Sunday, July 27, 2014

Where I almost give up hope and then find out there may be a better way

There comes a time when you want to say "screw it" and do what make you feel less sick.  But then a light shows up and you realize that maybe it's not as bad as you feared.

Recently one of my coworkers noticed that I was eating gluten-free.  With a knowing smirk and crossing his arms, he asked me what happens to me when I eat gluten now.  I told him I curl up in a fetal position and wish for death, before dragging myself to the bathroom for my digestive system to try and rip itself apart for several hours, and it takes about 24 hours before I feel anything close to normal.  He opened his mouth, closed it a moment, nodded his head with a chuckle and said, "You have the very same symptoms my mother has, and she has Celiac's.  You probably have it too."  Since then, he's been telling me about restaurants with good gluten-free food and offering all sorts of advice.

It made me feel a little more confident that my plan to take a week of vacation to eat enough gluten to show up in a blood test.  I mentioned it to my sister, who said that you really should be eating gluten for two weeks, but even then her tests weren't positive because she has an over-active immune system.  My inner skeptic wanted to come out and argue, until I remembered how long it took one of my doctors to find the right level for a drug in my system because my liver metabolized it so fast.  I also remembered that according to the 23andMe DNA reports, my sister and I have identical immune systems - we share all 359 SNPs currently identified as affecting the histocompatibility between us.  But then, even though we'd make greaet organ donors for each other, my sister and I have differing lifestyles.  Maybe it's possible that I wouldn't need to eat gluten for so long.  I mean, I could hope, because I honestly don't see how I could handle being sick for so long.  It's not like I have a secondary income to rely on while I deliberately make myself sick for a diagnosis.

Today at church, I ran into another person who did the same thing I did - went on a gulten-free diet out of frustration, only to not be able to eat it in any form now.  She went back to eating gluten for over a month and her test still wasn't conclusive.  Her doctor told her that it can be very hard to get a postive test, even for those who had tested successfully for it previously after going on a gluten-free diet for several months.

Obviously, I needed to do more research on this test.  So, I checked and read the following:

"Keep in mind that positive antibody or genetic test results only suggest the presence of celiac disease—the test results cannot confirm it. If these screening tests come back positive, the next step in diagnosing celiac disease is to get a biopsy of the small intestine."

In short, to really prove it the doctor has to see damaged villi.  According to the page that covers the biopsy: "For biopsy results to be accurate, you must be eating gluten (at least 4 slices of bread) for one to three months prior to the procedure."  

I was about to give up hope, when I read that you can also be diagnosed by testing positive for dermatitis herpetiformis.  Looking at the pictures, I had a major outbreak of this about three years ago.  The skin in the area is still scarred and I pretty certain I have an active patch on my back, which drives me nuts.  In that case, I only need a skin biopsy to prove I have Celiac's.  Talk about being thankful for weird things.

Did a little more thinking and research.  According to my mother and her step-mother, I had horrible colic as a child until my mother's step-mother put me on 2% milk.  For a moment, I wondered if maybe I was reacting to the gluten in breast milk, because my great aunt told me that I would let other people feed me without any problems, but I would scream bloody murder when my mom tried to feed me.  However, after reading this from the University of Chicago Celiac's Disease Center, I'm thinking that it wasn't from the gluten in the breast milk.  It probably wasn't gluten related at all.  However, it is possible that when I was at my grandparents' house I only had rice cereal, and when I was at home, I was occasionally fed Cream of Wheat.  Mom's no longer around to ask and Dad doesn't remember after almost 50 years and four other children.  On the above website, I did read: "A large prospective study conducted in Colorado showed that if gluten is given to the infant too early (i.e. during the first three months of life), this highly increases the risk of subsequent onset of celiac disease compared to the infants who were first given gluten around four to six months of age."  So, it's a possibility, because I do know that we occasionally fed our infants Cream of Wheat in our family.  And it's not like this information was available then.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Monothons and Professional Curation

My son and I. The selfie was his idea.

Yesterday my son and I participated in the 2014 Monothon at [Press] at Untitled in Oklahoma City.  It's a yearly event that happens throughout the summer, where people can create pairs of monoprints.  The participants get to keep one print from each pair, while the other one becomes part of the Monothon.  In September, [Artspace] at Untitled will have the 2014 Monothon Exhibition, displaying prints created by those who attended.  Most of the participants are locals, but people are coming from Tulsa, OK, and Dallas, TX, to participate in this year's event.

"Catherine" a monoprint by yours truly. 

While we worked on our prints, we listened to probably one of the most eclectic mix of music I have ever heard, provided by [Artspace] at Untitled founder, print-maker, and professional curator, Laura Warriner. But as varied as the music was, collection flowed well together even on random play.  A few months ago, I created myself an Americana music playlist and I had to rearrange the order of the songs on it to keep from having jolts to the consciousness, but I don't have Laura's decades of experience of putting together exhibitions that feel coherent, while being full of variety.  Most of us don't pay enough attention to the harmony or flow of our environment to realize that it effects us, but it does.  While I'm not into feng-shui, I recognize the mental and sometimes physical friction caused from a disruption in my environment.  And I am very impressed when someone can create that flow, while still engaging and challenging my perceptions.

