What if words could change the shape of your brain? #humanbrain #epigenetics #thoughtexperiment

My last poem may be worth your time or not.

Apart from its poetry, however, I think it deserves the kind of exploratory prose which mebbe most of my poetry needs anyway  – though will rarely get if I have anything to do with it!


It mainly describes how its narrator has lived a life of no.  The original version said it was because of the key “women” in his life; that it was they who mainly said no, all along his journey on this rock.  The final version, however, talks of “people”.  Either way, its last line describes how “gentle love in bed” is never forthcoming for him.  This may also be revealing in relation to an unexplored sexuality the character – or writer (who ever knows in auto-ethnographic contexts!) – may have been resisting in some way.

I’d like to ask if you could read it first, before we continue.  You can find it by clicking here.


I hope it was worth your time.

What particularly interests me about it is not its entity as poetry, but its reality as a possible tool for uncovering the physiological and p’raps neurological underpinnings to the brain I certainly feel I have, and which I believe has been consistently misunderstood by many people – not least myself – in many respects over the years.

From a diagnosis of epilepsy in 1972, which I am sure had more to do with a moment of rite of passage, alongside psychological issues related to my parents in the previous ten years of my life, than any physical infirmity, to a separate diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia in 2003 which I now consider laughable, and whose inaccuracy (where not bad faith) I feel I have already begun to evidence, there are many unanswered questions in how my person has developed from child into adult.

First and foremost, it is clear I have not fulfilled my intellectual promise in any way whatsoever.  There doesn’t have to exist a common thread to all of this of course – one thing I have learnt this year, as my separation from my wife of almost twenty-nine years painfully begins to reach its end, is that life, more often than not, is damnably messy – but I think in the poem we are discussing in this post today I have stumbled across a dynamic which may potentially have existed in the lives of many people who otherwise, and even incorrectly, have been diagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

If certain people, like myself for example, spend their lives having their behaviour modified by persistent, continuous and unlimited expressions of the negative from all sides, especially in highly charged emotional contexts, and especially where clear ownership for the negatives is never properly expressed, it’s not that they don’t learn to take no for an answer: for it’s quite obvious that it will teach them that yes will never happen.

This is not my point, however.

My point is quite another.  To be never given an alternative by anyone, from parents in their childhood and sweethearts in their adolescence to lovers and spouses in their adulthood, is, surely, more than enough to destroy the subject’s ability to expect, desire and hope for any positives into any futures they may once have intended to carve out for themselves.

What I’m really saying is in these few lines in the second half of the poem in question:

[and it’s] because

the networks neural laid down so cruel

and rough,

and binding and tying and lying in


just serve to make your

innermost soul break up into pieces

of unlimited miseries:

unleashed as

they are, these terrible

tiny little moments of pain that tear

at your brain

muscles and remind you every 

time they say this no

again and again,

and again

and again,

of all the previous times

that go away and fuck yourself was said

instead of

gentle love in bed.

If I was diagnosed with a curiously unphysiological epilepsy at the age of ten, which came to me under a severe psychological pressure I now in hindsight feel was applied by a passive-aggressive father, is it not possible to explain the brainstorms that clearly assailed my brain and caused me to have fits (fits which were diagnosed never as grand mal nor properly petit mal) as the result of waves of connected pathways caused by a seriously dysfunctional and child-unfriendly home environment, where the control-freakery performed by both father and mother served to destroy the young me’s ability to avoid rising to the bait and exploding internally whenever moments of stress approached?

I know I am not describing how I see this very well, but the idea is still nascent; and as my favourite lecturer Dr Emma Murray always argues: “When you don’t know how to say something is the best moment in the world. It’s the moment of new knowledge!”

So.  Let us proceed with new knowledge further.

Imagine we apply the same principle of destructive neural networks to what is conventionally considered paranoid schizophrenia.

Keep in mind, too, that I have spent my life with my wife affronted, in an entirely unassertive way on my part, by her negatives with respect to physical relations.  Even down to an asexual hug in the kitchen.  Even down to a gentle hug of no leading implications.  If, that is, where my desire to do these things is in private.

In public the fakery is major: if allowed, she will be as tactile as anyone ever could be.  And I’ll be frank: the disjunction between public and private has finally served to destroy my soul.

To be even-handed, nevertheless, let us not forget the affair I had in 2004.  This she knows the details of, and whilst it involved some of the best moments emotionally and intellectually in my life, it is something I have felt guilty and sad about ever since.  However, we have been married since 1988, and it was the day after the wedding-night that I realised neither of us exactly suited the other.

But I did nothing about it – except hope against hope, and wait for a long time for things to improve.

And the three children who have come out of this sad relationship have been fabulous and loving human beings of unlimited, untarnished and unleashed joy in both our lives.  In fact, if I could go back to that wedding-night, in the full knowledge of the children who would come out of the marriage, I am pretty clear I would not change what happened, and who I married.

I would, however, change how I acted in consequence in the years that followed.

When you get married for the first time, it’s true that you’ve never been married previously.  The only patterns of behaviour you can possibly take advantage of are those of your own parents – and p’raps those of your spouse.  But little more.

They do say we men often marry our mothers.

Maybe it’s true.

Maybe it isn’t.

All I do know is that if neural networks laid down by a life of negative conditioning were a factor in my epilepsy – an epilepsy which went unmedicated whilst I was living in Spain in the most proactive decade of my life, and which only came back after a passive-aggressive boss of mine (yes, passive-aggressive people figure a lot in my life!) made off with £5000 from our family (as well as driving me to the edge of madness) – then mebbe it has also been a factor a) in my apparently manifesting paranoid schizophrenia; and b) under-performing professionally in many senses and contexts.

And if this isn’t to sound a madness in itself, I am convinced that there is a germ of an idea in this thought experiment that deserves investigating further.

And if, in order to do so intelligently, my brain would need physically examining … well, at last I am ready to collaborate.

With the right people, mind.  Not with anyone, matey.  I would reserve all rights of refusal.

It would, nevertheless, be a fascinating achievement to kick the DSM, the American bible of psychiatric diagnosis, into touch with respect to some examples of paranoid schizophrenia; some examples of of bipolar; and even (Lordy, what am I saying?) some examples of epilepsy.

And so I am, it is clear, talking not about mental illness here; not even what are judged to be indisputably neurological conditions.  I am, it is obvious (or, at least, I hope it is!), looking to source the explanation for some examples of both “illness” and “neurological condition” in those places where aggressive, often passive-aggressive, people, who inhabit spaces around much more sensitive and questioning souls, may do extremely destructive things to the latter over the length of their lives.  In particular, what their habits of negative conditioning may do to the brains of the more sensitive and self-critical, as they batter them almost physically with the pain and destructive effects my poem describes.

And I say “almost physically” in the knowledge of where we might have to go with this one.  Perhaps, as with epi-genetics, and the malleability of DNA, we can propose that a brain may similarly be deformed through the unending stream of negative wordage that hypercritical individuals use to lash those who are unfortunate to live and work regularly in their presence.

It’s surely worth a rejection slip at the very least; a “hey, you’re mad old bean; move on!” as a minimum.

Or, alternatively, an informed “hmm!” – and even a pursing of lips; even a sideways and curiosity-infused glance, which one day may lead to something far more interesting than my own ignorance will ever provide.

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