Sudoku and Neurotransmission

There’s nothing that can convince me that this life is meant to be as complicated as we make it. There’s nothing that can convince me that we will ever find all of the answers, and to think that we have some already is naive and wishful. These are the things I think about as I backtrack in my Sudoku game, something I used to hate doing as a child because I could never get it right the first time. I have once in my life, but that was in a bout of mania. As much as I like to think it was my own brain power, it was really just a flood of neurotransmitters doing all the work.

250px-sudoku_puzzle_by_l2g-20050714_solution_standardized_layout-svgI was thinking about this the other day, about neurotransmission and Sudoku, and how they both have algorithms to describe their process. We have more neural connections in our brain than we have estimated stars in our galaxy. 1000 times more, to be exact. Sudoku has a bunch of different number possibilities, but only one answer. I fear neurotransmission is not as simple.

We have an algorithm for the probability of neural transmission: when certain neurons will fire and the chance of that happening, essentially. I believe if we do wish to describe the processes that happen in our brain, math will be the catalyst for success in that field. There are too many connections, too many variables, to settle on an explanation as simple as, say, a chemical imbalance.

I came across an essay in PLOS medicine titled “Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the Scientific Literature.” This is a big deal. Although published in 2005, their words are still very relevent today. I’m sure you have heard in commercials about psychiatric medication that “so and so disorder is a chemical imbalance, and [insert drug] works to correct that balance”. Notice they will never explain how or why, because they simply don’t know. We don’t know.

And that’s where my area of study will be, once I do graduate: let’s explore this idea of chemical imbalance and what it may mean. My ultimate goal? Disprove the theory.

That’s a long way off, and it may only be a pipe dream, but I believe I can catalyst a different type of thought in the mental health community by proving, scientifically, mathematically, whatever you want to call it, that something like a chemical imbalance cannot possibly exist. Why?

As the essay says:

Attempts were also made to induce depression by depleting serotonin levels, but these experiments reaped no consistent results [9]. Likewise, researchers found that huge increases in brain serotonin, arrived at by administering high-dose L-tryptophan, were ineffective at relieving depression.

As it also says:

Contemporary neuroscience research has failed to confirm any serotonergic lesion in any mental disorder, and has in fact provided significant counterevidence to the explanation of a simple neurotransmitter deficiency. Modern neuroscience has instead shown that the brain is vastly complex and poorly understood.

And of course, let’s not forget:

There is no scientifically established ideal “chemical balance” of serotonin, let alone an identifiable pathological imbalance. To equate the impressive recent achievements of neuroscience with support for the serotonin hypothesis is a mistake.

comic-bubble-hmm_1609021If there is no established balance, there, logically, cannot be an imbalance. This article focuses purely on serotonin and depression, but this in fact relates as well to the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia and any other neurotransmitter they claim causes certain mental health issues. These studies are indeed correlational and not experiments. What does this mean for us that struggle mentally?

It means the door is open again. It means we can find a different explanation. It means we can focus on genes. We can focus on environment. We can focus on the way society structures thought–how we’re taught to think about ourselves in the first place. We can focus on things we can change, rather than this pipe dream that a little pill that may or may not cause more harm to our bodies/brains than good, can cure anything at all.

To deny that there is a biological component would be ignorant of me. To accept the propaganda that pharmaceutical companies place in front of my eyes would be even more ignorant of me.

There could be a chance that neurotransmission is just like Sudoku, and that perhaps there is one single answer and we just have to back track and back track and back track until we find the right numerical composition. But more than likely that isn’t the case. This isn’t a pattern devised by a computer. This is a pattern devised by universal chaos and quantum processes. What is there to correct? What’s created by nature is created by nature, and for us to label that right or wrong, normal or abnormal, is rather selfish and egotistical.

What else could it be, if not a chemical imbalance then? We could brainstorm ideas for hours. Genetics–if your mother has what we label as schizophrenia, there’s a greater chance you will too. But stop. It also depends on: Environment. There’s a striking number of people who receive this label who have been through some type of sexual abuse, physical abuse, severe emotional abuse, and often voices and delusions reflect this pain. What does that tell us? That deep pain that isn’t processed properly leaves a lasting stamp on our neural connections, and turns something on and off in our genetics. Socio-economic status plays a role: think of all the homeless people you see wandering the street talking to themselves. Assume they are not on drugs, and you’re dealing with a mental health issue. You think it’s easy to get well in poverty? You think there isn’t trauma in poverty? What effect does trauma have on the brain? There are studies on this, but what does it mean for neural connections? What does any of the things I just mentioned mean?