Some people think that they can put together elements based on solely what appeals to them and come up with something good, but I promise you there is a deep and rich difference between what an average person puts together as a collection and what a professional curator does.  A difference that can as profound as the difference between the glass animals at a carnival and the art of a professional glass-blower.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Demon of Reactive Formation

Reactive formation - defending against an impulse by actively expressing the opposite impulse.

Yeah. That thing. The thing that makes us do stupid things in an effort to avoid doing something that we feel is undesirable. Also referred as over-compensation - not to be confused with normal compensation, where we focus on our strengths to make up for our weaknesses.

An example of normal compensation - when I took my studio art classes in college, I took longer to make individual artwork because I have impaired short-term motor memory. I can achieve techniques, but it takes longer for me to do them than my much younger and more dexterous classmates, or my more experienced friends.  I was able to compensate for this by my ability to visualize and come up with ideas faster.  So while my classmates were still trying to decide what they were going to create, I had already chosen from several roughly sketched concept drawings what I was going to do.  And by the time they had decided what they were going to make, I was already hard at work on my project.  My design teacher mentioned that he sort of had to teach me in reverse of his other students, because I had the ideas and understood the concepts of design, but I didn't have the manual expertise of the rest of his students.

Of course there are less healthy examples of compensation.  Like when someone uses their success in their career to excuse their lack of social skills. Or makes pronouncements of fact when they lack of knowledge in an area outside of their expertise.  Such are the things that "appeal to authority" logical fallacies are made of.

But back to reactive formation.  This can be used in a healthy way - like when you are dealing with someone difficult, who can't help it (or even if they can), and you respond by being extremely sweet and helpful to them, when you would love nothing more than to slap them upside the head and tell them to stop being an idiot.  Many people owe their lack of injuries and possibly their very lives to the fact that several of their fellow humans use this psychological defense mechanism.

Now to the point of this little blog post.  I just realized this week that I have pretty much done something rather ignorant and foolish because a personal reactive formation pattern.  It's not impossible to correct, just difficult and requiring some planning and vacation time.  You see, I am a daughter of a hypochondriac.  In fairness to my mother, she did has several legitimate health issues, but she prefer her own diagnoses to the doctors'.  My mother constantly poured over medical books to find illnesses she could claim to have.  When I was 12 years old, it was discovered that I had a curved spine.  My mother decided that I had sclerosis and made an appointment with our family physician, an osteopath named Dr. Bishon.  Good so far.  Then Mom decided that in the days before the appointment, we needed to go to the mall and look for clothes that would work with a back brace. We went to like six different clothes stores and two or three fabric stores over the course of two days.  At first I was very nonchalant about the whole thing.  I knew my mother's flair for the over-dramatic and just accepted my ordeal with all of the reluctant grace a preteen could manage.  However, I had a friend at school who did wear a back brace.  Her name was Victoria and I think that even without the back brace, she would have had an air of gentle formality to her.  While we were browsing the racks (we didn't buy any clothes or patterns during those two days), I had to occasionally point out that some of the clothes Mom was thinking of putting me in would not work if I had a brace like Victoria's. After all those hours of listening to my mother's dire predictions of my future, my calm because eroded.  Even though I had no problem with the idea of the brace - I had great respect for Victoria, after all - I succumbed to my mother's paranoia.

I was terrified when we went to that appointment that Monday morning.  After doing the normal vital signs checking stuff, Dr. Bishon's nurse had my back x-rayed.  Then we sat in the examination room, while my mother continued her narrative on how all of this was going to rule my life, up to and including having a family of my own.  After what felt like an eternity to me (though it was maybe 20 minutes), Dr. Bishon came in, talked to me a little about how I sat when I read books, and then had me lie on my left side.  He then pushed my shoulder forward and pulled my hip back.  There was a cracking noise and when he had me stand in front of a mirror, I could see that I was standing straight again.  He explained that I wasn't suffering from sclerosis; I was suffering from reading books, while sitting in bad posture in our sofa chair for long periods of time.  He made me promise to use better posture when I got into a really good book, and then sent me on my way with a huge smile on his face.

Back in our car, I was absolutely furious with my mother and told her to never, ever do that to me again.  It might be worth noting that she had completely forgotten the incident by her 60's, but then maybe not.  For me, however, the event is deeply carved into my psyche as something to be vigilant against experiencing again.  I "compensated" by going through medical books like my mother, but instead of having the intent of proving to myself that I had this or that condition, I approached it from the direction of disproving that I had serious conditions.  I was very much in this mindset when I first started noticing signs of Celiac's disease in my late 20's.  And I very successfully convinced myself that I didn't have enough of the symptoms for long enough periods to have the disease - despite the fact that nowhere in the description I was reading did it say that you had to have these symptoms continually.

