I wasn’t going to write anything today.
Not many people read my blog about long-distance relationships.
I get all the data.
Nothing personally identifiable just country and number.
Yesterday didn’t seem to connect.
I had one ‘like’ on Twitter – thanks Debbie.
The first time I heard about Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) was back in 1994 when I was writing my Bachelor’s thesis. The topic was Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). I will cover this in a blog one day although I am not as interested in the subject now as much as I was in my early 20’s.
NDE’s are described by people who either encounter death or come very close, for example during cardiac arrest, shock, anaphylaxis or some other trauma.
There are lots of theories as to what is going-on.
I prefer the one which talks about the stimulation of excitatory neurones in the brain that generate complex hallucinations.
The idea being, or, perhaps the associated idea, is that these experience relate to the origins of the human propensity to belief.
PNI is related as it is the inter-relationship between the psyche, that is, the mind, neurology, or the white and grey matter in your head, including the peripheral nervous system (the nerves running into your eyes, fingers and toes) and, immunology, the body’s defence mechanisms.
If you layer on top of this our recent and growing understanding of the human gut-microbiome, you are getting somewhere, approaching the complexity.
I remember being fascinated by PNI back in the 90’s. There were a few articles around – this was the dawn of the internet and we didn’t have Google Scholar. I was desperate to find people to talk to about this, I even considered it something I could get into as a career.
It wasn’t big in the UK and I became interested in other things, first medicine then older people.
Jumping forward 15 years, I met at an event Claudius, a South African thinker-cum expert in the work of Jan Smuts, Holism, Spiral Dynamics and PNI.
And now, I am thinking about this again.
There is a developing field of Functional Medicine in the UK, this is doctor and other scientists who are investigating and supporting people who have symptoms that lack an obvious physical cause.
For example, headaches when the brain scans, lumbar puncture and blood tests are normal, odd rashes, tingling in the fingers, unsteadiness, upset bowels and bladder that after extensive investigation look and appear to function just like everyone else’s bowels and bladder, yet they seem to work differently or at least provide the person affected with significant symptoms of pain, urgency, discomfort that other so-called ‘normals’ don’t experience.
This is something I have covered before so I won’t go into the details.
Here is more!
I was talking with my brother yesterday.
He has a hard time.
He is recently retired and struggling with arthritis affecting his hip and back. He has already, in his early 60’s had his first hip replacement and is scheduled for another.
This is all frustrating for my brother, as he has been very active all his life, always, running, cycling, skiing, that kind of thing.
Nothing is particularly surprising about any of this and you might think it odd for me to mention him in a blog about PNI.
Well, you see, despite his new hip and his old bad one and constant, severe pain that limits him and interferes with his sleep, a month ago he was off in the alps skiing. Yes, skiing.
He plays a weekly game of tennis.
He gets out an about on his bike.
And yet, at other times he has terrible, activity-limiting arthritis.
He told me when he was skiing all his pains disappeared.
I reminded him of our mum.
She had awful arthritis affecting both her knees.
Given all her other health problems she was never fit enough for surgery and so she had to put-up with the aches and pains and limited mobility.
Once a week she would attend a social in Glasgow. She loved to dance. She would dance for hours.
I recall, twenty or thirty years ago my mum experiencing terrible feet pain. She found it difficult to walk. I get this as well from time to time. One day, I need to hobble, especially in the morning, other days, nothing.
My mum’s foot pain just disappeared one day.
We have had all the tests. There is no rheumatoid or other funny inflammatory condition, x-rays are normal and all that.
Just pain sometimes and at others nothing.
Very dependent on the circumstances and my mood.
Not necessarily a bad, worried or anxious mood, just, mood. My specific demeanour on the day.
I said to my brother, ‘perhaps your pain is psychosomatic’ – this another name for functional.
He didn’t agree.
I described my hay-fever.
‘That’s caused by pollen,’ he said.
And yet, I have rhinorrhoea, that is, a runny nose that can happen at any time through the year, often precipitated by changes in my mental state. Pollen can affect me, mostly not.
It’s a funny old world.
They say there are as many neurones in your gut as in your brain, just as there are more bacteria in your gut than in your entire body.
I don’t know the specifics and these would be difficult to count, and yet, things are not as they seem.
We tend to believe in a concrete world. In the West at least. What you see is what you get. Spirituality is on the wane. Religious, transcendental or mystical experiences are niche, particularly for concrete thinkers like my brother.
PNI sort of addresses this.
It says that our psychology – what we think, feel and imagine is dependent not only upon our neurones, the electrons zipping through clouds of fat in our bodies but our immunity, all the cell signallers, the cytokines, antibodies and cell signalling-factors that keep us health and can on occasion turn on us, as in auto-immune conditions like rheumatoid or lupus.
We are the finite of our bodies and we are the infinite of our minds.
We are a walking anachronism.
And that explains it.
That we are for the most, at least at times, inexplicable.
We still don’t have enough understanding of ourselves to know what causes what and why we feel the way we do.
It is fine if you can climb into the flow, lose yourself in the TV or football or a book, if you are stuck inside, particularly if you are trapped in your body and the only way out is to walk in circles, that is when PNI strikes, it is when a NDE is an interesting diversion. When functional becomes our everyday.