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Bio Wizardry: Cauterizing the Bleeding Edge

I’ve already had one comment that told me I’m doing exactly what I intended — “I’m always searching for info., but rarely understand what I’m reading. So thanks!”

I turn handsprings inside.

Bio geeks and patients, slide on over. Feel free to tell me what you want to know, or what articles you need to understand. If I can bear it, and if I can do it, I’d be delighted.

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Dopamine, poverty, and pain: the lighter side

Executive decisions are made in the forebrain. The information that goes into them comes from the sensory cortex (nearby) and the hypothalamus (back in the dark heart of the brain.) The execution of those decisions happens in the pituitary, among other places. In short, there’s a lot of nerve-impulse mileage laid down between the moment you feel the itch in your armpit, check your surroundings for privacy, scratch away, and give a happy little sigh of relief. Lots of neurotransmission there.

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of executive decisions. It’s a daughter chemical of adrenaline, and your adrenal glands share blood supply with your kidneys; interestingly, Chinese medicine views the need to make too many decisions as being hard on the kidneys. Makes perfect sense to me. But that’s a red herring.

The key is, without dopamine, the decision can’t get from the frontal lobe to the action parts of the brain. Dopamine levels can be knocked back by pain, drugs (including the prescribed ones), depression, poor diet, and — of course — overuse.

People who have crippling pain have to make exponentially more decisions than those who don’t. Every action is measured against an internal set of standards that don’t exist for normos: how much pain will lifting that cost me? That car door — which way should I turn my hand to minimize damage when I pull it? How many function-dollars do I have left in my body’s account — enough to do laundry _and_ shower? Or should I do just one? If so, which one is more necessary?

Poor people have a similar ceaseless train of calculations running in their heads, but with different parameters. Can I get a little meat this week? What are my produce options, since there’s no good market in this area? Which neighborhood’s market has the best prices? Have I got the bus fare? Will I get into trouble over there? How do I blend in? Can I call in a favor to get some Tylenol too? These headaches are killing me.

As a poor person with pain, I figure I make easily 20 times as many decisions — on a slow day — as a normal person my age. When I was still overmedicated, I used to feel like a loser for not making 100% perfect decisions 100% of the time; in fact, I occasionally just goofed. And the trouble with living within such narrow parameters of function and finance is, the occasional goof can put you behindhand for a very long time.

It’s easy to sneer at those who make weird decisions like paying for a flat-screen TV instead of a semester of junior college. But try wringing out your dopamine every single blessed day, week after month after year, and see how well you do. These people don’t have decision-making disorders, so much as decision-making overload.

If you’re poor or in pain, take some credit for getting through the day. Cut yourself a little slack. Take a moment to rest and relax. See, it’s easier already.

Being hypercritical just uses up your dopamine faster. Why? Because criticism is the result of long strings of decisions. It’s very dopamine-expensive. (Ever wonder why hypercritical people don’t seem very happy? Now you know.)

Take a moment to be happy, to notice what’s good. Those moments rebuild your store of decision-making, anti-depressant dopamine. Each natural, happy little sigh is a shot of the stuff.

Sniff that flower one more time. Scratch where it itches (preferably in private.) Feel the sun warming your head. Laugh with your friends. There’s a reason why it feels so good. It really does make you stronger. It freely gives back what life makes you use. And it’s not too hard to find a reason to be happy.

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Inspiration and vacation

I must remember to inhale. It’s too normal to go about with my whole core clenched. It’s very tiring, and I’m generally tired enough, thank you.

Here’s an interesting thought… If I feel chronically un-rested, it’s tempting to think that the solution is to rest, at some point, for long enough to recuperate completely. Nice thought, eh?

Doesn’t work. For one thing, I need to Do Something to keep the lymph flowing & neurotransmitters cycling, so absolute rest is beyond me. For another … Well, pursuing yet another extreme state probably misses the point.

So I come to the idea — by a very long route — that resting and recuperation are supposed to be as much a part of daily life as eating and breathing and sleeping. (Strange thought.)

It takes a certain amount of determination and persistence. It’s much easier, given my situation and habits, to churn on something that frustrates me or to brace for the next unexpected blow.

I’m practicing. Yesterday, I took a more scenic route home; don’t think it took much longer, but I got quite a bit of sun on my hair … And I remembered how to inhale.

I got only a couple hours’ sleep the prior night and worked hard that day, but at 5:04 pm I felt more rested than I can remember.

Today, I still feel that much better. Inhaling is still something I need to remember to do, but the part about digging the moment I’m in is already easier. Stretching is spa-time. A moment in the sun is a break. A beautiful glimpse of sparkling sea is a mini-vacation.

