Today I find myself contemplating illness and disease and the causes behind it.
There are many causes for a range of illness and disease but today I want to focus on the stressors in our lives and how they contribute to our un-wellness.
This article is very close to home for me because it is a story about my mother. Mum died several months ago. In her final months she could not communicate, or do anything else without assistance from her carers. Such a terrible way to end her life.
Mum married early to a scoundrel which was constantly in trouble with the law. My father then took off without giving any notice when I was 6 months old and my sister 4, leaving mum with absolutely nothing. We never heard from him or saw him again. With the help of our caring nana, aunties and uncles mum survived and so did my sister and I.
When I was four, mum remarried and we all started a new life. But after a while mum’s relationship turned to one unhappy day after another. My step-father was the bread winner. He worked 12 hours a day whilst mum stayed at home caring for the children. But my new father developed a habit of drinking day in day out. Mum was subjected to abuse and the family as a whole suffered.
At the age of 38 mum developed shingles. One side of her whole body developed big ugly painful blisters. The doctor said that she had the illness because her body was at its end. Her immune system is so depleted that it broke out with this illness to stop her from complete collapse. The doctor suggested removing stress from her life but this did not happen. For the next 10 years mum continued to live in this toxic environment until I was 17 years of age when she finally left my stepfather.
Mum then manage to find the next toxic relationship very quickly, and the next, all the while continuing her stressful life, always her immune system struggling. Mum was in constant fight or flight her whole life. It wasn’t until late in life that she found a man with a good heart.
At the young age of 67 mum started showing signs of dementia. These symptoms quickly became worse and until now she is 73 and is in the dementia ward in an age care facility on the New South Wales south coast. We looked into the history of family for the answers to why mum had contracted this terrible disease. Was it something that others before mum had? But this was not the case. Mum was the only one who had become ill with Dementia.
Recent evidence suggests that cortisol, one of the chemicals produced during the stress response, is responsible for degenerating brain cells in the hippocampus. This organ is responsible for helping us form new memories and acquire new knowledge. If we damage the neurological machinery that craves new things, we end up craving routine instead of novelty. We cannot learn, make new memories, and explore new adventures, because the organ that makes new memories is breaking down.
This breakdown of neurons in the hippocampus reverted mum to doing only what is familiar and avoiding what is unknown. This constant bombardment of stress and constant release of cortisol into mum’s mind and body brought about her illness.
The medical profession suggests that there are other causes that can increase the risk of Dementia. For example, conditions that restrict the blood flow to the brain such as high cholesterol, plague build up in the arteries and veins, diabetes (which is can be caused by chronic stress), high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, too much alcohol and stroke. They also suggest that contact sport where the head is injured regularly may increase the risk.
So ladies and gentlemen make sure you put plans in place to reduce your negative reactions to the stressors of life. Look after her health. Help others also to do the same. Unfortunately you may have to leave a toxic relationship or workplace to get the ball rolling. But this may not be necessary to the well trained mind. Mental illness is fast becoming the number one killer in society and our inability to manage our negative stressful reactions is a massive contributor to this illness.
Find a competent mindfulness practitioner who can teach you how to correctly train your mind, manage your health, and you are well on the way to a long healthy and happy life. Do not wait until it is too late.