Fantasies

Fantasies

The lyrics to “Row, row, row your boat” bring back a blissful summer morning in my great grandmother’s house (listen here if you’re oblivious https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoWkmdzcWmI). I was particularly taken aback by the line: life is but a dream. I was four or five and struck by this. It made me feel…like what happened outside of me didn’t matter. That only what happened inside my mind was important. I am now, obsessed with this idea.

Thanks, Grandma Rose.

Sigh.

Dreams, daydreams and fantasies are part of who we all are. Yet, they are an experience unique to each of us.

Dream, Baby Dream

No one really knows why we dream. But here’s what we do know, dreams during REM sleep (when we are in our deepest sleep) are more vivid and colorful than at other times. During dreams the emotional machinery is hard at work, while our the more analytical side is not. Evolutionary ideas suggest that dreaming is a “safe” way for us to learn as opposed to real experience.

There is evidence that dreaming helps us consolidate our memories. Other theories tell us that dreams help solve emotional issues28. Though most of us don’t remember, we have three to six dreams per night29.

If you sleep on your belly, you may have more erotic dreams. Genetics – twins and those with similar genetic predisposition for anxiety and stress are more likely to have nightmares than those with less similar genes. When the earth’s magnetic field’s activity is less, there is evidence of wilder dreams.

Cheese. No shit, Cheese.

Cheese has tryptophan to varying degrees impacting dreams. Cheddar seems to be related to dreams about celebrities, bleu cheese related to bizarre dreams and those who ate Red Lancashire had nostalgic dreams about family and childhood. What you hear and smell impact dreams. Good smells=good dreams and visa versa30.

Weird.

Only about 4% of dreams are about sex31.

Boo.

There are three schools of thought on dreams. First, Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory which states that dreams represent unconscious desires, wish fulfillment and personal conflicts. Activation-Synthesis theory suggest the brain is just trying to process stimuli from your limbic system (memories, emotions and sensations). Finally, Continual Activation Theory theorizes that dreams help “hold” our thoughts while they are converted from short-term memories to long-term31.

But…no one knows for sure.

Dreams are often considered the “purest and most archaic phenomenal expression of all the possible forms of mind-wandering”16.

Day Dreamer, Head in the Clouds

The Default Mode Network, is the part of the brain that activates when not taking part in a cognitive task. This network connects to the parts of the brain that controls sensory and emotional experience (limbic system and the prefrontal cortex). When activated, we call the result daydreaming. Activation of the DMN (default mode network) helps us think about our inner-experience, make moral decisions, understand what others are thinking and consider the future13. There also is evidence that it bolsters creativity and helps with recall23. Although daydreams are often person-specific, the emotional content may fall into one of two categories: Conquering Hero or Suffering Martyr24. It is thought that the older we are, the less we daydream.

Essentially, daydreaming is in opposition to cognitive tasks. Our brains have two “systems”, both necessary for survival. An analytic system that helps us solve problems and an empathetic system that helps us relate to others. When one is operating, the other is required to turn off25. This is where daydreaming gets a bad rap. We often forget what we are doing switching from problem solving mode to relate to others mode. This is where the teacher called on us and we suddenly realized we don’t even know what class we’re in.

Shit.

Researchers have posited that folks who daydream may be smarter and have more brain capacity. They may not be able to stop their minds from wandering26. However, studies show that the more our minds wander or the DMN is activated, the less happy we are. The same study shows that almost half the time, our minds are wondering27.

Maladaptive daydreaming is when an individual daydreams so severely their life functioning is impacted. Often these folks become addicted to daydreaming, preferring it over real life6. The individual’s productivity and interpersonal relationships are negatively affected10.

Can I make a self-diagnosis here?

Although not recognized as a disorder by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, there are many who believe it should be.

Better Fantasy, Than a Reality?

Fantasy ( ˈfan-tə-sē -zē )- N. – the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need31. Some people choose to fantasize about the past or future, other folks fantasize about being a superhero. Most people, even asexual people, fantasize about sex. The human mind is very sexual and sexual fantasy is one way that we get this need satisfied33.

The top five sexual fantasies in the US are: group sex, BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadochism and Masochism), novelty and adventure, taboo sex, and partner-sharing/non monogamous sex8. People are more likely to fantasize about their current romantic partner than celebrities and porn stars. Those who did act out their fantasies with their partners reported that the experience was at least good, if not better34. It is CRUCIALLY important to make sure that you have CONSENT from your partner when bringing your fantasy into reality.

Our sexual fantasies seem to reflect our personality traits. Those of us with a high level of openness to experience tend to have the wider ranging fantasy material. Those with a high level of conscientiousness had much more detail to their fantasies as well as a larger focus on the setting. They were also much more likely to conform to sexual norms. Highly extraverted folks fantasize about group sex and polyamory much more often. Agreeable people are less likely to fantasize about the taboo and want to feel that their partner is enjoying the experience just as much as they are. Us neurotic folk are more likely to fantasize about romance and passion35.

Generally, we all like to think about sex.

You have a dirty, mind.

Reality, is a Big F*cking Mystery

But the more scientists learn about psychology, neurology and physics, the less they understand reality. Physicist John Wheeler (the guy who coined the term black hole) said “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”

What the hell?

