1995: Biological Foundation for Mood Disorders

I wish I had named the book and the author.  I find it fascinating that it took so long for me to find out that I was dealing with trauma, that my reaction to the noise of the planes was a symptom of the changes in the brain that trauma causes. Part of the reason I didn’t believe that I had been traumatized was that, though my parents were alcoholic, they weren’t violent. I didn’t understand that trauma happened, not because of the violence of the traumatizing event, it has at least as much to do with the capacity of the brain and nervous system to absorb and integrate the experience. Because the brain and nervous system don’t mature until the baby is three years old, a baby’s brain and nervous system are unable to process events that would not be overwhelming to even a teenager.  Such as being left alone. Because a baby is helpless, if it’s left alone, it will die if no one comes to provide warmth and food. The moment the reptilian brainstem concludes that the baby will die, and goes into fight-or-flight, we are dealing with trauma. A baby can neither fight nor flee, so the default is freeze.

From my journal for October 3, 1995

I’ve been reading a book about new discoveries of a biological foundation for mood disorders, panic disorders, even bulimia — actually I’ve also learned more about the manic side of the cycle and see that the tired/wired state is in fact a manic state even though there’s no euphoria.  Somehow I had always thought that the manic state would feel good, and it doesn’t.  Perhaps it did once, when I was younger, and cosmic visions and inspiration seemed like a gift from the universe and a justification for my life.  Now I see that the visions are ungrounded, I’m unable to give them expression in a way that I find satisfying.  Yes, I see why uncontrolled brilliant talking was one manifestation of mania in the young men of Byron’s time — and I see that it’s just talk, just the dissipation of energy in words, something I’ve worked very hard not to do when my re-emergence out of the candida depression meant that I had more manic episodes.  I went through a brief one last week, and noticed the buoyant feeling but didn’t like being so ungrounded.

I also wonder whether my reaction to the airplanes does not have a physiological basis.  In a way, it’s so physical in its effects.  I can’t breathe, can barely walk, and my brain won’t function.  And it ends relatively quickly after I get away from them.  The book describes enormously complex biochemical interactions and the connection between malfunction of neurotransmitters in the brain and all kinds of disorders.  She makes a very good case for the use of medication to help with a lot of these.  It’s also very clear that nothing is either all physical or all psychological — a trap that is easy to fall into with too little knowledge.  She suggests that childhood trauma may play a role in this, we simply don’t know to what extent trauma can affect the physical/chemical structure of the brain.  Obviously there’s a lot of interplay between a physiological predisposition and a triggering event.  The book has certainly made me think again about trying to find a doctor who knows something about the complexities and could guide me in trying to find something that would help my reaction to the airplanes.  At the moment I feel very angry at the idea of taking a medication that would just dull my response to intolerable conditions in the world — this is too much like my parents’ use of alcohol to deny conflict, and like my own denial of the enormous damage done to me.    And I also think that my fear that if the pain caused by the planes was removed that I would then go on in blissful complacence and fail to fight against injustice and pollution — this is ridiculous. …

I did, actually, find someone who was able to help me with the noise of the planes. When I was first here at Kendal I noticed a lot of noises.  Mowers especially bother me, though not to the extent that the planes did. Other noises bothered me until I knew what they were at which point they tended to disappear. I love that I described that fear that I “would go on in blissful complacence” and then realized that it was ridiculous, there was no way I would stop fighting for things I believe are good.

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