So something worked.

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Balancing act: homeostasis and words I live by

A balance has two ends: when one goes up, the other goes down. As a metaphor for living, it lacks dimension.

Homeostasis is better. It has no end, but it does count every factor. With a balance, it’s possible to find a point where everything holds perfectly still – until the wind changes. With homeostasis, there is no still-point, because even the thing that pushes the wind is part of it. It’s always shifting.

Homeostasis is a puzzle to which there is no lasting solution, only a series of adjustments. There’s always something new to learn, something different happening.

I find that intriguing.

After living on the water, in the forest, by the desert, and in cities of all sizes, it also makes perfect sense to me. No change sets off only one corresponding change. All real things are clusters of changes, and in the end we can either adjust or be adjusted – and only one of those alternatives accounts for our own wishes.

Living, like homeostasis, is not about flattening the ocean. It’s about riding the waves.

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Extreme Moderation: an Olympic challenge

I got on the wrong train today. Got off 15 minutes later – was already 15 minutes late, so now it’s pushing an hour.

Ok, so the pain is up lately, not much sleep for a week, lot going on, etc. etc. The fact is, that’s how my life is: pain, survival, and figuring out how to handle normal issues under abnormal circumstances — this is just life.

I’m paying a lot of attention lately to navigating & negotiating these realities without succumbing to the inherent drama. One can have enough of drama, however seductive & compelling it is.

The fact that pain, survival and abnormal circumstances make the most thrilling narratives doesn’t make this an easy task. But who needs easy? It’s boring.

Y’know, I never thought of it that way before….

Here’s a new sport: Extreme Moderation — staying on top of my own responses and managing intelligently when my body plonks or my brain goes AWOL. What an interesting challenge for a recovering adrenaline junkie.

I’ve often said that, when you’re skirting Paradox, you’re close to naked Truth. So I think I’m onto something.

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Living lean: mulling cost and value

I’ve gotten pretty good at the
fine art of stretching a dollar so tight that if I let go, the
rebound could snap my nose off.

It dawned on me that I’ve gotten good at living cheap, though it’s
hard to tell because I’m so often out of money. It’s not because I
don’t know how to handle it, it’s that I really am that poor. Poor in
money, anyway.

Apothegm for today: EVERYTHING HAS VALUE. ALMOST EVERYTHING HAS COST.

You’d be amazed at how little you can spend per ounce of enjoyment
when you separate the ideas of “value” and “cost.”

This is probably the first most important thing I’ve done: notice what
I enjoy. Fortunately, I don’t enjoy the act of spending money.

The first question pops up: “Why am I starting with noticing
pleasant experiences? Isn’t this about saving money? Isn’t saving
money hard? Like ‘ow ow ow stop it it hurts’ kind of hard?”

Answer: because it works. Unless I win the lottery tomorrow, I’m
living lean for the long haul. That means 2 things:

1. I need a strong foundation. Most of us formed basic ideas about
money early on, and if it hasn’t worked out for me by now, it’s time
to build different foundations.
2. I need good habits. Spreadsheets, check registers, calculators,
even banking software have been around a long time. None of those
tools are rocket science. If they aren’t being used effectively by
now, no amount of “you shoulds” is going to make them work for me.

My Dad, a real genius about money, gave me two pieces of advice that
rocked my world:
1. Make time and money for entertainment. You have to have that. No
budget, however austere, should be without it for more than a couple
weeks.
2. Include a fudge-factor because, for one thing, costs always change
and for another, you’re not always right.

We’re concentrating on #1 right now. I want to figure out both how to
cost, and how to value, that supremely important item: entertainment.

This has taken time to evolve. My awareness shifts as I get
used to noticing what you enjoy. I find my tastes shifting,
since some “pleasures” are really a matter of programming or habit,
and don’t stack up well to things I naturally find pleasing.

No pressure, no expectation, no agenda — just freeing up my mental
habits so I can take a fresh look at seemingly ordinary things.

There’s a serendipitous realization that has been happening as I get better at
noticing happiness, beauty, flavor, pleasure and contentment: I get
better at feeling it, too. Don’t think about that too much right now,
though. I’m working on distinguishing between value and cost.

“No optional pain!” is my guiding
philosophy.

Keeping in mind that this is an intellectual exercise, and exercise
should happen now & then but not constantly.

Remembering to figure out associated costs, like transport, drinks, and
surcharges. I vary between being exact and giving a
ballpark figure — both approaches have their benefits.

With this, as with any skill, it’s all a matter of time — weeks,
months, maybe years. But that time will pass anyway; wouldn’t I
rather be better-prepared at the end of it?

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