Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shadow Syndromes

Now that I'm about over this bout of depression - still a bit down at night, I read an article that I think came from Nina at Dancing Through Doorways. John J. Ratey teaches and researches in psychiatry at Harvard, and his article and book, Shadow Syndromes: People with Mild Forms of Serious Disorders, is reviewed here. As a result of new developments with echo planar magnetic resonance imaging (what a mouthful), researchers can watch the "mind boggle". I suddenly have a picture of all these lettered dice being jumbled around inside my skull while someone watches and tries to predict how they will land.
An MRI image
Anyway, the conclusions drawn so far indicate that when we change the chemical action in one part of the brain, other parts of the brain are affected also. And, sometimes the changes in the other parts of the brain return to change the area being medicated. For instance, he says, Prozac immediately raises the serotonin levels in the brain, but several weeks may pass before the depression lifts. So something else is happening here.

He says that timing and the geography of the brain and what he called recursivity (the feedback to the original change) are being investigated. He mentions that the biology of our brains are not fixed at birth; the brain responds to environment, for instance, traumatic incidences can "cause" post traumatic stress syndrome. We acquire dents and scrapes along the way even if we don't acquire such traumatic scars.

Lately, however, neuropsychiatry is discovering that genetics, brain structure and biochemistry heavily influences those mental/emotional diagnoses found in DSM IV. And, the thinking is that we really can have a touch of schizophrenia or bipolar or obessive-compulsive disorder without being much out of the ordinary (if you can define ordinary).

So, I presume it's like having a slight cold. The virus is there, but it's not affecting you much. So, I might have a touch of bipolar syndrome to go along with my ambient anxiety and together they may manifest themselves as depression. Or the depression and the panic may manifest as manic. Or some of one at one time and some of the other at another time or various stages in between. Not a very far out idea. We look at ourselves as being somewhere along a spectrum in many behaviors, beliefs, and choices, from insane liberal to middle of the road to insane conservative. And, each of us fits in different places along that particular spectrum at different times. And beliefs affect politics and politics affect compassion and ....

So, environment does shape heredity in that the environment (say a traumatic incident, and I've had a number of those) can affect brain chemistry in one area that filters through to other areas and eventually changes the functioning in the brain. Age, apparently can do the same.

No one is normal. There is no Jane Doe against which to compare ourselves. There may be a median or a mean or even an average on some spectrum of behavior or function of the brain, but nothing that even remotely qualifies as normal (and I challenge you to define either normal or ordinary). Ha!

I'm sitting here using the back of the Yale Alumni Magazine as a mouse pad, and the picture on the back cover is Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on a business jet. Gates is laughing and Buffett looks as if he is telling some tall tale with slight upturn of his mouth. He even has laugh lines. But, I'm wondering where does each fit on the spectrum of schizophrenia, bipolar, OCD? And, if you're not near the mean, median or average, are you at a disadvantage? Or, did being OCD have a positive affect on their financial success and fame?

If we give up or medicate away our end-of-the-spectrum behaviors, how will it affect our creativity, endurance, persistence? How much medicine is enough, and how much is too much? Too many new medicines on the market haven't seen long-term testing. And, I'm taking some of them...a number of them. I'm taking medicine that affects my serotonin levels, my dopamine levels, and whatever that is in panic disorder. I use area specific steroids to help my breathing. How are they interacting? I strongly suspect that no one knows. Drug manufacturers test for trace chemicals in urine and blood, but what about how those trace levels that stuck in my brain are combining to form a different me.

The question I used to ask my therapist is, "But, will I like the new me?" Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I don't. And, I still throw tantrums, jump for joy, get fed up with stuff and dislike secrecy....among other traits along some of those brain spectra.

We thought I might have sleep apnea until we realized that A: I was taking two medicines together that make me sleepy and tired in the daytime, and B: the cats were walking all over me at night and waking me up. So, I changed the medication times and kicked the cats off me; now I'm doing well, thank you.

Still, the depression kicks in sometimes. Therapy helps. Medicine must be continued even though I don't want to take anything. Music helps. Activity helps. "Acting as if..." helps. "Pretend you're happy when you're blue...."

And, all of it may be some complicated recursivity from taking my medicines at the wrong time, or the synchronicity of memory triggers and dopamine/serotonin levels, or the alignment of the stars.

That's it. I'm going for the alignment of the stars - and my stars are more in alignment now! Thanks be to God.

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