Everything in a body is finite. This can be quite a disturbing line of thought, especially when it relates to things that are supposedly about who you are. How we feel and how we exist in the world is very much related to our body chemistry in all its complexity. For the Druid exploring nature in their own body, this impact of chemistry on who and how we are is a fascinating line of thought.
Our chemistry is informed by our experiences, environment and food. So our bodies create feedback loops. Those might turn out more like vicious circles as we spiral helplessly, feeling every more trapped by our circumstances. It’s just as possible to grow and build, although the current depth and breadth of crisis in the UK makes that harder.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the body chemistry of depression and anxiety. With recent news that serotonin levels aren’t the defining issue, it’s clear something else is going on. I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences around numbness and distress and I have some thoughts. I’m a case study of one, this is no kind of scientific, but I think it’s worth sharing anyway.
Most of the chemicals washing around in our bodies have multiple functions. Adrenaline does panic and anxiety, and also excitement and enthusiasm. Dopamine gives us willpower and executive function, it also gives us feelings of reward. These are finite resources. I’m not very good at feeling rewarded – I don’t get feel-good hits from computer games, or from anything else designed to push those buttons. I have spent my life with a wonky body, constantly having to push to get things done. I live on willpower most of the time. What if that simply means I don’t have the dopamine resources to experience the feel-good side of that chemistry? What if the amount of adrenaline going into panic is why I don’t have any capacity to feel excited?
I don’t get much of a vote around panic, but I do get some say in how much willpower I use. I’m undertaking to rest more and trying to make sure I’m not running purely on willpower most of the time. Unshockingly, I feel better for doing things that way, and at the same time I’ve become a little less numb and more able to feel other things and I don’t think this is a coincidence.
I also have questions about the role diet plays here, because you can’t build your body chemicals if you don’t have the right stuff going in. Poverty is exhausting and depressing and I suspect part of that is just not being able to make the right stuff in the first place.
Treating my body as a delicate system with finite resources is working a lot better than running it hard like I’m supposed to be able to function like a machine. I really shouldn’t be surprised about this. I have got to a point in my life where I have the luxury of options, but for a long time I didn’t have that, and for many people, relentless pushing is all there is.