That’s what I plan to study in my life. I’ve given up the fight against these pharmaceutical people. I can’t fight a corporation. But I can fight their bullshit research with real research.

Ironic, considering Research Methods is my LEAST favorite class.

And that’s today’s Mental Truth.

 

 

Asking For Help

Things have been troublesome for me. My relationship of 4 years has ended, and I’m still heartbroken over that fact. It’s only been a couple days, and so the feelings are still very raw. It’s difficult to have 4 years of good memories in your head, only to be trumped by the memory of one incident: the break up.

I’m okay with having to move forward. I mean, I’ve been through a lot worse things in my life than a breakup, and have had my heart broken on the same level once before. I’m used to the pain. I’m used to the random crying that hits you when you hear a song that reminds you of everything, or see a couple, or hear about people and their love, or see all the pictures we have. I’m used to the constant feelings of “wow, this is all your fault” because I’m used to things getting ruined because of my mental health. And that’s essentially what all this boils down to.

I still have my cat. I love her, and I will forever love her. And I thank him for buying her for me those 2 years ago, she’s been a great addition to my life. So that’s one thing to be thankful for.

On top of that, the program I work for is also closing in December. I feel I am no longer welcome in this town by way of the universe, and that because both my job and relationship are essentially over at the same time, it’s a sign that it’s time to move on to bigger and better things.

I plan to move down to Los Angeles where peer support jobs are rampant in certain areas, and where I can really use my creative talent: my writing, my photography. I want to be able to blossom in this crazy life, and I’m sick of being stifled and stagnant. All of this stress is really kicking up my mental health issues, and so is not having the money to even pay for my prescriptions right now.

I started a GoFundMe. Hear me out: I hate taking money from people. I hate taking offers from people. I hate doing anything that requires me to beg. But I am in a situation where I can’t just up and leave town and not risk being homeless. I can’t stay in town and not risk being homeless. Again. I’m trying to avoid that. Again.

I would use the funds strictly for moving expenses and nothing more. That means the U-Haul to get my stuff down there, the deposit and first months rent on a place ( a room for rent, of course), and food along the way. I’m asking for 2k. Not too much, not too little.

If you know anyone who is willing to donate, that would be amazing. The link is here. I’m just a young 23 year old trying to make a new start in a world that has beat me down from the beginning. And I’m not trying to act helpless. I’m not even on disability, although with my diagnoses I could qualify. But I want to do things on my own, prove to myself and the world that I can be who I need to be without second guessing myself or degrading myself.

I am just in need of a little help.

I’ve been apart of this wordpress community for three years now, and have been thankful to every single person who has ever liked or commented on this blog. And now I’m finally reaching out to every single one of you and asking for just a bit of help. You don’t have to donate, that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking for you to share the link on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, whatever. I only have so much of a following, and could use more help in that department.

If you do donate, thank you, thank you. Every little bit helps.

Now, I’m going to try and get ready for my day, as difficult as that’s becoming.

Thank you.

The Future of Preventive Care

Adobe Spark (7)

In the last post, I mentioned the DSM board’s attempt at preemptively striking against textbook psychosis. There’s a whole other world out there in the mental health field dedicated, and quite passionately might I add, to prevention psychiatry: stopping the progression of certain experiences, mainly psychosis, before they turn into something they can label as schizophrenia.

I have nothing against their passion. But I would like one of the members to explain how creating several new disorders like attenuated psychosis syndrome would do anything other than create a new label multitudes of teenagers would be diagnosed with, fed medications that aren’t researched on teenagers, and make them fear their future more than they should.

So, where do we start?

If you ask me (no one did), preventive care, if that’s what it’s to be called, includes family dynamics, relationship dynamics, and self-dynamics, not only diagnosis and medications.

Family Dynamics

This is an important but difficult portion for me to write. I find myself grappling with words that sound rehearsed and disingenuous, because I’m not quite sure what a healthy family dynamic would be. But I understand that what you are taught, what you see, what you experience as a child heavily influences what you teach, what you see, and what you experience as an adult. This includes behaviors and thought patterns that may be seen in the world of psychology as abnormal.

