The inability to make choices

Watching an episode from BBC series “The Brain with David Eagleman” I realize that normal people can do something I cannot: make choices.

Vanilla or Strawberry? Go left or right? Wear the blue or the green shirt?

pic by Svilen Milev

I don’t know and I cannot chose. I am unable to. I’m physically unable to. It just won’t come. I am stuck.

The documentary shows a lady who has the same characteristics. We’re both engineers and we both start to cry when having to make a simple choice.

Eagleman confuses choices with decisions which muddles up the episode somewhat. Decisions are rational processes and can be done by anyone or a computer when given the options, the parameters and the values to attach to the various components. I do these fine. Excellent even.

Choices are something different. They are rooted in personal preferences, whims and emotions. No one else can make a choice for you.

Ofcourse these are two extremes on a spectrum, in real life most decisions and choices have elements of each other. Decisions involve emotional whims and choices get based on rational arguments. But fundamentally they’re different.

Eagleman illustrates that to make a choice/decision both the rational part and the emotional part of the brain are necessary.
The woman had suffered brain damage in a motor cycle accident. She had the emotional and the rational part in her orbito-frontal cortex disconnected. As a result she’s now unable to make choices or even decisions. I don’t think she can work anymore.

She’s seen standing in front of a wall filled with different kind of potatoes and she’s just unable to actively pick one. She’s overwhelmed by all the options. She feels like crying.
She says she can’t process all the information, there’s just too much of it.

Tatertastic pic by Teresa Stanton

I have the same. But different. I can process all the information, I can see all the options, I can weigh them. But I’m not able to chose.
When it comes to a choice, where the options are rationally speaking all equal, I am unable to chose.

I come to a halt. Literally. If I push through I’ll get stressed and will cry. Just like the lady in the program.

Like I said, decision-making I do fine. Give me parameters or a goal and I’ll set out the best path towards it. I’m here for mashed potatoes? We’ll grab this one, it cooks to mush.

But you asking me whether I want fries or mashed potatoes for dinner? We’ll be hungry till Easter because I cannot make up my mind.

Easter Bunny Pals Deconstructed Fish Tacos LunchBot Bento< pic by Sheri Chen

This documentary points me to a possible cause: lack of integration between the logical and the emotional brain parts.

In me, I don’t believe it’s a physical connection. With me I think it’s a life long habit of preferring the rational and suppressing emotional processes. Not the touchy-feely weepy infatuated emotions but just the basic emotional running of the bodily system: small preferences, little whims, a tendency to make yourself comfortable.
I don’t have these on my radar. But I’m sure they’re there.

Eagleman and Reverse Therapy both offer the same location where to look for them: in the body. Focus on the body, relax and it will tell you what your emotional preferences are. A small tension in muscles; a little hint of drool at one option; seeing yourself in the near future with the one choice and liking what you see. Those are the clues.

doors pic by Ivan Malkin

I’m still learning to pick up on these. In the mean time I had developed some rational fixes to get to a choice:
1. in a choice all options are equal in value. Meaning there will be no wrong choice, whatever you chose. (realizing this eases my stress)
2. chose the option on the left.

It’s not ideal and it certainly doesn’t give the emotional pleasure of making the best choice but it gets me past the inability that hinders the lady in the documentary and that causes me so much stress.

Interesting stuff. This too fits in with the diagnosis of my illness. And my recovery from it.

Here’s the description of the episode I saw:

“The Brain with David Eagleman –
4. How Do I Decide?

Series in which Dr David Eagleman takes viewers on an extraordinary journey that explores how the brain, locked in silence and darkness without direct access to the world, conjures up the rich and beautiful world we all take for granted.

The human brain is the most complex object we’ve discovered in the universe, and every day much of its neural circuitry is taken up with the tens of thousands of decisions we need to make. This episode takes a journey through the unseen world of decisions, and how they get made. We start with a simple one – choosing a flavour of frozen yoghurt – and learn that every decision we make is born of a ‘winner takes all’ competition between rival neural networks.

We meet a woman who is unable to make decisions because of damage to her orbito-frontal cortex – an area that is key to integrating the signals streaming in from the body – and discover that feedback from the body is vital to the decision-making process. Dr Eagleman reveals that something as simple as when you ate your last meal can even influence life-changing decisions, as a study on judges showed they were less likely to give parole when they were hungry.

So many of our ‘conscious’ life-defining decisions are actually steered by unconscious influences, whether it’s deciding whom we find attractive or how to vote in the next election. Professor Read Montague reveals that he can be 95 per cent certain about which political party we will vote for based on our brain’s response to disgusting imagery. The more disgusted a brain response is, the more likely that person is to vote conservative.

Finally, Dr Eagleman takes a look at how we can take better control of the decisions we make, and uses an exciting new technique called fMRI neurofeedback to retrain the brains of drug addicts who want to make better decisions, to say ‘no’.”


One year later, a second chance.

Today it’s one year ago that we brought the cat home after she’d just been at the vets for a week and had barely survived. The long phase of recuperation was about to begin. Eventually it would take months and it was deep september when Lillepoes started to play again and lost all the grey hairs that had appeared around her nose.

For me the recuperation from that stress took at least as long. In January/February 2015 I lost all the health gain I had known since that miracle day of the 1st of May 2014 when I healed overnight from my ME because of the stress. I knew it would take months even IF I was able to get it back. Beside the cat-stress there was the court case concerning the manure facility that is planned in the field next to my cabin in the woods. For this case I had to perform “engineerily” a couple of times throughout the last year, starting on the 6th of February 2015. It was a conscious decision to do the work but I knew it was going to cost me, health wise.

It did cost me. And the grey hairs that I have grown in the course of 2015 have not gone away but I’m OK with that.

