Upside down time

I was watching a Bones rerun the other day, and there was an interesting dialogue between the main character, Temperance Brennan (aka "Bones"), and one of the night guards where she works.  I tried to find the exact diaglogue, but it didn't seem to be online, so I'm going to have to summarize here:

The guard told Bones about a study in which a group of men wore special glasses that made the world appear that it was upside down. After three days, the world was right-side up again. When the men took their glasses off, the world once again appeared upside down. Again after three days, their brains caught up and the world appeared as it should have.

It reminded me a lot of recovery.

I got so used to seeing the world with the ED filter on.  Food was bad, scary, and needed to be avoided.  I isolated myself from others.  I lied and cheated.   How I saw the world depended on my eating disorder.  If I got upset, the ED calmed me.  It was a pretty dysfunctional system to be sure, but I eventually got used to it.

When I started recovery, the glasses were uncerimoniously yanked off.  The world just felt "wrong."  Without the ED buffer, I was terrified of everything.  I couldn't get over how bizarre it felt to actually sit down to a meal. To eat in a restaurant. To order something off a menu besides a garden salad with no dressing.  When things went pear-shaped and the eating disorder was gone, I had no idea what to do.

My world was upside down.

The problem is that the world can stay upside down for a really long time, even longer than you or I might think it "should."  Nor is there always anything we can necessarily do that will make life right itself any faster.  Simply, it takes time for our brains to adjust.  Not only does ED recovery mean that our brains have to renourish themselves, but we also have to lay down new pathways that atrophied during illness or never formed in the first place.

I wonder what the men in the study (if the study was even real or went down like it did in the dialogue) thought during those days after they took of their glasses. Did they wish for them back?  Would putting the glasses on again have made the world look right-side up again?  How would this affect the length of time for the mens' perceptions to normalize?

Our brains are wonderfully plastic.  If you want to know exactly how plastic the brain is, read the book The Brain That Changes Itself.  But just as my brain learned to be afraid of food, it can unlearn that.  Or at least, it can learn to challenge those fears even if an initial jolt remains. In the Bones study, the mens' brains eventually figured it out.  Up is up.  It took time, lots of time.  I have no doubt plenty of them tripped and fell.  Again, that's part of how we learn.  Food isn't scary.  It's necessary.  It just is.  Life doesn't need to be avoided.  Keep the glasses off and the brain will learn.

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7 comments:

drstrangelove said...

This is a wonderful thing to be reminded of. I've often thought about that experiment and how awesome our brain's plasticity is, but never in relation to recovery. It's unnerving to be reminded that life can stay upside down for so long, but reassuring that it can be righted. Makes the fight that much more worth it.

On another note, I've never watched Bones. Sounds like something to look up though. Hm...

hm said...

This study totally happened- although maybe not quite like that. Google upside down glasses. When I was little, my town had only one museum, and one of the displays was dedicated to this very thing. A wooden box had a little doll in it, suspended upside down, and depending on how you looked in the box, you'd see it right side up- and then there were those museum-ish explanations on the wall about the upside down study and how the brain adjusts. It mesmerized me. Pretty cool!

I love the analogy to recovery. What my brain never learned- that would be my problem. I've had this damned ed for so long, I know I've missed a helluva lot of psychological developmental milestones. In some ways I'm incredibly mature and intelligent... and then in others I'm rather infantile and incapable.

I have to learn how to handle things like a small spat with the husband by not starving, cutting, whatever. I find that the teeniest things cause me immense and unreasonable amounts of pain and distress- I have this intellectual part of me that observes that my reactions are unreasonable- and yet they are my reactions- and I've never learned to tolerate them or find healthy ways to move past them. Seems an impossible feat at my age when the emotions I have are intolerably raw and juvenile. It'd be so easy just to "delete" them w/my other coping mechanisms. But I'd like to see if my brain is capable of learning some new shit- maybe some shit a bit more pleasant than slashing up my thighs or starving myself to death. Yep- might be nice. Hope my brain adjusts.

ola said...

The experiment was performer many times, it is real! However the results weren't so clearcut and quite interindividual as in Bones. I've read about one of these newer experiments and some of the subjects had a feeling, that THEY are upside-down, not the world. I think I've felt in my anorexia like someone upside down in upright world.

I like your analogy:) Brains are capable of much more than we are capable to imagine. (is this sentence possible?)

Ms. Bee said...

This is a great post. I never heard about the study, but see how it can relate to recovery. I remember when I started eating breakfast each day and thinking that something that is so "normal" for people seemed so wrong to me.

Anonymous said...

"Life doesn't need to be avoided."
I love that comment. I'm new to your blog but am quickly falling in love. Thank you!

Cammy said...

Very good point, as usual. I've definitely had this experience with recovery in general and weight gain in particular. I often freak out when I hit some certain milestone weight, and feel incredibly uncomfortable both physically and emotionally. In the past, that led me to immediately restrict and lose it again. But I've learned that giving it a grace period allows my body to fully adjust and accept the change, and after that I actually like my body even better than when I was at a lower weight. Have you read the book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own?

scottrecovered said...

This experiment did happen! I learned about it in psychology class, interesting isn't it!?! And the parallel with recovery is so true. I haven't thought of it, but you are right. Recovery, which is obviously right side up, seems upside down during the early stages of recovery. It is like taking off the glasses...

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote



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