|Bipolar Disorder Altered States|
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for active behavior and is best know for its stimulation of the famous fight/flight response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our passive behaviors including restoration needs like digestion, sleep, and avoidance. It was mostly my parasympathetic nervous system which had stimulated a pattern of passive avoidance during childhood, a pattern which was congruent with hostile internal & external environments during that period of my life.
Poor early life experience conditioned my unconscious reactions and kept me from experience of this newly discovered ’social engagement system,’ a third branch of the ANS. I never had the relaxed and close proximity in early childhood, that would have stimulated the neural innervation of this important mammalian signaling system, which is based on the two hundred muscles of the head and face. The Polyvagal Theory describes this third branch of the ANS, as the vital neural control of the ANS which stimulates a vagal braking of heart rate allowing humans to access a full range of emotive energies without triggering evolutionary older defensive responses of reactive freeze/flight/fight.
Life had started in overwhelming experience triggering ‘innate terror,’ during a traumatic birth and stimulated a primitive defense. I became conditioned to respond to life circumstances using only the bi-phasic stimulation of my ANS in engage and withdraw behavior patterns. Even though I was always unconsciously stimulated by these basic survival energies, I got by in the social world by using the capacity for mimicked behavior, to act out social engagement with family and friends.
Unconsciously using only this primitive mode of sympathetic engagement for social interaction, I often became exhausted by lengthy social exchanges, after running through my range of mimicked, simulated ‘affective’ responses. In early adulthood I had indeed become a simulation actor of 101, one liner jokes and anecdotal stories, yet always feeling the unconscious need of parasympathetic withdrawal.
My defensive posture towards life was stimulated by a predominance of the primary ‘innate affect’ of fear - terror, which I first became aware of after reading Silvan Tomkins “Exploring Affect:” I was led to Tomkins, the father of Affect Theory, after stumbling on Allan Schore’s “Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self”
Although I read and re-read Schore, I could not get my head around the true meaning of affect or what the neuroscientists now call ‘affective states,’ even though it so obviously clicked with my awareness of bipolar as a disorder of affect. Only after reading Schore, Tomkins, Porges and Levine, have I come to understand the biological systems of my brain/body. Only after a decade of research and experience have I come to appreciate that Tomkins nine primary affects, combined with a triune nervous system are the roots of my disordered emotive reactions, which had become an unconscious and self perpetuating experience.
As the above preface to Tomkins book illustrates, systems theory is a tough concept to deal with, like the classic “butterfly effect” of minute wings flapped in the Amazon causing a Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. In emotional terms, an experience of a certain intensity can organize the autonomic nervous system towards a negative predominance of ’closed system’ defense. In my case innate fear-terror and a lack of skin to skin and face to face contact during the formative phase of my life, caused a reliance on closed system stimulation, to fulfill an internal reality of my life sustaining metabolic energy needs.
Locked out of the social world by the fearful intensity of early experience, I sustained myself through self stimulation in the need to create energizing flows of blood and nutrients to my brain, I became a daydreamer and used emotive fantasy and the affective stimulation of music to warm the void, of my existential isolation from others.
Only after taking years to read my through several authors have I come to see the folly of an ‘objectified’ self , which allows some health care providers to speak of a human baby as an ‘it.’ “If you don’t take charge, it will” is the advice of some in the field of early life development, defensively assuming that the most exotic matter in the universe is no more substantial than a widget, a unit of simplistic economic value.
My behavior patterns had been a reactive yo-yo of what Porges calls (DVC) dorsal vagal complex stimulated, energy conserving conservation/withdrawal and (SNS) sympathetic nervous system stimulated energy expending engagement. Lacking the (VVC) ventral vagal complex stimulation of the heart which allows a relaxed muscular posture while experiencing a range of emotive energy states, (affective states). Lacking access to the most evolved and newest branch of the ANS, in stimulating my brain/body metabolism, I would become fatigued far to quickly during circumstances of social engagement.
