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What Causes Bipolar -- III

No, your genes did not make you do it.

And the Prozac Monologues Tutorial on Bipolar Disorder continues, with installment #3.

Bipolar starts in the genes. But there is no smoking gun. There is no genetic defense. If you mortgaged the house, went to Vegas, lost the money, caught a disease, now you're in divorce court and maybe jail, nope.

Your genes did not make you do it.

The way the scientists put it, genes do not code for behavior. Okay, as last week's post says, it starts in your genes. But you are not doomed to end up in divorce court. You have just got some extra challenges to surmount.

Mental illnesses are developmental. They start with a brain that has certain vulnerabilities which come from genetic variations from the norm. These are vulnerabilities, not scripts.




So here is what happens. Genes program the proteins that make up cells. These big blobs with tentacles reaching out in this image are the cells. Cells build pathways, the wiring that connects cells to other cells. That's what the tentacles are, wiring, known as dendrites in brain-speak. The wiring produces traits, tendencies toward certain brain events and behaviors. The events and behaviors come from messages passed from cell to cell by means of electrical impulses passing through the wiring. If the events and behaviors are repeated, these tendencies are reinforced; the wiring gets stronger. As they, What fires together, wires together. What wires together tends to repeat, until the brain has learned to function in a particular way.

From the git go, by the way, even from the womb, this development is shaped by the environment, illness, diet, exercise, trauma, how people reward behavior, how the brain itself rewards behavior...

All of this is true for everybody. We start out as a mama cell who chooses which squiggly cell gets to be her mate. They come together, each with some embedded instructions, and off we go, from blob to tadpole to sweet little helpless thing to challenging teen to semi-responsible adult. The brain shapes itself, using that original equipment from the original two cells and in response to everything that happens within and without, some of it chosen, some of it not.

What makes for a bipolar brain is variations in the original equipment that are then shaped in particular ways, resulting in some marvelous originality and some problematic glitches. These glitches show up in the many and various ways that the brain has to balance, has to meet events, both internal and external, then respond in ways that range on a continuum, and return, when appropriate, to an earlier state.

People with bipolar have difficulty with balance. I'm not talking about the stay-standing-and-don't-fall-down kind of balance. I'm talking about misfirings and mis-timings of a whole bunch of systems: hormones, neurotransmitters, and immune system cycles that go off-kilter; glitches in communication between brain cells and within brain cells; and wonky wiring among the networks that connect the thinking, feeling, and evaluating parts of the brain.

Not this:


More like this:


It's still a long way from wonky wiring to Vegas. I won't stop at every roadside attraction, just the ones that appeal to me -- though I am willing to take requests. See you next week.

Flair from Facebook.com
Neuron graphic in public domain
The Persistence of Memory by Salvidor Dali, 1931

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