Friday, April 22, 2011

Another Bipolar Digestion Day

Diet, Digestion & Depression?
It was a big night out, the end of Songkran celebration in Pattaya where we'd gone to see old friends, and the food just kept coming. The first time in almost a year that I've eaten western food too, and today the old bipolar rhythm has set in.

More attuned to my biorhythm's these days I feel the metabolic energy needed for digestion, the tension of sympathetic - parasympathetic nervous system activity involved and the old sinking feeling.

That reptilian part of my brain wants me in the undergrowth, maybe basking in the sun, but definitely not moving. Heavy digestion work had become coupled to the FREEZE response through my early life experience of trauma.

Freeze Response:  If the fight or flight is not successful, then at the point of recognizing defeat and impending death, the animal goes into a state of helplessness and hopelessness, physiologically the freeze response.

I had planed to write today, to get on with it in my usual tense and excited way, but the brain is in marshmallow mode as metabolic energy flows the other way. I curse as I rue my brain/body and its mammalian bi-phasic ways, its hell for leather straight into overdrive or can't find first gear and to easily slips into reverse. Reminds me of those daydreams in my youth, how my mind would sometimes wonder onto the African Savannah and gaze on a lion pride. My unconscious is a strange beast, all Freudian and Jungian somewhere deep inside me, like the metaphor style tunes that pop into my head sometimes.

They come mostly when I'm out walking or even when I'm driving, close encounters of the third kind? No! Not some kind of accident on the pavement or the road, but the theme music from that famous movie, which has sprang into mind a lot in recent times. Fritz Perls spoke about the experiential integration of knowledge as something akin to digestion, like frustrated study when you feel nothing is sinking in only to have sparkling new ideas, days or weeks later.

Should I be willful here and force myself to think, whip myself with angry shame filled thoughts in my father’s tone of accusation. "Loser, weak, useless, hopeless, good for nothing, and why did I give in to Jeff's insistence on T-bone steaks." My reptilian brain stem wants to go sleep it off, no fight/flight sympathetic nervous system surge of lion hearted thoughts today. Pride comes with mastery though, and I overcome this downward surge by use of a cool shower to bring a lively sensation, a stimulation from outside firing other neurons in the old brain stem.

"Keep re-wiring that old neural orientation" I say to myself as I mentally chalk up another experience of letting go a depressive urge. I think about Fritz Perls notion of digestion as I close the apartment door, insights into my nervous system activation seem to be really settling in now and I laugh to myself with a felt realization that it has happened, it has become easier to regulate my moods.

"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination." _Carl Rogers

About thirty minutes into my power walk new thoughts begin to flow, as right brain intuition aids my usual left brained rationalizations. I’d slipped into the African Savannah thing again, wondering why it had often come to mind years ago and was it a Freudian/Jungian thing to do with the limbic area of my brain and my evolved mammalian nervous system. Was the reverie an unconscious recognition of a trauma conditioned predator/prey orientation, a default disposition of parasympathetic dominated FREEZE.

The parasympathetic nervous system is primarily activated in states of rest and relaxation. 
However, when death may be imminent or the traumatic threat is prolonged, the parasympathetic system 
creates a state of passive defense (freeze). In this state of freeze, the victim of trauma enters an altered 
reality; it is a passive form of dissociation. Time slows down and there is no awareness of fear or pain. 
Signs of hypoarousal include decreased heart rate and respiration, warm and flushed skin, normally reactive pupils 
(not dilated), and lowered blood pressure. Here the feelings are of coming DOWN –  disappointment, grief, shame, 
guilt, despair, or else contentment, peacefulness, satisfaction. These feelings, if expressed, draw the energy inward. 
Healing the Body-Mind in Heart-Centered Therapies David Hartman& Diane Zimberoff, M.A. Read More:

As I continued my walk I had silly thoughts about motor cars with manual and automatic gearbox’s, how I’d been stuck with a manual drive system, an outdated predator/prey bi model instead of a modern triune autonomic model with social system excitation. As I continued to walk and let reverie flow the motor vehicle theme saw the heart as an engine with lungs as a gas tank with gearbox in the brain. “Stop thinking and feel it,” I told myself and that’s when the metaphor tune sprang to mind again, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind

On previous mystical mania days I thought this was about some kind of extraterrestrial contact, or spiritual awakening? I mean there was no logical association to the education of the last few years and a movie I’d not seen for nearly three decades, so why had it returned to mind in the last couple of years?  Now I felt though, felt the rise of sympathetic nervous system activity as I escaped the parasympathetic freeze. Felt the heightened reverie and resonating tone, felt a deep desire for harmony and a balance within my nature, my contact with myself.