Only when I equated Tomkins innate affects with animal instinct and came to understand Porges The Polyvagal Theory, did I see the reality of my emotionally primitive behavior patterns, and how I‘d used simulated affective states to disguise them, from myself. Some people are seen by others as a ’force of nature,’ like Sasiprapha’s Smile, they seem to have more vitality than the rest of us, are more instinctively in tune with life perhaps, or more able through life circumstances to express their innate affects.
Only when I suspected that ‘mania’ is an unconscious attempt to engage this newly discovered branch of the ANS, did I find the courage to allow a six week uninterrupted manic episode to unfold in the hope that I would come to understand its natural intent. Chaos, Chance and Circumstance is the foundational reality underpinning our lives, no matter how much we defend ourselves against it with our infamous denial. Systems theory is coming to grips with this foundational reality, and how our early life experience affects the maturing brain & nervous system.
Although it cannot be proven using objective scientific methods, mania is more than likely an attempt to re-organize the neural control of the autonomic nervous system, and establish a more positive long term stability of open, approach and approachable body posture. The confusion about its often chaotic energies comes from trying to objectify it through the minds identification processes, when it it really is about the brain/body and metabolic energy processes. We are evolved for survival through group inclusion, with our uniqueness as an animal vitally dependant on our interaction with others right down to the molecular level of our human being.
Our very sense of being human is conjured through the reactions of other humans towards us, such is the metaphorical meaning of the “mirror mirror on the wall” Snow White nursery rhyme, and yet we struggle with the needs of individual identity in this ever increasing human group. As Murry Bowen pointed out, there seems to be two opposing forces of togetherness & separateness that always impinge upon the human psyche.
This foundational need of group survival stimulated my first episode of bipolar mania when I found myself suddenly alone and needing to find a new experience of life. Still motivated by the unconscious stimulation of my autonomic nervous system (ANS), was it indeed the activity of a (VVC) ventral vagal complex innervation of my ANS that had me dancing around the living room on that very first manic night. While listening to my favorite music, was I unconsciously evoking a less defensive posture of relaxed heart, breath and muscular tones, that would allow me both to approach strangers and to be approachable?
My particular manias have always taken on a very happy drunk kind of demeanor, if you can sense how that might make me more appealing. Yet when speaking of these so-called mad states it is important to understand the role of Tomkins nine primary innate affects and a state of mammalian consciousness that predates the modern era. It is also vital to feel these energizing affects through the nervous system and the body, as unconscious activity that cannot be identified through the mind. Indeed the whole problem of human madness probably comes from trapping these survival energies in a re-triggering pattern, through the minds attempt to establish its dominance in awareness needs.
A mind-less letting go of instinctual survival energies is how I now manage my habitual patterns of stimulated behavior, coming to sense more every day the rhythmic needs of metabolic energy states, from active acquisition of resources to social engagement needs and back to the withdrawal of rest and restitution. The great trauma trap is an escape where there is no escape, as we unconsciously retreat into the painless area of the brain itself in an effort to be minimize physical pain. The denied mammalian trick of feigning death is the evolved nervous system stimulation beneath this human experience of dissociation and all those symptoms of PTSD and other expressions of an evolved animal nervous system, that is concerned with survival of the body.
Without ever knowing it until I made a very concerted effort to educate myself, I had been living a life of dissociative reactions to the here and now, freezing on approach to other people without consciously knowing why, bluffing my way past the initial instinctive response with my well rehearsed one liners and stories. Yet in my social relations a feeling of ‘oddness’ prevailed, something not quiet right about David, the missing free flowing vitality of spontaneous interaction, the force of nature.
|When Sasiprapha Smiles|
‘Hello beautiful,’ I say, gazing up at her, instantly transformed from a state of concerned thinking into an ‘affective state’ of warm delight. Sally blushes at the intensity of my loving gaze and giggles.
‘Stop it!’ She says, changing the mood by frowning at the blank piece of paper.
‘Going well I see!’
Neuroception?-An Unconscious Perception?