Friday, November 22, 2013

Sprinting towards the Finish Line

When I was young I loved to run. I still love to run, though now I only run in my dreams. When I say running, I mean sprinting. I was born with Autonomic Failure, so running any kind of distance was distressing and took a long time to recover from. Racing for me – like swimming or skating – was a pure moment of freedom. It was escape, literally. But there is always a line lurking before me. There is a point beyond which I can't proceed.

Imagine lining up, adrenaline snaking through your limbs. Imagine the start, explosive and focused. Your stride evens out. You hit top speed. You relax. But within seconds, rapid-fire, your competition kicks in – not the other runners, but dizziness, confusion, panic, tingling, and the feeling you are losing consciousness. Your brain and lungs are deprived of their function even as your legs swell and pump, milking whatever oxygen remains. You are running, still, maintaining your pace. But your ability to think and sense disappears. Your world closes in quickly around you. You are sprinting alone in a tunnel. Time slows down and the finish line edges further and further away. Your toes are numb, as if the tips were missing. The white lines painted on the track, the texture of the surface, the sound of your spikes tapping the ground – every sensation turns against you and becomes an enemy. You are beating against them. You are stamping them out. The finish line looms alongside oblivion.

I realize now these brief terrifying sprints were necessary. Each sprint was a test: a test of my alive-ness, which waned and waxed inexplicably. A test of the physical and mental limit imposed by my disease. Each sprint was a blow to the fuzzy shroud that descended around my brain to taunt me.

I realize now that every endeavor I have undertaken was approached in exactly this fashion – in desperation, at a dead run, hoping to last to the finish. Every endeavor was a battle against my recalcitrant brain. Every action was an attempt to jar it, to keep it moving. I was afraid to stop moving. I feared if I stopped, I would descend into the quagmire that pulled at every step.

I remember my middle school track coach, Mr. Gottfried, screaming at me across the oval during distance training because I could not keep up. "SPELLMAN!! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU KNOW DAMN WELL YOU CAN RUN!" I was able to place in sprint races, sprint relays, and the triple jump. I just didn't make sense. I don't make sense to anyone – including doctors.

In January I will qualify for health insurance for the first time in 25 years. Hopefully I can approach it at a steady jog and avoid wiping out on the turns. After failing for 48 years to get proper care from Health care providers for "invisible" conditions, I am not optimistic. I am not even sure I feel like trying anymore. I will never win. But I have to line up. I have to compete. If I don't, I am finished.

BTW I forgive you, Mr. Gottfried, for screaming at me. Maybe I should even thank you. Even though I wish I could have got help, In some ways I am thankful I did not. I feel fortunate to have done all the things that I am not supposed to do.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The role of viruses in neuropsychological disorders

Is it possible that the genetic mutation associated with Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Schizophrenia does not determine the expression of these afflictions, but instead acts as a catalyst for information from "junk" DNA to manifest? I have been wondering why neurologic afflictions share so many characteristics with viral infections. I don't believe this is a coincidence. We can catch – and lose – the symptoms of a virus. But neurologic disease is either present from birth or switched on – rarely off. Is it possible that these disorders protect us from something much worse? Or perhaps they are holdovers from a time when the exploitation of viral activity ti manipulate of DNA was young. In other words maybe these disorders reflect a compromise in the mechanism of dna enhancement or manipulation accomplished through viral activity.

I have noticed that in some individuals or families wherein neurologic disease is prevalent, the contraction of viral infection is rare. I have not had a flu for over 25 years, and as far as I know I never received any immunizations except for polio when I was small. What if this exclusive relationship has to do with an immunization effect conferred via "Junk" DNA during development.

Our "Junk" DNA harbors a vast and ancient reservoir of viral information, some of which is half a billion years old. This viral code serves to protect us against viral infection. But did our bodies borrow from this reservoir in times of need? Environmental pressure might play a role in "switching on" traits that resemble viral infection, for the short-term gain the characteristics bestowed may achieve.

Is it possible that we retrieve solutions from our "junk" DNA when there is already a problem in the development of the brain and neurologic system? Consider the Bipolar brain, which has less grey matter mass than the normal brain. What if the reduced grey matter is the developmental disorder, and Bipolar is a response to it?

Is it also possible that when this data is retrieved, there is additional DNA in the way of "enhancers" that are retrieved at the same time? Linked genes provide either-or possibilities: a hairless dog is achieved at the expense of its dental health, as the gene that determines the hairless trait is carried along with the one that confers dental disease. In the scenario I am imagining, the retrieval of repair information "gifts" the recipient extra enhancers, which may serve to somehow offset or mitigate the problem that instigated the retrieval of repair DNA. In other words the attempt to solve a problem has the effect of creating new solutions, or conferring newly created tweaks in the way certain genes are expressed.

Perhaps the necessity of delivering a genetic fix for certain developmental problems comes with a compromise: latent viral symptoms are carried along and harbored. They can be triggered by extreme stress. A short-term fix carries a latent negative potential for expression.

There may be a genetic advantage when neurologic disease is expressed in a way that is easy for all humans to read. If it's expressed through symptoms similar to viral infection, the clear message is to stay away (and therefore protect the community from sickness or disease). By creating visible signs for invisible (neurologic) affliction, a benefit is provided to society – but not to the individual.

The above may point to why the stigma of disability is so prevalent, in particular in regard to invisible or neurologic disorder. A bias against the afflicted has served us well for most of human existence. Has this bias outlived its usefulness?