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.

 

 

How Sick Are You, Pt 2

Another long stretch since I’ve written. I spent some days adjusting to medication, some days hating myself for taking medication, and other days deciding to come off of medication.

Experiment number 2984719374:

Hypothesis: I will have a burst of energy and feel-good neurotransmitters flooding the gates of my synaptic terminals, followed by an immediate and harrowing decline which will, therefore, push me inevitably towards reuniting with the medication I so despise.

Methods: I will stop both the Abilify and Trintellix and monitor my moods and/or whatever aspects of psychosis that may rear its ugly head.

Results: TBD

Discussion: TBD.

Now that we have that settled, let’s talk a bit about mental health and awareness. There are so many great people out there doing great advocacy online and in person. There are so many great Non-Profit organizations doing the same. There are even clubs dedicated to such a thing at my college campus. And yet, there are still people wary and ashamed of their mental health. Let me give an example of how this thought process is still prevalent.

Today, while sitting in my Cognitive Psychology class, we were going over, for the umpteenth time in my life, neurotransmission, synaptic terminals, receptors, antagonists and agonists, Dopamine, Gaba, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin, some of the main receptors you learn in an introduction class. It follows that we should then speak about the dis-regulation of some of those neurotransmitters, and discuss the THEORY of chemical imbalances: regarding primarily dopamine and schizophrenia, serotonin and anxiety/depression.

Again, the idea of a chemical imbalance is a (repeat after me kids):

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which means it can never be proven, only dis-proven.

Anyway, that brought up the topic of SSRI’s, their side effects, and their withdrawal symptoms.

One young woman, who was probably younger than I am, raised her hand and said this:

“I was wondering about the withdrawal symptoms, because I take an SSRI, and I noticed that–well, I don’t have depression, it’s for some nerve problems–but I noticed that when I didn’t take it even for just a couple days, I was sleeping a lot, I couldn’t focus in this class . . .” and yada yada yada, personal life bullshit.

But what struck me is that she immediately discounted the experience of depression. She wouldn’t want her classmates thinking she’s “mentally ill” now would she?

And this is why I advocate for changing the culture around this term “mentally ill”. Because people are ashamed of that, of “being ill”. But what if we weren’t “ill”? What if we were perfectly well humans with a variation of neurons (a very, very, very large variation of neurons) that just so happened to result in different experiences? What if believing we are “ill” is keeping us, well, “ill-er”?

What if the perception of those experiences changed from unpleasant to being perceived as unique, variable, malleable, valuable, curious, and wonderful?

That’s not to say the struggle isn’t hard, because it’s very hard. But the harder we believe it is, the harder it will get.

Now, this could all be the feel-good neurotransmitters talking, because I started my little experiment about two weeks ago, and that is about the amount of time it takes for this poison to slowly remove itself from my body. Although, if you know anything about half-lifes, it never really goes away.

But whether or not this is me being euphoric and grandiose, I think we need to expand the discussion around neurotransmitters, and inform the public of just how wrong it is to think that the pathway of ONE SINGLE neurotransmitter leads to something as complex as what we call schizophrenia or what we call anxiety, Bipolar, Depression, any of it.

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You’ll read in a lot of studies released to the public–or at least glorified in the media–that they’ve found another link of dopamine to this, another one of serotonin to that, and it’s just not feasible that with 30-100 different molecule versions of neurotransmitters (granted there are a few that do a lot of the work) and 100 Trillion estimated neural connections plus constant variation of cell death/growth, neural connection death/growth, as well as environmental and genetic influences that dictate those neural connection and sell growths and deaths, that ONE neurotransmitter is going to be responsible for making or breaking our mental health.

Now, we can say that they are correlated. We can say we see increased dopamine in people who experience what we label as schizophrenia. But you cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT use that as CAUSATION.

Fuck I can’t stress it ENOUGH.

Psychology 101 folks: CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION. 

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Dopamine may be high during what we call psychosis, but that does not mean that the high dopamine CAUSED the psychosis, or that the psychosis CAUSED the high dopamine. We haven’t learned what “causes” mental health struggles yet, that’s why chemical imbalance is a THEORY.

See how much you’ve learned already today.

And that’s what happens in a lot of these articles that are debriefed by media or science magazines online with writers who don’t know a single thing about psychology. They get hung up on correlations.

It’s also a result of research publications being manipulated to suit the needs of pharmaceutical companies.

It’s a fact that if you give someone a drug that decreases dopamine, you’ll likely see a decrease in what we call psychosis. You’ll see a decrease in a lot of other things too, and those are what we cal side-effects. But are those drugs really doing anything to the thing we call psychosis, or is it just blunting some aspects of the self? Because often “psychotic symptoms” continue during the usage of said drug.

These are all questions I can’t answer, and neither can the magazines that publish articles on published research. It’s important to read these things carefully and really take a moment to look inside of yourself and ask yourself if you want to consider yourself broken, sick, ill, and helpless.

And that’s today’s Mental Truth.

