Eustress 

I am not sleeping well. I wake up alert and happy in the very early morning. I don’t feel too hungry. 

It is entirely possible that, every year, during the Fall (and Spring, and sometimes other times), I experience a vulnerability to the conditions which, if unregulated, are the undergirders of mania.

…increased energy in general, optimism accentuated by my favorite light in the setting sun, late afternoon, many positive memories and associations, intense demands on time and energy…like the harvest time, the planting time. Marching band season. School. Holidays approaching, less daylight to move about in.

I will plan to sleep tomorrow night, because I am okay tonight. Elevated mood states are ideally designed (by dopamine and serotonin and adrenaline) to help us get something important done. To help us to survive.

I didn’t get home from the county I work in until 9:30 pm. 14 full hours since I left.

It was okay. I went to a suicide prevention community conversation at the library, where they talked about God and staying alive, other things. I was on the forum, less than articulate at times…doing that pause I do, when I am fatigued of talking.

People still said it was useful, some thing I said. 

I talk so much at work. Talking and listening and typing and copying. So, so much talking. For hours a day. Complicated and vulnerable conversations, careful responses.

I felt kind of disconnected driving home, but okay.

I thought about my kids, pictured them happy and healthy, tried to set the creep of worries aside.

I thought about dog sitting for the neighbor while I pumped gas, got a sugar-free energy drink. Listened to the radio, enjoyed the drive at night…the sparse traffic.

In some alternate universe of who I am and how I feel, I would have gone to bed, possibly with weary grumbles, but I feel great…and decided to write…and then was powerfully inclined to respond to a scheduling email from work because if I did not respond it would be extremely callous and negligent and ultimately may have counter-therapeutic consequences.

In responding, I realized something about what they call mania and how it is related to eustress, how eustress and distress operate from the same regions of the brain, and thus our thinking is impaired when we connect with people in powerful ways or are experiencing deep felt emotions like awe, love.

Isn’t that romantic?

There is research on this, on how “love” or strong positive emotion scrambles and distorts the thinking. I don’t think that this is connected to mania in the popular articles on the topic.

This eustress/distress disruption of the faculties of the prefrontal cortex makes sense to me. More sense than some half-assed pablum about chemical imbalances.

(#backsitting sketches)

Yeah, my chemicals are imbalanced, because I have a genetic predisposition to hyperactivity of the stress response mechanisms in my body, because my ancestors went through something I don’t know about, became nervous, became depressed. My chemicals are imbalanced because I almost died when I was 6, and went to the hospital on Christmas day and didn’t come home til February. Because, two years later, I went into medical shock after breaking my elbow and had to be life flighted. Because my great-grandmother died, because we lost the land…because of all those threats to life…all that life lost in the trees…blackberries and rattlesnakes and deer tongue.

My chemicals became further imbalanced by the drugs that I was given to balance “my chemicals.”

Key processes in my growth and development, socially, sexually, cognitively, relationally, were utterly derailed by my teenage vocation of being a girl with problems, serious problems.

One of the drugs I was on for years is no longer prescribed to adolescents and children, because it causes suicidality, among other serious problems for those who already have serious problems.

From these experiences came a vulnerability to social/interpersonal harm due to damaged self esteem and exclusion from a consistent peer group, a pitiful desire to be liked, accepted…and then radical rejection, alienating tattoos, men in their 20s, dropping out of school. Leaving home, running out of meds, going off meds, falling the fuck apart several times over, moving, and then moving some more. Crying on the interstate, driving through the desert, feeling free for a minute. 

I almost died as the eventual result of that time I almost died.

I feel that these things are worth staying up late to think on, to write about.

(Night clouds from last night)

I am never going to lose my mind again, because now I know how my brain works and how to take care of myself, how to ride out and appreciate phenomena of the stressed out body and mind, stay grounded.

A nervous system that is easily stimulated or that interprets sensory information in ways that produce a ( sympathetic) stress response (either eustress or distress) is prone to get out of whack, because (parasympathetic) regulation mechanisms in the brain and body may also be out of whack.

The pendulum swings wildly from hypoarousal to hyperarousal…sticking in between, becoming caught.

I am training my nervous system and energy and cognitive/experiential functions to be able to do this occasionally, to stay up late, to be inspired. To think about things, how they work…to have this sort of fun.

I  am changing “my chemicals,” retuning my stress responses.

To push the limit just a little, edge into growth.

…to do this, I will need to sleep a lot tomorrow night.

Note: when I stay up late, I still get at least 5 hours of sleep. Some people don’t sleep for days.

Amending my earlier statement of resolution, I might lose my mind if I didn’t sleep for days.

If I hurt with chronic pain, if I were homeless, if something really, really bad happened.

…I like to think that I would know – at this point –  what to do, how to stay well . . . but, there are uncharted territories all around me, all the time. Passages I have never been through, and don’t know how I would get through.

One thing that I try to simultaneously appreciate and yet not take advantage of or actively use for my personal edification is that all day long I listen to people tell me about all the worst things that they have experienced, the terror, the fear, the grief…and I look at them and see it as they speak, and hearts tremble and pound out into the space between us, and I know that there is pain I have not known, and pain I will never know…but, I try to honor the pain I sit with by witnessing and remembering, so that one day, if I am in a terrible and wrenching situation, I can picture people I learn resilience from, people that teach me humanity and courage in the face of struggle.

3 thoughts on “Eustress 

  1. Note, so that I remember the idea…states become self reinforcing in part due to dopaminergic mechanisms…it feels good to feel good, to get things done, to check something off a list, hit publish or post. That little nudging blast of satisfaction. I have tried to figure out, for a while, what the role of dopamine is in persistent fear or anxiety, paranoia in thinking, outlandish explanations, beliefs…it is still in the mix, though the sensations of these states do not feel good, possibly in part due to the meaning we attribute to them…if dopamine reward is a mechanism in goal-directed behavior and motivations go tend to one’s self and to stay alive…maybe dopamine is the driver, but in distress maybe other neurotransmitters/hormones create the experienced sensation, which is then augmented by meaning making…? Maybe the sensations produced by dopamine change dependent on others chemicals in the mix? How much of experience is in the thought-interpretation of sensations and physiological states?

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