So, when my sister brought up the possibility that I may have a problem with gluten, I really didn't believe her.  More precisely, I didn't want to believe her.  However, I do love her and recognized that she was really worried about me, so without bothering to re-research Celiac's disease, I figured it wouldn't hurt me to go gluten-free for a little while to make her feel better.  I didn't have health insurance at the time, but to be honest, even if I had, I probably wouldn't have mentioned it to a doctor because I had spent so many years convincing myself I didn't have the condition.  I did do just enough reading to realize that I would have some bloating and headaches when I did go back to eating gluten, but I was okay with that - it didn't really sound much different to what happens when I re-introduce beans into my diet after a long period of not eating them.  It was a massive shock to me when several hours after I ate that one little piece of garlic bread, I was curled up in the fetal position feeling as if my bowels were trying to tear me apart.

Still, I wasn't quite ready to accept the possibility of Celiac's disease.  But I began to revise my feelings on the matter when friends started to bring studies to my attention about gluten intolerance and Celiac's.  In one of the more publicized studies of gluten intolerance, I read the description of the self-reported symptoms and realized that not one of them included explosive diarrhea or wishing for death because of severe cramps that lasted several hours.  Then this month, a friend of mine was hospitalized multiple time, while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her.  I looked up several of the conditions they were trying to rule out on the Mayo Clinic's website, and a little voice told me that I really should look up Celiac's disease again and at least see about getting myself tested for it, so I could get a professional diagnosis as to whether I had it or not.  The first thing that struck me was the fact that in the two decades since I first read the symptoms of Celiac's disease, I had exhibited many more than I had remembered.

The second thing that struck me was that to be successfully tested for it, I need to be eating gluten for about a week before I'm tested - with the warning that you shouldn't go on a gluten-free diet before being tested first.  In short, I've screwed myself with my own denial.  However, it is still possible to be tested.  I will need to discuss it with a doctor before I eat gluten for the test, and I will need to take a week of vacation so I won't have to worry about missing work because I can't leave the bathroom.  So, probably sometime next February I will get myself actually tested.  And if it's negative, I might ask if there's a better way to get used to eating gluten again.  I really miss cake donuts and KFC.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Observations on the Art of Acting from a Non-Actor

Occasionally I break my promise not to read the comments on videos.  It wasn't a deliberate act. I was scrolling to find a link at the bottom of the page when I saw this comment under an interview with Jim Parsons of the Big Bang Theory on

"I find it weird when actors separate themselves from their characters."

My first thought was "Someone is very unclear about the concept of acting."  And I could be very correct about that.  But at the same time, not all actors approach the art of acting in the same way.  Jim Parsons couldn't play Sheldon Cooper if he was like Sheldon Cooper, because a personality like Sheldon could never be an actor. Parsons doesn't even have the same interests. In his own words:

I don’t feel like I’m bringing much of anything when it comes to personal experience with him. For one, he doesn’t talk about anything that I have second nature of. Not only do I not have my own language for science, but for comic books, graphic novels, most science fiction, after Star Wars. I think this has been to my benefit and allowed me to connect with him more on a humanistic level because I don’t really get what he’s talking about 90% of the time.

People like Sheldon aren't emotionally aware enough to portray a realistic and humanistic view of themselves.  You need someone like Jim Parsons, who can portray him in a way that the rest of us can understand and identify with, while still being able to recognize as someone who is quite different from ourselves.  The same thing goes for the Evil Version of Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang Theory:

When he first talked to me about working on the show, Bill Prady told me that I'd be playing a "delightfully evil version" of myself. This sounded like a lot of fun to me, but it was more difficult to find that character than you'd think. When I'm playing Fawkes on The Guild it's easy to slip into his kilt and be a jerk, but wearing my own clothes and essentially playing a stylized version of myself made it a real challenge to hit "delightfully evil" without veering into "not committed to being delightfully evil" or "just plain evil." Keeping that twinkle in my eye, and knowing that Wil Wheaton (The Big Bang Version) is planning to scam Sheldon from the moment he sits down, was essential to this particular characterization working out, and I didn't completely find it until we'd run the episode a couple of times.

During one of the run throughs, when Jim did his Klingon bit, I turned to Kevin and asked him, "Did he just say 'revenge is a dish best served cold' in Klingon?" like I was trying to figure out if that's actually what happened, like maybe I misunderstood him. Chuck Lorre told me that it would be funnier if I was more exasperated. "You're just here to play this game, and now some guy is quoting Klingon at you. This happens everywhere you go," he said.

I sighed dramatically, and said, "Oh, it does." Everyone laughed, hard, and Chuck pointed his finger at me. "Yes. That is exactly the way to play that beat."

When Chuck gave me that note, I grokked how to play Evil Wil Wheaton (The Big Bang Theory version), and I could see the comedy in every beat I played for the rest of the show. I totally grew a level in comedy acting, and learned something about letting go of who I really am, so I could embrace the Delightfully Evil version of myself (who I seriously hope will return in the future, because OMG was it fun to play him.)