Neuroscience and Physics are at odds. Neurologists try to discover how there can be first-person reality and physicists try to understand how there can be anything but first-person reality36. As this paradox is revealed, it appears that reality is dependent on the observer.

Donald Hoffman, cognitive psychology professor at University of California, Irvine, has discovered a mathematically supported theory illustrating how we do not perceive the world as it truly it is. It is more like the desktop icon on a computer. The icons themelves are what we recognize as objects in reality, but what the icons access is raw data, ones and zeros. It does not have any meaning, only the icon has meaning. What is actually accessed by the icon is akin to what is we consider actual reality. This is referred to as Interface Theory. Further, we are more evolutionarily fit if we are more attuned to fittness than reality37. This means that seeing something different than reality may be a more survival savvy trait than being able to perceive what actually is.

Hoffman’s ideas are described as conscious realism. This theory suggests reality is just conscious agents or points of view through and through36 .

In the end, it is true that what happens inside our minds is the only important thing. Just like my original intuition at grandma Rose’s house, reality is dependent on my observations. Physics is finding this truth. And though this is no excuse to go off on some nihilistic rampage, it does seem to relieve some of the heaviness, the weight of life. This is a very broad realization in the quest to understand just what we are. A realization that doesn’t immediately hit home. Meaning, it takes some time to work it out emotionally and intellectually.

I believe it was Shakespeare who wrote: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

He was on to this in the 17th century! The real truth in this excerpt from Hamlet might be the latter part: Thinking makes it so.

Mind=blown.

References

1. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/sexual-fantasies#overview

2. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.huffpost.com/entry/what-your-sexual-fantasies-reveal-about-you_n_5bc8b6d3e4b0a8f17eea3227/amp

3. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-myths-sex/201809/what-our-sexual-fantasies-reveal-about-us%3famp

4. https://www.everydayhealth.com/mens-health-pictures/top-sexual-fantasies-for-men.aspx

5. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/391319/

6. https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/health/when-daydreaming-becomes-disorder-eli-somer-maladaptive-daydreaming-university-haifa

7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178119315550

8. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/qvmynb/five-most-common-sexual-kinks-fantasies

9. https://meteamedia.org/17965/opinions/there-should-be-a-spread-of-awareness-for-maladaptive-daydreaming/

10. https://studybreaks.com/thoughts/maladaptive-daydreaming-dangers-and-info/

11. https://www.google.com/amp/s/english.manoramaonline.com/news/campus-reporter/2019/05/07/confessions-of-a-maladaptive-daydreamer.amp.html

12. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pathological-relationships/201304/fantasy-and-its-effect-your-reality%3famp

13. https://www.psypost.org/2015/10/what-are-daydreams-and-is-there-an-evolutionary-purpose-to-them-38513

14. https://www.thecut.com/2017/03/how-imagination-makes-us-human.html

15. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20190805/New-theory-demystifies-evolution-of-human-imagination.aspx

16. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00522/full

17. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-myths-sex/201808/why-do-people-have-sexual-fantasies

18. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/08/why-did-we-evolve-imaginations/340279/

19. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181210144943.htm

20. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/excessive-daydreaming-symptom-of-mental-illness

21. https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/06/25/people-with-maladaptive-daydreaming-spend-an-average-of-four-hours-a-day-lost-in-their-imagination/

22. https://www.healthline.com/health/why-do-we-dream#the-role-of-dreams

23. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/19244.htm

24. https://www.psychologies.co.uk/self/what-your-daydreams-reveal-about-you.html

25. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/7/130716-daydreaming-science-health-brain/#close

26. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/daydream-intelligence-smart-study-lost-in-thought-meetings-mri-research-a8019391.html

27. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/mind/articles/2018-07-12/is-your-excessive-daydreaming-a-sign-of-a-more-serious-problem

28. https://theconversation.com/why-do-we-dream-135609

29. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284378#interpretations

30. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/54220/6-surprising-things-can-influence-your-dreams

31. https://www.healthline.com/health/facts-about-dreams#what-we-dream

32. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fantasy

33. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/fantasies#different-types-of-fantasies

34. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/24/health/sex-fantasies-kerner/index.html

35. https://www.lehmiller.com/blog/2018/8/17/what-your-sexual-fantasies-say-about-your-personality

36. https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-evolutionary-argument-against-reality-20160421/

37. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/the-illusion-of-reality/479559/

Know Thyself

Know Thyself

Who are we?

Aristotle famously wrote “knowing yourself is the beginning of all knowledge.” Buddhism teaches the idea of the “self” is an illusion and enlightenment lies just beyond the gateway of this understanding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts growth for marriage and family counselors – much faster than average11. Online counseling sites like Better Help and Talk Space are popping up, providing more access. The Self-Help Industry is on trajectory to become a $13 billion dollar industry by 202224. Our cell phone addictions increase our anxiety disturbing our sleep, increasing social comparison (IE social media) and making it difficult to disconnect17. Millennials have experienced a 47% increase in major depression diagnoses since 2013 illustrated by a rise in deaths related to alcohol, drugs or suicide16.

Pretty fucking bleak.

We don’t seem to know who we are. We need more help than ever and many are not getting it. Lives are being destroyed.

What the hell is going on?

