|Wanphen in Thai dress, for a traditional dance festival, with her old falang.|
Its now twenty days after my visa renewal was refused with a polite “you have 30 days only,” as Thailand’s new government enforces the restrictions on financially insecure falang’s (foreigners) like myself, trying to stay long-term on nothing more than a tourist visa.
So my sojourn in South East Asia has suffered a sad demise.
I’m about to face challenges which will test the reality of my effort to develop a deeper understanding of my mental illness experience, and whether I really have learned how to self-regulate during an existential crisis?
‘Why you not finish book already?’ Wanphen had demanded, when I broke the news that I had to leave.
‘What can I say darling? It’s a process, that I’m probably only half way through.’ Of coarse the language barrier prohibited any nuanced conversation, and we both practiced the Buddhist art of acceptance, in a struggle for dignity and grace during a week of brave faces atop gut wrenching feelings, as departure hour drew ever closer.
‘How long before you come back?’ Phen wanted know, daily.
‘I don’t know, I can’t say what will happen, I never do like this before, in my life.’
‘I wait you, you number one my heart, but I need buy land, make house, for get old.’
‘How long you wait me? For ten year?’ I’d asked her, in an effort to ease the tension, with a lighter touch, to such a painful reality.
Funny! I promised I’d take my boys there and show them were they might end up some day, if they didn't apply themselves to their school work, when they were young.
Memories of my first departure three days prior, sprang to mind also;
'You have overstay to pay, you cannot leave today!' The Thai immigration official advised for a second time, as I tried to argue about my lack of funds.
'My son buy ticket, look, not my name on credit card, I'm no money, broken!' It was no use of coarse and minutes later I wondered away from the Malaysia Airlines counter feeling ashamed and defeated, "idiot, how did I not see the stamp date in my passport?" It had been another highly emotional day though, there at the Thai consulate in Laos, when I'd spent two hours trying to argue about my visa application.
'I will apply for retirement visa next year, Wanphen my sponsor for two years now, we get married next year!'
I looked at the departure card again, the border immigration stamp had landed right on top of printed letters making it impossible to read, and I'd just assumed I had 30 days, as the young lady at the consulate had told me. I'd slumped down on an chair, as an old familiar sinking feeling claimed me once again, I couldn't believe that I'd messed this up so badly, as I remembered the email I'd sent to James as soon as I crossed the border back into Thailand. How he'd paid for my flight and right now I should be waiting to board a plane, not sitting here feeling suicidal. I'd sat with the feeling and its stimulated thoughts for a while, letting the negative energy subside, until feelings of resignation and a positive intent managed to surface. Once again, I'd had to look into the face of depressive despair and say "fuck it," deciding that I had to get myself back to Wanphen and contact my son. That was how I'd found myself begging for assistance for the first time in my life.
'Excuse me, sorry to bother you but I've got no money and I need to buy a bus ticket,' I asked a kind looking tourist at the public bus ticket area, before explaining my situation. I got lucky with my very first attempt, cheering up no end. On the bus I tried to feel into that awful sensation of despair and sense its life-long residue of fear, as the stimulation to my negative thoughts, "its physiological not psychological" I remembered, trying to hold fast to my growing ability with self-regulation.
|I return to Australia, after my Thai visa renewal is denied.|
As I waited inline at immigration the anxious butterfly's in my stomach rose to higher flight, in respect for an increasingly imminent, family greeting.
"Stay grounded, resist replaying the scenes from the same arrival two years ago," I told myself. Considering how my oldest son James was waiting for me again, after agreeing to bail his father out of a self-imposed "fix," and fly me back to Australia.
"No money, no home, no resources of a material kind, how could my children, not see me as having hit rock bottom?" I wondered, and would I get the chance to explain? Life is paradoxical, I thought, as I walked into the arrivals area carrying 15 less kilo's of luggage than I'd taken to Thailand almost three years before. Materially lighter, stripped of all possessions save for my precious laptop, six books and 20 kilo's of clothes. Objectively speaking, should I deny, my life appears to be going backwards? "Your a sad looser!" I probably would have told myself a decade ago, yet I feel more comfortable in my own skin than at any previous time in my life, ready, willing and able, to face the undoubted challenges to come.
