingly legitimate reasons to be genuinely worried. Not only has the logic turned bad, but it’s feeding me new information that was in turn causing an emotional reaction, like a vicious cycle. In this way, anxiety uses the brain’s own processes to trap you in a cycle of heightened fear and worry.
It sounds super heavy, but to be honest, for my super rational brain, it’s helped me understand where anxiety comes from and why Howie reacts the way he does. It’s a difficult trap to get out of. But most of all, it’s helped me understand and realize that if I add emotion or more information to his already overwhelmed brain during anxiety moments, it will never help anything.
This has honestly taught me that I’m not compromising or leaving my beliefs undefended by just letting him do what he needs to do. He needs to find his way back before anything I say can truly be heard.
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