Reportedly, Aristotle sat like this when he thought really hard.

What is it that we want?

Ask yourself, right now. What do you want?

Seriously, ask.

A donut? A new Tesla?

Let’s break it down to life dimensions: How do you want to spend your career? What kind of financial life works for you? What kind of spirituality or inner life do you want to experience? What kind of family do you want to be belong to? What do you want to do socially? What kind of physical fitness do you want to have?

Chances are, the answers to these questions doesn’t represent our current status.

I remember being younger thinking “If I only made X dollars, then I’d be happy.” I’d hit the target and soon I’d want more. This is The Hedonic Treadmill, the idea that we humans go right back to our baseline level of happiness no matter what happens to us. What a crock of shit survival mechanism!

There was a CD (remember those?) that I was very excited to buy. When it finally came out, I obsessively bought it every time I saw it. I end up with about eight copies. Why? Just to get that excited feeling that I got the first time I bought it! I was after that feeling, not the actual item.

I still do this shit, sometimes.

Insanity? Yes.

I am a dopamine addict. I know this about myself. At times, it manifests as a shopping problem.

When I got divorced, I remember thinking “Well, Ryan. The whole world is fucked up and you’re the only normal one. I guess this is just that hand that we’ve been dealt.” How narcissistic, self-absorbed and self-sabotaging!

Point being – I wasn’t self-aware. I didn’t know myself. How could I possibly know what I want.

But we’re not naturally good at knowing ourselves. In fact, to a degree we’re better at knowing other people than ourselves1. As wise, old Aristotle said, we’re better if we get to know ourselves. Studies show that people who are better able to reflect on their thoughts and emotions were able to make more sound decisions3.

Great!

Now what?

How do we learn to know ourselves?

No easy answer, here. Most people believe they are self-aware, but only 10-15% of people rate highly in the following criteria. First, internal-awareness. This is how we see our values, passions and aspirations fit in with our environment and those in it. So, if I internally believe that I am a generous person, but I consistently pass on the opportunity to donate to a charity, I may not have internal self-awareness. Get it?

Second, external self-awareness is how we believe others see our values, passions and aspirations and how they fit with our our environment and the folks in it. So if I’m trying out for American Idol and am tone deaf, I might not understand that the judges can tell that type of thing20.

Create “space” for yourself. Pause, collect yourself and your thoughts. Go about things more slowly. Be mindful. Find your flow state25. Consider your thoughts, how you feel. Don’t become your thoughts or feelings just be aware of them. Identify where you are spending energy and focus. You can do this by meditating, journaling, running or working out22.

Listen to others with the intent to hear and learn new perspectives about yourself. The more you listen, the better you get at listening and the better you get at listening to your inner voice22.

Cultivate purpose! Read, research shows a strong correlation between adolescents who read fiction and poetry and having a stronger sense of purpose. Also, having a grateful mindset can also lead to a stronger sense of purpose. Find your people, your community and help build it. You should feel inspired by those around you. This could be a cornerstone to your purpose14.

But…There is no me…?

In his book, Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright writes that human perception is designed to mislead and even enslave us. Our perceptions do not reflect what may actually be occurring in the world around us. Wright references the Modular Minds theory. The theory suggests that there are several modes of the mind that rotate being “in charge” driving survival dependent on the situation. Depending on the mode, the “self” changes5.

The self-protective mode causes fear and anger, fosters defensive reactions. When being chased by a lion, we run! This is the protective mode is in charge. On the other hand, we aren’t feeling lust as we might when the sexy music is playing and we are seeing the bare skin of our partner. This would occur when the reproductive mode was in charge.

Other examples of modes may include mate-selection, mate-retention and cheater-detection. No consensus on how many. Yet, this suggests that our perception of reality is always changing and not consistent or reliable.

Our emotions are designed to steer us towards activities that are conducive to survival23. The thoughts and feelings filling our minds helped our ancestors survive. But they’re not always helping us.

Mmmmmm…. Donuts

We get deluded by our experiences. We may love and crave donuts. But once we eat one, the craving is gone and we feel … worse. Blood sugar spikes and now it’s nap time. This is where we run into problems. The craving for sugary foods evolved in an environment, very much unlike our own. This craving is so powerful because it had to drive us for long enough to get to food! This now plays out in our lives in a new evolutionary scenario. Donuts are abundant, there is no longer a need for such a powerful craving. But still, because of the intensity, we binge. And … we regret.

A Tibetan Monk and mediation teacher, Mingyor Rinpoche, teaches that happiness is choosing to become “aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them”5. Understanding that thoughts and feelings occur outside of our control, mindfulness meditation is a tool to become aware of and let go of them. Thoughts and feelings are the part of “self” that secular buddhism’s philosophy teaches to chip away at. This principle is called the “no self”, the idea that thoughts and feelings are part of the self, but not in our control . When we fully recognize and exert control over our thoughts and feelings, we achieve – “no self“.

Neurologists and psychologists have identified the Default Network Mode. This is the voice inside your head. Let’s prove its existence…

Don’t think.

Don’t have one thought.

Okay?

Good?

It’s impossible.

