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The Vagus Nerve Vs. Invisible Padlocks

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All through the airport I had a face like a smacked arse. I could feel my features growing pinchy and tight as I shifted through the food court, the sort of face that elicits a “cheer up, darling, it might never happen”; that in turns elicits a spirited “fuck off”.

I felt like I’d been stabbed, but it was just your bog standard heartbreak and disappointment. From the airport I’d outrun it.

An aside, as we mope past McDonalds: do you know why sorrow feels like being stabbed in the heart? It’s the vagus nerve, which travels from the limbic system in the skull, to the chest. The limbic system, that most reptilian and primeval of zones, from which our every base urge and unconscious thought materialises, is also known as the emotional brain. Agitation of the vagus nerve during emotional upheaval causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate, and inflicts pain.

From the chest, the vagus nerve continues to the gut, which Dr Michael Gershon, chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University, hypothesises is our second brain, complete with neuroreceptors. Perhaps one day we’ll even book the gut in to see a psychiatrist, one of Gershon’s peers suggests. The gut transmits stress signals back up the vagus nerve to the heart. Double whammy.

How long’s this going to last for? I wondered. I could go on a bender and spin it out for a year, but instead I’d do a runner.

The size of your amygdala determines how fearful/impulsive you are. The pineal gland is also known as the third eye.

Byron Bay lies on magical ley lines. I’ll get on to ley lines another day, so for now just take my word for it. My hotel room had views of broiling skies and self-satisfied palm trees. Drawing the curtains, I hunched over my computer, tippety-tapped meanly and smoked.

Later that afternoon, I tore myself away to have a dunk in the sea. I swam with big silver fish in clear waters and then booked in for a massage so relaxing I started to hallucinate. Part of the package was a session with a healer, Mark. This was the first time I’d gone for a new age treatment without the caveat of an article to hide behind. Our history teacher at school once told the class that the superstitions of people dying of the plague in the Middle Ages – like cuddling hens and rubbing human faeces on buboes – may seem ridiculous now, and they probably did then, too, but when you’re desperate you’ll try anything. That was my reasoning when handing over my money. That and: when in Rome.

Mark took a seat and looked at me. He had a very empathetic face, useful in a job like his. I thought about what to say. I wasn’t about to drearily flutter my hands and emote over a boy – how very predictable.

“I keep spacking out and losing my temper,” I told him, which is also true. My computer is regularly sprayed with spittle and threatened with punishment; it should be taken away from me by DoCS. “The rage is always there, just under the surface.”

Mark said a number of kind things. “Everything you’ve ever done, no matter what you think of it, has served a purpose,” was one of them. He decided against a psychic reading, in favour of healing. I lay down as he made plucking motions with his hands. “I can see all sorts of protective layers you’ve put over your heart,” he said, still plucking. “Some of them are tissue thin, some of them are heavy padlocks.” I drifted off, feeling like I was floating in the fetal position, breathing easily in golden fluid and bubbles.

“Be careful crossing the road,” Mark said as he waved me off. That was a month ago and I haven’t felt a blade in my heart since.

Conclusion: Mark calms my vagus nerve better than I do. I’m saving up to see him, next disaster.

2 responses »

  1. As an addendum to this post, the Oct 8-9 Weekend Australian Magazine asks, Can You Really Die of a Broken Heart? Microneurographer Yrsa Sverrisdottir describes what happens when the brain, in distress, sends out wave upon wave of catecholamine hormones. She listens in to a person’s sympathetic nervous system, by way of tiny pins bearing micro-electrodes pushed into a nerve fibre: “This is the fight or flight reaction, and it can be overwhelming, like a storm – you can hear it screaming, a barrage of noise like a whip cracking again and again.”

  2. Pingback: I had psychic surgery to remove my alien implant « New Age Lab Rat

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