Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Amazing and Heinous

Today's NaBloPoMo Prompt: - How old were you the first time you fell in love?

Like 90% of the population, I was in high school when I first fell in love. Sixteen years old. Hormonal, both miserable and joyfully giddy all within the same day, hell, the same 90 minute period. It was a confusing, delightful, embarrassing and strange time. It's burned into my brain like I've got Home Ec first period tomorrow morning. That's not an uncommon feeling. In fact it's not a feeling at all. It's not even romantic, it's scientific.

I stumbled upon this riveting article from New York Magazine that delves into recent social science research that proves it, teenage brains are primed for drama, poor decision making and deeply permanent memories and emotional responses that can follow us into adulthood. In adolescence, self image and identity are forming. Our primordial teenage brain is actually that, not yet fully developed, so that the emotional parts of the brain are in charge. Everything is more dramatic. It feels more dramatic and we react more dramatically than we would as mature adults. Well, if you can even call some of us adults "mature." And we remember these times in more detail, because of this developing brain chemistry and activity.  But don't take my word for it, go read the article. It's a long article, but absolutely worth your time. Here's my favorite quote:

"In adolescence, the brain is also buzzing with more dopamine activity than at any other time in the human life cycle, so everything an adolescent does—everything an adolescent feels—is just a little bit more intense. 'And you never get back to that intensity,' says Casey. (The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has a slightly different way of saying this: 'Puberty,' he writes, 'is everyone’s first experience of a sentient madness.')"


That is such a perfect description of high school for me, and falling in love for the first time, "sentient madness." And while that "sentient madness" feels heady and sometimes traumatizing, the article captures the science that helps explain why we feel that way. The article makes some sweeping stereotypes about different types of high school kids, predicts their future success, and like any research, makes generalizations that may not feel true for you specifically, but now with social researchers finally focusing some attention on the adolescent stage, it's not surprising to find that science supports the anecdotal feeling of so many of us. High school, particularly for those of us who hated that time period, is seered into our brain and psyche. All the good and the bad, the books and music and friends and memories of high school feel vibrant and close, even though for me it was over almost 20 years ago. I'm not stuck in high school. I'm happy in my adult life, but those high school times have a color and vivid emotional pull unlike any other. We feel like this for so many reasons. Brain chemistry? Falling in love for the first time? Figuring out who we are and who we want to be? Struggling to find our place in the world? Yes, all of it, all the delusion and absurdity and emotion, teenage madness.

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