If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past two weeks then you’ve heard about the diaper-wearing, pepper-spray-wielding astronaut that got arrested for allegedly trying to kidnap and/or kill her lover’s girlfriend. Several questions came to mind when I saw this story on CNN the day it broke such as; What exactly is this lady’s problem? What can make a person, seemingly normal for the majority of their life, suddenly decide to kill someone? How much time did wearing diapers really save her? And the question on everyone’s mind; How absorbent are astronaut diapers and where can I buy them?
The Wall Street Journal posted a rather interesting article the day before Valentines Day, which may shed some light the astronaut issue. The article titled; “Is it Love or Mental Illness? They’re Closer Than You Think” describes the similarity between the changes occurring in one’s brain when one falls in love and the changes when one becomes afflicted with a mental illness. The first, and rather attention grabbing sentence of the article declares “At some point in life, most of us will face a major mental-health crisis. It is called love”.
The article likens the changes of the brain when one falls in love to reactions which occur when one becomes substance dependant or obsessive compulsive. What research does the article site to back up these claims? A study by Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at New Jersey’s Rutgers University looked at 15 subject’s brains through use of MRI techniques. The subjects, recently separated from their loved one, were first shown pictures of other people they knew who were “neutrals” and then shown pictures of the one they loved. When shown the pictures of their beloved, the brain’s dopamine system was triggered, which did not occur to the same degree when the person was showed a “neutral”. The brain’s dopamine system is the part of the brain associated with pleasure and addiction. The article had the following to say about the dopamine response;
The subjects dealing with failed relationships showed activity in the dopamine system — suggesting they maintained intense feelings for their loved one. But they also showed activity in brain regions associated with risk taking, controlling anger and obsessive compulsive problems. Notably, the scans showed activity in one part of the brain linked with physical pain.
The article goes on to say that studies done in Italy reflect activity in the serotonin levels when measured through blood draws from people nursing a failed relationship. Obviously, scientists have long believed serotonin levels are important for regulating mental health. Furthermore the author of the article suggests that these physiological changes occurring when one falls in love or is scorned by a lover are enough to cause signs of mental illness or at least irrational behavior.
Does this explain the astronaut’s behavior? Could being scorned by her lover have caused her to go over the edge? If so, could her lawyers prove that physiological changes which resulted from her failing relationship caused her to become temporarily mentally unfit? Well, I’m not sure about all that. I do believe that being in love may make you act somewhat differently then you would normally, but I think that if love or the loss of love makes you go completely over-the-edge, then you probably had a preexisting condition that laid dormant waiting for the correct stimulus. The other possibility is that you just don’t have enough self-respect or self-esteem as an individual to feel secure without being in a relationship. Either way, isn’t it embarrassing enough getting arrested for stalking someone without a huge diaper hanging out the top of your pants?