Friday, July 31, 2015

Taming the Polar Bears - A Dedication




That is my daughter.

The photo is from 2006. I chose that picture because ... for reasons that are too personal. Anyway, she is older than that now. 

My daughter is the reason you are reading these words today and any of the tens of thousands of words that make up all the content of Taming the Polar Bears. She is the reason you are reading these words because without her, I would no longer exist. 

She is my sun, my moon, my stars, my galaxies, my everything. 

But most importantly, she is my anchor. She keeps me tethered to Terra Firma on Spaceship Earth. 

I'm not sure how to describe adequately what an anchor is in ways those who have never been there could understand. Most simply, an anchor is something that is going to keep you from stepping over the last and final line in to the deep dark abyss from which there is no return called death. 

There are several different ways a mind will take one over that last and final line. I went through almost all of them but the two most terrifying and closest to that edge are the most dangerous in my (well earned and well researched) estimation. 

One I liken to being like an astronaut doing a space walk. The only thing that stops the astronaut from drifting off into space, getting sucked into space where the laws of physics will quickly vaporize him or her, is that tether they wear. That's their life line, the most literal lifeline we can imagine. 

One form of almost going over that edge into the abyss is that your mind narrows down to such a narrow dark tunnel that you lose touch with every single thing in your life, in the world, in your mind - you lose contact with everything. And it feels like there is a vacuum sucking you further and further down that tunnel and away from Life. There comes a point where there is just no return. And it feels exactly like being that astronaut and the tether has been cut and you are being drawn out into that black void of space. And it's terrifying because you can sort of look back on where you were but the powers are drawing you away, slowly away, drifting, drifting, drifting until ... 

There were several times I was being pulled down that tunnel or that feeling of being pulled out to the dark void of space. It is unbelievably powerful, it is beyond your imagination. It's beyond the imagination of almost everyone because you have to a) experience it to understand it and b) survive. I don't think many people do. 

And the only thing that will bring you back is an anchor, that tether. That is what will pull you back and reconnect you to the world.

And for me, that anchor was my daughter. Somehow through the darkness of that tunnel, the darkness of space that I was being pulled in to, somehow, somehow her light would shine through, her image would come to me. Sometimes maybe her voice. And that would draw me back.

And for that reason and that reason only, I did not die that day. 

[I can't tell you how extremely hard it is to recall this and write it down]

Another way is psychosis. I'm not going to clinically define psychosis today but they are forces from I don't know where that just take you over. These are visions, voices, dialogues, scenes that you are just strapped into and cannot escape. You cannot turn it off, you cannot "wake up" from it, you cannot make it go away, you cannot dismiss it from your mind. There is no technique of psychology or anything that will make it stop once it passes a certain threshold. And in me, all those demonic forces were demanding and directing me to either cause myself great bodily harm or to in some way end my life (there were around ten of these episodes between July 2010 and the final one December 28th 2012). 

I have yet to talk to anyone (and you have no idea how many people I talk to seeking out similar experiences and answers to these episodes) who has experienced anything like it. Again, I believe, for the simple reason that there are so few survivors. I cannot even begin to relate to you how difficult it was to come out the other side of them. 

And again, the only reason I am here at this moment typing these words is because of my anchor, my daughter. 

For through all these terrifying visions and voices and commands that were like a tornado in my mind, somehow, somehow something about her penetrated the terror of it all to give me something to cling to, something that somehow - and I have no real idea how - gave me the strength to fight off those demons another time. The. Only. Reason.

Was her. 

She was my anchor. 

When I had my first episode of psychosis and subsequent break down in July of 2010 and was about to end my life, it was because of her that I walked into a hospital and started my road asking for help. At that time I was on a manic drive towards death and she was the only thing that stepped in the path of that drive and knocked me a different direction. The. Only. Reason.

Was her. 


*  *  *  *  *


From the day she was born on November 24th, 1994, everything I did was dedicated to making her future the best it could be. 

I did all the things you were supposed to do. I built equity so that when I passed away, she'd have something. For fifteen years almost my entire life was dedicated to building something that she could inherit so that her life could be easier than my life. So she could go to university, or start a business, or buy her own home in which to raise her own family. I just wanted her life to be easier than mine. That's what fathers do. 

