A letter to Amygdala (your brain’s equivalent to a teenager),
There is nothing better than the feeling of calm that comes with a Sunday lie-in, when you have nothing due the next week and all seems right in the world. On the other extreme end of things, there is nothing worse than absentmindedly scrolling through your emails on said Sunday, eating cereal straight from the box and coming across an email stating you have a five page paper due tomorrow. That split second of combined panic, dread and distress is exactly what it feels like when our brains engulf us in the hopelessness that is a Panic Disorder. So my letter today is to you, Amygdala, the pop tart-looking part of our brain in charge of all our emotional reactions (now you know who to blame when it’s 2am and you’re crying over a man eating a taco on YouTube).
Before addressing your pop-tarting ways, I would like to speak to the many others reading this (here’s me hoping I’m not just talking to myself). Did you know, according to the WHO, mental disorders are among the leading cause of ill-health and disability in the world. Yes, those ‘inconvenient, attention seeking’ illnesses we all like to avoid and sometimes pretend don’t exist, affect about 450 million people worldwide.
My analogy above of what a panic attack feels like might be a little lacking but think of it like the ‘It’s Complicated’ button on Facebook, it’s just, you know, complicated. Like all mental disorders, people experience it differently, but that is not what should really matter. What does matter is recognising the importance of taking care of ourselves and putting our mental health first. Trust me, I know, it’s easier said than done, but the first step is really taking a step back and consciously engaging with our stress levels and mental processes. Try some yoga, drink some Kale, but most importantly talk to someone, you are not alone and oh! Breathe and maybe don’t drink Kale, it tastes like unfertilised weed fields.
Now as for you, Amy (can I call you Amy?), you do not work alone in causing people to frequently think their lives are coming to an end, but you and I both know I am not baselessly blaming you. According to Dr. Jieun E Kim of the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, Ewha Womans University Graduate School, animal studies have linked Amygdala stimulation to behaviour similar to human panic attacks. The theory goes that abnormal activity within the 13 nuclei of Amy indirectly or directly causes panic disorders. The Amygdala reminds me of my teenage self, one minute acting out against my mother and the next declaring my love for her because she replenished my milk supply. The fun thing about Psychological disorders and Psychotherapy is that for now we truly cannot pinpoint what exactly causes them or what the best ways are to treat them. Good news is: there is hope, there is science, and there is spirituality and a number of other options out there to help.
So why am I writing to you Amygdala? Well it is simple; like Pizza but unlike croissants, you no longer control me and I just wanted to tell you that. (I know, sounds a little cliché but in my defence I have referenced pop tarts and tacos and you are still reading). This is not me saying I will never have another panic attack, but just simply that I won’t let it stop me from living my best life. It’s also a little promise to myself to take care of you, Amy, so you stop trying to ruin my life because obviously once something’s written down, it’s like a pinkie promise and I can never go back on it. And remember kids, at the end of every five-page paper is a box of cereal and a tub of chocolate chip ice cream.