I couldn't help a scenario running through my head though, as I pictured a coffee table family reunion, and some of the words we might, but probably won't, say to each other. "When you stop defending yourself against life, it tends to bring you the experiences you need to have," I pictured myself saying.
'Hi Dad,' James said, as he came up behind me, instantly relieving my concern that no one was here to greet me. Cordial greetings ensued, as I sat with James and Mathew, my two oldest sons, and talked about life in general, the catch-up family gossip, sport and the ever inflationary cost of living. "Five hundred dollars a week! For a one bedroom apartment!" I exclaimed, after Matthew filled me in on his new location, and I reminisced about life in Thailand were you could live comfortably for more than a month, with five hundred Aussie dollars. We talked real normal, in our usual social ritual of family "triangulation," the anxiety of an awkward situation relieved by speaking of neutral topics, unrelated to an obviously difficult, and emotional situation.
'So what do you want to do?' James asked.
'Head for the homeless shelters,' I replied, adding that a search online had suggested it wise to get there as early as possible, to ensure a bed for the night. I needed to keep the tone positive, remembering the pain of his email comment, "its impossible for you to stay with any member of the family." Impossible?
|Homeless men gather outside the Matthew Talbot Hostel, Talbot Lane.|
So here I am, back in Australia and on face value alone, I would seem to be following a classic manic-depressive journey towards my demise? How could these circumstances possibly be described as a recovery in progress, I'm sure your thinking? How could this situation be described as life bringing me an experience I need to have? It sounds stupid and makes no objective sense, pure wishful thinking, even a delusional fantasy perhaps?
One of the most popular phrases in mental health is, "everyone's experience is different," and hopefully an explanation of my own "different" journey towards recovery, may help to enlighten the reader, on just how this seemingly desperate situation, is an experience I need to have. As I've written many times during this memoir, birth trauma seems to be the root cause of my bipolar type 1 disorder, with fearful avoidance, a life-long behavioural pattern. Two weeks after my return to Australia, I write this post in the very midst of my life-long fear, "the social group." And on face value alone, its a pretty scary group with which I now reside. Here, I can't avoid, can't rationalise any movement towards isolating myself, here I come face to face with implicit body memories of my father's violence, on a daily basis. Not that anyone is violent towards me, yet deep within there is an unconscious sense of threat, this group of men tweaks my nervous system.
'So how do you feel at the moment, in terms of mania or depression?' The psychiatrist asked me, towards the end of my first assessment session, six days after my arrival.
'There are no signs of mania, although there are depressive feelings and some suicidal ideation, but nothing I haven't dealt with before,' I responded, after already giving details of the self-regulation routine I'd developed in Thailand, after educating myself in Stephen Porges "The Polyvagal Theory" and coming to understand his term "neuroception," on a felt level of sensations within my body.
'You certainly seem to be managing an emotionally stressful situation pretty well at the moment, and I'm happy to let you self-manage considering your long experience and the fact that help is so readily at hand here,' he advised me as we arranged a weekly appointment, during my stay at the Talbot.
'Looking on the glass half full side of life, I'm certainly handling this crisis better than I would have done ten years ago, when I would have been well and truly under the blankets and drowning in depression by now,' I offered as a reflection on perspective.
In 2010 I went to Thailand with the rationalised intention of writing a book about my experience with mental illness. For well over a decade now, its been my dream to write about mental illness from the inside out, so to speak. In hindsight, the actual motivation was a re-writing of my experiential story. Not just the life-story I tell myself within my conscious mind, but within the unconsciously stimulated expectation, of my autonomic nervous system. After my involuntary hospitalisation in 2007 and a subsequent depression, I committed myself to a process of self-discovery, in an authentic journey that will lead me wherever it may. So here I am, still in process and open to whatever this journey brings. Still learning and daily practising a more embodied sense-of-self, to heal the trauma-trap of a flight into the mind, away from pain in my body.