Then in long manic swoop from the end of 2007 through 2009 when it all fall apart, I lost every single penny of the approximately quarter million dollars in equity that was to go to her (and would have been more; it was all very soundly invested). Every. Single. Penny. 

And then some. 

So now what can I leave her?

And not only did I lose all that, my daughter lost the father she'd grown up loving. 

I'll get to this another time, but it is now well documented the horrendous impact on children of those with severe mental health disorders. 

And as I crumbled and broke down and lost my mind and my sanity and everything I ever worked for and was losing her mother, she had a front row seat to every single minute of it. All the breakdowns, all the hospitalizations, the manic looniness, the weeks of dark depression where I never left my room, the loss of every single thing I used to be, the heartbreaking attempts to find a job - any job - and pull myself out of it that were all in vain: the whole sickening descent from the life loving, fully in control home owner father, to the man who ended up homeless and living out of an unheated 37 year old van. 

And she watched it all. 

At some point I realized the only thing I could leave her was my mind, the products of my mind.

I deeply desire for her to know that her dad was more than that person who underwent all those horrible breakdowns and lost everything and became a homeless man.

And since that time, every single thing that I study, that I write, that I photograph, that I envision and create is to build a legacy that I can leave for her.

And that's what this whole blog and my photography website are about - a written and photographic record of who her dad was, how his mind worked, what he did for people, how he saw the world, all of it.

Every single thought, every single word, every single photograph, every single effort.

When my fatigue is so bad and my mind so darkened by its inability to create the energy to turn on and function and I cannot get out of bed, or the circumstances of life are crushing me down it is for her and this legacy for her that I somehow find a way to.

Everything I do and all the passion that drives it for all of you - whomever is reading and gaining value from my words is

For her. 


For she is my sun, my moon, my stars, my galaxies, my everything. 

And everything I now do is dedicated to

Her. 

My anchor. My everything. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for being here.  


Support Taming the Polar Bears

 

If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project (Gregory Esau is his brother and the fund bank account is in his name). 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.


Thank you so much for your support!

On Belief - Introduction





Content removed until further notice




Support Taming the Polar Bears

 

If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project (Gregory Esau is his brother and the fund bank account is in his name). 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.


Thank you so much for your support!




Friday, July 24, 2015

Neuroscience in Focus - An Introduction to Neuroplasticity



Neuroscience in Focus:
An Introduction to Neuroplasticity




Content removed until further notice 



Support Taming the Polar Bears

 

If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project (Gregory Esau is his brother and the fund bank account is in his name). 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.


Thank you so much for your support!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On Consciousness, Thoughts and Meditation



Content removed until further notice

Support Taming the Polar Bears

 

If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project. 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.

Thank you so much for your support from the Polar Bears team!





Saturday, July 18, 2015

Positive Difference Making Fundamentals in Focus - An Introduction to Meditation




Content removed until further notice


Support Taming the Polar Bears

 

If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project. 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.


Thank you so much for your support from the Polar Bears team!




(1) Though these experiences were "personal", it is certainly not hard to find others with similar experiences among those with a psychiatric condition and those among the general population (and I'll be getting to examples of this when we further explore the brain's subconscious functions and how they direct our behaviours). 

(2) - Not to worry, I was able to talk them through it. I do not and will not let people flounder like that. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Zombie Programs - An Introduction



Content removed until further notice


Support Taming the Polar Bears

 

If you enjoy or benefit from the information you gain from this blog, or see the importance of it for yourself or for others in understanding and working on your/their mental health conditions or if you're in the mental health professions or otherwise see the importance of the work done and presented in this blog, please consider donating and supporting it. 

All the writing and research is done by a single individual - Brad Esau - who himself has been disabled due to the long term effects of his condition and who lives on a very minimal pension and thus has great difficulty supporting himself. 

For a one time donation, you can simply follow this link and instructions there - https://www.paypal.me/TamingThePolarBears

Don't have a PayPal account? No worries, getting one is fast and free.

Your donation goes to a fund controlled by a third party team who support Brad and his Taming the Polar Bears project (Gregory Esau is his brother and the fund bank account is in his name). 

