Taking the piss; Mind over Matter

When will it all end

When will it all end?

I have never been one to throw in the towel, despair and just want to give up. I pride myself on my resilience and capacity to cope with most things that life throws at me. Unfortunately we all have our limits. I feel that I reached mine. I understand the importance of seeing a bigger picture and embracing the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence and this is what I tend to do when I find myself slipping down a chasm of desolation

It all started around 9 months ago when I suffered from unrelenting cystitis. Now most females are bound to know better than males just how excruciating this can be. No major problem: just take the sachets available from most supermarkets and it’ll be calmed and gone within a few hours – days at most. It becomes a bit more bothersome when that just doesn’t do it; chronic urges to urinate along with painful stomach cramps, just can’t be ignored. Not too worrying, though – just go to the doctor and get some antibiotics. Gone!

Blissful: the feeling of having a regular urination cycle! But not for long. It recurred so many times that I was left sick of the sight of doctors scratching their heads, taking urine samples, consulting their “General Practitioner-ing Guide for Dummies”, bemused by the fact that there seemed to be no infection at all. At length they would say “We’ll try another antibiotic”.

As suspected, the antibiotics didn’t work and by now I was worrying even more after having looked up my symptoms on the internet and scouring forums which all pointed to dreadful diseases and incurable ailments.  The last straw came at the fifth hundredth doctor, who this time after some bewildered “umming and ahhhing” offered the following: “maybe you’re constipated- it can sometimes put pressure on your bladder”.

Having described my symptoms at length, now well-practiced like the words of a play, I was appalled at this whimsical diagnosis. My discomfort was quite clearly a localised problem having nothing to do with my bowel movements, which were in fact regular. I must admit that I had an intense urge to punch her in the face, whilst shouting “If you want to make random guesses, fuck off to Deal or No Deal!”

I had decided enough was enough and as is so often the case when things are free, the NHS healthcare was useless. I sought the advice of a private gynaecologist who gave me a quick and accurate diagnosis: Urethritis. The medication helped and I was cured.

I’m sure that you can imagine my horror when, quite unpronounced, whilst still taking the long-term prescribed medicines, the symptoms all returned. I went back to my local doctors, dejected and requesting a consultation with someone other than the constipated moron. Fortunately this doctor had a clue and on my second visit to her (which must be making my total number of doctor appointments circa 2281) I was given an alternative medication after being informed that I was unlikely to have an infection any more. This medication was instead aimed at dulling the nerve signals from the urethra to the brain, which now had been eternally “switched on” due to the returning infections.

Although this tactic worked for a while, like everything else so far, its efficiency diminished and I was left in chronic discomfort and a state of despair. Aside from the physical hindrance, the mental impact was the worst. What was once joyful in life was now drained by the anxiety that I was filled with as I evaluated: Can I do that or will I be too uncomfortable? No gym, to relieve you of those inevitable fat days which are becoming much more frequent now; no going out drinking with friends as it makes you feel worse when you drink and boring when you don’t! ; no sex, so you feel prematurely “passed – it” and unsexy as you flinch every time your boyfriend’s hand near touches your thigh.

All of this contributes to the worst part of the sorry situation: The sensation that you are losing yourself. Once positive and light-hearted, resilient to most things if not all, you feel as though you want to curl into a little ball and hide from the world that now must surely see you as a weak crumbling mess.

The last consultation confirmed what I feared. In the absence of an infection it was likely to be psychological/neurological/same-thing. My central nervous system had gotten into a pattern of firing that now would be hard to counteract. Having been intensely interested in health psychology, I was horrified when the urologist likened the condition with “phantom limb syndrome” which I have learnt is often intractable and chronic.  The most effective methods of relief are – to my knowledge – often complex neuropsychological techniques.

The worst part of the unidentified condition was the impairment on my psychosocial well-being and general distress levels. I suppose as a psychology graduate I should have welcomed the opportunity of putting faith in the power of the mind-over-body stance, which I had always advocated. I can’t quite explain why, but the prospect filled me with fear, quite possibly because I felt that I had little energy left to invest in mindful practice to relieve my discomfort. I wanted “a normal” problem – one that could be fixed with antibiotics or strong pain killers.

Although I have always embraced the fact that I am not “normal”, embracing my as-of-yet undiagnosed condition in the same way was rather hard. Getting the feelings of anxiety and worry to subside, is no easy feat. Having said that I suppose it is time to put my money (or mental health) where my mouth is and practice what I preach. During my studies I was put in awe of the brain’s plasticity and capacity to respond physiologically to different patterns of thinking.

In a study this year “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter densityit was demonstrated how just 8 weeks of mindfulness training could reduce grey matter density in the amygdala (the brain region principally responsible for emotions such as anxiety and stress) which was consequently reflected in the participants’ own subjective feelings.

Perhaps it is the untamed neurosis within me that makes it difficult to suppress feelings of helplessness that only ever really arise when my health is involved. This in itself presents an opportune subject for examination which may help in my attempt to assert mind over matter.

I suppose that all is not lost while you still have your mind. Referring back to the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence; nothing remains the same. What cripples me now is likely to be nothing but a distant memory in time to come.  I must remember that I am what I think  and have faith that my mind will surely overcome matter.

