Stand up

The other day I received a prodigious meme on Twitter (memes are, you know, those images spread massively on the internet). It’s a very short video of a three or four year old Asian boy floating on his back in the water. Only the boy’s body is visible, not the surroundings, but it must be a river, because the water is muddy and opaque and, in addition, there is a current. The boy desperately clings to a white rope; the current seems to drag his little body and the poor kid howls with terror and anguish so absolute that it breaks your heart; it is clear that he believes that he does not have enough strength to hold on, that he thinks that the water is going to take him away and that he will drown. Then a twelve or thirteen-year-old teenager appears smiling, maybe her sister, who picks up the little boy, quickly gets him to his feet and then leaves. And it is that the water hardly reaches the child to mid-thigh, that is, he is not in any danger. As soon as he realizes that he is deep enough, he instantly stops crying, as if he had been unplugged. He lets go of the useless rope and scratches his ear, I would say disconcerted and a little embarrassed. Trying to understand what has happened. The video ends there.

How tremendous is fear. I mean the one that parasitizes, the one that becomes a feeling that enslaves and sickens, the overflowing terror. Because fear, as I have said many times, is a very useful defense tool. Without that biological alarm siren that prepares the body for fight or flight, we are lost. There is a rare ailment, Urbach-Wiethe, which produces the destruction of the cerebral amygdala and the complete absence of fear among those who suffer from it. Well, Urbach-Wiethe patients put their lives much more at risk than healthy people, because they are unable to recognize danger. Welcome be, then, the fear that alerts and saves.

The bad thing is that in today’s society almost no one is limited to that fear. We live perpetually immersed in a swamp of anguish, which, moreover, has become much more prodigious since the pandemic. And the real problem is not being able to turn off the alarm system. What we call stress is just that: staying to live forever in fear.

Neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize in Medicine, says in his book The new biology of the mind that stress causes the adrenal gland to release cortisol, a beneficial hormone for short periods of time, because it “increases attention in response to a possible threat”, but that, in excessive and continuous doses, as happens with stress, “it destroys synaptic connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the most important area of ​​the brain for memory, as well as neurons in the prefrontal cortex, which regulates the will to live and influences decision-making and again memory.” In large doses, cortisol is toxic. A real poison.

Now I finally understand why my head is like a black hole that remembers nothing. Considering that I had panic attacks in my youth and that my average level of anxiety ranges from too much to too much, I figure I’m up to my eyeballs in cortisol. Also, I am a very imaginative person, and I have always maintained that the more imagination you have, the more fearful you are, because you can anticipate a thousand and one terrifying futures. Like that child who looked dragged out and dead. I have felt very identified with the kid from the river: how many, how many times in my life have I felt drowned in an inch of water, a set phrase that the kid’s meme has beautifully staged. The next time I have a daze I’ll try to remember (with my amnesiac head) that something as simple as standing up and opening your eyes will probably do the trick.

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Stand up