I think the evil version of Wheaton works because in reality, he's so not that way and is able to play a jerk because he doesn't have to be in denial that what he is doing is obnoxious.  He doesn't have to defend it or minimize it because it's not really him - it's a warped-alternate-reality him.  Of course, this is comedy, so exaggeration in proper amounts is essential for success.  This may also be why people say comedic acting is actually harder than dramatic acting.  You almost have to step outside yourself to be able to deliver these lines without becoming self-conscious about the whole thing.

Now on the other end of things, you have Viggo Mortensen who played Aragon in The Lord of the Rings.  By all accounts, Mortensen practically became Aragon. He carried his sword with him even into town and actually spent his days off riding the horses he used and even bought them because he bonded with them.  Being a dramatic actor, he goes to great lengths to become the character he's playing.  For Everybody Has a Plan, he learned his character's hobby, beekeeping.  He explains how he prepares for a role:

I think part of it is just how you prepare roles. When I prepare, I ask a simple question: “What happened between the character’s birth and page one of the script?” And right there you can find most of the answers, even before you start shooting. I find that process really enjoyable. Just like a kid does when he pretends: It doesn’t matter how little they look like a princess or an Indian or a Viking or a sports star, whatever they’re pretending to be, they really believe it. They enjoy playing, basically. So the goal is always — in a very serious, methodical, detailed, much more layered way, I suppose, intellectually, than kids use for make-believe — to get to the same place where it’s just fun and play. But you have to do your homework first, and that’s what I try to do.

He's not kidding about being more layered.  He's not just playing Agustín in the movie, he also plays Agustín's ailing twin brother Pedro, and then plays Agustín pretending to be Pedro.  I haven't seen the movie, but based on the trailers, I don't see much of Aragon in those characters.  And let's face it, outside of cult films, an actor who can only play one character isn't going to be that successful.

Helen Mirren, who does an awesome job in both dramatic and comedic roles, approaches her craft much differently than Mortensen:

A light bulb went on in my brain. I thought, ‘That’s it! Just play what’s on the page.’ I’ve followed that ever since. If it says, ‘Over-the-hill, angry woman with no makeup gets out of bed,’ that’s what I’ll play. I don’t mess it up with, ‘What’s her back story?’

Obviously, there are many different ways to be an actor.  You can be like Robin Williams and ad-lib when the spirit hits you, leaving the director and editors decide what fits with the story content-wise. Or you can be like Ian McDiarmid and memorize the scripts so thoroughly that you can easily change the delivery of said lines to fit the mood of the story, without derailing anything later in the plot.  It all depends on what works for you and the role you're playing.

Back to the young lady who posted the comment that started all of this musing.  While it would be easy to dismiss her as just lacking in knowledge, it's very possible that perhaps she, herself, doesn't have the capacity to separate - to imagine herself as someone much different than she is - to get inside someone else's experience.  So, it would be extremely mystifying that people can do this; she may even think that they really aren't doing what they say the are.

I'm just as guilty about this.  For over 30 years, I could never understand why people would not only eat cilantro, but relish it. To me, cilantro tastes like liquid dish soap.  I had assumed that people must have deliberately cultivated their love for the taste of soap, for reasons I couldn't fathom.  The closest I came to a reasonable explanation was to think that maybe they had their mouths washed out with soap too often as children, but that wouldn't explain the wide-spread acceptance of cilantro as a culinary mainstay. Then one day my best friend took me to a Mexican restaurant for lunch because I needed to get out of the house.  Already in a grumpy mood, I complained about the salsa dish not being rinsed out properly. She was about to ask the waiter to bring me another bowl, but I told her not to worry, I would just take my salsa from the center.  Then I tasted soap again, only this time I paused a moment and detected the taste of leaf behind it.  "Oh, it's cilantro," I said in a disgusted tone.  I then launched into my I-can't-believe-people-like-this-stuff rant, when she interrupted me with "Cilantro tastes like soap to you?" I nodded and she excitedly explained how they were discussing on her foodie mailing list that about one third of the population has a genetic tendency to taste cilantro as soap. She was extremely stoked to find out that she knew someone in real life that had this condition.  And I realized after all those years that the rest of humanity wasn't actually insane when it came to this herb, they just weren't tasting it the same way I was.

So, in answer to the woman who commented - actors separate themselves from their characters because that really is how they experience it.  Even though Jim Parsons "becomes" Sheldon for short periods of time, he's not Sheldon.  He's not a comic book geek.  He's not an arrogant physicist, who looks down on others.  He's no where near as socially clueless as Sheldon.  He's not even heterosexual.  But he can portray a character who is all of those.

