At the height of my own mental turmoil, which lasted many years, my emotional distress was so intense that the only way I could carry on was to remind myself constantly that I could escape it through suicide. The major part of each day I spent obsessively going over and over in my mind how I could accomplish it successfully.
I wanted a method with a one hundred per cent guarantee of working; however, whenever I came up with a method I thought I’d be brave enough to undertake, I always also came up with an idea of how it, just conceivably, might fail.
However remote the chance of this failure was, it would prevent me going ahead as I was terrified that I would end up not only suicidally depressed, but additionally crippled, quadriplegic, and/or brain damaged. (A previous suicide attempt I’d made, which I thought fool-proof, left me in a coma for five days and easily could have caused me to incur brain damage).
Furthermore, (and I am embarrassed to admit this) although I am not a religious person, in my paranoid state I was afraid that if I succeeded in killing myself I might be cast into hell and tortured for all eternity (actually, this is a common fear many deeply, clinically depressed people have : to sleep, perchance to dream, as Hamlet metaphorically and euphemistically expressed it). I would then go over and over in my mind all the different kinds of torture I might have to endure.
On one’s own, unable to sleep at 3am (cue thunder clap, lightning strike and eerily howling wind), this is a truly terrifying state of mind to be in.
When I would try to describe to doctors, therapists and psychiatrists how I felt (impossible – this is one of the worst aspects of mental illness, the sheer incommunicability of the depth and intensity of one’s suffering) I would explain, as best I could, that I felt a constant pain in my head which tortured me, and that this pain was neither wholly physical nor wholly mental; rather, it was some indefinable combination of the two.
Why is such emotional suffering so painful, even agonizing? In fact, a look at the neurology underlying emotional pain helps us to understand at least part of the answer.
The Underlying Neurology Of Emotional And Psychological Suffering:
Recent studies (eg Randle et al; DeWall et al) have highlighted how the brain may respond to emotional pain (such as rejection) in a similar manner to how it responds to physical pain.
Indeed, brain scans have revealed that, irrespective of whethet it’s the case that a person is experiencing emotional pain or physical pain, the same brain regions become highly activated. These two brain regions are:
1) THE SECONDARY SOMTASENSORY CORTEX
2) THE DORSAL POSTERIOR INSULA
Because the brain seems to interpret physical and emotional pain in similar ways, it is perhaps not surprising that some evidence has been found suggesting some pain killer medication (originally intended to treat only physical pain) may help to ameliorate emotional pain/mental distress, such as aspirin and Tylenol. However, this idea remains (currently) controversial due to the paucity of reliable data.
More research needs to be conducted – at the time of writing the jury remains out.
The Cycle Of Pain:
Above: The cycle of pain shown above is applicable to both mental and physical pain:
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).