The Genetic Code of Original Sin

I have been wondering why people need religion for a long time.  My previous conclusion was that people need security.  I thought that people needed hope for life after death in order to ease their fear of death.  I still think this reason is a reason for religion; one of many.  Although, now I think this conclusion might reflect a simpler view of the world that I held when I thought people were more easily defined.

Lately, I´ve been thinking about the parts of ourselves that we don´t understand.  You know, the really muddled or ugly parts.  I used to see people as these sort of mathematical equations that could be changed or manipulated if we knew all of their working parts.  I still think this might be true but now think people are so much more complicated than I had ever imagined.

Take the psychological disorder/disease/what have you, manic-depression, for example.  Psychiatrists used to think that people were either bi-polar or they were not.  And, if they were bi-polar, then they behaved in a cyclical pattern of mania and depression.  These people were and still are labeled and targeted as ill; not really to be helped or treated.  They are loaded with medication, which some people mix with their own self-medication: alcohol.

A distant relative in my family died by mixing his prescribed medication with his self-medication.  His prescribed medication wasn´t working because he doctor didn´t take enough time to figure out what prescription was necessary to treat a manic-depressive.  He gave him regular anti-depressants, which can send someone who suffers from bi-polar disorder, into a manic upswing.  In order to counter-act the medication, my this person drank.  He was also just simply an alcoholic.  He had been treating mania with alcohol for a long time.  At some point, the combination made him so mentally confused, that he decided to pull the trigger before all was lost.  Like a lot of people who incorrectly shoot themselves, he didn´t completely die, and his wife was forced to pull the plug on him.  He shot himself while she was at work, in the hope that someone else would find him before she did.

It´s hard to know where the demon from his own brain stopped and the demon from alcohol or mania began.  It´s hard to know how much of his abuse stemmed from a depression over the guilt of what he did when he wasn´t sure about which demon was which and the fact that he couldn´t control either of them or how much was just naturally part of him.  Naturally part of him… what does that mean?  I guess it means how much is part of a person´s baseline.

Now psychiatrists are beginning to think that manic-depression is a sympton of a gene-expression that happens when a person has a naturally low tolerance for stress.  This theory makes a person a lot more complicated.  It implies that a person has multiple equilibrium points that shift according to external variables.  (Note: I think this extends to chaos theory.. so I apologize if throughout this blog I misuse jargon related to equilibrium points.  I don´t really understand the math or theory, but try to overlook misused terms and see what I am getting at if you notice errors.)

In a stable environment, a person who has this bi-polar gene will not experience mania or depression.  However, as soon as that person enters into a stressful environment, the gene will become expressed and the person will start to have cyclical episodes of mania and depression.  This idea pains me a lot because I think about all the family members I love who have been caught in this vicious cycle.

The cycle seems so especially vicious because it implies that the person with the bi-polar gene is entering into these uncontrollable cycles of extreme highs and lows during a time period when he would be best served by having all of his faculties in place.  How many lives have been destroyed by having this gene expressed during periods when people need to react rationally and calmly to the chaotic events that are encircling them at that time?

I know Sophie´s life was almost destroyed, for one.  I know it played its part in the destruction of Sophie and Mark´s marriage, for two.  I know  Meg was destroyed, for three, and George, for four.  I know my Karen has been what seems to be permanently estranged from her family, for five.  I know my Dave and Scott have had several close calls, for six and seven.  I know that in general, my family has been struggling to outrun the deadly effects of mania, depression, and their best friend, alcohol, for generations.

What happens when a person has a manic fit during a death, divorce, or even a family reunion or any other family event that causes stress?  Well, that person starts going a million miles an hour.  He stops sleeping, often goes out and spends a bunch of money that he doesn´t have, and starts eight or twenty projects never to be finished.  And then, most of the time, he starts self-medicating because at a time when he needs to be the opposite of out of control, all he wants to do is come down from that rapid-onset, seemingly out-of-nowhere high.

How does someone come down from a high that high?  The cheapest and friendliest depressant around is booze.  And, because alcohol takes our systems up and then down, I can imagine it is also the most fun when your entire body and mind are on a roller-coaster with the world´s fastest ascent.

Have you even seen a drunk manic person?  You don´t want to.  I just received an email from my —–.  Two family members, Rachel and  John, were in a car accident two nights ago.  She said my family  is convinced that John is bi-polar.  This claim makes sense to me because this he has been so warm and understanding throughout my family´s tragic interactions with manic-depression; perhaps his empathy stems from a more familiar place than any of us had previously guessed.