The thoughts just pop in there. This is the Default Network Mode. Essentially focusing on anything but the “now”, the DNM is associated with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia26. A 2010 study on happiness found that when the mind is free to wander, we’re less happy25. So we return to the concept of flow – your optimal state of consciousness. During activities that bring flow, your dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex – your inner critic– turns off. You are left feeling free of yourself, levels of creativity and risk taking increase26.

The Dark Side

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for those 10-34. Depression is the number one reason for disability worldwide and the economic impact is estimated to be $210 billion per year. A recent CDC survey found that as income levels rise, depression levels decrease13. Many people report money and finances as a significant stress. For the last 50 years, wages have stagnated while purchasing power has declined 13%, for the middle class. But, it’s more than money. “They [jobs] are the basis for the rituals, customs and routines of working-class life”29.

Health care costs have risen from $2000 per year in 1999 to $6896 per year in 2017, for the average person29. Researchers believe that if more people had access to “high-quality, evidence based physical and mental health care” the rise of deaths of despair could be curbed30. A third of adults that need treatment for depression, don’t get it13.

This paints a shitty painting of life. Reading these very facts is enough to leave you feeling hopeless. I’m sorry I brought it up…

Do You.

It’s important to start with yourself. Ask the hard questions – Why do all my relationships end so terribly? Why don’t I have any close relationships? Why am I so unmotivated?

Or, they might be something like Why am I always being dumped? Why does everyone owe me money? Why do I keep spending so much money on useless things? Why do I feel like an imposter at work?

The answer to these questions, though daunting to face, could be a life changer. Who we are now, has much to do with our past experiences. However, we might not often make the connection to how it influences our behavior today. In our relationships is often how we encounter many of these questions. We may be frightened to face some of these things, but being vulnerable is how we can make the most meaningful relationships21. Open up in your relationships. Meaningful relationships increase emotional, physical and mental health in a very positive way31.

Find your way of getting into flow. For me it’s writing this blog that (you may be the only one) you’re reading. For you it may be yoga. Confront yourself, use what you’ve been taught from your relationships and use it to improve yourself. Self-reflection can be a very powerful tool. Learn to not be governed by your thoughts and emotions. Answer those questions that I posed at the beginning and celebrate when the answers are completely different a week, year or month from now.

An idea similarly share by Alan Watts, famous British writer and speaker, and Eckart Tolle, spiritual teacher, we are the universe perceiving itself in all of its chaotic, mysterious, terrifying and beautiful ways.

It really does sound like what’s going on in my mind.

What about you?

1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201504/the-last-thing-you-want-someone-tell-you?collection=1073522

2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200805/dare-be-yourself?collection=1073522

3. https://theconversation.com/want-to-be-happier-try-getting-to-know-yourself-109451

4. https://research.vu.nl/en/publications/know-yourself-an-adaptive-causal-network-model-for-therapeutic-in

5. Why Buddhism is real – Book – Mind Modules

6. https://www.jstor.org/account/workspace/

7. Quotes for the beginning: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/53509411-why-buddhism-is-true-the-science-and-philosophy-of-meditation-and-enlig

8. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/helping-humanity-thrive/202005/self-harming-we-all-do-it

9. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/self-sabotage

10. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ethics-everyone/201112/know-thyself

11.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/marriage-and-family-therapists.htm

12. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322877#What-is-anxiety?

13. https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-statistics-everyone-should-know-4159056

14. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_find_your_purpose_in_life

15. https://blog.pachamama.org/we-are-the-universe-becoming-aware-of-itself

16. https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-mental-health-burnout-lonely-depressed-money-stress#deaths-of-despair-are-also-on-the-rise-3

17. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/mental-health/managing-stress-and-anxiety-the-digital-age-the-dark-side-technology

18. https://www.psychalive.org/finding-yourself/

19. https://today.uconn.edu/2018/08/know-thyself-philosophy-self-knowledge/#

20. https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it

21. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/become-an-i-specialist-improve-yourself#1

22. https://www.lifehack.org/574450/really-strong-predictor-success-self-awareness-with-ways-boost

23. https://philosophynow.org/issues/131/Why_Buddhism_Is_True_by_Robert_Wright

24. https://medium.com/s/story/no-please-help-yourself-981058f3b7cf

25.https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/

26. https://medium.com/swlh/the-brains-default-mode-what-is-it-and-why-meditation-is-the-antidote-d0408ab989d6

27. http://www.uvm.edu/pdodds/files/papers/others/2010/killingsworth2010a.pdf

28. https://medium.com/swlh/the-brains-default-mode-what-is-it-and-why-meditation-is-the-antidote-d0408ab989d6

29. https://newrepublic.com/article/156852/deaths-despair-rising

30 https://www.newsweek.com/what-so-called-deaths-despair-experts-say-rise-1481975

31. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/can-relationships-boost-longevity-and-well-being

Drugs

Drugs are bad.

That is what I was taught, growing up. Aspirin was for wusses. Tough guys handled pain. Anti-depressants, stimulants, SSRI’s, hallucinogens, opiates and anti-inflammatories … these were all things that other people did. Even though I certainly took part in some, it was still an others based activity. I didn’t like the idea of drugs.

Approaching forty, I feel differently. Not too long ago, I had open heart surgery. Now I have to take a daily regiment of blood thinners as a result. My life is saved because of drugs, daily. I also take drugs for attention. It works like a miracle.

