Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Body Language & Mental Illness?

The Body & The Wisdom Tree of Life?
Bipolar Disorder is a chemical imbalance of the brain? Science research tells us so because we discovered that emotions and moods are stimulated by chemicals in the brain & nervous systems. Chemicals that are produced by and facilitate cell function within our body/brain. There are even cells that are labeled bipolar to describe their millisecond "on/off" electro-chemical signaling function. Its a (+ -) polarity thing, like a tiny dry cell battery, to use an object analogy?

"Common examples are the bipolar cell of the retina, the ganglia of the vestibulocochlear nerve, and the extensive use of bipolar cells to transmit efferent (motor) signals to control muscles."

Hence we don't use the older term Manic-Depression in official jargon anymore because our emotional life is far more complex than we thought. Yet does research ignore the body & its sensory feedback systems?

If you say the two terms to yourself, "bipolar disorder," "manic depression," which one rings truer for you? Which of these self descriptions, "I'm bipolar or I'm manic depressive," captures the fullest sense of your personal experience?

Some people answer this question in two parts, "bipolar gives an instant impression of the opposite extremes, while manic depression seems to trigger a more emotive sense of it." Some say the older term, has a gut feel to it that doesn't require much cognitive explanation, "you kinda get it, but you can't say how or why?"

The body has its own energy "language," beneath the minds cognitive language?

A doctor once told me that the new term bipolar was more objective, less emotional and therefore more useful for a detached analysis and correct diagnosis. "You mean, you need to remain as unaffected as possible by my raw emotions?" "Lets not get into that now," he replied, refusing to be distracted from his predetermined coarse of action. I understand his need of coarse, to remain cool, calm and collected in the face of heated emotions and keep his cognitive capacity intact?

Yet it begs the question of a hidden agenda, in our ever increasing cognitive labels for emotional-mental anguish and what to many seems a lopsided focus on brain chemistry. "Are we trying to separate what we think from what we feel, too much?" In my own journey of self discovery/recovery I came through a recent episode of mania with a new "cognitive" appreciation of my inner experience;

"Perhaps all activity within the body/brain is essentially about energy regulation, including our thoughts? Its a different way to understand oneself, compared to our taken for granted sense of objectivity in daily discourse?" (facebook.com post).

Is there a hidden need to regulate energy via both body & mind, which is miss-perceived in much of the science research into the brain's electro-chemical function? "Its so fascinating," says a young neurologist of their brain research work, although perhaps unaware of regulating the raw energies of their body/brain through the expression of innate interest-excitment?

Are we born with hard wired body reactions that are the very seat of our emotional and cognitive energy expressions? Is the wide variety of emotional/mental anguish experience best described by the umbrella term "affective disorder," as I tried to articulate in The Affect in Bipolar Affective Disorder

Across the mental illness spectrum, we find the same trend in "cognitive" diagnostic terms. What was commonly understood as "shell shock," at the end of the fist world war, has become PTSD for people returning from the war zones of today. Its a trend that speaks to the very heart of the doctor, patient relationship and the treatment of mental/emotional anguish.

Perhaps with the boom in post WWII education and technology, we are living through a period of expanding cognitive capacity that has increased the split between unconscious body language & the minds cognitive language? TRAUMA and its unconscious affect, from both physical and emotional experience has come under cognitive scrutiny like never before, in recent times. Such scrutiny led to the diagnostic term PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, and reflects our human struggle to rise above emotion and feelings in gaining cognitive self interpretation.

Yet holistic recovery programs all over the world have found that compassionate presence is far more important than question and answer communication, in our increasingly cognitive world. I'm reminded of scene in public hospital when a young man, obviously in the grip of psychosis came storming out of an interview session with an equally young psychology graduate.

"You haven't got a fucking clue," he raged as he headed for the exit door. "I was just asking him some simple questions," the young intern explained to reception staff. I remember feeling an empathy for both, as two people trying to come together with different forms of energy expression, one with conscious cognition, the other with an unconscious e-motive expression. They were never going to "get each other," in a question and answer session, I realize now.

Going beyond dependency in the process of mental illness recovery:

My Grandmother once told me, "we didn't need anyone to tell us he'd been frightened out his mind and fear had driven him mad," describing her older brother's return from the 1st world war. "We bit our lip and tried not to be scared, not to turn away and just be there for him." When I'd asked her how it had worked out, "it took a long time and kind of drove us all a bit crazy for a while there, but he did settle down and get over it eventually." After a few minutes of reflection she added, "it was as though we'd shared the load with him somehow."