John is not related to me but, at times, it seems like he could be.  He and Rachel have one of the most supportive and functional relationships my family has seen in years.  A few years back, two other family members, Sophie and Mark, got divorced and Sophie temporarily moved in with Rachel and John in order to escape an incredibly ugly ending.  To say Sophie and Mark were co-dependent is putting a whole slew of events in an incredibly favorable light.

I can begin to imagine how stressful Sohpie´s stay was with them.  She was a certifiable wreck and she, Rachel, and John all like to drink.  Shortly after Sophie left their house and moved, John asked Rachel for a divorce.  He moved out and she was beside herself.  Four months later, he moved back in and they did their best to move on.

My —— told me in the email that John was drinking the other night and hit a tree, and that´s how he and Rachel ended up in the hospital.  Some other family member picked them up this morning.  Physically, they are okay.  She said John was incredibly obnoxious and talking a million miles an hour and was essentially driving them all insane.

What adult who is absolutely wasted thinks he is alright to drive himself and his wife home?  Well, one who is so manic that he doesn´t realize how drunk he actually is, for one.  My —— says we might have missed the fact that he´s bi-polar because he moved out during the last episode; at a time when his wife who was struggling to help her grief-stricken relative keep it together really needed him.  We also talk about each other a lot in my family.

This story is one anecdote from a set that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years that has ended in at least two suicides, one estrangement, two divorces, and two near-fatal “accidents” in two of the nuclear families in my larger family.  I am sure this result has been repeated in the nuclear families that make up my family tree for generations upon generations.  My sister´s life goal is to find the gene that is related to bi-polar episodes because my family is one in a long list of many that have been silently coping with the embarrassment, shame, and guilt that stem from the tragedy that can be attributed to this gene.

Bi-polar expression is one example of changing equilibrium points that a person can fall into in one of his days.  It is a patternistic behavior in human beings that we have identified.  What about the non-patternistic behaviors or the other patternistic behaviors that we cannot identify?  Or the ones that we can identify but can´t understand, bi-polar disorder included.

How many of us commit actions that we can´t understand?  And, later, how many of us come up with reasons that make sense enough in retrospect, while we quietly hope that we never make that mistake ever again?  Nearly everyone I know.

What do we do when years later we still can´t explain our actions and the loved one who got caught in the cross-fire is still looking for an explanation?  I am beginning to think that that´s when a lot of people turn to God and explain to themselves or maybe even someone else that Satan had a piece of their souls temporarily.

I think I am beginning to understand religion more.  Human beings do unexplainable, absurd, and attrocious things to each other all the time.  But, unfortunately, I don´t think original sin has much to do with why.

The demons we fight have genetic codings that are affected by so many environmental variables that the differential equations that would explain how we will behave and under what circumstances would take up a group of white boards that would cover an area comparable to the surface area of a human lung.  Can you compare regular area and surface area?  Just pretend that you are stacking all the white boards in a giant box, and then it will have volume too.  Actually, when I first thought of this “joke,” I thought the surface area of a lung was infinite, thanks calc 2 prof, and then I was going to have to explain that the analogy was actually wrong because a set of white boards would always be countable and countable sets are finite (cody can take credit for this, he reminded me of a math 300 proof, thanks hurlbert, you have made me less funny).  However, wikipedia says that the surface area of alveoli in lungs is about 70 m^2 and the length for the surrounding capillaries is about 620 miles.  So, now stack the capillaries on top of each other and then put them in a box with the alveoli, and then compare that box to the one that contains the box of white boards with the differential equations that explain human behavior.  They should be equal according to my joke.  I bet the differential equations box is still bigger.

The point is, I don´t think our salvation is in praying; I think it is in bravery, empathy, forgiveness, and the acknowledgment of the sins we commit against each other every day.  I think I am starting to understand religion…a bit, I think.  As for me, I hope to help break my family´s silent struggle against the beast of manic-depression  by taking responsibility for own struggles and ending the silence.  I have been wondering why people blog.  I think it is to say something to the world that they might otherwise lock up, internalize, and carry on with with them.  Or to get something big off their chests, or just relate to other people without attacking them on the streets by saying “Hey!  I feel nuts today, can we talk about it!!?  I need to talk to someone!!”  Or whatever.  I don´t know why people blog and I probably blog about things too personal and am probably going to piss my family off with this post, so I apologize.  But, I hope someone in the world who has family problems related to manic-depression will read this and feel a little bit less crazy.

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