For those of us who have had a similar experiences, maybe we’re wrong about drugs?

Drugs

Dictionary.com defines drug as “a chemical substance used in the treatment, cure, prevention, or diagnosis of disease or used to otherwise enhance physical or mental well-being.”1 Like most things, our basic feelings on drugs come from our childhood and early experiences with the concept. From there, we are largely socialized in our beliefs about drugs.

When I was young, no one came and told me not to take Ibuprofen. But I saw my role models around me react and respond to being solicited drugs.

“I don’t take medication.” Was said.

The parents weren’t big partiers or drinkers.

“Beer? No, thanks.” My father would reply.

Also, I had personal experience with drugs. I was given Benadryl when I was a young kid and slept for days. Scary. Later, I listened my teacher’s suggestion that I had ADD (before it was called ADHD) and that medication could help. I had symptoms throughout my life that became major roadblocks. My parents declined.

Point being –I agreed with my parents. I didn’t need drugs.

And so I took on this “drugs are bad” attitude. Who needs this pesky medicine stuff!

In an undergraduate neurology course, I saw a scan of a person’s brain before anti-depressants and after.

Completely.

Different.

Brains.

I was horrified! I concluded that if you took Xanax, you ceased to be you. You weren’t physically the same, a different person altogether!

I saw taking drugs to help with depression (or really anything else) as a weakness because of this weak-ass connection I made (wow, I’m feeling embarrassment right now for ever thinking this). I made a quiet judgements on those who did drugs of any kind.

Attempting pre-med in college, I read the same page for the forth time. My racing mind just wouldn’t absorb the information.

I know, I know. This is common, but this was the norm for me. Best I could squeeze out was C’s. In the end, I decided I couldn’t cut it because I just couldn’t study. And of course … I’m probably not smart enough.

Maybe drugs would have helped.

For many, similar experiences helped shape thier feelings on drugs.

Opinions on Drugs

drugs

Studies show that people’s feelings on drugs are shaped by the media.2 In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s the “War on Drugs” mantra created Just Say No! and D.A.R.E. These programs taught children the dangers of drugs and drug abuse. Research now suggests these programs had little effect on whether children grew up to do drugs or not.3

Most now consider the “War on Drugs” a failure.4 Although, the idea of initially preventing young people to try addictive or harmful substances seems sound enough, not much success is attributed to these programs.

Then, the term “Big Pharma” may come to mind. Access to drugs and the social issues therein, complicates our calculus. In 2015, CEO of a large pharmaceutical company raised the price on a life saving drug 5,000%, pricing it out of reach for most who actually need it.5

What a dick.

A $1.2 trillion dollar industry6, Big Pharma is the gatekeeper to necessary drugs for many of us. This can often lead us to a fork in the road where we have to decide if it is something we want to support or be a part of or not.

The perception of people who use drugs feeds our feelings. “Crackhead”, “Junkie”, “Pothead” and other derogatory titles come to mind. This social distinction certainly feeds in to our negativity on drug use.

There is a growing effort to change the perception on drug use and dependency. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that more than 45% of incarcerations are due to drug offenses.7 Our societal perception of drugs manifest in this statistic. At least the idea that incarceration may not be the proper way to address drug use is being discussed.

drugs
This is how many of us still perceive drug users.(drugs)

To illustrate how perceptions of drug use have changed in recent history, a survey conducted in the early 20th century found that 75% self-identified as addicted to drugs.8 This is before the opiate and cocaine-based drugs were made illegal and the current stigma placed on them. These folks also had steady and respectable jobs. There was a time when our current stigma was not the norm.

How Drugs Work

Drugs change or enhance the natural chemical factories inside our bodies. These chemicals affect the cells in our bodies in two ways: natural agonists produce a response when they bind to the receptor of a cell causing it to activate. And natural antagonists block the receptor causing activity in that cell to cease.

So, there are two ways a drug functions: as an unnatural agonist or an unnatural antagonist. Endorphins are natural agonists for the opioid receptors. Activation of these receptors creates a euphoric response. Our natural “high”. Morphine is an artificial agonist that causes the cell to activate in the same way.9

An antagonist blocks the receptors to inhibit a cell response. Caffeine is an antagonist that works by blocking adenosine receptors, which makes us sleepy. 10

It’s all very complicated beyond this point.

In sum, drugs mess with the chemical reactions in our bodies which change the way our bodies function and many times, feel.

Stimulants

Stimulants produce dopamine in the body, which is a pleasure causing chemical. In a 2006 study, it was found that ADHD drugs (IE. Ritalin, Adderall) seem to enhance activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for attention, decision making and expression of personality .11 The downfall, is that stimulants are very addictive.

I guess we all want to live in a dopamine soaked world.

Sigh.

At the ripe old age of 39, I have finally officially been diagnosed with ADHD and now take medication for it.

Change? Improvement?

I notice that whatever I am now doing, I like to finish it to completion. This has not historically been a cornerstone of my personality. The medication helps me feel engaged in my work.

There is a Madmen episode in which Draper reports something like I feel like I’m scratching my at my life trying to get in, but I can’t. This is how I felt before taking meds.

However, if it came down to addiction or going off the drugs, I’d like to think I’d choose going off the drugs.