My Grandmother's story speaks to the very nature of human attachment and dependency in many ways. No amount of cognitive self interpretation or medication compliance helped me regulate the energies of bipolar disorder over a 27 year period. Only when I found the kind of knowledge which helped me approach the inner sensations of mania & depression, with a cognitive "Ah, that's what that is." did I start to find recovery in a process of internal self discovery. You might say that I'm now investigating the unconscious language of my body, exploring the strange electro-chemical processes within that manifest a conscious sense of being me.

There is a huge amount of science and other knowledge available, beyond that which suggest's a medication dependency for the regulation of emotional/mental anguish. Do we each need to go beyond the urge and desire for joining an "us & them," battle and go looking for it? We love to expose the hidden agenda of profit motivation and malpractice in our pharmacology era, yet there is a deeper hidden agenda within us all? The hidden reality of our electro-chemical body/brain/mind energy regulation, which pure science is only just beginning to explore?

Beyond the public debate about medication, what is the private experience of recovery?

Within the public domain the current debate about metal illness and recovery, tends to revolve around psychiatry's use of psychotropic drugs for crisis intervention and the maintenance of stability. Sadly, such debate tends to involve an "us and them," theme of pro or anti medication and pro or anti psychiatry. However, beyond the public debate there is a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be accessed to aid individual recovery. The internet, with resources like youtube.com, thousands of bloggers and online book sellers like amazon, has led to a boom in self education for people wanting more involvement and awareness, in their recovery process.

Below is an example of the knowledge and support available within the growing peer group of long term survivors of the mental illness experience;

Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs: A Harm Reduction Approach

Will Hall, "I myself was diagnosed with schizophrenia and went through a many year recovery process." Will's wonderful, commonsense talk on the reality of the recovery process, sums up the dilemma many of us face in seeking to support ourselves without taking psychotropic medications.
People in the peer recovery movement of which Will speaks, have all taken their individual paths in that process. And like the many overlapping symptoms of mental illness in the DSM IV, each seems to find common ground in dietary supplements, lifestyle and dietary change, the practice of meditation or mindfulness and the compassionate support of others.

TIME and SUPPORT are the two words that captured my attention most in Will's talk. It does take time and support to work through these abnormal experiences and return to the holistic sense of well being that nature intended. In my own case, insightful knowledge has been the cornerstone of an ongoing recovery process. Knowledge about the internal nature of human development, and its dependency on healthy inter-relations with others. Below are examples of the developmental science research that has given me vital insights, to aid and maintain my recovery.

Trauma, Brain and Relationship:

Although the above clip speaks about brain research, it is worth noting that the advice for healing centers on the use of the body in supporting traumatized children. It is strongly suggested that its what adults do with their body language that is vital, in the recovery process. Other research suggests that unless we feel safe at an unconscious level, the internalized sense of threat from trauma experience will remain active. It is further suggested that safe, supportive environments allow a natural process of healing to occur, within the neural networks of the brain and nervous systems.

The unconscious language of the face & the vital importance of Attunement:

As we look at the clip above, we notice the eye contact between mother and baby, that is now understood to be a vital part of the maturing process in our developing brain and nervous systems. As the presenter points out, what actually happens here is a millisecond interaction affecting each brain and nervous system. Possibly more akin to a digital wifi connection, than our older common awareness of body language, as posture, gesture and facial expression.

The title of this post is "Body Language & Mental Illness," and my writing here had a threefold agenda. One was an attempt to highlight what many see as a growing split between mind and body, in our increasingly cognitive age. One was to highlight the role that body language plays in the process of recovery by pointing readers towards non mainstream information. The third is an attempt to introduce a notion of energy regulation, beyond our taken for granted language in self awareness.

We talk to ourselves and others in a learned dialogue that we simply take for granted. Perhaps it reflects our body/brain's unconscious use of an assumptive expectation to maximize our survival prospects. For this is what is now understood, is happening during the first three years of life. The brain and nervous systems build patterns of expectation through experience, patterns that become an "auto pilot," guide throughout the lifespan.

When these unconscious patterns work well, we do not question their source, life just flows along reasonably well. Sensing the motive energy beneath my thoughts has helped me improve mood stability and be aware of energy states within, that look for an external object to project onto. This notion of energy regulation has helped me sense the internalized threat of trauma experience, so long in the past there is no conscious memory. It has allowed me to approach other people more openly than at any other time in my life, and allow the natural healing that proximity of support engages.

I guess what I am trying to show through the writing of this blog post, is that there is far more to the experience of mental illness and recovering wellness than finds a common awareness in the public domain?