A memory of my first attempt to write comes to mind here;
"‘Come on David,’ I hear myself say, ‘don’t stay in your head - feel it!’ Suddenly I drop to my knees as the old familiar shudder sends waves of unpleasant sensation down my spine. ‘My God!’ I shout out, feeling like I’m shrinking, like I’m dissolving into a pool of dirty water. I try to stay with the feelings, I want to know what this is once and for all, and an awful freeze sensation seizes my shoulders running down my spine. ‘How can this be protective,’ I shout out with this image of dirty water flooding my mind. I had thought I was over this stuff, it hasn’t happened for years now. A scene from my childhood came to mind, a scene of physical and emotional abuse that I could not escape. I’m not sure about the affect of the physical abuse, but the emotional abuse, the rage in his voice and the hate in his eyes; somehow they threatened me with annihilation more than his blows did. My innate animal instinct would have been to run back then or to show my own anger and rage, yet that would have enraged him even more, no flight, no fight and no escape so hence the first of my lifelong shudder reactions. What do you do when your nurturing protector is a predator? ‘Is this the seat of my defensive over reactivity towards people?’ I say out loud.This thought has come to mind before, although perhaps I have never allowed myself to feel the depth of sensation before, and right now I can’t believe how strong this shudder reaction is and the awful sensation of dissolving to water is quite frightening.
"Feigning death," I whisper to myself, remembering the evolution of the autonomic nervous system. This urge, this pulse of electrochemical energy, as neurons fire in my brain should follow it’s evolutionary path, as my nervous impulse is stimulated to produce freezing to the point of fainting. A vestige of millions of years old mammalian survival reflex, when faced with overwhelming mortal threat as mammals feign sudden death as the last resort to survival. We humans inherited the same nervous system capacities in the dual sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of our autonomic nervous system, also known as the stress response system. Human responses like fainting are vestiges of the earlier mammalian response of feigning death through a sudden and massive surge in the parasympathetic branch, acting as a brake on the heart after high sympathetic activity. The parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is known as the rest/digest or conservation/withdrawal branch compared to the sympathetic fight/flight aggression branch, and in situations of threat it plays a part in a freeze/fight/flight/fright sequence of possible survival reactions. Being scared stiff is actually an unconscious parasympathetic mediated “fright” response, probably designed by evolution to present your body as a non threat or as dead meat. There is footage on the internet of a guy who has fallen into a large hole in the ground, a hole he helped dig to trap a bear. We see him flailing away with a bamboo stick trying to fend of a curious bear and of coarse the bear just bats the stick away with effortless ease. Suddenly the guy drops to the bottom of the pit and lies there motionless, leaving the bear with no active object to attract innate interest and in a short while the bear turns and walks away. How did the guy know what to do to save himself? Perhaps his conscious mind didn’t but his body certainly did and as Jake Sully tells us in the movie Avatar “you have to trust your body to know what to do.” Written in May 2010.
Over a three year period in Thailand, where I found the time and space to read, write and re-experience myself, within a far less judgemental and stressful environment, self-knowledge and self-awareness has grown in a steady progression. So as I write this post some two weeks after returning to Australia, should I view my current circumstances as a regression, or part of a process? Can I honestly say my dream of writing a book is still in progress, as my own understanding accepts a process that will probably take a decade to unfold, as my self-revelation journey continues. Of coarse, there was anger and anguish at my sudden loss of security and stress free life in Thailand, yet should I, can I, view a seemingly disastrous development in my hopeful journey, as a continuation of the heartfelt and unfolding need, I'd felt back in 2007?.
