Are You Suffering from Spock’s Brain Syndrome?

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on May 20, 2014 • views: 684

Spock's BrainI have to admit it.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a body.

Then I could work on a project as long as I wanted to without worrying about a sore neck, sore back, tight hamstrings, sagging muscles, dry eyes, and all the rest.

This is especially true when I’m on a roll. The writing is going well. Hours pass and I just want to keep going. But my spine starts to complain. And I can no longer feel my toes.

I don’t think I’m the only writer (or passionate person who happens to work sitting down at a computer) who feels like this. In fact, I think a lot of us are suffering from a very serious, sometimes life-threatening condition:

Spock’s Brain Syndrome.

What is Spock’s Brain Syndrome?

SBS for short, it strikes when we ignore our physical selves to the point of discomfort, pain, injury or illness. It’s present when we put excessive importance on our mental selves, and see our bodies as troublesome inconveniences that unfortunately, must be attended to when they complain loudly enough.

The danger of this syndrome is that it can become chronic, which can lead to even more serious illnesses down the road–as well as the eroding of that mental self that we are so fond of.

Star Trek fans will already know what I’m talking about. For those who didn’t watch the classic shows, here’s a quick explanation.

In the original Star Trek series, “Spock’s Brain” was the first episode in the third and last season, number 56 of 79, which aired in 1968. According to Wikipedia: “In this episode, an alien female (Kara) beams aboard the ship and, after incapacitating the rest of the crew, surgically removes Spock’s brain. Kirk and the crew have just hours to locate and replace it before Spock’s body dies.”

Turns out the alien female transferred Spock’s brain to a black box where it operates the power systems of the planet, recirculates the air, runs the heating plants and pumps the water. The aliens refer to it as “The Controller.”

Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy track it down, and then face the challenge of stealing it back and restoring it to Spock’s body.

At one point, our heroes confront the leader of the aliens, Kara. They explain they must restore Spock’s brain to save his life. In a clip from the show:

Kara: You must not take the Controller away. We will all die! The Controller is young and, and powerful. Perfect!

Mr. Spock: [voice] How very flattering.

Symptoms of SBS

Writers, artists, and other creatives may feel the same when their work is praised. Yay, brain! All the reason to go back and create some more, which is mostly a good thing.

Where it becomes dangerous is when it gets out of balance—we become brains in boxes. Not sure if you’re affected? Check for these symptoms:

  • Writer’s block.
  • Chronic pain—back, neck, hamstrings.
  • Dullness—you’re not thinking of new ideas.
  • Lack of enthusiasm—that story you were all excited about suddenly seems totally stupid.
  • Fatigue—you can’t seem to find the energy you need to create.
  • Depression—you no longer believe in yourself or your ability to create something of value.
  • You can’t remember the last time you laughed out loud.
  • You feel overweight, unattractive, and older than your age.

In a great article entitled, “The Neurological Similarities Between Successful Writers And The Mentally Ill,” writer Cody Delistraty says, “It’s not a surprise then that Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, and the most wildly creative writers of our generation have such bizarre ideas: they cannot stop thinking, and whether pleasant or macabre, their thoughts (that can turn into masterpieces like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Pulp Fiction) are constantly flowing through their minds.”

As we constantly think, ruminate, connect, and create, we are separated, isolated, living in our minds. In the editing process, we are always thinking and self-criticizing and evaluating and problem-solving and then going through the whole process again.

Even as we go out into the world, we’re likely to relate what we see and hear to our writing, constantly working, catching snatches of dialogue that might work in a story, noticing a setting or a face that is reminiscent of a certain scene or character. We’re so caught up in our thoughts we can completely forget the other parts of ourselves, so much so that when the inevitable aches and pains, or stress-related illnesses, pop up, we’re honestly surprised.

Spock’s Brain Syndrome. Who needs a body?

Returning to the Body Fuels the Writing

The obvious reason is: without a body, we’d have no mind (at least, not in this century). The two are inextricably connected, which means when we ignore one, the other suffers, as well.

Hope Clark of Funds for Writers talked about this in her feature: “Your brain is your writing,” she says, “and it’s only as keen as you keep it. That means healthy rituals.”

Too much work, to the point of imbalance, creates a clogged brain, or “cerebral congestion.” We may experience it through the symptoms listed above, or in just about any negative way.

“The Introvert Entrepreneur” talks about the issue in a blog entitled, “How to Stop Thinking and Start Living.”

“What happens when we live too much in our heads? We forget we exist below the neck. Our heart doesn’t speak as clearly. Our gut suffers from being ignored. Our hands remain idle. Our feet get stuck in the mud. We stop feeling and experiencing life first-hand. Everything goes through the fine-mesh filter of our brains, and pragmatism prevails over passion.”

And what’s writing without passion?

Appreciating What We Have

The easy fix? Get back into the body. Get some exercise, go have some fun, and enjoy some well-deserved rest.

Every writer knows the best ideas show up in the bathtub, behind the wheel of a car, or on a trail through the forest. Don’t want to leave the computer? Tell yourself: Your work needs it.

I think coincidences are rarely just coincidences. As I was writing this blog, I had the television tuned to the “Barbara Walters: Her Story” special. (Do writers ever watch television without working at the same time?) I was writing away, not paying any attention, when a familiar voice caught my ear. I looked up to see a clip from an old interview between Barbara and Christopher Reeve.

Just looking at the man inspires me. He was so incredibly brave and positive, a huge life force for so many people. With all he accomplished as an actor, some would say he achieved even more after his accident with all his advocacy work. Seeing him again, I couldn’t help but remember the tall, graceful actor that stole so many hearts in Somewhere in Time, or brought so many criminals to justice in the Superman movies. That thought tends to make one immediately grateful that one does still have a healthy body capable of walking, running, or doing just about anything.

Christopher is quoted as saying: “Even if your body doesn’t work the way it used to, the heart and the mind and the spirit are not diminished.”

Such a true statement, but as long as the body is working, there’s no sense developing SBS prematurely. Work hard, yes, but if you want to remain creative and productive—even improve your work—cherish the body you have, and take care of it!

A final inspiring note:

From Christopher’s last interview with Barbara Walters:

“You know what’s interesting to me is that being physically paralyzed for eight years, I get pretty impatient when people are able-bodied but are somehow paralyzed for other reasons, and I’m going, ‘Come on, come on, go for it.’ … It took being in a chair to realize that. And so my recommendation is don’t break your neck to find out that you need to fulfill your potential.”

Do you ever suffer from Spock’s Brain Syndrome? Please share your story.

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