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Simon examines his sister’s brain in “Ariel”

One doesn’t have to be lobotomized by the Alliance to face a barrage of disturbing thoughts and feelings — but could this “condition” just be the side-effect of a highly linked mind?

There are tons of articles and books linking intelligence and depression, creativity and depression, lots of madness/genius connections in literature… So this isn’t a new concept. I don’t want to rehash, or to rant narcissistically and hold up my depression as some of kind of proof of my own awesomeness.

BUT I did want to talk about River Tam from Firefly specifically, because I was very struck in one episode by the way her brother Simon described her condition.

“They cut into her over and over… They stripped her amygdala.”

“Her what?”

“You know when you’re afraid, or there’s something bad but you don’t want to think about it — you push it the back of your mind. Your amygdala is what lets you do that, it’s like a filter… She feels everything — she can’t not.”

Aside from the fact that the writers didn’t exactly* get the brain science right, this is literally the same mental peculiarity I have that causes me the most problems. If something is upsetting me, I absolutely cannot set it aside. Painful realities, the most tenacious being about people I love and personal failures, get pulled up by my mind and paraded repeatedly in front of my conscious attention. The latter will automatically analyze the memory, prodding it to reveal new significance which sometimes, if contemplated (which usually also happens automatically), brings me new avenues of unhappiness that I would have been protected from if my brain hadn’t have brought it up.

And it’s not even limited things that really matter. Sometimes it’s moments of horrifying embarrassment that pop up (that I thought I’d forgotten), for seemingly no reason at all. I’ll just be sitting there and my mind will be like, “Hey, remember the time you were publicly mortified? Remember the time when you walked in on a distant old relative when they were going to the bathroom? Remember?!” And I will be seized, literally holding my hands up to my head and sometimes saying “no, no, no, stop it” before I even realize what’s happened. This has happened in front of people a couple times and it’s really awkward :/. I’m not insane, really!  I actually get mad at my head — hey, I’d forgotten that, thank you very much brain, now I have to forget it all over again! Anyways.

It’s annoying, but sometimes I wonder whether this quality could ever confer any type of advantage. River, of course, has psychic premonitions which prove useful; any real-life advantages might be so subtle that they’re hard to quantify or even notice. Pain might just be a bad side-effect of connected thoughts. One leads to another, to another, and another… And maybe I’m bad at isolating or pushing away thoughts, but I’m good at connecting them. It is as if they’re all in a web, each attached to each other by little threads and by accessing one, you have a probability of pulling up adjacent ones too, inadvertently.

It could be that the memory/thought recurrence is some type of editing process, preparing each thought module for permanent storage in proper context for later. Maybe something is at work, organizing and chiseling out significance… But should it really take such a priority over mood? Seems like my brain, if this were the case, is working against its own self-preservation. The problem is there is no “abort” mechanism for trying to save a thought that really has nothing to be gleaned from it but pain — and so these thoughts get stuck in recurring loops. So far the only thing I know that works is a significant distraction, or sleep — usually the latter I have to employ with sleeping pills or if those don’t work, I have to cry until I am so tired that I become physically exhausted. Night can be the absolute worst.

But in any case, all the pain is buffered somewhat by antidepressants, so that’s good. And I didn’t really mention it, but the thought recurrences aren’t necessarily all negative. One time I was sitting on a train and a thought-chain led me to cry tears of happiness while I was thinking about something a friend had recently said to me. I think, though, that it’s the negative experiences which require the most parsing, the most context, because they are often more complicated.

So, do I have a super-power? Hmm, if I feel that Reavers are close I’ll let you know, but until then I’ll just post annoyingly abstract blog entries.

*I’m not a neuroscience person by any means, but from what I understand a lobotomized amygdala would actually have the reverse effect, because it’s less of a filter and more of a portal. They kind of got it backwards.

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