Thursday, June 16, 2011

bipolar mania

A Face - The Mask of Consciousness?
Mania is the signature characteristic of bipolar disorder and, depending on its severity, is how the disorder is classified. Mania is generally characterized by a distinct period of an elevated mood, which can take the form of euphoria. People commonly experience an increase in energy and a decreased need for sleep, with many often getting as little as 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night, while others can go days without sleeping. From Wikipedia.
Recently I have learned to manage mania differently?

Yesterday I continued the progression of my growing self awareness after writing the blog post bipolar anger, taking a very long walk I practiced the muscular tension awareness I'd written about in the morning. Practicing a gentle mindful awareness as I walked, I felt a little like the Buddhist monks I see doing their walking meditation here in Thailand. It was a third day following my epiphany moment of "mood was movement before intelligence evolved," which came after years of self education into the neurobiology of my brain and nervous system.

After many miles of walking with mindful awareness of muscle tensions, particularly facial, I suddenly came upon a large group of people. Walking through the group and smiling greetings towards them, flashback memories of similar feelings of ease during the early days of previous mania's, came to mind. For many miles I had practiced a mindful control over my habitual hyper-vigilant dissociation. The heightened focus of mind paid for by high muscular tensions, shallow breathing and a loss of body awareness below the diaphragm.

Walking through this group of strangers from a different culture to my own I was very pleased with myself as a thought sprang to mind, " Gee! I'm doing this with a solid conscious awareness now; doing exactly what mania had done unconsciously." As I walked on with thoughts of being in the midst of a large group and feeling anxiety free, a sudden familiar shudder ran down my spine as an image from childhood filled my minds eye. This spontaneous shudder reaction and image have overwhelmed my senses thousands of times in my life, and perhaps I at last comprehend the significance of this unconsciously produced phenomena.

Reactive Responses?
A particular incident from my childhood often accompanies my shudder of shame whenever I think to closely about my approach to other people. No! It was not an incident of physical abuse, rather my father's powerful and blind emotional rage. It was a typical scene of an angry outburst towards my perceived anxiety fueled ineptitude. He was bawling me out for some minor indiscretion as usual when the first of my lifelong shudder reactions manifested right before his eyes. Like all narcissists my father instantly assumed it was about him, and his rage redoubled, freezing my natural response in one moment in time. If my over sensitive biology had taken its natural coarse perhaps I would have fainted in front of him and both our lives would have been different. Weakness and strength were overriding moulders of behavior in 1950's Manchester, England though.

Bipolar is a Mental Illness and nothing like PTSD?

Perhaps your wondering just how I come to equate childhood abuse with adult onset bipolar disorder and just how it could relate to mania in particular? Trauma and its affect on the human nervous system, particularly the autonomic nervous system, has become a hot topic amongst many researchers and those working in the area of body psychotherapy. Beyond the hallowed halls of elite psychiatry and drug company board rooms, there is a quite revolution underway, inquiring into the pathways of all mental anguish problems.

Discovery of a third branch to the autonomic nervous system, previously known as the twin branched system responsible for flight/fight behaviors, is leading this revolution. Feedback signals from the head and face exert a strong influence on unconscious behavior patterns through this newly discovered branch of our ANS, which Stephen Porges calls the "social engagement system." Shaming events like the shudder incident I experienced with my father, frightened me away from easy social engagement, with an unconscious sense of threat preventing me from relaxed facial communication. My fathers reaction to my natural fear response anchored a physical sensation within a shame experience, helping to establish a life long fear of others. His reactions towards me were often triggered by frustration with my perceived weakness, during a period when a thick skin was considered essential, and emotionality still under under Victorian era censure, "spare the rod and spoil the child."

Facial gestures of a unique mammal?
Does mania fire the 3rd branch of ANS?