Narcotics

Narcotics are drugs that dull the senses, take the edge off. Opioids and Narcotics are, for the most part, synonymous. Agonists, they are used to treat chronic pain and are highly addictive. Eighty percent of the world’s prescriptions are consumed by Americans and up to one third of patients who take opioids become addicted to them.12

I have NOT had any good experiences with narcotics. Upon waking up from surgery, I was so worried there was going to be pain that I clicked that fentanyl pump immediately. Simply put, I did not like what I experienced.

Flames shot up from the both sides of the bed in the step-down facility. At the end of the hellish tunnel of flames, my mother and my ex-wife were trying to kill me and get my life insurance money!

Of course, that was a hallucination.

NEVER AGAIN did I click that pump.

For the rest of my recovery, I used aspirin.

Opioids are bad news. I had a friend pass from a heroin overdose. He was clean for years. The night before his birthday, he died, needle in arm. Perhaps the scariest thing about addiction to opioids (and addiction in general) is that it does not go away.

If you know someone battling Opioid addiction, call the American Psychological Organization 888-881-6729.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter a person’s perceptions of their surroundings and thoughts. Generally, they are split into two categories: hallucinogens and dissociatives. Hallucinogens such as LSD, Psilocybin and DMT work through disrupting chemical communication throughout the brain. Disassociative drugs, such as PCP and Ketamine, disrupt glutamate, which regulates pain, emotion and response to surroundings.13

Even though it remains a schedule 1 FDA regulated drug (that means its illegal), current research is suggesting that psilocybin may help with depression, anxiety and addiction. Micro-dosing (taking small, managed doses) psilocybin appears to increase productivity and creativity.14

Personally, I hadn’t tried hallucinogens until later in life. At one point (you can consider me crazy, here) I had an experience during one of these “trips”, remembering what it felt like before I was born. There was a before.

I can’t do a better job explaining it.

It was a truly wonderful experience and one that changed many perspectives that I had previously.

Addiction and Danger

Of course the trouble with many drugs is that they are addictive and dangerous. Drugs, especially the most addictive types, release chemicals in the brain normally released when taking part in activities required for survival (IE exercising, eating or bonding).15 When our brain is healthy, it rewards these types of behavior with dopamine or other chemicals that make us feel good. When this is threatened, often our brains will release stress inducing chemicals in order to tell us: “Hey, this is real bad and…yeah… you could die“. Ceasing to do addictive drugs can cause the release of these stress chemicals. This could be perceived by the brain as a survival threat. This causes such severe stress on the body, it literally feels like the choice is life or death until the drug is taken. This is called withdrawal. This reaction is the biological root to addiction.

Opioid overdose can lead to death, overwhelming the opioid receptors and slowing the body the point of respiratory failure. One hundred and thirty people die everyday from an opioid overdose.16 Opioids are also extremely addictive. A double-dangerous drug. A third of folks prescribed opioids, end up addicted to them. It literally may feel like they’ll die if they don’t take the drug. And that’s dangerous.

These fairly new understandings suggest there should be a reconsideration of our drug enforcement policies in our country. Again, A LOT of people incarcerated were most likely experiencing addiction in the terms above.

So… some drugs are bad?

I guess my parents were essentially sharing their fears regarding drugs. Perhaps they didn’t understand and only knew the real bad stuff – like opioid deaths.

So … because we didn’t understand, we demonized?

How human of us.

Listen, opioids scare the hell out of me. No thank you, opioids. But, I think many drugs, when properly prescribed and understood by the person taking them, are both life changing, helpful and in many cases so much more than that.

It’s important that we culturally adjust our perceptions on drug use and addiction. It is not a sign of weakness to become addicted to drugs, but akin to an illness. The choice to use drugs is a personal one, and can be a powerful tool in living a meaningful and productive life.

REFERENCES

1. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/drugs?s=t

2. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2017. “The World Drug Perception Problem 2017” https://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/reports/changing-perceptions Pg. 26.

3. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2017. “The World Drug Perception Problem 2017” https://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/reports/changing-perceptions Pg. 24

4. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2017. “The World Drug Perception Problem 2017” https://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/reports/changing-perceptions Pg. 20

5. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/09/martin-shkrelis-legacy-shaping-the-drug-pricing-debate.html

6. https://pharmaceuticalcommerce.com/business-and-finance/global-pharma-spending-will-hit-1-5-trillion-in-2023-says-iqvia/

7. https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp

8. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2017. “The World Drug Perception Problem 2017” https://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/reports/changing-perceptions Pg. 24

9. https://theconversation.com/explainer-how-do-drugs-work-48665

10. https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_03/i_03_m/i_03_m_par/i_03_m_par_cafeine.html

11. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060626091749.htm

12. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

13. http://drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens

14. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/benefits-of-medical-mushrooms#The-state-of-psilocybin-research-

15. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/10/biology-addiction

16. https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/prescription-drug-overdose/index.html

COVID-ality Types

Among the conspiracy theories, family in-fighting, social distancing and our leaders giving us new and potentially contradictory information on a daily basis, there exists an experience. I am referring to my own, and of course, your individual experience. When the COVID-19 outbreak first began, my business began to slow dramatically. When the shut down came, I was truly surprised. I thought maybe it would be a week or so before things returned to “normal”. Perhaps it was an overreaction and the guys and gals in charge were taking big, politically motivated steps to make it seem they were doing all they could to maintain the public health. But it turns out things are pretty serious. Some eight weeks later, current circumstances heralded in by the COVID-19 virus have become the norm. 

