A Perilous Relief : Because Extreme Duress Makes Me Feel Better

Thinking back over the course of my life, to all those times when I pushed myself, stretched myself, and in some cases really punished myself to get to a goal, I can see discernable patterns in my behavior:

  • I am presented with a variety of choices about people and activities and jobs.
  • Some of the choices are positive, pleasant, benign.
  • Other choices are more challenging, distasteful, and carry the threat of some ultimate negative consequence.
  • I know I have positive, pro-active options available to me, but time and again — against my better judgment and experience — I choose the lesser of the options and plunge myself into yet more chaos.
  • Sometimes things go well, and I reap the rewards for overcoming the challenge.
  • But other times, I burn out, flame out, crash and burst into a veritable brilliant fireball that can be seen for miles.
  • Friends, family, coworkers all scratch their heads and puzzle at my poor decision-making, my risk-taking and danger-seeking behavior that endangers my professional reputation and my social and financial viability.

I’ve been puzzling and puzzling over these patterns of mine for the longest time, trying to figure out why I’ve apparently been unable to learn from my past mistakes… always thinking, this time will be different… but it never is — it actually gets worse. Given my life experience, my intimate knowledge of my limits, and my determined commitment to self-care and peak performance, there is no way I should be doing these kinds of things and making these kinds of “mistakes” over and over. I’m not an idiot. I know better. I’m not mentally ill (from all indications 😉 and I always start out with the best of intentions.

What’s the attraction of danger? What’s the allure of risk? I’m not the kind of person who seeks out thrills and chills — I hate suspense movies and I shudder at the thought of skydiving or rock climbing — even with ropes. What’s wrong with me, that I continuously put my own professional and social well-being on the line, time after time? Am I addicted to adrenaline? Am I hopelessly brain-damaged, thanks to my multiple tbi’s? Is there some fundamental flaw in me that seeks out its own destruction, time after time, and wants to secretly destroy all the progress I’ve made over the years?

What about emotional issues? You might ask… I ask myself the same thing, at times. I have been known to keep busy-busy-busy to keep my mind off painful or uncomfortable thoughts. But I have dealt with a lot of my personal issues that used to get in the way, and it’s been years since I genuinely wanted to run from myself. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol. I am not running willy-nilly from old ghosts like I used to, and I’ve dealt with many emotional and psychological aspects of my past in a productive and definitive way.

Well, then, what about being addicted to an adrenaline high?1 I’m not sure how that’s possible. I don’t crave thrills like skydiving and freestyle skiing. I’m not fond of courting danger – like some of my siblings do. The very idea of taking extreme chances makes my blood cool. I’m a homebody who likes a quiet life. I’d rather curl up with a good white paper on cutting-edge neurological research than go mountain biking in the Grand Canyon around sunset.

So, why the hell do I do these stupid-ass things, time and again? What is it — really — that makes me make such risky social and professional choices and screw up so dramatically on such a regular basis?

In stepping back from my personal perspective, looking at all the objective data about my life, and then thinking about not only the things that went wrong, but the things that went right while things were going wrong, I’ve realized I actually feel better when I’m under a lot of stress and strain. And the higher the intensity of my stress experience, the better I feel.

I believe, based on my own observations about my life, that beyond the most obvious components in in my decision-making process, there’s something else at work. Something not cognitive, not emotional, not psychological, but something physical. Could it be that risk-taking / danger-seeking behavior meets a basic, fundamental physiological need in me which persists in spite of better judgment and deliberately broken bad habits? Could there be something about the experience of dangerous risk that – rather than boosting me into a super-human experience – supports me in having a normal human experience?

I’ve gradually come to realize (after untold hours of reflection and consideration and painstaking — and sometimes maddening — rehashing of patterns and details) that I need stress in order to function properly. I don’t seek it out in order to pump up an already fully functional system. I seek it out in order to bring a struggling system up to par, so I can participate normally in the world and have the kind of regular life that other people take for granted.

Not being in the same room with you, I can only guess at your reaction. But I suspect it’s one of skepticism and incredulity. Why on earth would someone need stress, in order to function? Why would they need to take risks and seek out danger, in order to live a normal life? Isn’t this a little… hyperbolic?

