Sunday, December 6, 2015

Pavlov's Suicidal Ideation

One of the most popularly known ideas in psychology is "pavlov's dogs" a breakthrough experiment by Ivan Pavlov that illustrated classical conditioning. The stimulus of a bell ringing was paired with the stimulus of feeding, and eventually the physiological response of salivating became conditioned to the bell stimulus. Pavlov could ring a bell and cause the dog to salivate, absent actual feeding.

There's a lot of conditioning that happens in the mind and mucking through it all can be quite complex. But greatly simplified...negativity is a very well conditioned response that my mind has to many situations in life. Many times that I'm in a position to think about my own success at something, whether existing or future...I trend toward a negative view. This is the negative nah. It's a defining feature of the way my mind works and it's extremely reflexive. One of my chief self-frustrations is my apparent inability to pursue something with consistency...however this is the one thing I seem to be able to do predictably, and do "well". By "well" I mean I can focus on it extremely well.

I can't seem to sit down and work on a hobby with enough focus or consistency to make progress, but when presented with the opportunity to consider my own ability for success...you can be sure that I will dive headfirst into negatively berating myself, and get consumed with doing that for days. Logically I can see the futility of this and the fact that it's quite self-fulfilling...but because this cognitive behavior is so very well conditioned...it's like salivating at the sound of a bell.

This year I tried embarking on a very well structured plan to pursue my interests routinely in an attempt to both get better at those interests, and get better at pursuing things in an organized way.

If I haven't clearly stated this out loud...it was a miserable, miserable failure. Not only that...my own fears of self worthlessness and anxiety about my ADHD having a negative impact on my job and life coupled with this unsuccessful side project to make a nasty cognitive cocktail. By about half way through my multi-month work project, I was routinely paranoid about my ability to do my work, and about others' opinions of me. I began to become easily fatigued and many days would crawl straight into bed after work. I withdrew into addictive distractions  such as TV shows and video games. While these diversions can be good for many people and they can find some rest and enjoyment in them, they are generally very damaging for me.

One way I sometimes think about my own bad cognitive habits is boiling water. It's also a good metaphor for Global Warming...but more on that later. Water can get hotter and hotter until its molecules start turning into a gas. Before that point it can be hot enough to be dangerous. Once it starts boiling it can't get any hotter...it can only convert to a gas faster. If that rate of change is fast enough, and the amount of water high enough, it can be moving so fast that water is pushed out of the container. We call it boiling over. So hot water is like this thing that is kind of happening, kind of happening until all the sudden it's HAPPENING and there is hot frothy dangerous water all over your stove top.

My nasty little cocktail of conditions boiled over this summer. I routinely felt like escaping into a dark, quiet hole away from the world. I was routinely furious and hateful with myself. I routinely thought about killing myself. This is called suicidal ideation, and coupled with fatigue and feelings of escapism, it's called clinical depression.

My work project is done now, I'm back at home with my wife and in my regular job. But I'm still "sick", I'm still dealing with the symptoms of clinical depression. Depression isn't really a condition I have dealt with constantly, but the ingredients of ADHD and the negativity I've developed as a response to its frustrations have always been there.

Fortunately, suicidal ideation is scary enough to push me into doing something, I have started seeing a therapist and will soon talk to a psychiatrist about medication options. I feel as if I just traveled to a foreign country where to only food served was something I was mildly allergic to. I feel like I had no choice but to eat it because it was all that was served and it continually made me more and more ill. And though I've returned from that country, I am still sick and will need time and treatment to get better.

I will try to document that process regularly. The negative nah tells me that writing on a blog regularly is impossible and pointless. But I don't let regularity or polish be hindrances to writing here...it's the place where I can just spew words if needed. I don't know if that actually accomplishes anything, but I'm currently content with it not needing to.