Monday, November 16, 2009

"It's all in your mind."

I recently came across this very interesting story about detecting the effects of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) on brain activity.  Apparently this is what they found:
A brain processing system that includes the amygdala — the fear hot spot — becomes overactive. Other regions important for attention and memory, regions that usually moderate our response to fear, are tamped down.
That feels right to me, based on my own experience.  If "attention" means "paying attention to events in the present," it's very true that you lose that ability when in the throes of an anxiety/PTSD attack. It's interesting that memory should also be affected.  One might think that PTSD is caused by unpleasant memories.  Maybe what happens is you focus on that particular memory and forget others.  It's as if you lose touch with the present and the past . . . with everything except the nightmare.

But this bit made me sad. And angry:
. . . problems too often shrugged off as "just in your head" in fact do have physical signs . . . "There's something different in your brain," explains Dr. Jasmeet Pannu Hayes of Boston University, who is helping to lead that research at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD. "Just putting a real physical marker there, saying that this is a real thing," encourages more people to seek care, he said.
It's so infuriating that something like PTSD is "not real" unless scientists can find physical evidence.  I mean, that applies to all of our feelings, right?  How do we know if we're really happy or sad, without a freaking scientist to tell us so?  I guess I'm going to have to get a brain scan every time I try to decide which flavor of ice cream to buy.  Which one do I really want?  Oh I can't tell because it's all in my mind!

And of course this totally applies to transgender, which is all in a person's mind.  Many people have theorized about physical causes for gender dysphoria.  Personally I don't care. I don't need scientific justification for my feelings.  I've spent years trying to understand myself and my own mind.  Not that I understand it all, but I believe that psychological techniques, and teaching people that it's okay to feel the things that you feel, have more potential to solve mental/emotional problems than fixating on physical evidence.

Moreover, we interact with the world by creating a mental model.  It really is all in our minds.  Just ask the Buddhists.  It's strange that our society values the mental above the physical in many ways . . . but not this one.

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