 

How To Survive College

There are tons of articles on the internet giving you lists of endless strategies to survive the seemingly endless hell of college group projects, surveys, lectures, and anti-abortion rally meth heads who camp out in the quad with their six foot tall posters of aborted fetuses, enticing women and men alike to screech pro-choice ideals at the top of their lungs.

Everything those lists have told you is a lie.

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College is a bubbling cauldron of exponential debt. It’s a place you go to enhance your nihilism. If you weren’t already a nihilist, it’s a place where you can easily become one. It’s where you hustle to in the morning with your baggy sweatpants and a cup of coffee so you can walk into class, lean your fist against your cheek, and catch those extra Z’s you wasted this morning trying to find your car keys. It’s where you can major in rigid thinking, overly-liberal thinking, and non-thinking all at once.

It’s where you withdrawal from a course life intervenes on, only to take it once more while simultaneously kicking yourself. It’s where you sit in that course and bang your head repeatedly against the desk until the professor notices out of the corner of his eye, but tentatively ignores it because you have an accommodations contract from the disabled students center.

It’s thought to be a place for thinkers, innovators; the next Steve Jobs, the next Albert Einstein, John Nash, Nikola Tesla . . .

. . . but it’s mostly a place for hippies, kids looking for an excuse not to work full time, people with rich parents, or people with sports scholarships.

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It’s where you could get a perfect score on a paper for memorizing a concept, but only fifty percent for creating your own outside the box.

With that in mind, there is your first tip: Lower your expectations. 

  • This isn’t 387 B.C and college isn’t a Platonic Academy. Plato has nothing to do with it. There’s less “let’s discover the world/the ether/ the mind” and more “we did the discovering for you, now read it, learn it, memorize it”. There’s a small percentage that will take that knowledge and build on it. Most will recite it and manage to feel proud.
  • Most people in college have average intelligence. That’s a good thing. Because if everyone was smart, i’d feel like an idiot.
  • The more you expect, the more disappointed you’ll be when things don’t go your way: like when you realize your major is the epitome of horrid and you want to switch but now you have to go through a bunch of paperwork and university is not fucking happy with you at all.
  • Instead, take everything with a grain of salt. Take charge when you need to. Coast along when you can.

We all know how sickening disappointment can be. So instead of making a list over summer hyping yourself up about all the great things you’re going to do in college, make a list reminding yourself not to do that. That’s stupid. And only smart people go to college, remember?

If you have an incessant need to list, than write this fifty times on four sheets of paper:

No matter how easily I sailed through high school, college will not be the same.

That’s my second tip.

It’s not the work content, it’s the work load. Professors don’t care if you have two part time jobs, a child, and a social life. They don’t get paid enough to care. And if they have tenure than you’re shit out of luck.

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3). Learn your limits and don’t overexert yourself. Think you can take seven courses in a single semester and make it out alive? You know what, go ahead, fuck it, I want to see you do it.

4) When you get a boring professor with an accent you can’t understand, restrain your urge to mock his accent loudly and/or strip off all your clothes and mount the person next to you because they keep sneaking glances down your shirt. Trust me, don’t do it. You’ll regret it. You know how you went to that party the night before your exam, woke up with a headache and puked on your desk in class? You remember that regret? Do you really want to feel that again?

5) It’s okay to not move the same speed as everyone else. If you start struggling and feel like everyone is zipping past you at the speed of intellectual light, that’s okay. Because someone next to them is zipping past them as well. And so on. Everyone moves at different paces and if you’re not perfect, that’s alright. Don’t swallow thirty Ritalin and expect it to turn you into a super human. If anything, get in the Ritalin underground dealing on your campus, especially if you go to Harvard or Yale or any place where people are pressured to be inhumanely perfect. You don’t need your degree to get rich then.

6) If you don’t like it, don’t go. The simplest tip of them all. Not everyone feels like they need to constrain their mind (or their time) to the few options college has to offer. It’s not impossible to be successful without a little piece of paper signed by someone who calls himself/herself a “dean”. I’ve heard of tons of people with doctorates working hours at McDonalds now. College degrees don’t guarantee a good life. No college degree doesn’t guarantee homelessness. It’s all about how you maneuver life to your advantage.

7) Last but not least: if you can find a way not to pay for room and board, TAKE IT. LIVE OFF CAMPUS. Often paying for a dorm is the second most expensive thing you’ll waste your grant/loan/scholarship money on. If you can rent a room in a house or live with family or parents or whoever, do it. Trust.

8) Actually last but not least: if you are taking math, and math is not your greatest subject, I would suggest always doing the homework directly after class. I would also suggest doing some right before you go to sleep. The difference will astound you.

I once struggled on a problem for ten hours. Finally I said fuck it, threw my book across the room, resisted the urge to take a shit on my homework page, and went to sleep. I had a wonderful dream of the problem, how to work it, and the solution. Woke up and, for a second at least, declared myself a genius.

But actually, mathematical dreams are not too unheard of. It happens to many people, especially mathematicians. You might not care whether you know math, but apparently your subconscious does enough to work on it throughout the night.

If all else fails, flip off your campus, walk away, and give your life up to nature. What difference does it all make anyway?

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