I am now absolutely certain that the Vagus Nerve hypothesis for Parkinson's Disease, which I have begun to outline in
is the right one. The final piece of the jigsaw clicked into place yesterday when my Sister-in-Law visited with her little Beddlington Terrier, Evie. I've found that dogs react nervously around me when I'm in an "off" (lack of animation) state, as it seems they don't know what to make of me. This is how it was when Evie visited, as I was indeed between doses of my Pd medications while she was here. Yet, as usual, she still played and interacted, albeit warily, with me.
Then something profound and disturbing, but extremely important happened. As I was sitting there, I switched into a deeper "off" state - one in which I zone out completely, lose myself, the brain fog descends, I stiffen up and become rigid, eyes glaze over, I withdraw from the world. I have described my experience of such states previoulsy in
- thankfully, these full "offs" episodes are becoming less and less frequent for me, but they do still happen.
What happened next was extraordinary. A low constant growl was heard. I moved my eyes as best I could, and little Evie was staring at me, just staring unmoving, but making the low, guttural sound. Why would she growl (very rarely does she do this) at the very same person she had been playing with just minutes earlier? Perhaps because it wasn't quite the same person inside? Indeed, my Sister-in-Law half joked that there must be a spectre in the room her doggie could sense. Reflecting on this, I now believe she was dead right!
Let's take one step back. I have been thinking and talking a lot about the Vagus Nerve and how its malfunction explains fully and simply complex diseases like Autism and Parkinson's Disease. The Vagus Nerve is the part of our nervous system which calms us down and discharges our excited state after we have been provoked into a autonomic stress state. A weak Vagus Nerve response means we get stuck in the stressed state for longer. In some cases, it can be so weak, that a person can literally get stuck in one of these states. While people with Autism are stuck in Fight-or-Flight response, for example, people with Parkinson's are stuck in a much more serious Freeze or Playing Dead response. I have pondered the differences between these two types of autonomic stress modes previously too, in
and Evie's response now confirms these perspective of PD to my own complete satisfaction.
The Freeze response occurs only when we are very seriously threatened and we find ourselves in a situation where death is imminent. I do not believe our nervous systems are born with the knowledge of Freeze/Playing Dead, but that it must be learned behaviour or experiential - there has to be some triggering event. I now believe that if people with Parkinson's become very mindful and look back at our lives and consider when the very signs of our problems started to appear, we will converge. For many of us this experience will be buried very deep, and we will know it when we find it, because the memory itself will strike abject terror in us and trigger Freeze in a major way.
I found my Imminent Death Event memory a while back. It was when I nearly drowned in a rip-tide off the coast of Cornwall. I was at the final second of my life and had already given up, and was in the stage of letting myself sink to the bottom, only to have my head pulled above water by my schoolboy friend. I was thirteen. This is the very age when I changed, in a very palpable way, from a happy child, to something else entirely, and then spent the next two decades slowly, but at an ever increasingly rapid pace, getting worse.
What happened is that I bought something back from the Brink of Death with me. A Ghost, Shade or Spectre, which possessed my Nervous System and slowly, indelibly, took it over completely. This is what little Evie sensed when I switched into the deep off state in her presence. She smelt the change and could tell that something was indeed Possessing me as the total Freeze state overcame me. My Sister-in-Law was dead right that a spectre had entered the room.
What I bought back with me at the age of just thirteen, was the Shadow of my own Death, the Knowledge of the Grave, and it has been haunting me ever since. My system learned to Freeze/Play Dead, and it started to habitualize this state more and more. As it took over and grew in power due to my own lifestyle choice, my Vagus Nerve found itself in a losing battle in trying to discharge me back to a relaxed or restful state. It got weaker and weaker and lost the fight against the Shadow of Death in my System, until it finally gave up [to] the ghost too. At this point, my Parkinson's Disease symptoms rapidly developed.
But like me, my Vagus Nerve is not fully dead yet. We are now working out and helping each other to come back to life again. We too have brought something back from the Other Side of Parkinson's Disease.
We've brought back the Spirit of Hope.