"I remembered driving along in this same heart toned dream state, during the week before. Just going with this strange, push me, pull me flow of high emotion and its deep desire for something just beyond sight, beyond any conscious knowing." Is this the curious phenomena known as trauma re-enactment? A neural need, deep within the brain-stem, as part of the human organism's unconscious need to follow nature's intended growth trajectory to full maturity? "Freud's iceberg metaphor, of our overwhelmingly unconscious motivation, is as valid today as it was then," I said to a psychiatrist just the other day;
“Traumatic re-enactment” is the term we use to describe the lingering behavioural enactment and automatic repetition of the past. The very nature of traumatic information processing determines the re-enactment behaviour. The traumatised person is cut off from language, deprived of the power of words, trapped in speechless terror. Trauma demands repetition – what Pierre Janet, Freud and so many others observed when they noticed the compulsion to repeat evident in trauma survivors. As Freud wrote, “He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it without, of course, knowing that he is repeating... he cannot escape from this compulsion to repeat; and in the end we understand that this is his way of remembering” _Sigmund Freud.
|What should I think about being here now & how can it be an experience I need to have?|
“The brains activity began about 500 milliseconds before the person was aware of deciding to act. The conscious decision came far too late to be the cause of the action. It was as though consciousness was a mere afterthought - a way of 'explaining to ourselves' an action not evoked by consciousness.” _Peter Levine, "In an Unspoken Voice."
Here in 2012, are we back to Freud's unconscious motivations, albeit with the aid of smart technology, as we continue to uncover more facts about the reality of our organic nature? Did I unconsciously, find my way here?
I've been here in the past to fix the broken elevator and reacted to the sights, sounds and smells of this place with a fearful and ignorant sense of judgement. A fearful need to feel strong and superior, in judging other people as lesser than, as loser's, the lowest of the low. "I must be ok, because I'm so obviously better than you," in that endless status competition we call civil society. A sense of judgement securing my deep need for a sense of security. My ego's endless drive to feel certain, to feel safe, while remaining cut-off from an internal sense of security. My need projected onto objects, like a better car, a bigger house and bank account, unaware that I was treating these human souls I once viewed as pitiful, as nothing more than objects. I'm sure I remember something from Christian Sunday School about Mosses and advise about NOT worshipping false idols/objects? So here I am, testing my new self-regulation and appreciation for life, and the sanctity of the human soul, and coping pretty well with my "existential crisis," so far.
In my self-imposed quest to learn more about my "mental illness," is this a new cycle, in my ongoing recovery process. Do I really have a brain disease, or was I suffering from a profound dis-ease for decades? As Paris Williams points out so well in Brain Disease or Existential Crisis?;
"In spite of over a hundred years of research and many billions of dollars spent, we still have no clear evidence that schizophrenia and other related psychotic disorders are the result of a diseased brain. Considering the famous PET scan and MRI scan images of “schizophrenic” brains and the regular press releases of the latest discoveries of one particular abnormal brain feature or another, this statement is likely to come as a surprise to some, and disregarded as absurdity by others. And yet, anyone who takes a close look at the actual research will simply not be able to honestly say otherwise. And not only does the brain disease theory remain unsubstantiated, it has been directly countered by very robust findings within the recovery research, it has demonstrated itself to be particularly harmful to those so diagnosed (often leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy), and it is highly profitable to the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industries (which likely plays a major role in why it has remained so deeply entrenched in society for so many years, in spite of our inability to validate it)." _Paris Williams.
In past visits here I was suffering from that most common form of ignorance "ignore-it," not relevant to my needs, my life. Looking back with hindsight from years of experience since, it was more a physiological reaction, a shying away from the sights, sounds and smells of reality, that stimulate internal discomfort and distress. An instinctive judgement (valence) of avoidance, in my unconscious need to maintain an established homoeostasis (comfort-zone), no matter how uncomfortable that internal zone was. It seems to be a tendency we all have, to look away from heightened distress in others, instinctively avoiding the contagious affect of our primitive emotions, in the sensory nature of being human, beneath our "I think therefore I am," constant rationalisations of our unconscious motivations. In my current existential crisis, the challenge is a matter of coping and to what extent I've managed to bring a previously unconscious sense of fear, into more conscious awareness. Have I really managed to become more aware of an internalised sense of threat, that once drove my motivation (movement), in habitual avoidance patterns of behaviour? Am I coming to understand that its the world within, and internal body sensations that spooks me, moves me, and not the world "out there?" Is mental illness, nature acting out, just like normality, in our denial of our evolved nature?
|Attachment Loss! A Pivotal Human Experience?|
It was a good day, yesterday, I'd got my first payment from centrelink and had money in my bank account for the first time in nearly a year. Coming back to the the Talbot, I turned the corner at the top of the lane and there she was, back against the wall, her head in her hands and holding a riotous conversation inside her mind, and spoken out-loud. The giggles and bursts of laughter suggested it was fantasy conversation with family members or close friends, perhaps a ex-lover? A remembrance?
