Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ripples in Bipolar Attachments

"The Face in the Water?"
“Marching to the promised land. Where the honey flows and takes you by the hand.”

Its one of my favorite songs by Genesis and its been stuck inside feedback loops of heart and mind for over a week now. Do you ever get that kind of thing with your favorite songs?

I mean it’s not every minute of the day of coarse, yet it keeps spontaneously springing to mind, like I’m wondering in and out of the sound proof room where its on constant playback, only the verse’s I remember though.
Is it just my quirky brain?

“The face in the water looks up. And she shakes her head as if to say. That it's the last time you'll look like today.”

Is this the last time I’ll look like today? Am I truly living the reality of this moment?

Well on some level that has to be true I guess, down amongst the cell’s of a microbus me, where thoughts, words and language loose their sharp contour and defining edge. How do I describe this rising hum inside me now, as the Genesis tune invades my heart and mind again, stirring metabolic rates, changing heart and muscle tone as warmer blood brings vital nutrients and oxygen into my brain, this stimulated sense of energy and life that such resonant music brings. How do I give you a solid sense of this experience via these written words, these inadequate metaphors of the richness in human experience.

So what’s a metaphor? What’s a fantasy for? Questions I’m always forced to ask after visits to psychosis-land, and should I even try to make sense of madness, of ’mental illness?’ “Just take your medication, will you!” I hear a normal world scream. ‘Denial is the norm though? - What do you think Daniel in the lions den is really about?’ I say, ‘The lion is a metaphor for your heart - our objective descriptions are a shallow deception of immediate survival needs, a sensory perception squashed to favor the visual, our minds eye.’

‘You’re clutching at straws, Dad,’ my oldest son says.
‘Really!’ I ask.
‘You went through the same old religious delusions again, like all that stuff about the Avatar movie, when you saw the red dragon as a metaphor for psychosis, your justifying your own experience, that’s all.’
‘So at twenty nine, you’re fully aware of your own needs and what stimulates your perceptions, how they are shaped by unconscious immersion in a family, work and friends bubble, a matrix network of emotionally reactive needs, especially with the impetuous of you’re relative career success? - You have no idea what its like to stand in such separation, in isolation, always looking from outside the warm hearth, at that cozy circle of group insiders.’

‘What are you on about now?’ He asks me.
‘Bipolar is not a disease in the simple medical model - its part of the human condition and has had more influence on our history than we care to consider’
‘Oh, the J.C. joke, he must have been bipolar, the guy thought he could walk on water for Christ’s sake.’
‘I didn’t think of J.C. this time though, thought I was King David, come to reunite the tribes.’
‘Because your name is David, makes sense I guess,’ he tells me with smiling look of smug patronization.
‘That make you feel good James?’
‘Its a simple observation, that’s all.’
‘Yet the gleam in your eye betrays a deeper need my son, a need of power and strength and a well secured sense of self.’
‘You’re the one who’s fucking crazy!’ He says, raised tone and closing movement confirming his dominant position and perhaps the background urge to this and all relational dramas. Ah? Maybe that’s why “ripples” fills my head between segments of a fantasized conversation I so wish we could have had, I‘m thinking.

Ripples of a foundational reality to life that intrudes into even the closest of attachments, even between a father and his son. Life eats life to survive, and it does indeed seem to have its emotional ripples in everything we feel, think and do, like the food chain economy that feeds on the misery of others. For twenty five years I played my part in just such a human economy, the sick child, the identified patient, the victim mentality of a balanced inter-relational dependency.

‘Actor’s on a stage, eh Dad?’ I hear him say, bringing a sensorial proximity to this isolation, and surely stimulated by the foundational need of a dyadic connection. Yet the music and the conversation are both self stimulation, evoking affective states of metabolic energy within me, like the need to stir my imagination and energize this particular writing.

Can you sense where I am with this, the plot, the hook and the promise in the title?
My Bipolar attachment style affected all of my relationships, and putting to one side any particular symptom expression I can so easily equate it with (RAD) reactive attachment disorder, compared to a ‘normal’ world of ‘reactive attachment order.’ Is instinct and not intelligence, still the great primary motivator of human relations, where a normal world just manages to bring civil order to our instinctual animal energies?

Certainly all the wars and un-learned lessons of history would suggest so, that denied instincts still retain the power to both protect and defeat us. The reality of my bi-polar relationships are grounded in instinctual survival energies, stemming from a traumatic birth and a family reactive attachment order of barely concealed hostility towards an unwanted child.

Immersed in a generational emotionality, reflecting the harshness of my British working class heritage, the remnants of a ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ Victorian mentality.
‘Children should be seen and not heard - if it was good enough for me and my father?’ Such were the foundation stones of my emotive, relational reactivity and its unconscious attachment ripples. Healthy and unhealthy attachment is conditioned into the autonomic nervous system by experiences within the family circle, well below the level of conscious awareness. So it is that relational emotionality is handed down from generation to generation, and that even within the family home we can experience isolation/separation.

3d National Conference on Mental Health Aspects of Persons Affected by Family Separation, Paul Valent, 2006.

Healthy attachment
In spite of its importance, surprisingly little is known about the physiology of strong attachment.

We know of a number of physiological effects of separation, which we will see have very important ripples. First, opioid levels in the blood are decreased. In all species morphine, heroin and opiates diminish separation calls.
Second, the sympathetic nervous system is active in separation distress, and is associated with high nor-adrenaline secretion. In the later passive phase, heart rate and temperature are decreased, adrenocortical secretions are elevated and the immune system is depressed.
Third, because mothers are important instruments in setting points for many physiological functions, separations may adversely affect synchrony and attunements of those functions, and lead to later misattunements with other parts of the body and the environment. For instance, immune system malfunction may lead to later vulnerability to infections and cancer.

