Lizard brain and other metaphors

by Kat


Conversation I had in therapy this week:

Aspergirl:  [something about feeling as if my brain hasn’t evolved enough to help me cope with stressors — poor lizard brain — extended metaphor, but also self-depreciation cloaked in intellectualization]

Therapist lady: So I’m going to let that self-depreciating statement disguised as intellectualization [poor lizard brain] go…

Aspergirl: But thank you for calling me on that.

Therapist lady: That’s what I’m here for… [session continues]

And thus begins a conversation about the limits and reasons for my metaphor usage: whether I’m describing waves of anxiety or feeling as if my fully humanoid brain is lizard-like because I’m having trouble calming myself. I suppose in a way, I’m othering myself  when I pity my lizard brain, but at the same time, that phrase seems to help me be compassionate toward myself when I’m experiencing ridiculously heightened levels of anxiety.

I don’t blame myself for feeling that way; I just recognize that in that particular moment, I seemingly can’t use my higher reasoning skills to lessen my anxiety. Instead, I resort to talking to myself in soothing tones and reminding myself that it’s all going to be okay (“so stop freaking the f-ck out, poor lizard brain”). I wonder if my therapist was just surprised to hear me use the lizard analogy in such casual terms. That’s how I often deal with the ways that GAD creeps into my life and never really fades away.  I seem to live with a nice moderate level of anxiety on a good day, the kind I can lessen with meds and CBT tech.

I think about my Aspergirl traits in a similar manner. At some point, I lost track of how many times the campus librarians have had to remind me to lower my volume — I actually bequeathed them a card system one day, so we could have a mutually-understood system for conveying that message (green = good; yellow = getting a bit loud; orange = way too loud –> seriously lady, you’re in a library — there is no red because that color is scary).

I joke about how when they handed out the volume controls, I didn’t get one, but that doesn’t mean such situations aren’t terribly frustrating. Maybe that’s where making light of things can fail us, when we forget the emotions behind the joking, but I don’t think I have. I say I’m directionally challenged — lack an internal compass — so I’m grateful to the person who invented GPS (fear of being lost: where the GAD and actual possibility of getting lost easily meet).

I like metaphors. Maybe it’s the bibliophile in me. Probably the one that’s helped me the most over the past year or so is the wave metaphor for anxiety. I’ve written entire poems about how oftentimes I can see the next wave of anxiety coming and hope to have a friend sitting nearby me on the beach as it laps our feet. I was reminded of Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” when my therapist mentioned something about how I may be trying to signal my significant distress as my speech becomes increasingly rapid as my anxiety rises (1).

That resonated with me — she’s always very careful with the words she uses, to the point where I’ve heard the phrase, “Now I could be totally wrong about this, but I have an idea about that,” countless numbers of times, but I appreciate that. Words are incredibly powerful things, and we both recognize that — usually meeting in the middle as the session continues.

So dear readers, now I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s passage about the power we attribute to words, so I’ll quote it here:

“Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” ~ Albus Dumbledore (p. 298, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Naming things helps me feel a sense of control in an often chaotic universe. That’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed words. I was that kid in elementary school who was completely and utterly fascinated with gigantic words such as antidisestablishmentarianism (one of the longest words in the English language). How about you, dear readers, what metaphors do you find yourself commonly using for your mental states or relationships with others?