It reminded me of my own tendency to hold imaginary conversations with important others in my life, whenever I was in unfamiliar circumstances, like a foreign country and culture. It reminded me of walking along Beach Road in Pattaya, Thailand, and seeing the same unconsciously stimulated "attachment fantasy" as a traumatised woman sought to hold onto a semblance of normality, in the face of internal sensations which threaten to destroy the conscious sense-of-self, we hold so dear.
As I'd moved passed this heartbreaking sight of a brutalised woman so desperately trying to support herself, three of my more Neanderthal male counterparts, walked past her from the opposite direction. "Crazy fucking bitch!" I heard them pronounce, as I carried on, feeling helpless. What could I say? What crazy looks like, and what crazy really is, are not the same, as we continue to learn more about its unconscious stimulation?
"Social Bonds, Loss, Loneliness & Addiction:
“I Sing the Body Electric” I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough. To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough. To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough.
I do not ask anymore delight, I swim in it, as in a sea. There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well.
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.” _Walt Whitman.
One of the great mysteries of psychology is the nature of the “something” that Walt Whitman extols in his masterpiece “I Sing the Body Electric.” That subtle feeling of social presence is almost undetectable, until it is gone. We often take such feelings, like air itself, for granted. But we should not, for when this feeling of normalcy is suddenly disrupted by the undesired loss of a lover, or the unexpected death of a loved one, we find ourselves plunged into one of deepest and most troubling emotional pains of which we, as social creatures, are capable.
In everyday language, this feeling is called sorrow or grief, and can verge on panic in its most intense form. At a less acute but more persistent level, the same essential feeling is called loneliness or sadness. This psychic pain informs us of the importance of those we have lost. This type of psychic pain probably emerges from a brain emotional system that evolved early in the mammalian line to inform individuals about the status of their social environment and to help create our social bonds.
Neuroscience is struggling to come to terms with the nature of such intrinsic brain processes, and it is becoming clear that several ancient emotional systems control our social inclinations. In the coarse of brain evolution, the systems that mediate separation distress emerged, in part, from preexisting pain circuits.
It is now widely accepted that all mammals inherit psycho-behavioral systems to mediate social bonding as well as various other social emotions, ranging from intense attraction to separation induced despair. There is good reason to believe that neuro-chemistry’s that specifically inhibit the separation-distress or panic system also contribute substantially to the processes which create social attachments and dependencies–processes that tonically sustain emotional equilibrium and promote mental and physical health.
The brain contains a least one integrated emotional system that mediates the formation of social attachments. The affective components of this system are “dichotomous–behaviors” with feelings of separation distress on one hand, and those of social reward or contact comfort on the other. Existing data suggests that arousal within this system is controlled by multiple sensory perceptual inputs, and that the evolutionary roots of the system go back to more primitive mechanisms, such as those elaborating place attachments in reptiles, the basic affective mechanisms of pain, and fundamental creature comfort of thermo-regulation.
To be alone and lonely, to be without nurturance or a consistent source of erotic gratification, are among the worst and most common place emotional pains humans must endure. Love is, in part, the neuro-chemically based positive feeling which negates the pain of isolation. Brain opioids were the first neuro-chemistries discovered to powerfully reduce separation-distress. As predicted by an opiate theory of social attachment, drugs like morphine are powerful alleviators of the psychic pain induced by grief and loneliness.
Opiate addiction, may emerge largely because individuals who cannot find the needed satisfactions of social attachment in their lives, are tempted to induce the stimulation of internal opioid systems by a pharmacological means, usually leading to a further increase in social isolation. The French artist Jean Cocteau recollects how opium liberated him “from visits and people sitting around in circles.” _Jaak Panksepp.
Excerpts from, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.” by Jaak Panksepp.