The family as a whole must be looked at in preventive care because it may very well be that the problem starts somewhere in the family, perhaps in the history of the family. Substance use, abuse, neglect, perfectionism, other illnesses of family members that fall on the responsibility of the child. Every moment of life becomes a little more traumatic, and the brain is our rock, it must do what it must to protect us from processing emotions we don’t fully understand. As helpful as that can be in the moment, it becomes something to wrestle with for many years in the long run.

As a child, I never spoke my insecurities, my emotions, or opinions. I didn’t feel safe physically or emotionally. I didn’t learn healthy outlets for anger, and I didn’t learn healthy outlets for sadness. I didn’t know my pain was worth mentioning, so all of it meshed together somewhere in the back of my mind, and eventually came out as panic attacks, depression, psychosis, and self-harm.

Does this mean my family is to blame? No. What it means is that the dynamics were not healthy. It means when looking at preventing further development of experiences like psychosis and depression and self harm, regardless of whether a diagnosis is the main goal, we have to look at how the family functions/functioned as a whole.

Relationship Dynamics

What’s been learned in childhood and adolescence inevitably bridges into the relationships we have throughout life, and if there is a pattern of bumpy relationships–friendships, romantic relationships, acquaintanceship– then it’s time to also take a look at why. Everyone, even the most introverted person, needs a close friend once in a while. The inability to have an open, comfortable, a mutual connection with another person may force a person inward.

It may also signify an inability to understand what healthy relationships look like, another one of my own personal weak points. Part of preventive care should be focused heavily on providing a person resources on how to learn to have these healthy relationships, even if it’s just one person. And I’m not talking about just therapy, I’m talking about workshops and intensive analysis. Having someone in your corner makes all the difference when you feel lost or disregarded or confused.

Self-Dynamics

How does the person regard themselves? How does the person treat themselves? This is the most important aspect of preventive care, because in the end you really only have yourself as your largest support force; if you’re not on your side, who is? This is why I believe adding another diagnostic label telling someone they’re developing a life-long “illness” that they will need long-term medication as treatment doesn’t really empower them to look at their life with healthy vision.

Is the person stuck inward? Do they value themselves? Do they value others? Do they have painful outbursts? I point out these behaviors for a reason: they are most often questions asked and behaviors people want to change. I don’t believe preventive care should be about changing anyone, but rather giving the person a chance to see a different perspective and a different side of things. The personal transformation which transpires from that will help the person loosen up in the way they are meant to loosen up, rather than forcing a way of being on them. We’ve seen that force isn’t a healthy dynamic between “patient/client” and doctor many times.

Where Does This Leave Us?

If you are a provider, take into account everything. I’m sure that’s something that’s taught over and over again, in fact I know it is because I’ve heard it in every psychology class I’ve ever taken. But sometimes we forget. And sometimes we don’t mean to forget. Sometimes we get wrapped up in what our job is versus what our job could be. And that’s when it’s important to take a step back and really engage with people, understanding them on a personal level. It’s a two way street here: while it’s up to us consumers to take our health into our own hands, it’s also up to providers to guide us appropriately when we might not be able to take our health into our own hands.

There’s a notable difference between doctor’s who are genuinely curious about what’s ailing you and those who want to help, but come equipped only with the DSM.

To be a Psychiatric Critic

What does it mean to be a critic of the psychiatric industry? There are a couple ways we could go with this, considering there are many people who claim to be critics, who claim they recognize “there are some flaws in the system”, or that “things could be improved”.

That doesn’t tell me much about their understanding of the industry. What that tells me is that they have general knowledge that nothing in this world is perfect and that everything, theoretically, could use improvement. Why is this not a criticism? Well, because it’s well understood, it’s not unique, and it doesn’t require any real knowledge of the system to say.

I could walk into a Wells Fargo Bank, turn to the person in line behind me and say “wow, this building could really use some improvements, look at that crack in the ceiling.” You wouldn’t call that a true critique of their building, of their establishment, of their maintenance crew, would you? I made an observation a million other people have before me, and a million other people will after me, and I still know nothing about why the crack is there, what’s halting repairs, who the crew is who should be patching it, how much of a budget there is for repairs–all the things I’d need to know to really understand this situation.

There are enough cracks in the psychiatric system to ruin fifty thousand Wells Fargo Bank buildings.