Now, quarantined, the economy in the tank, jobs lost, savings depleted, this virus has …changed us. Our personas have become stress tested. During this quarantine, pandemic or whatever less triggering title you may choose to put on it, I have noted what I’ll call COVID-alities. 

No, that’s terrible. 

But you get the point. 

Personality, under these circumstances, is different. Is it the stress of the change?

The “not knowing”?

Loss of control?

Worrying about getting ill?

Whatever it is, it’s become damn interesting. Here are some observations on the new cult of person(COVID)ality .

The Expert

Probably the most irritating Covid-ality to me is the Expert. The Expert knows exactly what must be done, how I (and thereby, you) should act and what it will take to defeat the virus. Or, conversely, how we should prepare for our ruin. They might say “If I were president, this would be handled differently.” 

Now, whether you believe the virus is a danger or not, either way you can still exist in this category. You might feel the protective social tactics being taught during this pandemic is uncalled for and overkill. Therefore, you might have been the guy ahead of me in Home Depot yesterday going on and on and on and on (and on and on) to everyone around him about how “ridiculous” social distancing and masks are. Then proceeding to throw around a statistic that he heard somewhere comparing the flu to H1N1 or some other shit, from a source he wasn’t sure of, that he just trusts…just because it appeals to his current emotional state.

Or, you might be the person having a panic attack about how we should shut everything down. You’re on the phone with your friends  talking about how “they” should order people to stay home and begin age triage with our elderly in order to preserve medical care for those of us who are young and can carry on the human race once the virus wipes us all out! 

The Expert is the person sitting in the doctor’s office yelling at another person for not wearing their mask properly. The Expert is the person you see on social media protesting or mem-ing about foolish mask wearing. 

The Expert is Donald Trump. 

The Expert Type of COVID-ality is totally fed by the extreme nature of our news cycle. It’s got to be one or the other, a giant hoax or a world ender…gotta have a sellable label, and it’s got to be extreme. Hook, line and sinker, the evidence is there for either side to prove their position and drive themselves and everyone around them completely mad.  

Awesome, thanks.

Experts need a sense of control. That’s what this is about. 

Fine, I get it. It’s based in fear. They think “before someone tells me thier worries, I’m going to explain how it works in my mind”. Experts don’t want their certainty threatened. Their sense of control has replaced their sense of safety. This may be true for most of us, but for the Expert – it’s at a whole different level. 

The Prophet

Hmmm… The End Times. As far as I know, the Earth will be engulfed by the sun in about five billion years – I think I learned that in a Vandals song in the nineties. Where did this idea of the End Times even come from? Not sure? Ask your local Prophet! S/He will be sure to tell you that this is g(G)od’s way of punishing the human race for our sins and that the End Times are upon us. The only thing to do is repent. Sin will only drive the plague on further. 

Not much you can do with the Prophet. End Times have been predicted throughout the course of human history from the days of the Old Testament to the Branch Davidians. Every time there is a world event, be it a catastrophe, pandemic or war etcetera, the Prophet is there to tell you how terrible humanity is. And this is what we all truly deserve, pandemic. The hearts and minds of the Prophet are not easily won. I mean they have been promised eternity in paradise, right?

 If you fall into this category, it can probably enhance your social bonds with those who feel similarly. If not, this type may seem out of touch, insane and impossible to communicate with. This type has become such a cliche, that I think everyone understands where we’re going.

Similarly to the Expert, The Prophet needs control. They get this feeling of control through surrendering it to god. Or God…(Thought: I truly don’t know if I should capitalize god, I don’t want to offend anyone. I want to be accurate. That is all.)

The Aloof

The aloof really aren’t that aloof. They are just suffering from what is called the Normalcy Bias. The Normalcy Bias is the tendency for us all to resume to our normal activity even when the world may be burning to the ground around us. This is why people are often caught unprepared in the middle of disaster or crisis. They just keep going on no matter the warnings or happenings that aren’t so normal. And when the tragedy hits, they often ask “Why is no one helping us?” 

The Aloof are often unaware of the potential hazards surrounding COVID and are just sort of playing follow the leader with whoever is around them at this moment in time. Opposite of The Expert and The Prophet, The Aloof does not want control. They want to remain in the back and get by with out being noticed. They don’t want to make decisions and rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting and the thinking. Nothing will ever be their fault, and they will never take the lead or have an original idea. 

Now, this group is probably the biggest spreader of the virus (this is my professional opinion as a sociology expert). Maybe they are too busy with work, kids or simple self-absorption to take time to understand what is going on. (Note: I am not a sociology expert) Or, maybe they are so unplugged from everything that they simply aren’t aware of the potential risks purported by media and culture regarding COVID-19. These types also tend to listen to all of the media banter about COVID, but don’t end up really listing a position either way. For these folks (I believe this may be most people) reality does not hit until it hits. Ouch. This sounds painful. 

Hey Aloof dude, wash your hands…this shit is serious. 

