Does Affective Disorder mean Emotional Disorder?
Are Symptoms of Mental Illness Affective States?
Are Innate Affects involved in Affective Disorders?
Are Nine Innate Affects the rootS of all Emotions?
Is Bipolar a brain disease or a nervous system disorder?
"What exactly is bipolar affective disorder?" Its a question Iv'e been earnestly researching for four years now with most psychiatrists answering, "its a chemical imbalance in the brain but we don't know exactly how or why it occurs." When I ask what exactly is meant by an affective disorder the answer is often "it just means a disorder of emotion." The same kind of vague "we don't really know" reply comes when we ask for an explanation of how a bipolar disorder chemical imbalance is a disease like diabetes?
‘Affect’ has become a crucial word in the recent evolution of our knowledge into the human condition, with a whole branch of brain research known as Affective Neuroscience. My own quest to comprehend what is really implied by affective states came with a book by Allan N Schore, the ‘Einstein of Neurobiology’ as some have called him. I found Schore's book “Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self,” in 2007, and those words affect, dysregulation and disorders jumped of the cover at me, with a promise of answering my question, "is affect the same as emotion?"
Many writers use the terms affect and emotion interchangeably, while the father of Affect Theory, Silvan Tomkins suggests there are only nine innate affects, which are the roots of all human emotion, calling them innate affects suggests they are similar to hard wired animal instincts. Of coarse our animal nature is one of those great unspeakable topics in a civil society, like death and and other topics likely to provoke a strong emotional reaction. In spite of the general acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution, we don't seem so comfortable with this scientific fact that we are able to embrace a felt sense of its reality.
Startle, Distress, Fear, Anger, Shame, Interest, Joy, Disgust and Dismell are Tomkins innate affects which are physiological, whole body reactions. In evolutionary terms this raises the question "Is this how animal instinct transcends into complex human emotion through the higher regions of the brain?" Innate distress can be seen in most babies first response to life with the birth cry, and innate startle response can be seen in all humans exposed to a sudden and unexpected loud noise. Shame, disgust and dismell have become adapted to play a huge role in socializing human nature, with shame known as the great socializing affect as well as the role it plays in emotional disorders of every kind. Disgust and dismell are innate reactions evolved to keep mammals from ingesting dangerous substances, yet can be easily seen in human reactions of social rank and status, the upturned nose of the self entitled a classic example.
To date my own sense of innate affects, is of discreet neural networks within the primitive layer of the brain that fire on feedback signals from both the internal and external environments. This neural stimulation is deeply involved in our basic survival responses, and the innervation of the autonomic nervous system and its responsibility for those strange sensations doctors of disease refer to as symptoms. Feedback is important in our new understanding of systems theory and it is this complex feedback within the brain and autonomic nervous system that cannot be grasped by the minds cause and effect logic, our precious objectivity. Is simplistic cause and effect objectivity at the heart of blaming disease for affective disorders and ignoring the role of the autonomic nervous system, because it means a conscious admission of our animal origins? Is bipolar disorder about denied instincts?
DISEASE OR NERVOUS SYSTEM DISORDER?
Since discovering Allan Schore's epic "Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self "and Silvan Tomkins "Exploring Affect" my research has involved a steady change from intellectual lip service to these concepts and theories to a sensed awareness of what my mind struggles to grasp and finds much easier to deny. This journey has challenged my previous common belief in a bipolar illness of brain disease causing a chemical imbalance and needing medication to control it, just like diabetes.
This journey raised questions about my ability to understand, to be aware and to know my own nature, particularly with the activity of the autonomic nervous system, our auto pilot, being unconscious and beyond a knowing through the mind. How am I to know what innate affects and affective states are if they are embedded in unconscious processes? Like most people in the the western world I grew up with a sense that the mind and its conscious observations were the primary source of awareness, understanding and knowing. Yet these days my sense of knowing resides firmly in the gut not my head, and my sense of self has been transformed by the need to sense this unconscious activity that stimulated my bipolar affective disorder.
Sensing my auto pilot, and how it ruled my movements no matter what my conscious will intended was a major challenge for someone who habitually dissociated from body sensations, through over intellectualizing. Sensing how this damed auto pilot used to drive me crazy by freezing my intentions when met a pretty girl and that awkward hesitation that prevented a spontaneous flow to my social relations, has challenged me to feel not think. I'm now firmly convinced that a trauma style conditioning of the autonomic nervous system and innate affects lie at the heart of my previous bipolar behaviors, I sense that innate affects are in fact the keys to understanding mental illness. I now know deep in my gut that the extraordinary sensations and behaviors of my mental illness are rooted in animal instincts and their powerful survival energies.
Is Bipolar a brain disease or a nervous system disorder? Are innate affects involved in affective disorders and is there a common link between all mental/emotional disorder found in the evolution of our autonomic nervous system? Can we say that affective disorder is a disorder of innate instincts/affects, and not an illness or disease as most commonly understood? In judging emotional anguish as mental illness are we guilty of denying instinctual responses, and not just in the behavior of the anguished individual? Are such questions inconvenient because they stir powerful feelings and challenge the common beliefs that help regulate the powerful energies within?
I know I'm writing about bipolar affective disorder in a way that is not easy to take on-board,its taken me four years of constant reading and an experience of integration that cannot be objectively described, something like the process of healing through meditation. From an earnest desire to educate myself about the processes of my brain, I've been led slowly but surely back to my body, a place I'd never really known thanks to birth trauma. At this stage of my journey I wish to continue this process of self discovery by writing here and hopefully inspiring others to pursue a similar education into their own nature. As I mentioned earlier feedback is an important tenant of systems theory and the feedback I receive from readers here further enhances my own discovery process.
A RECOVERY PROCESS?
Recovering from mental illness has been a long journey for me and only began in earnest when I dared to believe that bipolar affective disorder is not an illness in the classic medical model of disease. Indeed its common perception as simply a chemical imbalance of unknown cause, is facing a mounting backlash as the wished for breakthrough of gene research fails to materialize. The recent publication of Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic" has asked many inconvenient questions about common beliefs in mental illness. Perhaps we are on the verge of a shift in awareness that may just blossom from the ground up, like the social media revolutions in the Arab world. As individual survivors of emotional anguish and crazy behavior build their presence on the internet, perhaps the number of recovery stories will affect a wider recovery process inline with a new paradigm awareness of systemic feedback.
As I write this and other articles the genesis of a formal recovery method based on insight and mindful awareness practice is percolating inside the synaptic spaces of my brain. Elsewhere on this blog are references to men like Stephen Porges and Peter Levine who are amongst the leaders in a new awareness and approach to healing. Levine in particular has taken the awareness of trauma out of the halls of academia and denial and placed it firmly back into the hands of somatic therapists, with training in the wisdom of the body. Levine's methods have been invaluable in helping me to transform educated insights into a solid felt aware, not just an intellectual lip service.
Neuroception?-An Unconscious Perception?