Friday, February 20, 2009

On Gratitude (But Be Careful What You Wish For)

Full of gratitude last night, I celebrated a Hindu holiday called Mahashivaratri by eating an Indian dinner and then chanting with a group of friends. Just before the chant I chose a wish card from the dish at the entrance to our chanting and meditation center: “Prayer”. Good, I thought, I want to remember to pray for my friend’s husband who just went through a grueling surgery. During the chant I found myself offering blessings — an especially Jewish approach to prayer in which we praise the Creator before every action (waking, dressing, lighting candles, eating). After the chant I found myself praying in a more Western/American way, asking to experience gratitude all the time, even for all the humdrum things I take for granted.

Guess what? My prayer was answered, but not in the way I thought and hoped it would. Instead, I was given experiences that enabled me to more clearly see what I have to be grateful for. I thought constant gratitude might be like infatuation: walking around with a silly smile and a big open heart. Perhaps I am just at the early stage, like getting a crush on God and the Universe before it escalates to the point of infatuation.

As I sit here writing at 5:00 am after a sleepless night, I remember how I used to wish I could pull all-nighters to get more books and articles written. Sleep seemed like such a waste of time in those days of being a busy art historian. At night the world is quiet and the phone never rings.

Ah, I must be careful what I wish for.

Insomnia dropped in with the speed of a Comet, no warning until I got into bed at 11:30, tired but not sleepy. A half hour later, I was no closer to falling asleep. I had felt good all day; now all of a sudden my heart was pounding as forcefully as if I’d just climbed a steep hill. Neither a homeopathic nor a pharmaceutical sleep aid made a smidgen of difference –one of the more perplexing symptoms of CFS. Eventually I got out of bed to surf the internet and write.

The experience makes me realize how lucky I have been! Last year, I had nights like this every week, often twice a week. This is the first time in two months I’ve had to go through it again (the last when I tried supplemental SAMe – see post, SAMe is not my friend). That is something to be grateful for!

Earlier in the week I had another recollection of the past and another opportunity to count my blessings. I missed my nap Friday to join a group of poets for a luncheon followed by a session of critiquing. I got home after 5:00 pm, exhausted, eyelids propped open with toothpicks until an early bedtime. The next morning I was in a black fog --bitter, irritable, and depressed enough to wish I could go to sleep and never wake up. What a sorry Valentine I was for dear David!

Two things helped me through it: the knowledge that I used to be this way all the time in 1994 and in 2000 (nadars of this illness from previous relapses), and the certainty that all this would eventually pass. Looking back, I am so grateful that my moods are now generally stable. Apparently I have learned to care for myself in ways that usually keep them so.

When a long afternoon nap and a gentle session of hatha yoga failed to turn my mood, I took desperate action. I didn’t want to go our for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner like this! I remember that mood disorders are often gastrointestinally based. Here is some evidence:

1. Gut bacteria release toxins result in depression. See this recent medical abstract The gut-brain barrier in major depression: intestinal mucosal dysfunction with an increased translocation of LPS from gram negative enterobacteria (leaky gut) plays a role in the inflammatory pathophysiology of depression.
2. Research suggests that bacteria in the GI tract can communicate with the central nervous system, even in the absence of an immune response. See this medical abstract: Major depressive disorder: probiotics may be an adjuvant therapy
3. Michael Gershon, a Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Columbia University, called the enteric nervous system “The Second Brain.” His groundbreaking research deals with the complexity of the enteric nervous system, the role of gut neurotransmittes like serotonin (80% of the body total amount in the gut), and the connections between gut and brain, instinct and mood. His book is available online.

Naturopaths have been making these claims for decades based upon clinical experience: give a depressed patient a colonic and s/he feels better. So, being the good naturopath that I am, I give myself a coffee enema: two tablespoons of brewed organic coffee in about two cups of water. I use coffee because it is known to increase glutathione, a potent anti-oxidant that supports detoxification. Voila! After the enema I feel much better We’re a little late meeting our friends because I have to run back to the bathroom, but they don’t mind. They’re even later.

Does all this have anything to do with methylation? Does it affect mood? You bet. Stay tuned for the next post.


Please add your comments here. If you have a question specific to your own condition, please e-mail me directly at I cannot give medical advice. If you want to suggest a product or therapy you think I should try, please let me know if you have used it, what you used it for, and how it helped you.