yours, tiramisu

a sad game of phone tag

Some nights, like last night, the pain inside is so unbearable I cannot even read a book without being hypnotized by the misery in my head. I need to be distracted by conversation, so I go on my phone and call or text as many of my friends as I think are free. Most nights I can't get anyone to pick up my calls or call me back1, which, like Mei writes in "friendship woes", has the unfortunate effect of leaving me even lonelier than I was before.

This sad game of phone tag, in which I'm "it" at recess and run around an empty field trying to tag people that aren't there, makes me rethink how I evaluate friendships. Is the better friend the one I know will pick up the phone, or the busy one I can only get through to once a month but comforts me like no other? Does the answer to this question even matter? I have a feeling it does, though, because which one do I prioritize when I have to make a choice?

Some of my friends distract themselves from similar pain by watching videos or playing videogames, but neither of these engage me enough to distract me from my thoughts. I usually just end up zoning out from the video/game and spiraling down precipitous rabbitholes. I need to listen and talk, because processing what's been said and coming up with responses at least occupies my brain enough to temporarily distract me from my misery. Also spending an hour in conversation usually makes me feel less lonely after, whereas spending it playing games usually leaves me with only the depressing knowledge that I squandered two hours of my short life manipulating pixels on a screen.

For me, the next best thing to conversation is to write. Writing is a lot like talking, a one-way conversation into the abyss. I can relieve the pressure in my head by articulating the thoughts bouncing around. It's not as engaging, since I can get distracted without penalty, but on the flipside I can write for as long as I want. (I can't keep someone hostage on call for six hours straight.)

When I try to describe what the physical pain in my chest feels like to friends who will listen, some (fortunate ones) stare at me blankly, as if I'm telling them I've just grown a tail. Then I feel guilty and doubt what I'm feeling, because what if I'm just making this up? How do we know whether feelings are real, anyway? But one of my friends shared an article with me which makes me feel vindicated:

While no one has yet studied what exactly goes on in the upper-body cavity during the moments of heartbreak that might account for the physical pain, the results of the aforementioned fMRI study of heartbroken individuals indicate that when the subjects looked at and discussed their rejecter, they trembled, cried, sighed, and got angry, and in their brains these emotions triggered activity in the same area associated with physical pain. Another study that explored the emotional-physical pain connection compared fMRI results on subjects who touched a hot probe with those who looked at a photo of an ex-partner and mentally relived that particular experience of rejection. The results confirmed that social rejection and physical pain are rooted in exactly the same regions of the brain. So when you say you’re “hurt” as a result of being rejected by someone close to you, you’re not just leaning on a metaphor. As far as your brain is concerned, the pain you feel is no different from a stab wound.

This might not be news to you, but did you know that this also means that pain medication can help reduce the pain experienced from heartbreak?

Because physical pain and emotional pain—like heartbreak—travel along the same pathways in the brain, as covered earlier, this means that theoretically they can be medically treated in the same way. In fact, researchers recently showed that acetaminophen—yep, regular old Tylenol—reduces the experience of social pain. “We have shown for the first time that acetaminophen, an over-the-counter medication commonly used to reduce physical pain, also reduces the pain of social rejection, at both neural and behavioral levels,” they write in their paper in the journal Psychological Science.

But of course, they advise against it:

But some experts argue that the moment you put a toe on the slippery slope of popping pills to make you feel better emotionally, you have to wonder if doing so circumvents nature’s plan. You’re supposed to feel bad, to sit with it, to review what went wrong, even to the point of obsession, so that you learn your lesson and don’t make the same mistake again.

I feel like I'm right back where I was in March again, feeling bad (even that would be an understatement), [trying to] sit with it, and searching for the lessons I'm supposed to learn from a situation that largely escapes my comprehension.

thank you for reading; write to me at yourstiramisu 🐌 proton dot me

  1. Of my friends, maybe 5% will respond to a text asking for a call within an hour, 20% within a day, 50% within a week, and 25% not at all. (Many of my friends are really bad texters.) To be clear, I don't fault any of them for living their own lives, and I'm sure they don't mean to be chronically unavailable, but it would be nice to have someone to talk to in times of need.

#english #friendship #love