Just how far “off base” is our everyday language when it comes to understanding our internal nature, and the real source of our motivations? I mean, "an opiate theory of social attachment," who talks about this internal, chemical motivation in our everyday conversations? Who is that self-aware, that they know much about their internal makeup anyway? Be rational, be objective, we are urged when we become over-emotional, yet there are no "objects" inside us, where internal reality is overwhelmingly, chemical. Our internal reality where all our perceptions are created.
As Panksepp explains how human bonding is foundationally mediated by the primitive brain systems of pain, panic and separation-distress alleviation, he notes how fear overrides the urge to relieve separation-distress. As a primitive survival protection against predator detection, the fear system will automatically override separation-distress, which perhaps explains a hidden aspect of social bonding difficulties for those with childhood abuse histories.
To what degree is an innate, predator fear system, triggered by the social environment, and its forest of faces? What part does innate fear play in “dichotomous–behaviours,” as addictions promote isolation and separation from “social attachments and dependencies. Processes that tonically sustain emotional equilibrium and promote mental and physical health.”
Panksepp, points us towards internal systems, as the hidden stimulation of human behaviours with an explanation of addiction as a behaviour seeking to stimulate an internal chemical system. Such observations on the “organic” nature of human motivation/behaviour, may lead us to question ourselves about the hidden aspects of our self-stimulating belief systems?
Do we need to consciously re-define stimulation/motivation, in the light of rapidly increasing revelations about the hidden nature, of human behaviour?
What does recovery look like? Is it measured by an obvious absence of crisis? Can acting crazy, really be understood by external observation, by diagnosis? Are we really, only just beginning to explore the internal world within, when it comes to understanding mental illness, and an ongoing process of recovery?"
December 27th 2012: Happy Birthday! I said to myself, as dawn crept into another lonely room.
Memories of Laos and Thailand came to mind, as a normal morning state of low metabolic resources, threatened a meloncholic yearning, I could easily work into a sense of depression.
"A Physiological State?"
"The depressive urge is not really psychological, after all," I told myself.
I must admit the urge to dwell in that low metabolic resources state was tempting. Knowing I could easily fill it up with thoughts of loss and separation, decades of depressive thinking could have swamped my mind, as my low physiological state, "toned" my head space. Yet whatever it is that I've learned during my three year sojourn in Thailand, is holding fast, despite my current circumstances. Almost as if this trail by existential circumstance, is an affirmation exercise. Not an affirmation of mind, like some mystical chanting or the visual imaging of new age philosophy, not a triumph of mindful ascension, as 2012 slips towards history.
As I write, its 3pm, here in Sydney Australia, midday in Thailand where Miss Wanphen will be working in the three storey shop/house we shared till October 26th. Leaving her behind to arrive here, courtesy of my oldest child, on the 27th, by coincidence? Dates are meaningless though, aren't they? Coincdence is never meaningful? My questions fueled by melancholy, or this reasonable, "loneliness is such a sad affair," sang Bette Midler. "Will there be any contact from anyone," is a question I'm prompted to ask myself, as I wonder what to write here? Still! At 3pm in Sydney, here at the Matthew Talbot, its hard to ignore the proximity of my oldest child, probably three streets away right now, if he's at home? Yet of coarse, I'm guilty as sin, when it comes to ignoring birthday's, and playing this isolation game.
Sadly, there have been decades of this self-obsorbed obsession by now, the why, why, why of having bipolar disorder, and the even tougher to deal with, failure of one hopeful medication trail, after another. This personal quest to understand it from the "inside out," damming me to exclusion rather than inclusion, as the prophetic words of 2007, come back to huant me once again;
|4/8 Martin Place. Mortdale. Sydney. NSW. Australia|
I shouted at him before storming out the door of our pokey two bedroom apartment, here in the Sydney suburb of Mortdale.
Groaning in frustration I stomped down the stairs to the ground floor, slamming the entrance door to our three storey apartment behind me, knowing the pain in the ass reverberation it would cause within this cheap brick, concrete and tile building.
“They don’t want to know, nobody wants to know!” I told myself as I walked across the carpark at the rear of the building.
