Friday, March 06, 2009

Thinking with my stomach.

This has been an almost excruciatingly long week, despite the fact that I did an awful lot of sleeping. My consciousness was especially tuned in to bodily function, in a way that it seldom is in this modern age. I guess to some degree I am more prepared at my age to pay attention to my physicality. Our bodies are, in a way, akin to the proverbial "canary in a coal mine". They often signal (or reflect) problems in our lives that we may not be actively addressing. Objectively I knew that I would become more aware of my physical health as I aged. This is certainly no shocking revelation. Anyone who has ever had living grandparents has probably been exposed to this reality. Things fall apart over time.

Still it is a bit astonishing just how quickly we gain information about our bodies as we age. I've done a lot of thinking recently about the idea of the "Achilles' Heel", or tragic flaw theory of mortality. Somewhere I heard that the seeds of our own destruction are already within us, even when we are feeling perfectly fine. That concept has poetic resonance. Perhaps we are all born with a number of potentially devastating genetic defects, and the environment selects the one that will kill us. Or maybe we do the choosing ourselves. I don't really care whether or not the trigger is external or not. There's just something useful about contemplating what our own burden might be.

I would expect that if you give it some honest and sincere thought, you could probably identify the part of your body where your life's stresses manifest themselves most acutely. Some people get migraine headaches, and no matter what they do they can't seem to alleviate them. They just have to suffer through. Others find their hearts racing, and quickly learn that they need to control their emotions, lest their pacemakers explode. There are folks that seem to get all twisted up when things go poorly. Their muscles get kinked and knotted. For each of the body's biosystems, there is no doubt a corresponding affliction which can let the careful observer know what emotional state the individual is experiencing.

It was obvious to me quite early in life that my own stress seems to accumulate in my stomach and digestive tract. If I am feeling a lot of pressures, or even "existential angst", I soon experience difficulties in digesting my food properly. The specific symptoms that pop up are a bit too viscerally disgusting to describe in detail, so I'll let your imagination be your guide. Perhaps if you are like me, and you often have similar problems, then you know the scope of the possibilities. If not, then you probably get a "stomachache" now and again, and leave it at that. The details aren't for you. Like Eskimos and their snow, some of us need an expanded language to express the nuances of these phenomena.

To have my digestive capabilities completely go haywire this past week was alarming. In a way that wouldn't be necessary if I got stress headaches, I began to think about how my lifestyle specifically affects my processing of food. I also thought a lot about the things I pick to put into my mouth without much thought. All of this may sound sort of pseudo-mystical to those of a purely scientific bent. But if you are able to, allow yourself some time to contemplate what your area of most profound vulnerability might be. Remember that there is always something that ultimately kills you. Whether or not you want to monitor that ongoing process is up to you. As for me, I can feel it in my gut.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Things fall apart over time."
Unfortunately (for you), you're a bit young (IMO) to (have to) know that.

Interesting read. I do believe that one's body can inform them about things going, but most do not intuitively process the information. Either that, or in my case, one ignores them so as not to admit there may be an issue that needs addressing.

I believe that state-of-mind is often key in good health, stress is an under-appreciated cause and exaggerator for many an illness, and that good feelings and laughter can help. I periodically source Norman Cousins, who wrote about the power of laughter (I recall something about Marx Brothers each his own I suppose) getting him through a serious illness.

Best wishes for continuing to understand what your body is telling you to do, and not to do.

8:28 AM  

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