Or if you'd like to make a regular small monthly contribution, please contact this email address - lanina1101@gmail.com - and include in the subject line: monthly donation with the amount you wish to donate on a monthly basis. 

Please state your PayPal address and name in the email.


Thank you so much for your support!

Monday, July 13, 2015

In Praise of Quick Fixes for Depression (And Possibly Other Psychiatric/Mood Disorders)



Yes, yes, I know. I just wrote a post deconstructing "quick fixes" for psychiatric and mood disorders

So why am I now posting an article praising quick fixes?

For a couple of reasons. One, I am a fair guy (all occasional appearances aside). Two, I'm bipolar. We bipolar peeps kind of roll this way. We'll feel and see things completely one way and then - days, hours, weeks, or at some point - see the exact same topic or idea or view in a completely different and opposite way. We'll go from wildly optimistic about something to being horrendously pessimistic about the same thing (I wrote about the neuronal basis for optimism and pessimism in my neuroscience blog a while back). Our minds just sort of tend to work that way - see things in alternating completely opposite ways. Actually, a lot of people will work this way (I'm sure some of you have observed this in someone close to you and were left scratching your head wondering "what the hell just happened there?"), it's just that bipolar minds work more regularly this way and more radically this way and for more prolonged periods (among other weird and wacky ways). 

This can be rather crazy making (trust me on this one) but it's not too bad if you sort of go with it and allow your mind to explore each side of whatever bee happens to be in the bonnet (like the topic of "quick fixes" for psychiatric and mood disorders for me lately) and can avoid the radical extremes of run away grandiosity and delusional belief positiveness on one end and dark pessimistic pits of despair negativity on the other (this ranks quite high on the Easier Said Than Done list for bipolar peeps, I must truthfully confess, however). 

My brain also just naturally has this habit of seeking all kinds of truths and poking at them to see which apply here and which apply there. I also try not to fall into confirmation bias traps and single view perspective traps. [people who are bored and/or have too much time on their hands and have read through my other blogs will know that, despite being a true blue atheist (or non-theist, if you will), I also wrote about the possible positive efficacy of prayer

Anyway, almost no sooner than I finished writing the previous post pouring cold water all over "quick fixes" than my mind started throwing up all kinds of reasons in favour of quick fixes. From past experience (lots of past experiences (many of them the aforementioned crazy making experiences)), I knew that these opposing thoughts would haunt me unless I worked them through and wrote them out for all to see (or at least those readers who trudge through all of this stuff of mine). 

Now everything I outlined in that previous post is absolutely true (or at least not absolutely false) but it's also true that there are other perspectives on the whole notion and approach of "quick (or easy) fixes". 

So in the interest of presenting alternate perspectives and truths (and easing my nagging conscience), here we go. This is rather neatly illustrated by this great image:



For the fun of it we'll say that the previous post was the warm orange square perspective (or is that a rectangle?) and this post will look at the soft blue circle perspective (and no, I'm not trying to mess with you psychologically by choosing them that way). 

Now I firmly, firmly believe in the science of my approaches to better mental health and a more stable mind (AKA: my Positive Difference Making Fundamentals which truly are very well backed by and grounded in solid science of numerous and varied approaches; I would genuinely not have used them nor advocated them if they weren't). But the truth is that they are all a) quite time consuming to properly practice and b) quite difficult to practice properly and effectively on one's own without a lot of support. Real brain changes are like that - hard work and lots of time with lots of support (from therapists or family or friends making sure you stay on track with them). 

And something that's haunted me (that word again) from the very beginning about all my approaches is the realization that not everyone is going to have the time and mental space to devote to working on their brain, mind and habits like I do, let alone the important understanding support of family and friends. For another truth is that, due to my condition being as chronic and as serious as it is, I became disabled, qualified for a pension and am now unemployed (and unemployable) for a great number of reasons associated with having and dealing with all the conditions I have. I make getting better and improving how my brain works a full time job. 

