A small finger-sized control center located at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) sorts and evaluates incoming data. It’s responsible for filtering all the incoming information our brain receives and acts as a receiver for information that is tagged as important. It is deep inside the brain and not very big but it does something really clever, it controls what we believe The RAS works a bit like a radio. We are surrounded by radio waves from various stations and a radio can be tuned to one of those channels. Our RAS is programmed to prioritize information like listening for particular sounds. We hear our name and all our focus is diverted in the direction we heard it, because that bit of information is tagged as important. The RAS is responsible for one of the strangest abilities we have, the ability not to hear our own 80-decibel snoring, but wake when the baby cries.
Our RAS has no direct link to the outside world. Everything it “knows”, we have told it. We can reprogram it to think we are talented and wonderful and it will then begin to look for things to prove what we are telling it. A good example is buying a car. I bought a yellow car in 2001 and then started to notice how many other yellow cars there were on the road. I had not noticed this fact until then.
The RAS works on the principle of what we tell it to concentrate on, needs to be tagged as important and that it should will look for confirmation of these facts. If we tell it we are awesome, it will look for evidence to prove we are and ignore all evidence we are not. If we tell it we are unimportant, even disgusting. the RAS will look for evidence to support this set of facts and ignore any evidence that disproves it.
As I write this, I have Shingles, a rather nasty disease.that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso. In my case it is my right hand.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. I had chicken pox as a child and the virus has lain inactive in nerve tissue near my spinal cord and brain. Fifty Years later, the virus has been reactivated as shingles.There is a medicine that stops the spread of the virus but does nothing to get rid of the flu-like symptoms or the painful rash already present. When I was younger, my older brother and I competed to see who had the most Chicken pox blisters. We quickly gave up when we realized we really wanted to lose. Here is the conundrum for when we are trying to work out how to find joy in pain. My daughter reminded me that when she had chicken pox she counted 40 pox. The blisters I have are concentrated on my finger and I counted over 40 of them. So I can then consider myself lucky and be joyous it is concentrated in such a small, albeit very painful, area.
This I believe is the crux of fighting pain finding joy. I am in horrendous pain, but I need to invoke the Dunkirk Spirit or accept that I cannot overcome the problems in hand. The shingles are making the RSD worse. RSD is the disease I have that makes every trauma I have suffered feel as if it just happened. For me this is particularly problematical as I have broken 40 of the 105 bones not in the hands and feet and ten of my toes and fingers. I have also damaged 4 of my internal organs. So having the RSD flare up is a major issue for me.
Unfortunately for me, the gremlins read my quote and decided that they needed to do something about my obvious positive attitude. They searched their medical books for something new, something I hadn’t previously overcome and came up with shingles. This is particularly clever because most insurance companies won’t pay for the shingles shot until you reach the age of 60 and guess who is 60 in three weeks time? That’s right, I reach the grand old age of 60 on October 20 1955. I cannot pretend to believe the calendar because even though my oldest child, Simon is 37 this year, my youngest, Olivia is 5. When my oldest was 5, I was only 28, so I choose to act as if I was a person who is 28. My body doesn’t always agree with this, but then, who is in charge? My body or me? This where the RAS works, finding proof of the information we have given it. If I tell it I am 28 years old, it will look for evidence this is so. If I tell it I am 60 with 54 broken bones and damaged body parts and feel dreadful all the time, it will substantiate this apparent fact.
My RAS is receiving messages from all over my body describing in gruesome details how badly that area is doing. Everything it is receiving is negative, but I am not part of the body, I am independent. I choose to tell my RAS that things aren’t that terrible. I cannot force the body to stop sending the depressing messages that everything is going badly nor stop it sending my RAS all the grisly details.There is actually method to this apparent madness. I need to take it easy and allow my body to recover. But what I do not need to do is to throw in the towel and give up completely. I cannot force the flu-like symptoms away but I can make the effort to be positive and suffer the least instead of the most. I may feel like I am dying the death of a thousand cuts and that the very molecules of the air are individually attacking every square inch of my body. In fact that is exactly how I do feel. but I can force myself to ignore the extra pain and discomfort I am feeling as a result of the RSD being made worse. This is not easy, but I can improve things. What I am trying, no scratch that word, trying suggests the possibility of defeat. What I am going to do is battle back as much as I possibly can.
If I can convince my RAS that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I don’t feel as bad as I should, considering what I am dealing with, I know I can also convince myself and my RAS that I am awesome, talented and wonderful. My RAS will then be able to get on with finding evidence of my awesomeness and ignore all evidence to the contrary. I can give it something else to concentrate other than the mind bending chronic pain that was already at a very high level and has been ratcheted up a couple of notches because of the varicella-zoster virus. I cannot totally ignore the pain, but, as I already suffer from a lot of pain, I can simply add the new one to the list that has pleurisy, orchitis and a few others. I can now add shingles and decide the new one is no more difficult to handle than any of the others. I intend to make my life as simple as I can so that I can help others, especially those who are members of my family and to make my life wonderful. Being positive is the only way I can do this is. My RAS will force me to find evidence to prove this fact or, if I let it, it will find things to discourage me. I choose what it searches for. The pain won’t go, but I can manage it the best I possibly can. I am left with many things I cannot do, but I can then concentrate on the things I can do and do them wonderfully.
If I can convince my broken down body that things are not that bad, or at least copacetic and be optimistic because, as Winston Churchill said, there is not much use being anything else, then you can tell your RAS how talented and wonderful you are.
Talk to yourself and tell your RAS that you are wonderful and talented. Force it to find evidence to prove you right and it will do so. When you see this evidence, acknowledge it and you will have begun to convince your RAS and yourself that you are in reality, awesome, talented and wonderful.