Just for the record, I DO think I'm right, and I DO think everyone else is screwed up. Nice, conservative, evangelically-raised girls just aren't supposed to say that. Perhaps, though, it's time to chuck the pancake makeup of false humility along with the small-floral-print dresses and the big hair, eh?
It does make sense, does it not, that perhaps human beings were never meant to run full-throttle year-round? That perhaps we do ourselves damage by refusing to slow down in our intellectual and emotional lives as well as our physical? This is why I was thrilled to read the following in *McMan's Depression and Bipolar Weekly newsletter:
Bear with me on this:
A speculative article in Medical Hypothesis by John Tsiouris MD of the New York State Institute for Basic Research proposes "metabolic depression" as the underlying biology for the vegetative symptoms found in major depression. Dr Tsiouris makes his case with reference to hibernating bears. Both hibernation and metabolic depression, according to Dr Tsiouris, confer survival advantages such as conservation of energy during times of life-threatening environmental stressors.
Prior to hibernation, says Dr Tsiouris, bears display features common to humans with atypical depression, including overeating, oversleeping, and decreased mobility. This changes when bears hibernate. Now they display features closer to humans with melancholic depression such as withdrawal from the environment, lack of energy, loss of weight from not eating, and changes in sleep pattern (studies on hibernating animals actually show sleep deprivation).
Hibernating bears experience mild hypothyroidism, increased cortisol, acute phase protein response, low respiration, oxidative stress, decreased neurotransmitter levels, and changes in cAMP-binding activity. These factors may also be present in individuals with melancholic depression. According to Dr Tsiouris, the way we think and behave may be responses to the biology underlying these vegetative states.
Atypical depression, speculates Dr Tsiouris, may be a precursor to melancholic depression or it may be a separate phenomenon triggered by extremes in temperature or sunlight. It may also be related to anxiety. Because atypical depression and anxiety are identified with bipolar disorder, Dr Tsiouris theorizes that bipolar "may be due to a vigorous attempt by the individual to prevent entrance into major depression with melancholic features," either by remaining atypically depressed or by "escaping" into hypomania or mania.
In the past three years I had begun to identify this pattern in myself, but only in the last few months had I begun to be able to put it into words. When I and others like me fight our annual slide into the all-too familiar fog of disconnectedness and loss (of energy, high spirits, enthusiasm and general interest in just about anything) that the inescapable change of seasons brings, the result is initially an increase in euphoria, drivenness, anger and instability and a PUSH toward frenetic activity, achievement, self-hatred and crushing guilt, all rolled into one. But when we acknowledge its approach, when we consent to accept it, to observe and stand witness to the yearly diminishing of our very human energies and abilities to achieve, we can find the fog that once threatened to overwhem us is filled with the possibilites of its own beauty: light caught and refracted, multiplied within each infintesimal water droplet hanging in the air, caught in our eyelashes, clinging to our hair, beading on the backs of our chilled hands, our weary and patient shoulders.
It is most often difficult for me to speak or write about the things that mean the most to me, the ones that are rooted the deepest and are most instinctually sensed. I've an inner reluctance to do so that isn't easily overcome. So thanks for the goad, Ben. It's led to a reminder I needed.
[*McMan's Depression and Bipolar Weekly is the email newsletter of McMan's Depression and Bipolar Web, one of the best sites available for information on bipolar disorder.]