Sunday, 13 June 2010

Fight or flight.

Here's an interesting article for the whole bunch of you out there that battle depression like myself.
There is a wonderful new web site called Moodscope that has some great links to mental/cognitive brain-related web sites and this one came from them.

I don't take anti depressants. I was encouraged to try them by my doctor last year and they made me very ill.
Classic case of mis-diagnosis. I suffer from Anxiety disorder NOT depression and actually, the only drugs that are going to help me are the ones my own body produces! Depression, for me is a symptom of the anxiety but not a natural condition for me. Anxiety symptoms can be crippling and as such, they make one spiral into a cycle of depression because (in my case) they can be so debilitating. Take away the anxiety and the depression will magically disappear because people like me actually ADORE life and all that comes with it and, quite frankly, would simply like to be able to live it to the full!

So, after an interesting little thread on one of my friend's LJs last night, I have noticed too, like her, that the paradigm of LJ has shifted very much from "everyone is on it and writes about their top weekend" to a bunch of close, supportive individuals who love to write- many of whom are reaching out for fellow folk to share their woes.
It's become a bit of a support group and agony aunt culture. In short, it has found its niche and indeed its best-fit purpose. Even better, all the people that are leading busy lives and don't care to write have shifted over to Face Book or Twitter. That's fabulous for them and fabulous for us, the remaining stalwarts, that believe writing is pretty much the be-all and end-all of happiness, self discovery and the sharing of thoughts.

With that in mind, I have a blindingly obvious theory of my own that is never explicitly put but certainly implied by the Science bods that you may or may not wish to read.

Right, we all know that stress is caused by over-active adrenal glands responding to the basic "fight or flight" mechanism. Most of us know that the naughty little amygdala in our brains has yet to keep up with our ridiculously fast evolutionary path and therefore goes awry when we become frightened and feel trapped. We all know that when this happens we often have nowhere to run to and therefore the poor body's beautifully designed endocrine system goes into overload.
We know that serotonin is our friend and modern life depletes it. The modern diet depletes us of vitamin B12 and that is a vital vitamin for energy levels. It is a vicious cycle.

I am not a doctor, heaven forbid! But I am a Scientist by nature and my area of study for my degree focused very much on finding patterns in mass extinction events and indeed, the reasons for the successes of certain species in harsh habitats.

Look at it this way. We are a species that evolved so very recently and we have placed ourselves by our very aggressive nature in a harsh habitat. Aggressive species like to branch out and conquer. A classic example would be the Angiosperms. These are all the flowering plants that you are all familiar with. They evolved from the Gymnosperms (pine trees are a fine example of these.)
Before that, when the dinosaurs rampaged around the Earth, the only plant types we had, propagated themselves by spores. Spores don't travel very far. Pollen does. Hence now, our predominant plant-type is Angiosperm.
It was an evolutionary advantage and a fine example of Natural Selection.
At this point, I should point out that I am no expert when it comes to anthropology as I specialised in plants and marine creatures- but the patterns of convergent evolution are remarkably similar for species that branch out and become ubiquitous. Sadly, their fate is often not a happy ending but that is for another post.

So. here is where we stand.
Humans are supposed to be running around a lot. They are built to eat frugally and find what they scavenge or hunt with some level of effort involved.
Our digestive systems have not evolved to keep up with the evolution of our brains which are far too big and clever for their own good. When the Egyptians first started falling foul to ergot poisoning, it should have been a wee warning for us wheat intolerant Westerners that societies that developed agriculture might just have jumped evolution a wee bit too far and too soon.
We are designed to run and climb and develop strategies for hunting prey and finding where the best fruits and vegetables are growing. We are designed to procreate and spend all of our time raising those progeny with no distractions other than finding ways to provide for them. We are designed to help out others in our tribe- but only if times are good otherwise the social nature of our species reverts back to survival of the fittest.
These patterns are played out time and time again in the office, among our families and friends and when we are queueing at the checkout in Tescos.

So here we all are then. Surrounded by tarmac, a self-created environment, disassociated from Nature for the most part and, to be honest, existing very much like bees in a hive. We all know how ruthless bees are when it comes to how their own particular societies are run. But even the drones get to fly from the hive and hunt and provide for their siblings. They live according to their nature.

There have been interesting studies where some highly intelligent animals kept in zoos show visible signs of depression and agitation. Tigers pacing and pulling their fur out, monkeys electing not to eat and becoming lethargic or listless, that kind of thing.
If an animal is deprived of the things that they must do according to their evolutionary nature, their bodies will react accordingly the same as ours.

It is blindingly obvious that we, as humans have pretty much been self- harming OURSELVES never mind the ecosystem!
And at what cost?
One in four of us suffers from a mental disorder at some point in our lives. One in three of us will get cancer.... you know where I am going with this.

Of course, there is little we can do now. We have replaced trees with concrete and tribes have been replaced by groups of like-minded individuals. A classic example of when we re-engage with our tribes could be the common comradery that plays out when the World Cup is on. Another- how folk all mucked in together during the war.
Think about how you felt when you last did something active, engaging and as part of a group that shared your passion. You didn't have time to introspect and mope and not get on with things, yes?

So my theory is that although Scientists are well known for saying that we need the "caveman Diet" for optimum health and exercise is good for you, this is not strictly true.
I think the human brain may well be harbouring a "reptile brain" that governs our basic survival needs...but it has a cerebral cortex and that is the bit that's the problem. We question everything. We have a desire to learn, to spread out, to try new things. It is what our species was designed to do!

So I think this:
We, as a species have not yet learned how to marry the two aspects of ourselves (higher thoughts and creativity with basic instinct) all that effectively.
But given that we are armed with some AMAZING cognitive abilities, we should think more carefully about every action that we choose to make and ask ourselves if we are balancing our opposing sides as we do so.

If you have read thus far, then good.
Because the important bit is here:

Next time you go to Tescos, bring a club with you or some other blunt instrument. Steal the food you need (non-dairy, non-wheat, non- imported exotics please as they are not good for you) and then run like the wind with your shopping basket coshing anyone on the head as you go if they try and stop you.
Once home, cook the food simply and frugally, then have a good old bonk with your OH.
Perfect. Your body and brain will align themselves for optimum functioning in no time.

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