I did bounce back. Somewhere in Octobre I refound the relaxed state of being that is so important to my health. Around the 8th of December I was able to have some fun again without suffering an ME crash. By then I had learned to cook curry. I had learned to make custard from just egg yolks, heavy cream, salt, pepper and vanilla. Two dishes that support my health and that are welcome next to the endless pots of chicken soup that I make. I had written three or four reports that held up in court, that were not as incoherent as the ones I wrote in the previous years (this case has been active since 2013 I think. The final ruling is expected later this year. No idea, I think we have a 50/50 chance). And I had been living in the city for 8 weeks and felt alright which is a miracle because since 2009 I’ve not been able to stay at the city for more than 2 weeks without getting all flustered and hyper.

Later in December I started Reverse Therapy that boosted my recovery from ME tremendously. I then lost my zen again. But a session with my RT coach put it back in place again.

Late December I also did a Living Blood analysis and it was very cheerful to see the contents of the smallest drop of blood magnified and all the cells still living, moving, active as if they were still part of my body. It taught me there were not a lot of parasites wriggling about in that speck of blood. White cells looked impressive, there weren’t too much of those around either so no raging infection anywhere in the body. Red blood cells looked healthy. There were little specks of light wriggling all about and the technician said those were nutriënts. My blood was full of it! Looking good. The shape of my red blood cells indicated a shortage in vit B12 so I will pursue my cautious course of supplementing it.

This healthy LBA did make me “cheat” afterwards a bit easier on my diet. Chocolate every day! Now, 4 weeks later, I’ve gravitated back to healthy eating again because I can feel how bad foods are a burden to my system.

The Reverse Therapy is marvellous! It’s my ticket to health again. Not the health I had ten years ago but that’s ok, I wouldn’t want to be that person again anyway.

It’s still early days. I’m still at the learning new habits stage and that’s not easy. But because of RT being so tailormade to a person and, really, just the personal message your body is trying to get through that thick skull of yours, it’s not hard either. It’s very fitting.

For me, personally, I’m one of the people who has to learn (that it’s ok) to slow down. It’s OK to just sit back, to let life happen and to smell the roses. To “loiter”. (there’s an excellent Dutch word for it: lanterfanten.). Be a playful human without second thoughts.

Most people in RT need to learn to not be afraid, to not be so cautious and to go out and have fun. And they need to learn to stand up for themselves, set boundaries and express their feelings.

I’m one of the 40% minority that has plenty of fight when it comes to fending off other people but instead has a hard time to calm down.

There are two secret messages that I need to hear over and over again until they are ingrained into my mind and soul. I am going to share them with you but this is a one way street. You are not to communicate with me about them. They are between me and my body and by telling them here I just want to illustrate my RT proces to you, I’m not interested in your opinion about them. Discussing your opinion will interfere with my proces so please refrain.

These are the two main messages my body would like my head to know. Two pieces of wisdom that are news to me. I have lived my whole life without knowing that:

  1. we are safe. Here and now: we are safe. We are warm enough, fed enough, there’s no noise, there’s no chance of assault. There is no need to prepare for eventualities because We. Are. Safe.
  2. it’s ok to sit back and “lanterfant”. To just enjoy the moment, to live here, live now and “be not-useful”. Living here and now really is the meaning of life. It’s what I, the body, was build for and in which I excel. Enjoy it.

There we are. News to me! I’ve lived my whole life not knowing this and instead obeying a set of opposite rules. I’m sure you can see how opposite rules put the Autonomous Nervous System on edge. Drains it. Cause failing adrenals. Causing system wide collapse. ME.

Whenever I remember these two messages my body relaxes. My ANS relaxes. There’s a lot of mindfulness involved. Meditation. However you want to call it. In terms of the ANS it’s the Relaxation Response that gets triggered. And that’s what healing me.

Still ill?

Well, yes and no. The Addisson’s won’t go away. And I’m still weak. The sensitivity to a lot of foods and atmospheres remains. I still need to lay down every day, both for resting and for digestion, but these days I’m looking forward to having an hour of peace and quite. The rest and digest is a lucky byproduct. It’s no longer a chore I have to perform in order to beat this illness. It’s a luxury, to just lay there for an hour and lanterfant (mostly knit. Or surf the internet.)

I still take HCL with my food. I avoid gluten, beer, sugar, raw vegetables. Take all the supplements people with ME are supposed to take. I still do all the good things that got me from severe ME to a housebound level. Most days I’m still housebound, if you look at it from that end of the periscope.

But that’s just it. Looking from the outside you’d say I’m still doing all the same things but my perspective is 180 degrees different and that’s why everything is different now. I’m no longer an ill person. It’s true!

I no longer define myself. I no longer let my head-voice be the narrator of my life. My body is the narrator now and it prefers living in the moment. I’m trying to comply. It’s a bliss when it works. There really is a whole other realm of reality, in the moment.

This must be where meditating people get their kicks. (I’m not the meditating kind). This must be why the mindfullness people can be such a cult. (I hate hearing other people breathing or rave about the grass under their feet)

I’m doing it via Reverse Therapy. Same difference. Tailor made to suit me.

The other bits of Reverse Therapy are making me gain stamina. Physical stamina. I’m going out, doing things. Driving my car, visiting friends, standing on my feet for hours. I’ve experienced physical tiredness for the first time again. Not exhaustion but just physical tiredness. The kind that goes away with a good night sleep. The one that might get you a bit of muscle pain the following day. A novelty!

I wholeheartedly recommend Reverse Therapy to anyone with a chronic illness. Especially when you’re a perfectionist or tend to rationalize everything in your life. It won’t heal you. Recovery is a byproduct from this type of coaching. It will make you happy. It will show you you have a life. And that there’s a bloody marvelous way to live it, a way you’ve overlooked if you’re anything like me.