Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Thing's I learnt in clinic: Physiology

Just look at how much technology has advanced in the past thirty years, well even longer but it has certainly progressed rapidly in the past few decades. How many times have you bought a new phone only for a newer one to come out the following week? Technology has become an integral part of our lives. We have countless methods of communcating with each other, mobiles, email, text, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat to name but a few. Gone are the days where you would spend an embarrasing 5 minutes talking to your friends parents on the phone before they handed you over to them and then you had to talk really quietly so that your own parents didn't hear what you were saying, whilst seeing how far you could stretch the cable.  What a dating nightmare! Then if someone rang you during your favourite tv program there was the option of being rude or face missing it. Thank goodness for the invention of sky plus. Although it has made it difficult for me to sit through a film at the cinema and not be able to pause the film whilst I go get a cup of tea, not that I am making my own cups of tea at the moment but you catch my drift. Plus I wouldn't have a cup of tea at the cinema because that just seems strange. Can you even get tea at the cinema?
Everywhere we look we are surrounded by technology from the sat navs in our cars to pioneering surgury, skype to faster travel and it is all claiming to make our lives easier, to bring people closer and to have a world of knowledge at our finger tips in a matter of seconds. Certainly I would not do without my phone right now, especially the amount of times I have to text my Mum to get more painkillers or something else when my legs and back cry out in pain and I have no way of getting out of bed. Okay I know what you're thinking- just have them by my bed, but I do and then I need more and my brain is so useless at the minute that I often forget what tablets I've had, so they need to be monitored. As naughty as it is the internet is also helping me through the painful nights and bringing you this blog. Our lives are constantly on the go these days and technology encourages us to do several things at once but in all this fast moving develoment and constant change it is easy to forget that as human beings we have not evolved all that much.
So let's travel back in time to visit our Paleolythic ancestors. Now I have just tried to do some research on this (again thanks to the wonders of technology and Google) but so far it is a bit obsessed with the new paleo diets, which does sort of tie in with what I want to say but actually just shows the world's love affair with fad diets. However whilst we're on the subject of food, spare a thought for our ancestors who couldn't just go to the kitchen and open the fridge to get their dinner, or pop to the local supermarket. They had to hunt and scavenge, often for long periods of time and then they would need to kill and prepare their finds. Food didn't just come to them or if it did there's a good chance that they themselves would be dinner. These labour intensive trips to find sustenance were the cavmen's prime source of exertion: other than pro-creating and avoiding being eaten of course. This sense of danger meant that sustenance was all the more important as well as rest and not exerting themselves besides hunting. This was so that if danger did come along they could try to flee, triggering that natural fight or flight instinct that has in essence kept the human race alive.
Coming back to the present and although our technologies, landscapes and lifestyles have changed dramatically our physiology has not. Deep down we are still programmed to rest (not sleep, I will get onto that in my next post in this series) for long periods of time and conserve our energy and of course we still have that fight or flight mechanism. Only now we are less likely to be eaten by a wooly mamouth. However the busier we become the more we are tuned into the fight instinct. This could be applied to something basic such as fighting tiredness to watch your favourite show. No one wants to hear about it on Facebook or Twitter do they? And they can be difficult to avoid. Perhaps there should be warnings like on the football scores. "If you don't want to know the score then look away now." Or you could be fighting something much larger like grief or illness and are doing everything in your power to carry on as 'normal.'
Can you see how this connects to having M.E? The more we fight those natural instincts and rest less the more out of tune our bodies become. Until for some of us we develop life altering conditions. Our levels of cortisol, which we need for adrenalin lower, causing our bodies to panic as we don't have those natural reserves that we would need if a wooly mamouth did stop by. Of course we probably would naturally think 'run' but how far we would get is another question.
This brings me onto post exertional malaise, which is a posh medical term for describing feeling tired after doing something and perhaps feeling unwell or in pain too. As much as M.E is about feeling constantly fatigued and unrefreshed it is also about being in a state of post exertional malaise. What is worse is that we don't just feel like this after a long day at work, great night out or a gym session. Because most of us can not even imagine doing those things. Just the simplest of tasks like washing, getting dressed or preparing meals leaves us in a state of post exertional malaise that could last for hours, a day, days or sometimes weeks. At our very worst just the slightest movement will induce this state. Meaning we need help to go to the bathroom, bathe and be fed. These very simple tasks leave us feeling like we have done a full days work or completed a marathon. It can be particularly difficult and admittedly annoying when someone says to you "Oh yes, I feel like that today." Someone without a chronic illness that is. Because at least their tiredness is waranted. They can not relate to just feeling like sleeping for a whole week after simply managing to get to the bathroom. The closest analogy that I have heard that describes to others what this is like is to imagine that they are running a marathon with the flu.
So our lifestyles are forever moving faster and our expectations grow the further we move from our natural physiology. Of course our ancestors never had to worry about paying bills for their neccessities such as food, a roof over their heads or clothes, which for many of us has become the root cause of our exertion. We have to work to earn enough to live. Nor did they live it up as the Volvic adverts suggest or go bowling like Fred and Barney. Although of course this is all good, we need to enjoy life and counteract the hard work. However the more we do so the more we exert ourselves even more. However as a species we aren't equipped to function well like this. Many people are but again are they simply looking after themselves better?
Of course though we live in a different age and I for one would rather live now than back then. It sounds rather terrifying and boring. Expectations now are at an all time high and to balance this people are looking more and more to leisure activities and their social lives but this too can take it's toll. Leisure certainly doesn't have the same meaning anymore. By living in this era though and having M.E there are more ways to help, like skype to see your family and friends, online shopping, whileing away the time watching tele, researching, writing this blog and let's not forget that wooly mamouths are extinct, which is good as my wheelchair doesn't go all that fast.

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