Paris: the metaphorical brain

parisParis as a metaphor for the brain?  Even with a little lateral thinking, is this a metaphor worth analysing?  I have recently returned from the 9th World Biological Psychiatry Congress in Paris.   So, in the first instance Paris was most definitely associated with the brain for me.  But there are more interesting connections than just this literal one.   Getting waylaid down a little side street on one of my adventurous “Dee-tours”, I realised that the brain and Paris bear a remarkable similarity in a number of respects.  If you are willing to stay with the metaphorical tone of this post then perhaps I may be able to enlighten you with some of my ideas. 

The Seine, is like a single track running through Paris.  In my practice, I come across people like this. They have decided on a single path and will not deviate come hell or high water.  Even if this hell or high water is the loss of their relationships, health, wealth or career.  Their ideas are the correct ones and anything outside of that leaves them feeling afraid, lost and sometimes insecure.  Now don’t get me wrong, single track approaches are highly profitable.  In our early lives when we are establishing our careers the single track mentality is beneficial, and I would ventrure to suggest, required, if you want to get to the top of your chosen profession.  But,  inevitably, a single track approach to life results in experiences lost and adventures not taken and as we age we suddenly realise that we have lost out on a life beyond the confines of the river.   

Another restrictive focus that I see  in my practice is evident in the patients who traverse the small area that they know and feel comfortable in.  While in Paris, I met up with someone who has lived in Paris for a number of years but travels only in the up-market areas, generally by cab or bus and if, push comes to shove, on the metro.  In neurology, under a PET scan, it is evident when people have walled off certain areas of their brains.  We are very good at doing this and it is a remarkable ability of our brains to split and shut things down.  We need this dissociative ability because it allows us to cope when we experience trauma and stress.  The problem is that maintening walled off aspects of ourselves and our lives requires energy and it prevents us ever feeling like we really know who we are.  Usually, the walled off aspects are those things that we consider to be negative and ugly.  Thus, we claim that we are up-market and ok but those other areas are disgusting, dirty and shameful and other people inhabit those.  However, we invariably get ill, old or life just throws us another curved ball and we cannot maintain the walls, and we break-down. 

In contrast, if you are wandering around the streets of Paris, with no real understanding how streets that intersect and dissect a circle can run off at some extreme angles, you will find yourself confused and just a little lost.  I see this pattern with some of my Bipolar patients who are all over the place.  They are running down every little side street in their brains and getting lost.  They find it extremely difficult to categorise, contain and maintain their focus and their ideas.  They also get extremely irritated with anyone who has a narrow focus.  One of my patients was recently reading a book from a self-help guru who recommended a focused “down-the-river” type of approach.  The approach left him feeling that the guru, and anyone with quick blase answers, has no real understanding of the complexity of life.   

I believe, that if we are to have a passionate life, we need to open up all the areas of our brains, take a look and see what’s there and evaluate who we are.  But, we need to do it with a map.  Where do we get that map?  Perhaps from someone who has been there, someone who cares and someone who can accept us for who we are.  We need others in our lives to help us get off the boat, break down the walls or just to give us directions about where we are and who we are.  Paris needs to be shared with those you love.  It’s a wonderful passionate place, this brain of ours.


~ by Dee Muller on July 24, 2009.

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