And it's okay that you don't have the ability to separate from yourself and an imagined self.  I have several friends like that.  I used to think that they were like that because they were afraid of losing themselves in some way, or of weakening their moral compass.  But as I've grown older and studied more, I've found out that for some people, that's just the way their consciousness works.  Sure it frustrates the hell out of me sometimes when you're not able to understand any view different from your own, because running separate mental simulations is how I explore concepts and achieve empathy to a level that I am not naturally gifted with.  But I realize that I can be just as frustrating to you too.

I'm not sure how to exactly transition in this story into this post, but I really have the impression that it belongs here as part of the discussion of being someone else other than yourself. Many years ago, I created a persona for an online group my kids initially wanted to be a part of.  She was brash, out-spoken, devious, and a born leader.  She was also a Slytherin head of house. Even though my daughter lost interest in the online group, she liked pretending to talk to Prof. Mysteria Ester Paracelsus, and we had fun pretending together.  Then one day she came up to me, looking glum, and asked if she could talk to Mysteria.  I assumed that she just wanted to be cheered up, so I played along.  To my shock, she began to tell me about something that happened at school that upset her.  Staying in character, I gave her Mysteria's solution to such a problem - a solution that I would never advocate as her real mother.  Then I dropped the character and reminded her that I was always there for her; and that I didn't approve of the solution my alter-ego just gave.  She said, "I know, Mom.  You would have suggested (...), but I really needed to talk to someone who has no problem kicking butt."  I realized then that what she needed was a way to stand up for herself, not a way to be diplomatic and civil.

Some days, I think I need to channel Mysteria more often...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Videos of the modern artist Henri Matisse

I never even considered the fact that there were videos of Henri Matisse to be seen.  Pretty wild when you think about it.  I wish these had been available to my art history prof.

" There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted. " Henri Matisse

Tyler Green, editor of "Modern Art Notes," and art historian Serge Guilbaut, editor of the Getty Research Institute publication, "Chatting with Henri Matisse," discuss the significance of this book—the result of a series of unpublished conversations between Swiss art critic Pierre Courthion and Henri Matisse in 1941.

Your Genes are Not Your Fate

If you're not convinced by my previous posts that you do have some control over your genetics, here is a talk by Dr. Dean Ornish...

And here's a talk by Craig Venter, that he references at the start.

"Craig Venter and team make a historic announcement: they've created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA. He explains how they did it and why the achievement marks the beginning of a new era for science."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Personality - tendencies versus exhibited traits

Figuring out what makes someone tick is a fascinating past-time, especially figuring out yourself.  Some of the learning/personality tests/sorters I've investigated are: the corporate standby MBTI/Keirsey (INTJ), the academic favorite Five Factor (moderately-high Openness, moderately Conscientious, low Extraversion, low Agreeableness, high Neuroticism), the educator beloved Multiple Intelligences (Logical/Mathematical & Intrapersonal, followed closely by Verbal/Linguistic), the adult learning go-to Kolb Learning Style Inventory (Convergent), the not so known Ansir (Eccentrik thinker, Eccentrik worker, Visionary emoter), the clinical MMPI (results too complex for those not trained in interpreting it), and the mystic Enneagram (5 - Investigator).

My biggest problem with these tests is that some people see them as meaning your personality is carved in stone, despite the fact that research in human development shows that healthy personalities change over time and adapt to circumstances, even though the basic tendencies will still be evident at some level. An example given by David L. Guttman, in Reclaimed powers: Toward a new psychology of men and women in later life, is that men tend to become more nurturing as they age, while women become more assertive. Many researchers attribute this to cultural and health factors, which necessitate changes in their behaviors.

In simple terms, what I'm trying to say is that just because someone has a tendency towards being disagreeable, doesn't necessarily mean that they are always going to disagree or are unable to understand the importance of being agreeable.  It may mean that they have to consider the details more fully before they agree with something.  Or they may bite their tongues and agree for the sake of a more important goal.

As I stated in my last post, I found out that there have been some genes associated with certain personality traits, especially the Five Factor model. From Wikipedia's entry about this (retrieved 4/16/2014), the research shows that personality is only partially determined by genetics:
Twin studies suggest that heritability and environmental factors equally influence all five factors to the same degree. Among four recent twin studies, the mean percentage for heritability was calculated for each personality and it was concluded that heritability influenced the five factors broadly. The self-report measures were as follows: openness to experience was estimated to have a 57% genetic influence, extraversion 54%, conscientiousness 49%, neuroticism 48%, and agreeableness 42%.
(For you spelling purists, the academic/clinical/technical term is actually spelled "extraversion", not "extroversion". I know, it rubs against the grain.  But the original term was "extravert" and that is what is used in the Five Factors research.  "Extrovert" is an alternate version commonly used by the general populace. )

This first gene SNP is the one that made me search for personality results.  I was rather floored by the idea that my genes could influence my avoidance of errors and persistence, even though I've known for years that the genetic roots of personality were being researched. The bolding in the cited material has been added by me to highlight which aspects of the gene I am talking about.

