Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nothing More than Feelings

So you go to a conference, you get good feedback, you meet other writers, you meet editors, agents, whatever, you're among Your People and everybody Gets It and you're all hopped up to write, and then you get home.

And the letdown starts. You talked too much, or too little, or to the wrong people, or at the wrong time. You pushed yourself into that group, you talked too much in that panel, or you missed your chance to ask an important question in that one, the questions raised in your critique suddenly seem impossible to answer, or like they shouldn't need answering unless the audience is stupid or you were.

The first condition is caused by the rush of adrenaline and other invigorating chemicals in your brain caused by the conference experience. The second is what happens when you come down off the high. Maybe you've depleted those chemicals, or maybe you got so high that your normal level feels low. The point is, your feelings have physical causes. Your interpretations of those feelings are not necessarily valid.

Sometimes you feel bad because you messed up. Sometimes you think you messed up because you feel bad. Sometimes you even think that someone was mean to you because you feel bad and you can't find a point at which you messed up. Sometimes you start probing for the cause of a bad feeling, and make yourself worse as you make up explanations which you decide are true. So-and-so hates me. I did something wrong.

My life got much, much simpler when I learned to distinguish between feelings that were legitimate responses to exterior stimuli, and feelings that reflected only my interior physical state. That's why I'm such a drag at meal times even though I enjoy eating more than any two other people I know. If I don't eat properly, my sugar does bizarre things and I become crabby, or depressed, or manic. Ditto if I get tired, or overstimulated. When exterior stimuli come along in that state, all my instinctive reactions are skewed and inappropriate. So I don't take them seriously. I ride them out and distract myself with productive activities till I get some seratonin going. I feed them chocolate and potatoes, the perfect foods.

My friends get it. My not-friends run away as fast as they can the first time I start crying uncontrollably while talking calmly, or yell at them over nothing and then, still yelling, explain that I'm having a sugar fit and am going to go eat something to fix it, nothing to worry about, carry on.

I think it's particularly important for people dealing with teen-agers, whether directly or through a medium, to recognize this; because all that teen angst you went through? Mostly down to bodies changing multiplied by the stressors of modern teen life, from sleep deprivation to fast food to social pressure. All the drama queen antics of high school, all the pep rallies and sad poetry and spectacular romances, have their sources in chemical reactions in the brain, which the owner of the brain interprets as best she can.

One of the things books and media do is give people models by which to interpret their chemical reactions, so it behooves those of us who create books and media to bear it in mind.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, I have a picture of you bawling and speaking calmly. Good thing to know as I get to know you. I get crabby when I'm hungry and tired. Been this way since I was a wee thing. I lose my normal good patience, become frustrated more easily. It think its more common that we might realize/know/think.