Recognize Your Brain is Running Old Software

Yesterday I went for a walk outside by myself. “Big deal” is what most people would say. But it’s not something I’ve done since my diagnosis changed from panic disorder to bipolar disorder to bipolar disorder with treatment-resistant depression. Everyone says “get out” and “get fresh air,” “it will make you feel better.”

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream by Edvard Munch

I didn’t want to go but I couldn’t articulate why so I made myself walk the five blocks or so to a local shop. By the time I got home, I was in tears and hyperventilating. Why? After difficult reflection, I realized that as I child I was programmed to fear kidnapping by a sadistic murderer. My mother told me repeatedly and often gruesome stories of children who were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered.

Just a week ago, I asked my mother why she carried her very heavy purse (more like a small suitcase) inside with her everywhere she goes. She told me that she reads stories “in the newspaper” “every day” about purses being stolen from locked cars. I didn’t question her statement. But when I told my husband what she had said, he pointed out that newspapers don’t run stories about purses being stolen from locked cars. Hmmmm… that’s true. She’s the one who’s crazy. She’s not in touch with reality.

Fortunately, I had just had a therapist visit earlier that day. My therapist told me that I must learn to accept that if my reaction is inappropriately negative and overblown, I should take a leap of faith and assume that it is due to a “script” or software that was programmed in the past, most likely in childhood. As he put it, “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” In reality, kidnappings, especially of women my age are so rare that they make headline news when they happen.

Once you realize that your brain is operating from old programming, you can see through its attempts to “prove” that fearful, sad or angry feeling you’re having is justified. Your brain wants to look around your world and grab onto anything that justifies the feeling, whether it’s true or not.

So this week, I’m exercising my ability to recognize when old programming is activated. I invite you to give it a try and tell me how it goes in the comments.