Normal (A2/A2): Better avoidance of errors. Normal OCD risk, normal Tardive Diskinesia risk, lower ADHD risk. Less Alcohol dependence. Higher risk of Postoperative Nausea. Lower obesity. Bupropion is ... This DRD2 TaqIA A2/A2 version causes a normal amount of Dopamine Receptors. Learns from mistakes more easily. Men may have a higher risk of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but lower risk of ADHD. Women have higher Persistence. Higher risk of Tardive Diskinesia when taking dopamine receptor antagonists. Lower risk of alcoholism and smoking addiction. Faster recovery from traumatic brain injury. 1.6x risk of early postoperative nausea within 6 hours of surgery. Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Budeprion, Prexaton, Elontril, Aplenzin, Zyban, Voxra) works to quit smoking. Lower obesity due to increased pleasure response to food.
I've started with this SNP, not only because it was the first personality gene I came across on my report, but as a matter of transparency in regards to my beliefs in the control we have over our own behavior.  It has occurred to me that part of the reason I so firmly believe that I can modify my own behavior is because I am genetically primed for the persistence it takes to do it.  That's not to say that I don't have other genetic and environmental factors that get in the way.  It's hard to persist in something when you're depressed and/or in pain - and there's a lot to be said for choosing your battles.  So, my apologies if I sound too gun-ho to those who must struggle harder with this things, along with my utmost respect for those who have managed behavioral changes despite the lack of this SNP to help them.

Probably the best example I can give of my persistence is something that happened back when I was a QA lab technician.  Because of my computer background and skills, I did a lot of the programming in my department.  One day a manager from another department told me that I programmed weirdly.  I turned from my monitor and asked him what he meant by that.  He said, "If you can't program straight through a problem, you don't let it stop you. You either program your way over it, around it, or tunnel underneath it."  I looked at him as if he had grown two more heads, because as far as I was concerned that's the way you're supposed to solve problems. And if all else fails, there's always C4. (I suspect both Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters have a similar gene.)

You have a SNP in the oxytocin receptor which may make you less empathetic than most people. When under stress you may have more difficulty recognizing the emotional state of others which impacts loneliness, parenting, and socializing skills.
Some studies have suggested that the A;G genotype is associated with an intermediate level of empathy (compared to the G;G and A;A genotypes), although most report that A;G and A;A individuals have similar levels of empathy and stress handling capabilities.
I highlighted the "may" because a few friends protested against the idea that I am anything but empathetic.  Even I was a little bit surprised by this, but then I realized that empathy is a skill I actively work for and it wears me out after a while, even though on the surface, I appear to be all sorts of touchy-feeling.

Going back to the main rs53576 article in SNPedia, we find this reference:
[PMID 19015103] This study examined the association between the OXTR gene and parenting. A total of 176 mothers of toddlers were included in the study. After controlling for marital discord, depression, and education status, rs53576 was found to significantly correlate with parenting, with the G;G genotype being associated with a significantly more sensitive parenting style than A;A or A;G genotypes. However, they concluded that the major factor influencing parenting was the maternal education level.
At the moment I work in a position where my ability to be empathetic is tracked and enforced, increasing my skill in that area.  I work at it because I recognize its importance in my daily life.  However, it is something I have to make an effort for when I am under stress or distracted.  But then Daniel Goleman states in his TED talk that the most important factor in determining whether or not someone will act like a good Samaritan (which requires empathy) is if whether or not they feel rushed. At work I manage this "rushed" aspect by making sure I ground myself between customers, using my acquired knowledge from my behavioral studies.

less-efficient serotonin processing; increased susceptibility to novelty seeking
I can see this.  I like keeping my mind busy.  However, I don’t usually seek novelty in social engagements as tested in the Big Five personality test.  Which is rather amusing when you realize how diverse and eclectic my friends are.  While this gene SNP is not directly linked to openness in Five Factor (or Big Five) Personality test (which I score between normal and high on) I would think that someone who was susceptible to novelty seeking, would also be open to new experiences.  When I got my report rs644148(T;T) was also listed as a possible indicator of openness, but the research on it is not conclusive at the moment due to lack of sampling.

That "normal" looks pretty uninformative until you compare it to rs1611115(T:T):
Personality disorder patients carrying the DBH TT genotype exhibited higher neuroticism and novelty seeking scores as compared to individuals with the (C;C) or (C;T) genotype. Analyses on the level of the neuroticism and novelty seeking subscales revealed that the DBH (T;T) genotype was primarily associated with personality features related to impulsiveness and aggressive hostility. Also adult ADHD patients carrying the homozygous (T;T) genotypes displayed by significantly increased neuroticism scores; when both personality disorder and adult ADHD patient were analyzed together, (T;T) carriers also displayed by significantly lower conscientiousness levels. [PMID 18982239]
I'm guessing this is why I score as average on conscientiousness on the Five Factor test. rs35753505(C;T) doesn't have a real entry to itself yet, but [PMID 18455369] says that "C allele carriers associated with higher (NEO-FFI) scores of neuroticism and lower scores of conscientiousness in a sample of 523 healthy individuals." Yet another case of me only having one allele for lower conscientiousness. It's a good thing that I have rs1800497(C;C) working for me - and I understand the need for conscientiousness.

