Brain Chemistry and Video Watching

Sad FaceI am constantly amazed at the effect of chemistry on mood. For example, I always hope that I die right as I’m waking up, because when I wake up, I always wish that I were dead. Well, maybe not dead all the time. But I’m not pleased. Yet you get a cup of tea in me and I can be literally thrilled to be alive. This morning, for example, as I slide into consciousness, I started thinking about Schopenhauer — never a good sign: another day, like the last, which I will work in order to survive to have tomorrow, which will be like the last. It is pointless! I never forget this intellectually, but with the right amount of caffeine, it doesn’t seem important, emotionally.

But consider the chemical soup that swims around in our brains. It really does define us. Let me illustrate.

Happy FaceLast week, when I was going through a thankfully brief period of depression, I decided to watch A Collection of 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films. I have seen it before. These collections are wonderful. The truth is that short films are generally better than features because they are organic. They only need to be as long as they need to be. Features are almost always shoehorned into something between an hour and a half to two hours long — regardless of whether the film should have been eight hours or, as is more often the case, 20 minutes.

This particular collection contains two incredibly charming, light-hearted films: The Mozart of Pickpockets and Tanghi Argentini. I was undoubtedly thinking of these films when I decided to watch it. But the disc starts with At Night. It tells the story of three young women who are being treated for cancer at a hospital. Under normal circumstances, I would label the film “poignant.” But in my state of mind, it was devastating; I sobbed pretty much nonstop through it.

I had hoped that I would be about to embed it here, but it isn’t available. It is rather long anyway: almost 40 minutes. Although you can watch the wonderful Tanghi Argentini. Just in time for Christmas! It is a wonderful, heartwarming film. It also made me cry — but not nearly as much.

Okay, so yesterday, I was feeling much better. Great, in fact. And I happened on a sketch comedy show called, Bruiser. It came out in 2000, and I’m shocked that I didn’t know about it, because it was Mitchell and Webb’s first television show. (They are in a cast of six.) It only lasted for one series — six episodes. It’s a weird show with a lot of incredibly annoying characters. The duo definitely got much more subtle — and funny — as time went on.

Here is a series of skits that originally played at different times and across different episodes. It is a parody of Q from the James Bond films. What’s remarkable is that there really isn’t much of a joke here. It’s just: what if Q had really stupid ideas. Yet it made me laugh to the point of asphyxiation.

I must still feel pretty good, because I just watched again, and I found it almost as funny. Ah, brain chemistry.

7 thoughts on “Brain Chemistry and Video Watching

  1. It is hard for me to cry these days which is annoying since crying helps relieve stress.
    So I am glad to find sad movies that help bring on the tears.

    I liked how the behind the main actors in the short were acting all silly. I like that sort of thing.

    • I never cried when I was younger. Now I cry all the time. Wisdom of the aged!

      You mean in “Inept Q”? Like the people doing karate?

      • Weird you have the opposite effect. I used to cry constantly as a child and sometimes I will start to cry but then my hyper repression comes out and I stop after a few minutes. That is not good.

        Yes, in the “Inept Q” short. It was very amusing.

        • Yes, I used to have an excellent repression mechanism. I wonder where that went?

          The video is my kind of humor: more silly than anything else.

          • I think it came to me. You can have it back. I like crying since it helps keep my eyes properly hydrated and it relieves stress.

            Silly is fun. We don’t have enough silly these days.

  2. The thing about brain chemicals is they’re generally triggered by real perceptions. It’s just that those perceptions don’t regard the whole picture. If you feel scared by a strange noise in the dark, you shoot an arrow in its direction and you hear something shriek/run away, you’re quite reasonable to have been frightened and just as reasonable to feel elated at defeating the threat. Needless to say what you heard may not have been threatening and shooting an arrow at it may not have helped your cave clan.

    These things, so far as I grasp them, come from evolution and they are not perfectly suited to our lives as members of organized societies.

    That said, I’ve wrestled for years with the notion of taking antidepressants (which tend to, in successful cases, reduce the extremes of brain chemical swings) and I’m not ready to do so yet.

    Not because I don’t acknowledge how they can help people. I know several people who have been helped. with these drugs. The ones I know who have been helped stopped taking the drugs once the drugs alleviated their depression, making it easier for them to make the changes they needed so that their lives became less stressful.

    What I wrestle with are the notions of guilt and shame. There are things most of us, or I at least, have said and done which cause harm and stress to others. Most were inadvertent. Some were deliberate. Almost all stemmed from me reacting to my brain chemicals (cueing up frustration, anger, fear) in a way which made other people’s lives worse.

    And I don’t want to minimize those moments of regret, using drugs or therapy to convince me I wasn’t at fault. From such things do we learn (although perhaps some of us are incapable of learning at all.)

    What I’d like is to stop feeling ashamed all day, every day, about things I’ve done that hurt no-one but myself. Poor career choices, awkward interpersonal missteps, and the like. Those are all foolish and it is right to try not repeating them, but it serves no purpose to feel ashamed about them. If anything it makes one more likely, in moments of future stress, to double down and make irrational decisions hoping for that brain-chemical kick of temporary elation (like a gambler losing badly, or Henry VIII serial dating.)

    And yet when I’ve been truly harmful out of cowardice or malice, I don’t care to forget or feel better about that. It’s a difficult balance to maintain. I’m nowhere near close to mastering it.

    Side note: Martin Freeman is a great Bond in those clips. If Idris Elba ever gets the Bond job, somebody should seriously think about making Freeman “Q.” They are both wonderful at registering frustration with people around them, it might make for a good dynamic.

    • I don’t think it is a question of getting rid of responsibility. It’s a matter of giving yourself room to be like every other person on the planet. Original sin is a semi-useful concept in that regard. There are lots of things I feel embarrassed about having done ten years ago. Okay, that’s a long time ago. But then I remember that there are things I feel embarrassed about just yesterday. Live and learn. Hopefully.

      Yeah, Freeman is great. Until I watched the first episode of this show, I didn’t realize that he came from comedy. He’s very good. And it is Bond in these skits that really sell it. His increasing frustration is great. “Can I have a stick with a nail in it?” That still makes me laugh. He will always be Watson to me. I’m pretty sure I wrote an article about how great I thought the update was for his character. The way we perceive him is the way that people perceived the original a century ago.

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