A full range of relaxed facial expression is not only important for social engagement, it signifies a full healthy functioning of the human nervous systems and autoimmune system. Porges discovery is groundbreaking in its implications for overall human health, not just the pathological conditions it is being applied to in these early days. Not seeing a relaxed facial expression on people is the surest sign of internal stress and applies across all human circumstances. From an evolutionary viewpoint early facial communication would have stimulated the growth in brain cells, in a growing sense of humanness.

A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety. STEPHEN W. PORGES

"humans have three principal defense strategies—fight, flight, and freeze. We are familiar with fight and flight behaviors, but know less about the defense strategy of immobilization, or freezing. This strategy, shared with early vertebrates, is often expressed in mammals as “death feigning.” In humans, we observe a behavioral shutdown, frequently accompanied by very weak muscle tone. Immobilization, or freezing, is one of our species’ most ancient mechanisms of defense. Inhibiting movement slows our metabolism (reducing our need for food) and raises our pain threshold.

But in addition to freezing defensively, mammals immobilize themselves for essential pro-social activities, including conception, childbirth, nursing, and the establishment of social bonds. For example, when an infant nurses, the mother has to restrain her movements. When a child is embraced, the child is functionally immobilized. Reproductive behaviors also involve a degree of immobilization. However, immobilization with fear elicits profound, potentially lethal, physiological changes (i.e., dramatic slowing of heart rate, cessation of breathing, and dropping of blood pressure)"

As a species our evolution could be described as a further adaptation of mammalian "immobilization responses" which over a few million years have become the complex and unique human animal we are. Porges stresses that without immobilization with feelings of security we cannot trigger the activity of our third branch of the ANS. Without its influence within the ANS, health issues of all types will arise not just those we judge as pathological.

Healthy vitality is stimulated by the secure attachment that allows this third branch of the ANS to operate consistently in non life threatening circumstances. Silvan Tomkins describes the human face as the billboard of our emotional life, yet facial muscles don't just send signals to others about our internal state, they send the same signals back to our brain.

Here is the catch 22 of an otherwise intelligent spices, as the mind interrupts natures intended responses, like the day I should have fainted in front of my father. The mind insists on identifying any activity it is even slightly aware of, inserting itself into the natural order. The mind interrupts the flow of impulse as it did for me that day, his raging injunctions about showing signs of weakness stalling natures impulse to collapse. Our clever mind just doesn't know when to simply let go?

Classic early adult onset of Mania?

As I wrote in living with bipolar and my first episode of mania, "I remember those first moments of lift off, sitting on the end of our double bed, she'd left me you see. I sat there with another best friends guitar in my lap looking into the dressing table mirror, looking at me. I was 28 years old and my wife had left me the previous day and another family connection seemed to have failed, was I destined to be alone?"

As Stephen Porges points out, "The muscles of the face and head influence both the expression and receptivity of social cues and can effectively reduce or increase social distance. Neural regulation of these muscles can reduce social distance by making eye contact, expressing prosody in voice, displaying contingent facial expressions, and modulating the middle ear muscles to improve the extraction of human voice from background sounds:" The Role of Social Engagement in Attachment and Bonding.

"Looking into that mirror, praying in earnest for a new direction, I promised I'd do whatever was required if he would just show me the way. Nothing happened for minutes as I sat there with firm resolve, looking at my own reflection, looking into my face. Then it began, a change at the top of my head and I felt it flow down slowly, through my face and into my shoulders, then down through my chest and into my pelvic area. I sat with a sense of "what is it? Wonder" although not in thoughts."

"It was like I'd been sitting in bath of water that was over my head and someone had pulled the plug, I sat and felt the calm descending as the tensioned dissociation drained down and out, as if like water through my toes. I was suddenly refreshed, happy, excited and new." Looking into that mirror at my own face and so affected by loss and isolation that I was completely ready for a new approach in life, did I unconsciously trigger the third branch of my auto nervous system? I think so!

Immersed in the Unconscious Reactivity of our Auto Nervous System activity?