My DNA test could only genotype one extraversion gene SNP - rs1800544(C;G)
[PMID 17894416] (Estonian Children Personality Behavior and Health Study subset, n = 419) GG genotype carriers had significantly higher scores on an assessment of depression, and significantly lower scores on morality and orderliness compared to CC carriers. girls with CC and CG genotypes scored higher than boys with the same genotypes on an assessment of extraversion. boys with GG genotypes, however, scored higher than girls with GG genotypes.
So, I am more extraverted than a male version of myself would be. I could see the benefit of that in a society where women were gatherers and males were hunters. Like I said, the genotype on the other SNP (rs1801252) didn't come through, so I have no idea if they match my low extraversion results. I'm guessing that I may have the (A;G) genotype though, since glycine carriers show "increased odds of low or very low extraversion levels in this particular study" - [PMID 15312808] Of course, my introversion may be from other factors.

normal - genotypes A/A were significantly associated with agreeableness scores. 
Okay, I’m not the A/A genotype. Nor am I the A/C genotype, which since my test results has also been link to higher agreeableness scores. So, it’s not surprising that I always test as Low Agreeableness on the Big Five Personality test.  I used to have an email tag that read: "I disagree with everyone, sooner or later - it's part of my charm."

The A allele of the CLOCK gene SNP rs6832769 was associated with lessened agreeableness (p = 0.00000871) in a group of 3972 Sardinians. The effect remained significant in the replicative American sample, but failed to achieve significance in the Norwegian sample and third sample (though the combined p value remained significant at 0.000865). 
And I am an American with two A alleles.  It's not that I'm not capable of being agreeable - just don't expect me to agree with you automatically.  If you're someone who believes that a friend/lover should agree with you without checking out the situation, no matter what, then I'm not going to be a close pal of yours. In fact, push it and it is possible I will become your Devil Incarnate.  Luckily for me, my best friend treasures this trait, and considers it one of my more valuable contributions to humanity.

There is another gene SNP (rs1984362) which may also affect agreeableness, but exactly how has yet to be determined.

The G allele of SNAP25 gene SNP rs362584 was associated with increased neurotic traits (combined p value = 0.0000522) in a group of 3972 Sardinians, and two smaller replicative samples from the USA and Netherlands (the replicative samples were not significant by themselves, with the Netherlands sample showing considerably less of a trend)

Rs35753505 (SNP8NRG221533) is located within the 5'-flanking region of the NRG1 (Neuregulin 1) gene. g2b2mh blog rs35753505(C;C) correlates with frontal brain having to working harder during a working memory task. personality traits - C allele carriers associated with higher (NEO-FFI) scores of neuroticism and lower scores of conscientiousness in a sample of 523 healthy individuals The results suggest that subjects with risk alleles show hyperactivations in areas associated with elaborate episodic memory encoding and retrieval strategies.

I already referenced the rs35753505(C;T) SNP in the discussion of conscientiousness.  Between these two genes, it's understandable that I usually score between normal and high on neuroticism. 

Now, some of you may have read the NY Times piece on the Worrier-Warrior gene.  And you may be wondering, what version does she have?  Well, let me share the two SNPs that showed up in my results:

rs4680 (Val158Met) is a well studied SNP in the COMT gene. 23andMe blog summarizes them as *rs4680(A) = Worrier. Met, more exploratory, lower COMT enzymatic activity, therefore higher dopamine levels; lower pain threshold, enhanced vulnerability to stress, yet also more efficient at processing information under most conditions *rs4680(G) = Warrior. Val, less exploratory, higher COMT enzymatic activity, therefore lower dopamine levels; higher pain threshold, better stress resiliency, albeit with a modest reduction in executive cognition performance under most conditions

Probably one Warrior Gene and one non-Warrior Gene. Women with this combination usually have the 3 repeat MAOA Warrior Gene on one X chromosome and the 4 or 5 repeat MAOA non-Warrior Gene on the other X chromosome. 
And the answer is - I'm half and half, or a worrier-warrior, which in retrospect fits me perfectly.  I actually have several other genetic risk factors for anxiety; however, not for social anxiety.  It will be interesting to see what further research can reveal. But no matter what, I will always remember that it's up to me to decide how to use my genetic tendencies.  While they may have a 50% voice in my behavior, they are not the final word on it.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Few Things I Learned Cross-Referencing My Limited DNA Results with the SNPedia database.

Okay, in an effort to have some concrete data to show me, my sister Serena offered to pay for a saliva DNA test.  She explained that it couldn't conclusively prove gluten intolerance, but it was the only test she could get for me without scheduling an appointment with a doctor, which would have been difficult since we live in different states and I have a weird work schedule.  By the time my birthday/Christmas came around, I had already found my own concrete proof that she was correct, but she went ahead and ordered me the test anyway because I have an interest in geneology.

