Despite their increasing prevalence, autoimmune diseases have continued to be considered as “cause unknown”. I was on the Board of Directors of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for sixteen years. For my first six years, on a weekly basis, I answered questions from hundreds of M.S. patients world-wide. In touch with many of them for years, I knew them well enough to discuss all facets of their life. As might be expected with such a disease, compared to the norm, a well-above-average number were depressed. However, their depression turned out to have a separate background than expected.
Dr. Clifford Rohr and I polled 500 M.S. patients and found that 55 percent were depressed, not because of the disease, but long prior to the onset of any symptoms of M.S.
I have continued my interest in the steadily-increasing numbers of the nearly 100 autoimmune diseases, all of which are listed as “cause unknown”. I continue to ask, what role has depression played?
What is depression? The average person thinks of themselves as depressed when, from time to time, they feel dejected, have lowered spirits, or a loss of vigor. The “mood disorder” symptoms as described in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4) as Depression and Dysthymia, have subtle beginnings in infancy and by age six have been woven, out of awareness, as the warp threads of the fabric of the developing personality.
I believe the most significant characteristic of depression is the pervasive sense of a “negative Self-image”, an overall less-than-satisfactory appraisal of the Self. Guilt is feeling bad about one-Self. It is anger turned inwards. The Nth. degree of guilt is depression. Depression is an emotional state of recurrent and chronic negative self-worth. Once established, once woven into the fabric of the developing personality, a belief will continue for a lifetime to supersede facts and reality.
What are the prodromata, the causative factors that can result in depression? When, how and why do we get depressed? If we learn to be depressed, what pieces of information do we use to reach such a conclusion?
How does our organism deal with its stressors? I define a stressor as anything you wish were different. The white blood cells of the Immune System, called leucocytes, function automatically, out of conscious awareness, to keep the body safe by dealing with non-Self stressors that enter the body’s domain. Leucocytes are of material substance, able to be seen, touched, and measured, and although possessed of the ability of thought, have the capacity for only two basic emotions, anger and fear.
Consider that everything we call “alive”, no matter how small, is in its own way an entity with the ability to “think”. The lifetimes of all living things are a succession of thoughts, feelings, and behavior, in that order. Thought is the processing of pieces of information. Feeling is our emotional appraisal of what we just processed. Behavior is what we choose to do in response to the emotional appraisal. We can overtly behave on the experience, or covertly put the thought and appraisal in our memory bank, to be recalled for future use.
I had always considered thought as being a sine qua non, a “without which, nothing”, and necessary to being conscious, to being “alive”. Surprise! Enter the computer age. An amazing computer, named Watson, out-performed Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the top winners on Jeopardy. So a “dead” machine could “think”, could process pieces of information better than two live geniuses.
My definition of “thought” was immediately outmoded. If a machine thinks, can “process pieces of information”, what abilities, what qualities, do living things have that machines lack? Machines lack EMOTIONS. Jennings and Rutter are capable of appraising their thoughts.
The more advanced a living thing is on the evolutionary scale, from single-celled to miraculously complex, the more comprehensive and skilled are its emotional appraisals. We are always a work in progress. Emotions are the essence of the Soul. Emotions are the tools we are given to cope with our world. Emotions are meant to be experienced and utilized with no guilt and no fear. When appropriately experienced our physical health is pretty good.
Thought/feeling/behavior may occur so quickly as to be considered “immediate”, as automatic and ritualistic. We jump aside, without conscious thinking, from an oncoming car. Most other times we utilize a time lapse, taking time to “think about” things before we act.
Emotions are not a classroom subject in Western culture schools. Pediatric researchers, Stanley and Nancy Greenspan, studied the emotional development of infants up to the age of four. Their text, First Feelings, defined 37 different emotions. I found their list to consist of many “nuances” and “similarities”, and narrowed them down to only six; perhaps seven, noting a similarity between grief and sadness.
We have three emotions to cope with things we think of as problems: fear, anger and sadness. A bit different, grief is expressed as sadness, but entails a loss. We have three to use in the appraisal of happy things: love, joy and sex. It all too often happens that any of the latter three may create more pain than pleasure.
How do we make our-Self sick? The body does the mind’s bidding. A healthy mind begets a healthy body. Problems the mind cannot appropriately resolve are relegated to the body. It’s an intriguing question; Does the mind exist on a cellular level?
In recent decades pediatric researchers recognized that our plans for life, our belief systems, our basic scripts as to how to think, feel and behave in life, are well-formulated at age six.
What pieces of information in those early years do we use to appraise our-Self? How we feel about our-Self is how we are “felt about”. 90 percent of that perception is what we learn by reflecting our-Self from the mirror of our mother, with a 10 percent influence from siblings and father. Those impressions form a belief system.