 

To be a critic of something like psychiatry you need a little more gut than what it takes to have the same opinion as everyone else. You have to be willing to put in the effort it takes to read the research and understand that what isn’t being said to the public is much more powerful than what is being said to the public.

To be a critic of something like psychiatry you need the ability to put aside your personal beliefs sometimes and view the facts:

  1. Big Pharma is, well, a BIG corporation.
  2. There is no definite research that proves any mental “illness”, including schizophrenia and bipolar, are diseases. THAT is a theory.
  3. There is no definite research that proves any mental “illness”, including schizophrenia and bipolar, are a result of chemical imbalances. THAT is a theory.
  4. Know what a theory is. Know that it can never be proven, only disproven. 
  5. Know that the APA (they write the DSM), Big Pharma, and insurance companies speak with each other.
  6. Understand that none of this means you should immediately stop all of your medication. I’ve done that. It. Sucks.
  7. Understand that the only scientifically verified chemical imbalance occurs when medications are taken.
  8. Understand homeostasis in the brain and what happens when it’s disrupted.
  9. Know the history of psychiatry; know it’s a business. 
  10. Understand the politics involved in the business.

The two in bold are fairly important. They’re important because it is impossible to truly understand a system without knowing where it came from, how it started, and what philosophy drove it into existence.

Knowing about theories seems so incredibly basic, but a lot of people misunderstand it when they read about chemical imbalance. So let’s debunk this a little to further drive the point of an actual criticism.

Chemical Imbalance Theory: Things called mental disorders/diseases/illnesses, whatever, possibly caused by an imbalance of natural chemicals in the synapses during neurotransmission. The evidence consists of studies done on the brains of people who have taken medication at one point, or who are currently on it. Studies done of people during hallucinations or mania or depression. Studies done on small groups of people, once or twice, with results being generalized and any possibilities of traumas in the past being disregarded.

Let’s think scientifically here, and disregard any opinions we may or may not have about mental “illness”. Let’s also keep in mind that the neural connections within the brain are unique for each individual, like a finger print, and they change with our experiences in life.

If we are doing studies on people who are, or have been on medication, it can’t be ruled out that the experiences aren’t being worsened or created by said past/present medication.

If we are doing studies on people who have been having these experiences for years, and have never done a study on them in infancy (I’m talking 0-3 years of age), then we have no standard to hold it against: it can’t be an imbalance if there is no “balance” as a control. And for those saying they have scanned the brains of people who don’t have these experiences, how can that be considered a true control when every brain is uniquely different in their neural connections? Scientifically, that makes zero sense. To the general public, it makes a bunch of sense. We really need to start putting more funding into STEM programs if the general public is accepting sub-par experiments like this.

Because there has been such little research on how environment, trauma, and social factors play into the development and constantly changing plasticity of the brain, ignoring those key areas of life is essentially saying the brain only relies on its physical structure to know when to release chemicals. And that doesn’t make sense, considering there are external sources, like a blooming flower, that cause in some of us a rush of emotion like happiness,  a rush of dopamine. Had we not seen the flower, that dopamine may not have been released.

In a very thought-out article on Scientific American you can read here sums this up perfectly and has one of my favorite quotes by neuroscientist Joseph Coyle at Harvard: “Chemical imbalance is sort of last-century thinking. It’s much more complicated than that.”

This articles points out, in regard to depression, that although pharma makes claims that there are certain decreased or increased levels of neurotransmitters which cause depression, there are several different antidepressants that act on several different neurostransmitters, increasing or decreasing, that work for different people in different ways. Essentially, that takes the power out of what the pharma companies claim.

DR. Mark Graff, Chair of Public Affairs of the APA said simply that the theory of chemical imbalance was “probably drug industry derived”.

Psychiatrist David Kaiser touches on the exact problem I stated above when he says “Patients [have] been diagnosed with ‘chemical imbalances’ despite the fact that no test exists to support such a claim, and . . . there is no real conception of what a correct chemical balance would look like”.

Just as there are theories in physics, there are theories in psychiatry. They can’t be proven, but they can be disproven, debunked, and through true criticism of this industry that is achievable on a widespread scale.

So the next time you go to rest in that comfortable middle ground of “the system could use some improvements, but everything could”, think about what you mean and how you formed that opinion. We don’t need anymore complacency in this world, particularly not in psychiatry. We need strength and understanding and facts.

To read up further on where I got the quotes above, see this pdf.

To read up on my thoughts on the system published on Mad In America, click here.