And it's been fun exploring those results; however, it's obvious that there is a lot more research to be done.  Many people with documented Native American ancestry, don't show up as Native American, for one thing.  And I don't come up as Asian, even though several genes that contribute to my skin-tone are more common in south-east Asia than anywhere else.*  Of course, the only sure genealogical lines you can test for is your matrilineal line - and if you're male, you have your patrilineal line also.  I know my patrilineal line only because my sister had our dad take the test and I got that information from him.

Anyway, I decided that since it was my DNA, I needed to have a copy of my raw results, so I could have it analyzed better in the future.  I had a heck of a time finding out how I could download that information. Scouring the forums, I found a site that could cross-reference your results with the SNPedia database, and visiting the site, I found the extremely easy instructions for downloading my own raw data.  A week later, after doing some research on my own, I ordered the report from the site.  I did this fully aware that this was not a reliable way to diagnose health issues.  But even if I didn't know that, it would have become very obvious that not every gene I had, had a say in my body's functioning:

1) For instance, I supposedly have a high risk of Alzheimer's.  A total shock, since there is NO record of it in my family history.  However, there are several genes involved in getting Alzheimer's, and while I have a few that increase my risk, I also have several other genes that decrease my risk - and they outnumber the ones that increase my risk 2 to 1.

2) Of all the diabetic risks I have genetically, the one that appears the most likely for me to have, never happened.  I never experienced gestational diabetes.  Nor did I have hypertension.  I did have very, very low blood pressure during both of my pregnancies.  Based on some other genetic results and the physical manifestation of them, I think another condition may have flared up during my pregnancies.

3) I supposedly have more genes protecting me from psoriasis, than making me susceptible for it.  I have physical proof on my body right this moment that the risk factors for it won over the protective ones.

On the other hand, there were many results that were so spot on that it was spooky.  I had to remind myself several time, "Of course, it is, Mandy. This is what determines that you have this trait."

1) I've been told that I have an Asian tint to my very fair skin.  As I stated earlier, my genealogical DNA results doesn't show this, yet my cross-referenced results shows my skin color to be a mix of European fair skin and Asian coloring.

2) I can definitely digest milk.  And low fat diets don't make me lose weight at all, which was part of the reason I lost faith in most diets.

3) I do have smaller than normal mosquito bites.

4) I need larger doses of several medicines before they are effective, but I need only half the amount of caffeine.  This is partly why I dislike going to a doctor for medicines.  I'm often better off not having some medicines, than only have them partially work.

I don't know who said it originally, but there is a saying that goes: "Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger."  By the same token, environment can jam the gun too.  At least that's what I assumed happened to a gene that usually makes people a little taller than average.  At 5'4", I'm literally the shortest person in my family of origin.  But I also was a very hard infant to feed.  My mother's stepmother finally got me on 2% milk somewhere between 6 and 9 months, and I stopped being colicky and started putting on some weight. Of course, I found that there are other genes involved in height, but it was not specified as to how they were in the report I currently have.  I'm sure more detail will be available as more research is done.

I also found out that my raw data had some holes in it.  I discovered this when I was investigating the genes involved in personality (which is a blog post in itself).  While my genes matched four of my Big Five personality results, the genotypes for the extroversion genes are missing.  I may re-do the test in a few years to see if I can get better results.

As for the gluten intolerance, it turns out I do have a few risk factors for Celiac's disease, some protective factors, and several that don't have enough data to make a clear conclusion with. But as I said, I have other solid proof of my gluten intolerance.  I may share a few of my other DNA discoveries in later blog posts.

*Found this through the Promethease report.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wayne Greene at Open Stage 10/14/13

This past year has been a rough one for me creativity-wise.  Lots of events to process and knowledge to become proficient at, with some re-evaluations thrown in for good measure.

I don't know the answer to the question my brother in-law poses in his song above.  But some days I feel as if I am about to become the woman he speaks of.  I realize that some of it is clinical depression, and I will often force myself to exercise that part of me, even if it's in a small and silly way, just to keep it moored to my soul. I would hate to lose my creative talents just because the demands of existence stole it from me.

The ironic thing is - I have some creative works that are all but finished for the past year and yet I can't just get myself to do the last few steps to finish them.  My mom was like that, but that was normal for her.  She told me once that she hated finishing projects because it was like they died and went away.  I'm not that way, though.  Unfinished projects to me are like survivors clinging to a life-raft, waiting to be rescue.  It's usually in the finishing of them that I find peace.

I guess I have some rescuing to do. But first I need to get over this stomach virus...

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cabbage Rose

Cabbage Rose by mamaslyth
Cabbage Rose, a photo by mamaslyth on Flickr.

When I was little, my mom used to let me use her guitar oil pastels to draw with as a treat. A year ago, I inherited them, but I haven't drawn anything with them until tonight.