The Buddha

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much
as your own unguarded thoughts.

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The eX-Factor

Leave the past behind

Recently the subject of exes has come up a fair bit, ironically at a period around which the X Factor blessed our television screens once again. This got me thinking about the synonymy between the X Factor and the ex- factor. I have amused myself by identifying a fair few which I now present in a much edited form in this blog. This all started when I recently moved to my new apartment only to find that my ex had also recently moved to my apartment block a couple of floors above me. This brings my to the comparable point number 1: Much like X-Factor contestants you either never hear anything from them again apart from the odd underwhelming and non-consequential local update which also eventually fizzle out, or you can’t bloody get away from them being rammed down your throat!

It then followed that I had quite a few bumps into my ex which understandably lead to the discomfort of my boyfriend. In addition to this coincidental relationship inconvenience, I then started getting prompted by facebook to make friends with two of my boyfriends exes- which is never really a heartening experience. Note to facebook: it is never really going to be logical to prompt partners to commence a friendship with exes of their other halves least of all attempting to do so over the internet. That would never be creepy, would it?! Meanwhile one of my boyfriend’s exes was sparking up communication with him.

As the situation stood, our relationship was pretty much being bombarded by past partners wishing to engage in communication. My question is why? I have always liked the idea of remaining friends with ex boyfriends, yet they never seemed that keen on it which is understandable. However, years down the line when that part of your life has happened, been accepted and moved on from, what is the appeal of restarting repartee? It would be different if you had remained friends, but when the split is rather final and to some extent abrupt, what makes someone then want to be friends again? Maybe their memory suddenly becomes clearer and less tainted by emotion involving the split and they now remember the qualities that would make you a good friend these days. Are they really lacking in friends so much so that they want to revisit their past consort of acquaintances  to start forging new friendships with? Perhaps that’s not fair and the intention is completely transparent and favourable but I think if they want to start making friendships in this way, it deserves a frank and honest discussion straight off!

In absence of this and in presence of everything else ex-related they then come to share their second similarity with the X Factor: causing a lot of unnecessary noise! In this period of ex-bombardment, there was a lot of tension created leading to some pretty heated arguments within my relationship. Looking back in retrospect it was rather unnecessary, but the problem was the sudden presence of an ex/exes causes confusion and it is not always clear how to behave. I initially was of the opinion that I had never had hostile feeling for my ex so wouldn’t see the problem if he wanted to be friends again. Not like go-out-and-grab-dinner-friends and welcome-to-my-inner-circle-friends, but have-the-occasional-catch-up-friends.

I have to be honest I didn’t think much further than that which neglected thought about the possible complexities arising from final details such as the venue of the catch up. Of course these details are important to the comfort of your partner and hence there was some rowing. I think another factor was my stubborn inclination to remain fiercely independent and not allow anyone else to have influence over who I chose to become friends with and how to conduct my friendships. This of course is silly as relationships are about consideration and compromise. I now recognise that that inclination was misplaced in that situation. However the cause of the inclination arising was the rearing of the ugly ex head which consequently can have attributed to it, all of the unnecessary noise that occurred.

I think part of the noise that exes create is down to the third feature that the ex-factor shares with the X- Factor: They are overrated. Just as in the X Factor when I find myself sitting in disbelief as I watch judges cry, smiling tearily as they emotionally clap a decidedly average performance from a contestant with a sob story, exes are given too much emphasis. The conceptual consideration of a partner’s ex is that they will have had a big impact on their life, therefore will mean a lot to that person; they were once in love, therefore there must still be some feeling there and similarly they once had lustful feelings for each other so may well do now.

Personally I disagree with all of these statements due to my own personal experience. Just because I have loved once, doesn’t mean I do now – there is a reason a relationship ends and stays ended and it ain’t because a couple remain in love! Following on from that, just because I once fancied someone doesn’t mean I even consider them in that way whatsoever now when I was a kid I fancied Jarvis Cocker! Strange, I know, but my point is that this is far from my reaction to Jarvis Cocker now! I concede that exes can be big parts of a person’s life and have been to me, but what I value is the experience that has allowed me to progress to where I am now, which does not involve them at all. That means a lot more than what they may have contributed in my past.

This is my logic anyway, but I realise that logic does not always overcome emotion and these are inevitably raised when the ex-factor comes into play. For the many of those for whom this is an issue, it may be possible to construct a friendship with an ex based on terms that keep your partner comfortable and happy, whilst struggling to mentally adjust their natural and automatic conceptions of friendships with exes. However, in my opinion it is not likely to be worth the combat against such naturally occurring emotions that are bound to be felt by your partner. The ratios of reward to hassle is going to be way out-balanced. What real reward are you going to get out of a friendship with an ex? And how much is this going to upset and unease your partner?

In contrast to how it may appear in this entry,I am not militantly opposed to friendship with exes or indeed the X Factor. I do however, regard both as relatively non-consequential with some very poignant flaws. My feelings are that if you didn’t remain friends post-break up there must be a reason for this and it is likely to lie with the ex that then decides to get back in touch way down the line. I would therefore give the exes the same advice that I would give unsuccessful candidates of the X Factor: move on and get a new direction, mate!