The Chemistry of Despair 2

In our last post, I described the sensations of my sense of despair. It felt like I was attacked by my emotions while recovering from  major surgery. The chemicals introduced to my body at that time caused reactions at both my physical and emotional levels of perception. I think the anesthetic medication left me feeling desperately alone, deeply depressed, and despairing to the point of hopelessness.

In the moment I experienced that episode in my life, I believed the messages of despair with which my mind was flooded. I just KNEW all was lost. I recognized that this feeling was foreign to my day-to-day expression of life, which is one of cheerfulness, humor, warmth, and gratitude.

The comparison between what I was feeling IN THE MOMENT and what I feel day-to-day was stark enough that I noticed the difference. This noticing prompted me to attribute my dark mood to chemistry – a temporary condition over which I thought I could exert some control.

I used attribution to temporarily and therapeutically assign a cause to an effect.

The effect was the feeling of despair. The cause was unknown (really!) – so rather than continue with an unknown cause, along with its attendant fears and concerns, I chose instead to assign a cause that I could manage – chemistry and time – I could wait for the chemicals to leave my body, taking with them my feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Them vs Me

Recently, I experienced feeling low – unappreciated, unnoticed, invisible to those I care about. I had reasons: THEY didn’t notice me, THEY didn’t do what I asked them to do, THEY didn’t… THEY didn’t… THEY didn’t… The list was long and dark. It was obvious to me that the cause of my blues was THEM – NOT ME.

There is a problem with that way of thinking, though. When the cause of my feeling is NOT IN ME, neither is the solution. I can complain to and coerce others and MAYBE they will change their behaviors to suit my need – and maybe NOT! When the cause of my feeling is NOT IN ME, I really have NO CONTROL or real POWER over it, adding hopelessness and helplessness to the feelings list.

“Could it be something I ate?”

As soon as I brought the feeling home – IN ME – by owning my feelings and then assigning to the feeling a cause I could control and manage – the dark mood left me! The change was virtually instant.

As my diet is one of the easiest things for me to control, it felt natural for me to take control of my FEELINGS and MOOD in this way. I asked myself, “Could I be feeling out of sorts because of something I ate?” Even ASKING changed the way I felt.

In a flash, I considered the food I’d eaten recently, picked something I didn’t normally eat (the donut I had for breakfast), and assigned it as the probable cause of my mood. It didn’t seem to matter that donuts had never done this to me before. My mood seemed to improve, at least temporarily, simply because I had taken charge by assigning a “What if” CAUSE to my issue. It didn’t matter whether that attribution or misattribution was realistic.

magical misattribution

I moved the cause of my mood from not me to me. By assigning to me the responsibility for my moods in a new way, my body was more cooperative – the placebo effect had an immediate and marked response that seemed to work for me.

It must be clearly understood that misattribution can be an emotional band-aid. It helped me manage an uncomfortable moment in my life THAT MORNING. As soon as I could, I scheduled a counseling session to deal with the REAL issues I faced at the time. This was an emotional band-aid intended as a temporary fix until competent help could be accessed to find lasting solutions.


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