Saturday, January 4, 2014


Sprinkled throughout the writings of Edgar Allen Poe are references to anxiety, panic, and hypersensitivity.   Note these from The Fall of the House of Usher (1839):

  • Constant nervous agitation”
  • “Suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses”
  • “Insipid food was alone endurable”
  • “Could wear only garments of certain texture”
  • “Odors of all flowers were oppressive”
  • “Eyes were tortured by even a faint light”
  • “Had hysteria in his whole demeanor”
  • “Struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me”
  • “Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable

   Poe appears to have suffered MUSES SYNDROME, a specific kind of toxic poisoning  caused by carbon dioxide (CO) poisoning and characterized by multiple chemical sensitivity, acute hypersensitivity to stimuli (sensory defensiveness), anxiety, and panic.  Poe was likely poisoned by exposure from gas lighting in 1829, while rooming for a few months with his cousin Edward Mosher in Beltzhoover's Hotel in downtown Baltimore.

Friday, January 3, 2014


  • Do you suffer anxiety, jitteriness, panic attack, phobias? 
  • Have drugs failed to help?   
Consider that your symptoms could come from something you ate.

  Food is a drug.  What we eat directly impacts the physiology and biochemistry of our brain and can create a barrage of symptoms misdiagnosed as psychiatric. Take the case of Charles Darwin.

   Shortly after 27 year-old Charles Darwin returned to England in 1836 after his five-year voyage on the Beagle, the father of evolutionary theory began complaining of “constant attacks” – heart palpitations, trembling, shortness of breath, vomiting, extreme fatigue, depression, and “swimming in the head.”  He declined a secretaryship at the Geological Society of London because “anything that flurries me completely knocks me up afterward.”  Two years later the adventurous explorer retreated to his country home in Kent and became a recluse, rarely leaving his home and then traveling in a carriage with darkened windows.

   Darwin never learned the true nature of his malady.  For forty years, he complained to over twenty doctors who diagnosed his problems as anything from “dyspepsia with aggravated character” to “suppressed gout.”

  Today, many books and papers have explained Darwin's mystery illness as psychiatric – as psychosomatic, hypochondria, bereavement syndrome, an expression of repressed anger toward his father, or genetic, noting a familial vulnerability to the symptoms Darwin described.  But the general consensus has been that Darwin probably suffered panic disorder with agoraphobia, which would explain his secluded lifestyle and difficulty in speaking before groups and meeting with colleagues.

 Other researchers have looked for an organic cause, including arsenic poisoning, Chagas' disease from an insect bite in South America, or multiple allergies.  Drs. Campbell and Mathews of the Darwin Centre for Biology and Medicine, Milton, Pembrokeshire, UK believe otherwise.  To them, all evidence suggests a food link:  lactose intolerance which appeared to run in his family.

 Lactose intolerance results when the body doesn’t produce enough lactase, an enzyme needed to break down lactose, the main source of carbohydrates in milk, into simple sugars.  Two to three hours after he ate, the time it takes for lactose to reach the large intestine, Darwin experienced vomiting and gut problems. Darwin only got better when, by chance, he stopped taking milk and cream. 

 If these researchers are correct, Darwin’s heart palpitations, trembles, shortness of breath, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and “swimming in the head” were signs not of anxiety and panic but food sensitivities.  His agoraphobia was not a fear of leaving the safety of his home but of being too ill to do so.  Likewise, the solution to his woes was not probing his psyche but not ingesting milk products.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Salvador Dali: A Classic Case of Sensory Processing Disorder Mimicking Craziness!

The artist Salvador Dali is as well known for his crazy, extreme behavior as for his surreal, dream-like paintings. But was his bizarre behavior eccentricity or supreme sensation seeking from low-responsiveness to sensation? If you understand the degree to which sensory processing drives human behavior, clearly the latter.  
"Behavior" says occupational therapist Patti Oetter, "is a reflection of the organization of the nervous system at that moment and under those conditions." In the case of Salvador Dali, his brain under-responded to sensory stimuli.  To engage in and make sense of the world required extreme sensory input.
We see this sensation seeking from early on. High strung and manic, Dali would throw temper tantrums that his mother found hard to quell.  In school, he would throw himself down a flight of stairs to get attention, indicating an extremely powerful need for tactile-proprioceptive input (deep pressure and heavy work into the joints and muscles).

On the day he was to meet his future wife Gala at the beach, he wanted to make a suitable impression. But bathing attire was too dull.  So Dali shaved his arms and mixed some laundry bluing with powder and died his armpits. He immediately started to sweat, causing the makeup to run. So he shaved again to make himself bleed, indicating low tactile/proprioceptive registration and a high pain tolerance. His armpits were now all bloody. He stuck a fiery-red geranium behind his ear, indicating a need for strong visual input. He then smeared goat excrement all over his body, indicating a need for extreme odors to perceive smells. Voila!  He was ready to meet Gala.

At the same time, Dali exhibited a terror of touch, indicating possible tactile defensiveness. His famous long oiled mustache is telling. Curved out to either side like bird wings, the hairs pulled his skin providing comforting pressure touch, but without touching his face and creating aversive tickling touch.