Three Of A Kind

RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR

It’s a simple question with the most complex of answers. Why psychological and emotional factors make us anxious, sick, or ill?  Or, why our body’s neural and chemical processes trigger psychological distress — and, upset our immune system — leading to illness? Or, why a certain number of people spend most part of their lives fending anxiety, depression, or awfully stressful states?

Well, the most simplistic of answers that emerges is — blame it on our genes. In other words, the genes that we carry predispose us to anxiety, depression, and a host of other illnesses. Interestingly, there is also an irony to it — not all unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety, sadness, fear, and depression, are entirely dreadful. The fact is, they all have significant biological functions — the purpose to protect us from harm. Just think of it — a person who does not have the ability to feel pain, for instance, may hurt themselves, or face early death.

The fear of consequence before crossing the road prevents us from straying into danger. Likewise, it can drive us to put in greater efforts — be it the workplace, or sports arena. Put simply, physical pain compels us to come out of harm’s way; it helps us to survive. As the Greek philosopher Epicurus observed, “The occurrence of certain bodily pains assists us in guarding against others like them.”

All of us are affected by feelings of sadness, or gloom, from time to time. Moody blues are universal responses to disappointments, or setbacks, in life and career. Paradoxically, sad tendencies have perceptible biological benefits. When you feel sad you are less likely to persist with what you are doing without success. It opens up a new window — one that may help you to get into an alternative course of action to succeed.

Negative emotions, such as anxiety, are not just biological malfunctions. They are protective mechanisms. They are absolutely normal, provided they assist us to repel difficult situations, or problems, and improve our mental capacity. When they have the opposite effect, the end result may be dramatic. Here’s why. You’ve known people who are far too little anxious, or appear to be ‘never ever disturbed.’ The best part: they don’t seem to care, or worry, about anything. Life, for them, is a song, a merry-go-round of happiness. You may be envious of them for their no-risk, totally relaxed attitude. You may be wrong — because, they may sooner than later end up at the nearest hospital, or get marooned in a personal adversity that you’d never have dreamt of.

Think of this — the most common hazards of modern life. Driving to work, or for pleasure, smoking, and drinking. They are huge risks — yet a majority of people display a disturbing lack of fear. Well, this is what that amazingly makes us what we are, as we are — human beings, cheerful, gutsy, and resilient.

The unpleasant downside though is, sometimes, distressing, or alarming. Remember — when you’re anxious and depressed for no apparent reason, it isn’t just a fake alarm. Worse still, it could prove disastrous — especially in the times we now live in. Emotional false alarms can unwittingly lead us into life-threatening situations too — primarily because we were not anxious, or troubled, by our receptivity to seeing things as they are, and what they are not.

“It’s my gut feeling,” is a familiar adage. It relates to a feeling not just in our gut, but our mind as well. That something good is going to happen. In simple terms, our gut is the crossing point between us and our outside world. One outstanding example is the simple earthworm. It crawls ever so gently through the soil, ingesting a tiny part — this fraction passes through its little body and converts into ‘casting.’ Is this not an impressive natural act that ‘extracts’ and ‘adds’ to the soil? We too ‘interact’ in much the same way — the difference being of degree.

The food we eat is integrated into the tissues of our being — the excess is expelled. You’d think of our digestive tract as a temporary transit point for building blocks of energy that we may use, or not use. Put simply, the gut is a part of us. It reflects our wellness quotient. It mirrors our nature, temperament — including the larger nature outside of us. It has its own fertile soil, a complex pattern of microbes — good and bad bacteria, as also viruses. Such microorganisms, like in our outside world, battle for territorial rights — or, individual hegemony and supremacy.

This is a world that celebrates the famous Darwinian aphorism too — survival of the fittest. The fungi, for example, have, over the ages, learned to secrete a toxin — it has the ability to destroy bacteria, or keep them at bay. Penicillin is a celebrated example of such a ‘toxin’ — it is used to eradicate bacteria that fill our system. Well, like our natural instinct, or normal response, the bacteria do not collapse in the wake of this medicinal assault. They fight with the ‘skin’ of their ‘teeth.’ They play games that our politicians excel in. In other words, they begin to counter the toxin by becoming ‘resistant strains.’ The fallout is imminent — unsafe consequences to our health and well-being.

Our life is a complete stage-show, be it good health, or illness. It’s also complex and interdependent. You cannot, for instance, extinguish one primary species to benefit the other. If such a thing were to happen, it could lead to considerable changes — right from soil erosion to climatic variation. This holds good for the vitality of our gut. When you don’t take adequate care of your gut, nothing you eat will feel good, or yummy.  You’ll also forget what your gut really knows. Why? Because, the gut, your ‘seat of observation,’ has changed. You’d now need to fix it — with professional help.

— First published in The Himalayan Times, Nepal