We begin in very early infancy to adapt our-Self to gain Mom’s approval. It’s a rare parent who ever took a class in parenting. If Mom wasn’t taught by her mother that “having” every emotion is normal, and it was what she did about it was what really mattered, then if her infant is expressing mother’s ill-thought-of emotion, the look on her face and the sound of her voice lets the child know that he/she is unlovable. One generation to the next, these unwritten rules are passed on. Most of us will parent as we were parented.
A stressor is anything you wish were different.
Emotions are the essence of our soul. If we feel guilty for the having emotions- and especially so for expressing them – we have opened the door to depression. We all of us, to some degree, put some sort of “wet blanket” on the use of one or more emotions.
For over a hundred years Dr. Walter Cannon’s Emergency Reaction has held true: “In response to stress, all animal organisms will have either a fight or flight reaction”, though “stress” is a misnomer. “Stressor” was not in the dictionary until 1952. We respond with stress to a stressor.
A stressor is anything you wish were different. Fight implies the use of anger, the emotion we use to aggressively change a stressor in order to make it congruent with our comfort level. For the same purpose, seeking comfort, fear is the emotion we use to distance our-Self from a stressor.
Both anger and fear are necessary for survival, yet since written history we have considered them as ill-thought-of emotions. Anger is too often thought of as dangerous and prone to violence. As with all emotions, there are all degrees. We can be mildly displeased that the sun doesn’t shine, or enraged that a vandal slashed our tires. Fear is not cowardice, and is the necessary emotion to move away from danger.
We now have evidence that the mind does exist on a cellular level. Whatever is alive is thinking. In his text, THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF, cell biologist Bruce Lipton, by means of electron-microscopy, showed that a bacterium appears to use primitive emotions for its survival.”The most primitive organisms are prokaryotes, which include bacteria and other microbes, consisting only of a cell membrane that envelops a droplet of soupy cytoplasm. A bacterium carries out the basic physiologic processes of life like complicated cells. It eats, digests, breathes, excretes waste matter, and even exhibits “neurological” processing. The organism senses where food is and propels itself to it. They can recognize toxins and predators and purposely employ escape maneuvers to save their lives. In other words, prokaryotes display intelligence. The most likely candidate for what might be called a brain is the cell membrane, the only organelle found in every living cell.” The cell membrane is one-seven-millionth of a millimeter thick.
The cell nucleus was once thought to be the primitive brain. To exhibit “intelligent” behavior cells have no need of a nucleus, but rely on proteins within the membrane. “These protein complexes are the fundamental units of cellular intelligence, the true brain of the cell, a mem-brain. There are two kinds of integral proteins in the membrane, receptors and effectors. Receptors act like sense organs, equivalent to eyes, ears, nose, taste buds etc. Appropriate life-sustaining response is the venue of the effector proteins. Together the receptor-effector complex acts as a switch, translating environmental signals into cellular behavior.”
If the Soul/Mind is successful in resolving the ordinary problems of the world, then the body is healthy. A happy mind is a happy body. When the mind is “stressed” the body will have symptoms. These are the common complaints that come into the doctor’s office that are not diagnosable by laboratory methods, such as: backaches, headaches, stomach upsets, bowel problems, hiccups, dry mouth, insomnia, on and on. They simply come and go with the passage of time and the resolution of the stressors. When the mind is at ease, so is the body.
What are the steps our organism takes to create an autoimmune disease? What possible stressors could be so persistent, so incapable of resolution, that the Soul/Mind essentially gives up and leaves, or “assigns” the body to deal with the problems by itself.
What happens when the mind’s efforts are futile to resolve stressors that are acute and significantly severe, or chronic and persistent? My experiences with patients tell me that problems the mind cannot resolve will be relegated to the body. Dis-ease of the mind leads to a disease of the body.
To confront stressors, an overall protector of our body, our Soul/Mind sort of “parcels out” a bit of one of the basic emotions, anger, to specialized cells of the body called the Immune System. The mind appears to exist on a cellular level, though that level is quite primitive in its ability to process pieces of information.
Quoting the National Institute of Health:
“The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by “foreign” invaders. These invaders are physical entities, primarily microbes such as bacteria, parasites, and fungi. It is the immune system’s job to keep them out or, failing that, to seek out and destroy them.”
Aside from intercurrent microbe and viral infections, what are the other factors which create our disease states? Charles Nemeroff, Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami, was questioned: Can depression cause any long-term medical problems, such as heart disease? He answered: “The interface of depression with other medical disorders is a very hot topic of investigation at the current time. There is no doubt that depression results in a major increased risk for the development of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Depressed patients are more likely to have a heart attack, to suffer from congestive heart failure and to have a variety of other cardiac abnormalities than individuals without depression. A number of studies that have shown what the biological substrates are that mediate this risk. Depressed patients have abnormalities in the immune function, abnormalities in the platelet clotting cascade and abnormalities in the way their heart rate is regulated by the brain. All of these together conspire to increase your risk for heart attack if you’re depressed.”