Because separation is associated with some of the worst pains that humans know, I will digress for a moment and talk about defenses against these pains. As I will talk about these pains, some of you may invoke some of these defenses yourselves in order to not feel your personal pains.
That is OK.

The most basic defense is dissociation, wrongly called disassociation.
However, dis-association portrays well how information is broken up and placed in parts of the brain that keep it out of consciousness. We call it putting bad things out of one’s mind. The information may be dis-associated in the right half of the brain which is not aware of itself or the information it contains.

If it is emotion that is dissociated, we call that psychic numbing, or feeling numb. If the cognitive reality of the situation is pushed out of mind we call it denial. If the sense of it happening is pushed away we call it derealization, if we acknowledge that it is happening but not to us, we call it depersonalization. If only the physical aspect remains we call it somatization, and if only the action part of it remains, we call it acting out. If we push the whole knowledge of the absent attachment figure and the associated responses from consciousness, we call it repression. Any, or any combination of these defenses and some others, mitigate the pains that I will now mention.

Psychic pain in separation
I will mention four pains associated with separation.
First is yearning. Yearning appears with realization of the caretaker’s absence. Like pangs of grief but very different in quality, it comes in waves. It is a pain in the chest which as it were swells out with an unreciprocated desire for the attachment figure.
Second pain is that of missing. It is like part of one’s chest was scooped out and could only be replenished by the other person.
Third pain in the chest is that of emptiness. It is felt in the centre of the chest which feels as if it could crumple inward. The craving to fill the emptiness may be confused with hunger of food, but it is actually person hunger.
Fourth pain is aloneness. As against inner emptiness in this case the universe is empty. People describe it as “being on a raft in the middle of an ocean” or “in a space capsule alone in the universe”. It is often interpreted as abandonment, rejection, being cast out to die. A hug from the re-found attachment figure can neutralize all these pains.

On top of separation pains (though muted by defenses) are all the needs and cravings that result from lack of nurture. These include hunger, cold, and disrupted physiological rhythms such as sleep.
All in all, lack of care and nurture results in a sense of helplessness in a world full of threat. Being abandoned leads to feeling unrelated, unconnected, alienation and being a non-entity.

Quotations from the bible of my personal survival; Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self:

"The essential role of feedback from bodily systems, especially facial 
and postural, underlies the generation of emotion." (P,49)  

Sustained facial gazing mediates the most intense form of interpersonal communication. 
Eye to eye contact gives non-verbal advanced notice of the other. The temporal structure of gaze, 
the most immediate and purest form of inter-relation, provides clues to the readiness 
or capacity to receive and transmit social affect. (P,72)

Face to face transactions may be registered in long term memory as inceptive ‘flash bulb’ memories. 
Flashbulb memories occur during high arousal states and are an important adaptive for survival (P,75)

The biologically based ‘affective core’ becomes biased, with tendencies towards certain emotional responses. (P,191)

Shame is the essential affect that mediates socializing function. (P,200)

This intense psycho physiological state of shame distress, a ‘decrescendo’ affective response to a sudden 
alteration of the familiar ‘average expectable environment,’ subjectively experienced as a ‘spiraling downward,’ is proposed 
to represent a sudden shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominant autonomic nervous system activity. (P,204) 

Reciprocal gaze behavior, the most intense form of interpersonal communication, acts as a powerful mediator 
of  ‘affect attunement,’ but can also transmit ’miss-attunement, a mutual gratification of frustration’ (P,205)

The Ripples of Emotional Attachment are Affective States!

The Bipolar Affect is Trauma Related Attachment Disorder?

Generational Emotionality Condition's Attachment Disorder?

Faulty neuroception is the root of Emotional Disorders?

You can learn to Sooth Bipolar Emotionality?

Have I Experienced My Last Manic Episode?

The promise of my title was an exploration of the ripples of human attachments and its orders and disorders of instinctive/reactive  emotionality. The pretense that we are not an animal, is a huge 'Elephant in the Room' so to speak, when it comes to the 'objectification' of our nature, like the defensive notion that we can classify human experience with the same economies of scale, we use to process motor vehicles. The commercialization of health care, has gone hand in hand with the medical model of emotional distress, and is a prime example of the reality of our 'food chain economy.'

For twenty five years I played my part in this false economy, by playing the suffering victim by way of pure ignorance and only when I ran out of support and options did I finally start to give up my dependence on others and try to educate myself about what really does go on inside me. Re-framing 'Mental Illness' to Instinct Disorder has changed my life completely, allowing me a freedom of emotional expression I have never known before. Only ignorance keeps us withdrawn in fearful expectation of states we 'think' we cannot control, continuing to think in terms of mental illness will keep us in fear of our own sensations, perhaps for other people's needs more than our own.

Isolation played its part in my disorder, I used fantasy conversations instead of real ones, used music to sooth myself for many years, soothing unconscious needs that are instinctual and metabolic, as I've tried to show. Stephen Porges The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation goes a long way to explaining how three branches of our autonomic nervous system, mediate our essential behaviors. Attachment is an essential behavior, for which we are hard wired, mostly through the two hundred odd muscles of the head and the face in particular.

Shame - Humiliation lies at the heart of emotional abuse and conditions a faulty neuroception of expectant threat from the very source of our most essential protection, other people. The brain is a brilliant organic computer that ensures survival by conditioned experience, once its experienced situations as threatening, it will autonomically expect the same again. And so in unconscious patterns of expectation we bring our past to the present, allowing our denied instincts to both protect and defeat us again.