Saturday, February 25, 2017
I write in an extremely irritable, annoyed, bitchy mood, prompting me to blog about this intense subject:
Mood reminds me of the weather. Despite the proliferation of super-computers, getting more super every year, no weather service on the planet can predict weather with much precision beyond 48 hours. Why? Because the number of variables causing changes in weather approach the infinite. Also, they all dynamically relate to one another. I’m clearly no meteorologist, but weather relates to, at least, variations in air pressure, degree of moisture, wind, temperature on the ground and in the air, geography, and more. Notice how many of these variables, say wind and temperature, exist in motion. They change over time. Hence the heating up of even super-computers when they try to predict weather.
I shall use my immediate, nasty mood as an example. As far as I can consciously tell, I’m not angry at anyone in particular. I slept ok. I have eaten enough. I’m enjoying one of my rarely smoked cigars here in my backyard. I feel a mild wind on my back and and can hear the birds singing. My dog, Lucy, rests comfortably on a couch nearby. What could be pissing me off?
Analogous to the factors affecting weather, the causations of mood are equally infinite, particularly because so many factors exist in dynamic relation to one another. I shall separate out the physical, the conscious, and the unconscious, knowing in advance these are somewhat arbitrary and definitely incomplete factors.
: Everything from hunger to fatigue to illness to temperature to weather (no irony intended) to exercise to status of bladder and bowel contents to food or drink ingested (coffee, alcohol, sugar, fat, etc) and many more variables can affect your mood. Some of these are obvious, i.e. you just had two Martinis followed by four double-espressos. Many are subtle, i.e. you have a mild allergy to gluten, or lactose, or meat-based proteins, or whatever, and it affects your mood without you even knowing about it.
: I suffer from the rather common omnipotent, Tao-violating tendency to set goals for a day and nearly always fall short of those goals. Any Buddhist would laugh delightfully at such a propensity, noting how (as all the cliches go) it is sheer folly to plan your time. Well, I suppose something reasonable is acceptable: write in the blog today, see five patients, buy a book. But as soon as you make a specific plan, i.e. I will finish editing this article today, you entered the moron zone. Of course you have no idea how long editing a particular article will take. You don’t know how long it will take you to write something. Seeing a patient can be timed, but many related features cannot. Will you have to make five follow up calls? Will you need to devote extra time to changing one or all future appointments, or completing a disability form, or contacting an insurance company?
Yet another immediate example, I just connected this computer to a bluetooth device to listen to the highlights of the opera Salome I hope to enjoy tonight. I can’t get the damn thing to work. I feel like throwing the Harmon/Kardon speaker, as well as the Apple laptop, over the fence or, better, into the my little fountain which, by the way, is not working the way it was supposed to. Ha! The folly of any expectations! (Of course it just started working, but not with enough good sound to alter my annoyance).
: Ah, so now I return to the connecting theme of this blog. Many models of unconscious structure exist, but I have long been particularly enamored with Fairbairn’s. He posits the presence of “dynamic structures,” meaning dynamic parts of self or ego connected to one another. One is the so-called internal object, meaning a part of self highly identified with another, usually a parental figure or derivation of same. The other is a part of self. These dynamic structures can be inferred from conscious experience. For example, just now when I became angry at my computer’s bluetooth system, I can almost hear a part of myself saying, “that was a stupid thing to buy!” tied into another part of my mind, namely myself, feeling badly in reaction and perhaps saying, “Yes, that was foolish and it deserves to land in my neighbor’s yard.”
Psychoanalysts think these dynamic structures are formed early in life, derived from caregiver experiences. They are then morphed by many other interactions with the world after that point. It is inaccurate to think of an internal object as, say, your mother. Even if she was nasty to you, the internal dynamic is always linked to a self image, and both of those parts of self are then affected by subsequent relationships. They are equally affected by environmental, biological, and, yes, even meteorological factors. If you were reared in the Arctic Circle, you probably spent a lot of time inside, or feeling cold, and your sense of self, as well as that part of you identified with “other,” would be affected by those particular experiences.
Remember, and what a smart psychoanalytic trick this is, that, by definition, the unconscious is, well, unconscious. You may or may not have the conscious sense of an internal critic part-of-you shouting about your inadequacies; you may or may not have the conscious sense of an internal admirer whispering your awesomeness to you. These definitely can affect mood, and hopefully for obvious reasons. My sense of annoyance — diminishing now as I look at the birds and hear the arias and see Lucy over there sitting peacefully, with her legs crossed like a human, enjoying the moment. (I am quite sure dogs have no real internal world like us, with our highly evolved cerebral cortexes, but they definitely have moods.)
UCLA proudly offers a Mood Disorder clinic which has always struck me as rather absurd. First of all, how do you define a disorder? When does an excited, grandiose feeling state cross over into mania? When does an angry exchange cross the line into violence? Defining extremes proves relatively easy. If you have spent $500,000 buying watches online in half an hour, have an income of $25,000 per year and little interest in fine watches, I suppose you may well be in the throes of a manic episode. In parallel, striking another person, or harming them physically or emotionally in a significant way, likely signifies a problem with angry mood. But, then again, context changes everything. If you just won the lottery in the first example, you may simply be enjoying a spurt of self-indulgence. If your violence responds to an attack on you, then your behavior, and the mood accompanying it, may just represent self-defense.
Psychiatry typically addresses mood problems by prescribing medications consisting of large molecules which globally affect the functioning of your central nervous system but, sadly, other systems as well. Psychoanalysis addresses the dynamic structures, intending to create longer-lasting changes in the unconscious internal drama which, in turn, alters mood — typically for the better. However, as would follow from all I’ve written so far, these interventions hardly impact all of the causes of disturbances in mood.
Right this second, for example, I am starting to shiver. It’s getting cold out here. Lucy doesn’t seem uncomfortable, and neither do the birds. But I think I need a sweater. Or maybe I need a nap or some food or a period of meditation. I’m less bitchy, I can sense it, but am not entirely sure why. I offered a few theories.
In the final analysis, perhaps we would be best served by surrendering to the fantastic mystery of it all, the swirling complexity, always changing, usually ensuring that whatever mood we are in will soon change.
Hope you learned something.
I’ve gotta get inside or put on a sweater.
Talk to you later,
Fairbairn, W.R.D. (1952). Psychoanalytic studies of the personality. New York: Routledge.
Like this post? Subscribe to Psychoanalyzing Life.