The Rational

Maybe this title is an oxymoron. The Rational seeks understanding through thinking of all possibilities and gathering as much data as possible. As the data changes, so do the beliefs of the Rational. This can appear as insanity to those who are close with a Rational. The Rational understands there is data to back up just about any argument and that many others aren’t aware of this. Often people that do, use it for their benefit. Could this be the case here with COVID-19?

What about UFO’s?

The Rational would argue with the Expert, ask endless questions of the Prophet, try to outthink the Conspiracy Theorists (see below) and become impatient and angry with the Aloof. Always collecting data trying to make sense of it…. also knowing that data’s interpretation varies from time to time, person to person and from perspective to perspective.

Maybe this title, the Rational, is an oxymoron.

The Rational is going to think and think and think. All his/her decisions will be based on strategy. Even if they really feel they need to go browse clothes and shoes at Target, they will stay home. Even if they really miss their friends, they will not throw a house party or attend one. Stick to the plan.

Often s/he will rationalize. For example, the Rational might think: “I am not scared of death so why am I scared not scared of a virus?” The Rational’s worst fear is being out strategized, even by a virus. Being caught with your pants down, as it is said. 

There is contingency for how to get in your car, how to leave for work and where the locations of personal protective equipment are. This is the ultimate level of control, safety. Knowing exactly what one can impact and control and only worry about those things. There’s an agenda for what will be cleaned in the house each day during the lockdown.

When interacting with loved ones they will very plainly bring up the the necessary behaviors that they believe will protect them and ask that they follow through on these items. Rationals are okay with admitting their feelings of loss of control. They will refer to their well thought out plan when the need for safety arrives knowing full well that even the best laid plans have holes in them. 

The Rational may seem like an Aloof at times, internally concerned with themselves. They may get their mind stuck in a certain direction like the Conspiracy Theorist or the Expert, but this is not their main safety mechanism as it is in those types. As a matter of fact, the Rational needs to do more to spread the word about their thought process that could help other people instead of being so damn stuck in their own heads. 

The Conspiracy Theorist 

Ahhhh…. The Conspiracy Theorist. Truth is really stranger than fiction, isn’t it? Actually, this often isn’t the case. Just trying to get my friends, the Conspiracy Theorists going, here.

Usually, this type of personality has found a way for the world to make sense inside of a certain framework. IE politics, power, astrology etc. Conspiracy Theorists cannot see why anyone would see the world differently. “If we could only convince them!” They might think. “But… they think we’re crazy.”

Yep. We do. 

The problem with Conspiracy Theories (again, my professional opinion) is that yes, there probably was a Democrat who thought this pandemic was a way to ruin Trump. Or someone in the Chinese government that saw this pandemic as to their advantage. Now, whether or not the media unilaterally conspired behind closed doors to do this as a unit is a ridiculous question. Some persons in the media did for certain. But scope is the problem. The scope is never large enough in these gray areas to support a conspiracy theory. The scope the Conspiracy Theorist needs to have a working theory is almost never there. 

So yeah, Miss Conspiracy Theory, your theory is true to a small degree. But that’s not the whole story. You see, there is a bunch of other stuff going on outside of the thought framework you’re using that you’re not considering. So while we’re in a Pandemic during Jupiter In retrograde, there’s probably a little bit more to the story than that as being the cause of all this chaos.

Again, it’s about feeling like you’re in control. I get it. I have that need too.

Covidalities

So if you made it this far, you’re probably wondering “Hey you judgmental ass hat, where do you fit in all this?” And I’m probably being nice about your “thoughts”. Completely normal reaction. Truth be told, I see a little of myself in all of the above, but I don’t fit nicely into one COVIDality.  

I thought some of the measures were a little extreme the state and federal government had taken at first. But if I was in charge and looking at the numbers that they were, I would have made similar decisions. As we begin discussing reopening the economy, I’m nervous. 

I don’t know anyone that has gotten sick. I understand that we know very little about the virus and that a vaccine is at least 18 months out. 

I get upset when I see someone not wearing a mask in public. I think to myself, “I’m not doing this for me, mask-less bro. You should wear a mask, too.” 

I believe that even if I am as careful as possible (if there was a careful scale that went from 0-100 and 100 was the highest and I scored 100) all it would take was for someone to cough on a surface in public, for me to touch that surface and then scratch my eye and I’m infected. 

I’m being … rational about it. Yeah. That’s it…

Just as in any group, it is important to get along with members of the other group. That is the purpose of identifying groups. Family members may fall into the Expert Group as they do for me. I still love them, even though they have all the answers and no one will listen to them! The benefit of “groups” is to understand their belief system so that you CAN connect with them. Not to say “Hey man, this is my side of the room…that’s yours (points across room).” Understand. 

In closing, to the Expert, I wish someone would give you a public forum so that you could teach us all. Mr. Rational, please rethink your systems, you may have missed something. To the Conspiracy Theorist, I hope Netflix calls you about that special, the world needs to know. And to my lovely, Aloof, do what everyone else is telling you to do. It’ll save lives. Maybe yours. And to the Prophet, I really hope you’re wrong about the end times this time as well. But if your not, I guess… you were right! We should have listed before it was too late. 

So I’ll let you decided where I belong. You’re going to anyway…

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