Pity! I’d felt the manic energy subsiding before his brother told me about the paranormal séance.
‘Someone came up to him and put a card in his hand saying something about a message from Pa, and that someone in the family needed counseling.’
After weeks of mania and those dream-like states of mind common to the experience of bipolar type 1 disorder, more evidence of paranormal communication? Was this contact from my dead Father-in-law more proof of the special cosmic connection, I’d been demanding for two full weeks? It had been another one of those spiritual ecstasy days too, wondering around in a bliss-like trance, finding self-referencing associations for my unique sensitivity to the cosmos, everywhere. It was Easter Monday, April 9th 2007, a month after another relationship loss had triggered a steady rise into a full blown mania. This mania was different to previous experiences too. Although, as most psychiatrists would no doubt suggest, a typical loss of objective insight would cause me to write that?
Yet consider this episode came after twenty seven years experience, mostly self-managed due to medication side effects and intolerance. Consider also, that I hadn’t taken any psychotropic medications for at least four years and had coped increasingly well, gaining more self-esteem and improving my education by training to become a therapist. “You sure you have a mental illness? - You always seem so reasonable and well grounded to the rest of us,” a fellow student once said, during our two years of group therapy together. “Yeah, but you haven’t seen the inside of my head,” I’d replied with typical self-depreciating humor. “Neither has anyone else!” Our supervisor exclaimed with the kind of knowing look, that epitomizes a currently increasing concern about the still unproven nature of any mental illness, as a distinct and verifiable disease." An excerpt from First of Four, Six Week Psychoses
Does anyone, really want to know, about the physiological states of mental illness? Most people assume its all mental? Its about a failure of cognition, all about the brain in the head, as we collectively ignore most of its physiological aspects, and the unspoken voice of the body? Yet it not through the ascension assumptions of my wistful head, that I now manage a day like this, a day would have definately triggered a depression, before 2007. Especially considering where I'm living, I would have withdrawn, gone into hiding, isolation the safest place to be, when one is suffering from "The Trauma Trap," of a denied physiological rsponse? (see: Madness & the Chaotic Energies of The Trauma Trap? )
A trail, by existential circumstance?
|Homelessness & Medicated Mental Anguish?|
Early last week though, his head was mostly grasped firmly between his hands, in that common symbol of defeat, and despair, the homeless and mentally ill, so often share?
'So why is he ranting and raving now?' Asked a homeless brother, as we sat down to lunch today. Funny! The homeless men here use Brother, rather than the Aussie vanacular, "G,Day. Mate!" All Brothers & Mates here.
'They need to give him more, freaking medication!' Said another brother, from across the dinning hall table. We all burst out laughing at the pun. 'freaking medication - Get it?' Said our self-anointed lunch time jester, emploring more laughter.
From depressed despair, to agitated mania in a week?
Ah! The magic of those medication pills?
Its funny in a macabre sort of way? Black humor, allowing us to cling to threads of sanity, so daily challenged, by living in these often difficult, existential circumstances?
'Existential circumstances! - Yeah, yeah, I met his brother, the other day. Existential Angst, is his name, and he wears a freaking face, like bloody red thunder!' Said, you know who, from across the dinning hall table. As we laughed, the supervisors gather around our "acting out" brother, and usher him towards the exit.( please see >> Mental Illness & The Face - - Heart Connection? )
'Go for a walk,' they tell him repeatedly, although camly and firmly. He knows the rules too. If he escalates this "acting out" into physical actions towards another brother, or staff member, his walk outside to calm down, will become a search for other accomadation.
"Many of the adverse psychiatric reactions produced by the newer antidepressants can be viewed as occurring along a continuum of activation or stimulation, culminating in mania or psychosis. In addition these drugs can produce a blunting or lobotomy-like deactivation in the form of an apathy syndrome, especially after longer periods of use.
All antidepressants cause mania, and mania is an acknowledged adverse effect in the FDA-approved label of all antidepressants. As noted in chapter 6--and now built into the FDA--approved labels for antidepressants-- mania is the extreme expression of drug induced over stimulation that includes insomnia, anxiety, agitation, irritability, hostility and aggression, emotional liability, akathisia, and hypomania and mania. It can lead to crashing into depression and suicidality.