The sympathetic nervous system is primarily aroused in states of stress, both positive (excitement)
and negative (fear). It responds to extreme traumatic threat by telling the body to prepare for defensive action
(fight or flight) through increasing respiration and heart rate to provide more oxygen, sending blood away from
the skin and into the muscles for quick movement. Signs of hyperarousal include cold pale skin, dilated pupils,
raised blood pressure. There is an upsurge of the feelings that are experienced as coming UP, i.e., anger, fear,
excitement, desire, hatred. These feelings, if expressed, involve outward movement (toward or away from)

A stranger gave me a cautious look as I let out an involuntary laugh at the flashbulb memory of 31 years ago capturing the minds eye. Back in Febuary 1980 I had unconsciously known what it was, on that first manic night. After dancing around the living room, using music to stimulate the neural control circuits of my “social engagement system,” my triune autonomic gearbox, I needed to pee? Walking towards the toilet and still caught up in this stimulated escape from parasympathetic freeze and the “low grade depression” that had ruled my life. I was still inwardly orientated to the point of not looking where I was going and bumped into the toilet door, “I’m not frightened, only startled,” I remember saying to myself.

Periods of sympathetic arousal, with high levels of stress hormones, will include symptoms of muscle
bracing, bruxism, ocular divergence, tachycardia, diaphoresis, pallor, tremor, startle, hypervigilence,
panic, rage and constipation. These states will alternate with parasympathetic dominance, including
symptoms of palpitations, nausea, dizziness, indigestion, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and incontinence.
The state of low serum cortisol is associated with behavioral responses including social isolation and
withdrawal, substance abuse, constricted affect, denial, cognitive impairment and dissociation, all
relatively parasympathetic states.

As I head for home memories of last nights meal come to mind, good company with plenty of food and wine. A pattern of social interaction had ensued though, triggered by the proximity of a childhood friend with all my one liner jokes coming out storage, along with a host of reminiscing stories. I was on form for at least three quarters of the night as sarcasm flowed back and forth between T-bone Jeff and myself, until of coarse the familiar wall was hit and my sympathetic fight/flight energy was spent.

I remembered leaning back in my chair and smiling to myself, aware that this was the counteracting parasympathetic response, the need for metabolic conservation/withdrawal in my customary predator/prey social style. I was pleased with myself then, pleased to have caught the reality of my hidden stimulation and no longer worried by such a response I could still be social and simply smile, gesturing my approval towards the “social engagement“ of others.

Back home I reflect on issues with digestion and the bi-phasic activity of my autonomic nervous system. I smile at the newfound experiences of defeating an old self-defeating motivation. The insights gained over the last few years have definitely found some digestive integration, being able to identify the beast within has put an end to my externalizing, rationalizing objectivity. At last I can feel my life and know myself in a different and far more real way than ever before and I’m happy to report that this was not a typical Bipolar Digestion Day.

Both parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system control digestion
by contacting the enteric nervous system in the wall of the digestive tract The parasympathetic division
typically stimulates digestion while the sympathetic division typically inhibits it.

The Second 100 million neuron Brain
Think Twice: How the Gut's "Second Brain" Influences Mood and Well-Being. The emerging and surprising view of how the enteric nervous system in our bellies goes far beyond just processing the food we eat By Adam Hadhazy Scientific American

"Technically known as the enteric nervous system, the second brain consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut, or alimentary canal, which measures about nine meters end to end from the esophagus to the anus. The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system"

"The second brain informs our state of mind in other more obscure ways, as well. "A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut," Mayer says. Butterflies in the stomach—signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, Gershon says—is but one example. Although gastrointestinal (GI) turmoil can sour one's moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. For example, electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve—a useful treatment for depression—may mimic these signals, Gershon says."

In mammalian evolutionary terms it makes perfect sense that the gut has such an influence on mood, when innate anger-rage was required for the 'fight' means of defending life and acquiring food by the ability to kill. Also innate fear-terror stimulates 'flight' and 'freeze' in instinctual survival responses, evolved long before our left brained rationalizations of these essential survival energies.

Neuroception?-An Unconscious Perception?