The BBC recently published the results of a study into stress, mental health problems and rumination. Apparently, psychologists have long considered that rumination, or obsessive thoughts, is a cause of stress and depression. Now they have evidence of that based on experiments, apparently.
I wish I were capable of understanding the original study — not being a psychologist, I’m not. But I have a problem with this conclusion. For me at least, it’s the wrong way round. My experience makes me think there’s a post hoc ergo propter hoc situation here.
I have a very serious problem with rumination. I can have the same single thought for 24 or 48 hours, or even more, flooding every other thing I think or do or experience. Flooding is the right word — it’s overwhelming, terrifying, and I’m utterly helpless against it. The black spirals spin inwards. I am drowning. I lose myself.
And, for me, it’s definitely not a cause of anything. It’s a symptom of anxiety and depression (and I get more of the former, really). When my serotonin is low – i.e. I’m not on my medication – the thoughts never stop. When the serotonin gets regulated, I don’t have these thoughts. Even when I start descending down the spiral of anxiety, the rumination doesn’t kick in until things have got really out of control. Anxiety, and a feeling of things being out of control, lead me to have these horribly obsessive thoughts. It doesn’t matter what they’re about — when I describe them, their subjects are revealed for how silly and insignificant they are. It’s not the focus of the thought that’s the problem. It’s the horrendous feeling of drowning in these thoughts – loud, intrusive, accusing, shrieking – that overwhelm me over, and over, and over again…
Learning some bits of folk magic has really helped with this. I’m sure that meditation would be recommended first, but, mostly, my mind won’t stop screaming at me when I’m in these kinds of states, so meditation is absolutely out of the question. On the other hand, magic is a symbol of taking back control. And maybe that’s unhealthy — I don’t know. Maybe it feeds my need for constant control, making me believe I can take power over things that I should let go. But that’s not my experience. My experience is that it creates conduits, directs the flood back into clear, positive channels.
Well, that’s just one symptom of my unsound mind. I could give it labels, or suggest causes. I won’t. It is what it is (as my wise partner often says).
Many of the Pagans I have met have been as unhelpful about mental health problems as the Christians I used to know. Instead of “pray to Jesus for release from the demons of obsessive thoughts,” it’s now “take these herbs/do this meditation/think more positively, and you’ll be fine.” It’s almost always people who’ve never experienced mental health problems making these recommendations — if they knew what it was like, they would never wonder if ‘positive thinking’ can help. Even more frightening, to me, is a trend towards arguing that ‘natural’ things are better than ‘chemical’ ones. Well, belladonna’s natural, but it really wouldn’t be good for me to ingest it. Insisting that I should come off my very helpful medication, and replace it with a few random herbs that haven’t been tested on mental health conditions, is about as ridiculous as suggesting that I swallow belladonna. My medication is my lifeline. It gives me a break from the black flood. Who wouldn’t want that relief? And I speak only for myself — not for anyone else.
But maybe the tide is turning in the Pagan world. I see more and more people talking about their mental health problems, rather than hiding them for reasons of shame or fear. Cat Treadwell‘s new book Facing the Darkness is about depression from a Pagan perspective, for example. I’m really looking forward to reading it. We need more good stuff like that.
World Mental Health Day was last week. I’m having an ‘unsound mind’ week, this week.
The waters are rising. They will not overwhelm me.