At one end of the continuum, the individual becomes mildly irritable, a little emotionally labile, or slightly agitated. At the other end of the continuum, the individual becomes classically manic, at times perpetuating violence or crashing into depression and suicidality. On occassion an individual will traverse the whole continuum; starting with irritability or insomnia, for example, and ending up in a manic state. At other times the individual will experience only one of the drug-induced stimulant symptoms, such as agitation, akathisia, or hostility.
SSRI labels tend to organized in ways calculated to avoid any implication that the medication can cause a pattern of overstimulation, but detailed analyses of the labels disclose that these drugs do in fact produce a continuum of stimulation."
As I watch our homeless brother departing the dinning hall, I'm reminded of my week in an acute care ward, back in 2007. Arnie, not his real name, had been admitted (involuntarily) for suicidal depression and had spent the first day "acting out" his rageful anger, at his forced detention. By the time I left the ward, five days later, he was manically euphoric, expressing his undying love for all and sundry, volumiously singing, praise be the lord, night and day. (see: Sectioned on The Road to Redemption)
A Physiological Foundation - My New Realization?
‘That first time, back in 1980, it felt like the real you had come out, then everyone wanted you to go back into your shell again,’ my best friend from 1980 told me in 2010.
‘People see it as a breakdown, its so disruptive to the old personality, the personality they’ve become adjusted to, but that old personality was habitually defensive and I needed a breakthrough experience to change an unconscious pattern of avoidance behavior,’ I replied.
Its more physiological, than psychological. That’s my breakthrough realization, thanks to Stephen Porges groundbreaking discovery of a polyvagal regulation of the human heart, and our energized states of body-mind. Learning to accept and let go my habitual defenses, of tense body posture and a sense of self awareness to fixed within my head, has been key to a healthy transformation. A re-orientation towards healthy growth and maturity, which mother nature had always intended. A healthier organism, of body, mind and soul thanks to my five year trial of redemption, my sojourn to forgiveness, for the willful sacrifice of my destined first child, my lost daughter. There is now a solid move away from the shadow of negative orientation towards life, a shadow unconsciously orchestrated by unfortunate life experience. A shadow which became an unconscious, self-fulfilling reality of behavioral reenactment patterns.
“The theory proposes that physiological state limits the range of behavior and psychological experience. In this context, the evolution of the nervous system determines the range of emotional expression, quality of communication, and the ability to regulate bodily and behavioral state.” _The Polyvagal Theory. For perhaps the most comprehensive video presentation of the theory and its understanding of emotional development, watch Stephen Porges presenatation at a Columbia University Grand Rounds event here." An excerpt from: Born to Psychosis an online memoir of my experience.
"Physiological state limits the range of behavior and psychological experience."
Hence: "The depressive urge is not really psychological, after all," I told myself.
I must admit the urge to dwell in that low metabolic resources state was tempting. Knowing I could easily fill it up with thoughts of loss and separation, decades of depressive thinking could have swamped my mind, as my low physiological state, "toned" my head space."
So this morning, instead of following the kind of habitually negative thought patterns my low physiological state was unconsciously stimulating, I understood that my mind only maintains or amplifys a primary process? Over the last three years of learning about how my body/brain works, and learning how to assimulate this knowledge, using a sensate awareness, described many times on this blog. I now seem to be proving, at least to myself that Stephen Porges statement above, has led to a paradigm shift in my mental health. Told repeatedly that with my diagnosis of bipolar type 1 disorder, a lifetime of medication compliance, was the only way I could expect to manage my condition. By 7.30am, after breakfast, with two cups of coffee, my physiological state, held more metabolic resources and was stimulating a more positive "tone" in my head space. So no depression today, despite the challenging existential circumstances, that surround me thanks to all the reading and the experiential understanding from my three year sojourn.
So despite a lonely birthday, with no contact from ex-lovers or blood relations, there is no invitation to depression today. Perhaps I really have learned something about mental illness, from the inside-out?