I was suddenly released from the unconscious pattern of relationship that had guided my life up to that point. I was ready for a fresh start, ready to find new attachments which were not motivated by Fear! Porges: "Thus, the neural regulation of the striated muscles of the face and head function both as an active social engagement system that reduces psychological distance and as a filter that can influence the perception of the engagement behaviors of others."

I had been relating to others from an unconscious background of "fear," it was soaked into my muscular posture, my hesitant approach, my half frozen smile. Even though I'd learned to mimic social behavior, even though I could act a good social role, I had never known relaxed spontaneous interactions the way nature intends them to be. Proximity? Requires us to immobilize without fear, to calm the older nervous system defenses of fight/flight/freeze and engage each other with warmth.

Warm Faced Yellow Submarine?
"We all live in yellow submarine,
yellow submarine, yellow submarine,
We all live in yellow submarine,
yellow submarine, yellow submarine.

(Full speed ahead, Mr. Barkley, full speed ahead!
Full speed over here, sir!
All together! All together!
Aye, aye, sir, fire!
Captain! Captain!)

As we live a life of ease(life of ease)
Every one of us(every one of us) has all we need,
(has all we need)
Sky of blue,(sky of blue) and sea green,(sea of green)
In our yellow(In our yellow) submarine.(submarine) ( Haha! )"

We all live in yellow submarine,
yellow submarine, yellow submarine,
We all live in yellow submarine,
yellow submarine, yellow submarine.

The mind arises through the electrochemical activity of the brain, and in understanding this fundamental reality, we sense that all our thoughts are only symbols of this internal activity? In this 21st century AD we only just beginning to understand the chemical reality underpinning our sense of objectivity. The neuroscience of the brain is still so early in its its evolution that we lack an effective language to articulate it to ourselves. My own journey has led me into a deeper awareness of the mechanics of my unconscious motivations, yet even with much better knowledge and a solid felt awareness, I'm still forced to use object based words like mechanics to convey a sense of meaning in this simple black and white format.

"When I began reading neuroscience, I fell in love with the vocabulary. Words such as neural oscillation, pulsation, or sinusoidal waves, like music, evoked in me a sensory resonance born of a mysteriously intangible recognition. Perplexed, I surmised that this terminology activated contact with a dimension of implicit experience where words bridge the passage of the body through the mind and the mind through the body. I became interested in exploring a rationale for these powerful, yet easily overlooked responses." Aline LaPierre, Psy.D. The Language of Neuroception & the Bodily Self

We are still first and foremost "instinctual creatures" guided by the constant millisecond reactions of our autonomic nervous system, our auto pilot. Instinct tricks the mind into a belief in objectivity as some kind of insight into reality, when such a mindful sense is little more than an instinct driven survival reaction. The very same instinct driven reactions that makes us squeamish towards real self awareness, to the muscle, blood and sinew of vitality and particularly our overwhelmingly chemical reality.

Bipolar mania is a spontaneous and unconscious attempt to re-engage the "social engagement" activity of the third branch of the autonomic nervous system. Bipolar mania is a reenactment of a developmental emotional need, a need thwarted for whatever reason when any individual is unable to immobilize without fear when engaged in social interaction. Treating mental anguish as disease is simply an accident of history, as we continue our challenge to really use the mind for a distanced observation of its own source.

Simplistic cause and effect thinking and a denial of our evolution as a mammal have caused much blind and needless suffering. Accepting myself as evolved mammal first and social human animal second, has allowed me to feel the muscular tensions that fire my minds activity. Mindfully relaxing muscular tensions has allowed me to recondition my autonomic responses with new relaxed experiences of warm approach, where previously the unconscious avoidance of cold fear, ruled the day.

Letting go of the minds NEED to know, can liberate a FEELING of LIFE?

Bipolar Anger
Fear Filled Mental Anguish
Catch the Gap & Feel Your Mind
Unconscious Reactivity & the Pre-Tense of Intelligence?
Calming Your Bipolar Symptoms
Neuroception? An Unconscious Perception?