Since you’re not in the same room as me, and you aren’t privy to my personal experience, I’m not sure I can explain this exactly. But I’ll try…

1 Note: From where I’m sitting, using the common “addicted to thrills” metaphor implies that the high you’re getting is not necessarily something you need. It’s superfluous, it starts out as recreational, then you develop an irrational need for it, a destructive need for it. The terms “adrenaline junkie” and “addicted to thrills” carry pejorative connotations, as well, which I feel are not very helpful in understanding this phenomenon.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents

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Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

13 thoughts on “A Perilous Relief : Because Extreme Duress Makes Me Feel Better”

  1. WOW – I’m glad you linked to this article in “After TBI/craving stress” and that I had the time to ciick to read. You make so many good points in this article – and your vulnerable self-disclosures make it all the more powerful.

    I agree with your conclusions, for what it’s worth, and especially the following:
    “The terms “adrenaline junkie” and “addicted to thrills” carry pejorative connotations . . . which I feel are not very helpful in understanding this phenomenon.” They most certainly are NOT!

    Great job here. Thank you.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much. I am more convinced than ever that many of the behaviors that are diagnosed as psychological — or just dismissed as bad choices — keep people from fully understanding the root causes. I link it back to the “production line” mentality of modern medicine, where they decide what’s wrong with you, based on assumptions and past experience, and then send you down a trajectory that is either somewhat mistaken, just plain wrong, or harmfully clueless — sometimes all three. I understand the intense desire (and necessity) to diagnose, treat, and heal, but people jump to conclusions based on partial and/or inaccurate information far too often.

    Thanks again for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agree, agree, agree! I see it in every single disorder I support.

    I realize that doctors are overworked, and expected to handle a TON of paperwork with more of their time than before – and that they are expected to accomplish miracles in 15 minute appointments – but it seems that, these days, they have become offensively defensive about the impossibility of the task to the point of arrogance.

    At least that is what I’m reading ALL over the web. Most recently, a blog-colleague was told she “might” have a serious disorder she has been battling for YEARS – clearly spelled out in her chart, which the doctor clearly didn’t even bother to skim before talking with her.

    It seems more logical to me that the short appointment times would make them MORE likely to listen to their (i-net literate) patients idea of the source of their own problems, not less.

    Makes me CRAZY (er!) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think the thing with doctors is that you have to speak to them in a certain way that doesn’t put them on the defensive — very hard to do, when they are on constant high-alert with a ton of emotional triggers. They’re walking wounded, as far as I’m concerned, and I blame both the medical establishment for that, as well as them. They seem to think they can just power through everything, and that the laws of nature (and medicine) don’t apply to them. Nothing makes me crazier, than hearing about doctors who die early, in part because they ignored their symptoms and never took corrective action with their behaviors, their choices, and their treatment options.

    Small wonder, people seek out healers (some who are shady, most who don’t take insurance) for their healthcare. That speaks volumes.

    Doctors need to be managed, like any other “staff”. They are specialists who don’t seem to be accustomed to looking for larger patterns and trends – only dealing with what’s in front of them. That lack of perspective, from what I’ve seen, is a huge contributor to the disconnects like missed messages on charts. Detecting larger messages from the sea of data is one area that I can actually see computers (like IBM’s Watson) making inroads and being useful. A machine can actually do that much better than a person who’s blinded by however many years of fight-flight stress cutting off their ability to think clearly and learn.

    Then again, doctors taking better care of themselves would be a step in the right direction. And teaching them to not be so danged arrogant and close-minded.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Confirmation bias – to see only what confirms what you already think – rampant in the medical community (and worse, IMHO) in the psychiatric community, where they actually learn about it, as little difference as THAT makes, ultimately.

    I believe CB contributes to most misdiagnoses – that, and failure to review charts and listen to patients.

    I’m not sure if computers would change confirmation bias much, unless they could actually be taught to think outside the box – the goal of AI.

    Unfortunately, the oldest doctors tend to run the med schools, where policies and procedures have even MORE time to become deeply ingrained.

    Lack of self-care begins in med school, actually, hazing of the highest order.

    Our medical system is broken, THAT’s for sure! Practitioners don’t seem to have any idea of the concept of “staff” – most seem to believe that they are masters.


  6. The thing that amazes me, is how every psychologist I have ever been friends with, has been on a personal mission to investigate and warn me away from practitioners who they deemed dangerous. Docs, on the other hand, seem intent on covering for each other. Shades of Serpico. It’s just bizarre to me, how they refuse to contradict or call each other out in front of others — like a secret society where only members are able to take issue, and none of them will ever say “Boo” about another doc’s questionable practices. At least, that’s been my experience. I hope I am unique in that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Unfortunately, you are not! I often wonder if the AMA considers it an ethics violation for one doctor to disapprove of another in front of a patient (or maybe it’s guilt?)

    Even when what a former doc did borders on malpractice, the new doc refrains from comment. Sad, huh?


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