Vagus Nerve & the Mind-Body Connection

March 25, 2010

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve, a honking big nerve that runs from your skull, down your chest and into your abdomen. The punch-in-the-gut feeling of a jolt of adrenalin/the start of an anxiety attack is carried on the vagus nerve.

The usual paradigm for emotions is they start in the brain. Most of the body’s hormones have a dual purpose as a neurotransmitter. The vagus nerve helps coordinate the physical feeling with the emotional feeling – they are one and the same. The mind-body connection.

Most of the body’s serotonin is in the gut. A squirt of serotonin doesn’t just happen in the brain, it happens in the whole body. Ditto adrenaline. The vagus nerve conducts information in both directions. I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to blame anxiety on a brain malfunction.

An interesting treatment for anxiety is “Vagus Nerve Stimulation.” In VNS, a device is implanted that applies current to the vagus nerve is to overwhelm it. It’s kind of like a TENS unit for pain. VNS is a last resort for intractible anxiety.

One implication of this is that if you can control the physical aspects of anxiety – relax your muscles, slow down your breathing & heart rate – then the emotional component will follow. Once the emotions are managed you can work out whatever brought on the anxiety.
Candace Pert, Ph.D. discovered opium (endorphin) receptors in the brain. She wrote an enlightening book Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine.

Also check out Timothy Leary. One of his more interesting ideas is that we have receptor sites for chemicals that haven’t been invented yet. Alexander Shulgin was a chemist who formulated a lot of them, but I don’t recommend you try it. 🙂

Majnoon or Jinn?

April 8, 2008

Today I learned that the Arabic word for mental illness has the same etymology as the Arabic word for evil spirits. This has an unfortunate effect on how the mentally ill are perceived in the Middle East.

Language is an odd thing. It enables you to express your innermost thoughts and feelings. BUT it almost guarantees that the thoughts and feelings you express have been totally shaped by the language itself. In the words of comedian Lenny Bruce,

“Believe me, I’m not profound, this is something that I assume someone must have laid on me, because I do not have an original thought. I am screwed. I speak English. That’s it. I was not born in a vacuum. Every thought I have belongs to somebody else.”
— Lenny Bruce, quoted on Rakes Progress: Lenny Bruce is not afraid

So what’s happening is that as long as the doctors use that old-fashioned word to describe mental illness, demon-possessed the mentally ill will remain.

Arabs don’t have a monopoly on superstition though. The following TinyUrl will take you to a google search for “mental illness exorcism.”

TFTD: Hallucination

January 15, 2008

RealMagick Article: The Seven Shaman Principles by Serge Kahill King

Thought for the Day:

Hallucination means “your dream doesn’t match my dream.”

TFTD: Don't Feed the Negative

July 2, 2007

By way of BeliefNet:

[The] defilements are like a cat. If you feed it, it will keep coming around. Stop feeding it, and eventually it will not bother to come around anymore.

-Ajahn Chah, “Still Forest Pool”
From “365 Buddha: Daily Meditations,” edited by Jeff Schmidt. Reprinted by arrangement with Tarcher/Putnam, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

What Mad Pursuit

April 1, 2007

‘J.B.S. Haldane was once asked what the study of biology could tell one about the Almighty. “I’m really not sure,” said Haldane, “except that He must be inordinately fond of beetles.” There are thought to be at least 300,000 species of beetles. By contrast there are only about 10,000 species of birds.’

Nobel Laureate Prof. Francis Crick
in “How I Got Inclined Towards Atheism,” an excerpt from What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery

The Thousand Names of the New God

July 10, 2005

I have chosen to step out of the darkness and into the cold light of day. I am bipolar. Accept me or fade away. I don’t have time for shadows.
I wonder about the wisdom of this decision, to embrace the bipolar disorder as part of who I am. Not to fight it, but to soothe it with the bare minimum of meds.
I have turned my back on the old sacraments, and have embraced the New God. I have recited the Thousand Names: Prozac, Lamictal, Ativan.
I have traded the hypomanias away for the illusion of safety from the depressions. And I wonder whether I am a coward.

The kindling effect

July 9, 2005

I’m told that besides bipolars and schizophrenic visionaries, political dissidents and “subversive herbalists” were also tortured and burned at the stake. Let’s add Lesbians to the list. It makes sense that a single woman might make her living from herbalism. Which she may have learned from a lesbian mentor. Which was part of that Old Time Religion, not Christianity. Herbalism, that is, not lesbianism!
Hallucinogenic plants are very effective in treating certain kinds of ailments. Sort of like early transpersonal psychology. Until one of the Good Townsfolk took the belladonna and had a bad trip. She’s a witch! Burn the witch!
According to the infamous “Hammer of Witches” gay men were to be thrown in with the bundles of sticks as kindling, hence faggot. It was so prevalent that the word for kindling became applied to gay men as a pejorative.
The mentally ill are *still* seen as being demon-possessed in some places, even in the US. I have talked to folks who have been forced to undergo exorcisms. Of course, there was that unfortunate incident in Romania where the Romanian Orthodox church crucified a schizophrenic nun.
On the other hand, you could see an exorcism as an extreme form of psychosocial therapy. I mean, the whole family had to commit themselves to the new, well person. If you think about it, you spend years in therapy and your family still bears a grudge for the things you did in episodes 15 years ago. You can never live it down, not ever. It would be nice to make believe that some demon left and took my sins with it.