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The Bi in Bi-Polar Disorder:

Posted Apr 01 2011 2:00pm
Are the classic Bipolar cycles of embracing or avoiding life, mediated by the autonomic nervous system with the counteracting activity of its twin sympathetic & parasympathetic branches?  In evolutionary terms is depression a withdrawal from engagement stimulated by a predominance of parasympathetic nervous system activity, mediated by the dorsal vagal complex (DVC) of the massive  Vagus Nerve. While manic excitement is stimulated by a predominance of sympathetic nervous system activity ( SNS ) & are these bi-phasic cycle’s an unconscious, response to a  neuroception  of danger?


Is an unconsciously stimulated e-motive cycle the cause of so much frustration for people who feel shamed by a lack of  self control, 'why can't I just get myself together?' Is a poorly understood feedback within the autonomic nervous system the cause of  our 'chemical imbalance' within the brain, as we experience e-motive energy swings beyond our conscious control, and is trauma the real heart of this beast within?

‘Trauma leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, not Bipolar! - And what on earth is ‘neuroception?’ You may be thinking?

 

Yet how does  TraumaPTSD  or  Bipolar Disorder, actually manifest within the brain/body? Can we really separate the symptom’s of various disorder’s with the same kind of logic, we use to describe objects in the external world?  Is an object percieving mind capable of understanding the organic electro-chemical activity of our 100 billion neuron brain or nervous system? As interactive systems operate at millisecond speeds, where symptoms are stimulated by the highly complex  electro-chemical  -  feedback loops, of the brain/body.


                  "The essential role of feedback from bodily systems, especially facial 
     and postural, underlies the generation of emotion." (P,49)

Objectively we think of trauma as something caused by external events and the effect on our nervous system, yet we do so with little understanding of how the nervous system works within our own body. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has evolved over millions of years, and we share it with all other mammals as acknowledged in our common understanding of fight or flight.


However this common awareness has recently been updated to an instinctive, reactive order of freeze/flight/fight in that order, as proposed by  Stephen Porges  “ Polyvagal Theory.” In our older understanding of fight/flight there was an awareness of the twin branches of the ANS, with its counteracting sympathetic & parasympathetic activity.

The sympathetic branch is the one responsible for flight/fight while the parasympathetic is responsible for withdrawal/conservation activities like passive avoidance. Porges has postulated a third branch of the  ANS, he calls the social engagement system which involves the muscles of the head for mammalian signaling.

It is important to understand this autonomic nervous system activity is below  conscious  awareness, and that much of our thinking is stimulated by it in the form of  rationalizations. Acceptance of this notion allows us to imagine the nature of our unconscious motivation, and the difficulty we have in changing patterns of behavior.

In my own case I am now convinced that a bi-order of ANS activity lies at the heart of my Bi-Polar experience, as I struggled to energize myself from  parasympathetic  withdrawal to  sympathetic engagement. It is more than likely that birth trauma was the genesis of my conditioned nervous system activity, leading to a lifelong struggle to engage an unconscious ‘ social engagement system.’

Neuroception  is the unconscious ANS perception of an environment as threatening, leading to the unconscious activity of primitive parasympathetic conservation/withdrawal, as in depression. Depression is now generally accepted as the first phase of bipolar, even though mania is the phase that usually brings us to the medical door.

As a child I was a ‘scardy cat’ without really knowing why, scared beyond the reality of my external environment, with an unconscious withdrawn posture that stimulated equally unconscious and often hostile reactions in others. Such is life in the ‘ now,’ in what neuroscience describes as ‘ affective states,’ how we unconsciously affect each other, indeed it is now understood that the brain and nervous system mature in mutual interaction with other brains and nervous systems,  during early life.

Since learning about my unconscious motivation I have learned to manage my conditioned ANS activity to the point of slowly re-conditioning it with new experiences. I now understand that my fear of the social environment is stimulated by the more primitive aspects of my human nature, protective of my survival. I have learned how deep breathing re-balances the ANS and that paying mindful attention to muscular tensions within my body, particularly my head & face allows me to sense which of the three branches is currently, and unconsciously active.

 

Mindfulness  has become a cornerstone of many therapeutic methods in the Western world these days and Stephen Porges concept of an unconscious perception, scientifically shows us the why and how mindfulness works. In time his theory will perhaps come to rival  Darwin’s in terms of human understanding, and perhaps in this 21st century AD is a very timely innervation?


I cannot emphasize how difficult it is to take on-board this new awareness with an everyday object oriented perception, it takes a reading and re-reading of people like  PorgesSchore  and  Levine, to begin to leave a common miss-perception of our human motivation behind, and accept ourselves as an evolved animal even though like no other we know
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