So what about the person who doesn't have that kind of time? What about the person who doesn't have that kind of dedication and devotion? The mega stressed university student balancing a job and school workload? What about the person who balances work, kids, family obligations and the like who's already stretched to the limit? (To name just two of dozens and dozens of possible examples)

They may simply not have time for all my stuff (as effective as it may well be in the long run). They may not be able to - for wide host of reasons - be able to make the critical lifestyle changes that I have been able to make. They have all this shit going on - maybe a dozen spinning plates up in the air - and they just need some damned thing to work and work fast. 

They need "magic bullets" and something they can just quickly take or do that will help straighten things out and let them cope with their lives in whatever way possible. 

And the truth is that these "quick fixes" (generally some sort of pharmaceutical drug) will work, at least for the short term. There is a good deal of literature showing the short term efficacy of pharmaceutical treatments (along with considerable anecdotal evidence). The truth is that all kinds of things may work. 

For here are a few more truths about severe episodes of depression, bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia - throughout history many of these cases just passed naturally. Things would be horribly horrible for a period of time and then somehow the ship would be righted, they'd return to normal (such as that may be) and that would be the end of it. Pulitzer Prize winning science writer Robert Whitaker explores all this and gives some interesting statistics and case studies in his fascinating and eye opening book Anatomy of an Epidemic, in which he very thoroughly explores the history of psychiatric illnesses and the pharmaceutical/psychiatric approach to their treatments. 

What this means is that it's entirely possible that whatever treatment one takes has no real bearing or effect at all and the condition just passes naturally as they often used to. But what happens is that the treatment - whatever it may be - helps a person cope with the short term crisis (of a few months to possibly a few years) until their brains sort everything out, right the ship, the crisis passes and on their lives go.

Another thing to consider is that if studies show that a given treatment is only equally as effective as a placebo or dummy treatment (and the ratio often seems to be in the fifty/fifty range), what about those that showed positive effects? If people report feeling better, what's going on there? 

We actually don't know what's going on when people report feeling better. Was it placebo? Was the drug treatment actually "fixing" something? (highly unlikely not, but I'll outline that another time). We actually don't know why a lot of treatments seem to work, only that there is an observable and reportable improvement of conditions. 

And does it really matter how it "works"? 

Here's one of the great truths about people - they don't actually give a shit how it works. They don't give a shit if it really works. People by and large don't give a shit about the science behind it or science at all. People just want one thing - to feel better and cope with or get on with their lives. People could not care less if it's an illusion, a trick of the light, a sham or whatever. They care about feeling better and carrying on with their lives in some sort of improved fashion and that's it. 

For here's another truth - and perhaps the biggest Grand Poobah truth - about the human brain: it is very, very possible that whatever it deeply believes in may well "work". 

There are actually some very interesting studies and data about this; whatever treatment you believe in has the greatest chance of working. 

What this means (apparently) is that if you believe in drug therapy, that may well work best for you. 

If you believe in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, that may well work best for you. 

If you believe in herbal remedies (and St John's Wort was very popular for some time), that may well work best for you. 

I know practitioners of hypnosis who report excellent results (however problematic self-reporting on such outcomes may be) and the truth is that many people do believe in hypnosis and for them maybe that is the best way to go. 

There are people who believe in astrology and tea leaf readings and all kinds of other similar ways for "understanding" their lives and minds. For them, perhaps those things may work and help them straighten out their mind and lives. 

In truth, you could go around the world and find that all kinds of strange and wacky "treatments" may "work" or - and perhaps just as importantly - appear to work. 

I have many Filipino friends and one evening they told me all kinds of stories about what they colloquially referred to as "Dr Quack-Quack" (yes, they were serious). These are local "doctors" that amount to something like shamans. If western medical doctors couldn't fix something, they'd bring in a Dr Quack-Quack. Incantations and perhaps some herbal concoctions would be applied and boom, the condition would disappear. Weird psychotic behaviour, physical ailments, all kinds of things, you name it; it worked for them and they couldn't care less if we westerners laugh and scoff at it. They believed it, they experienced a relief of or disappearance of their symptoms and that was all they cared about. And you could go find similar traditional medicine people in different cultures around the world whose methods may work for those who were raised and conditioned to believe in them.

People have turned to religion (or discovered it) and had severe episodes of psychiatric disorders turn around and just fade from memory. Some people just got into different environments, got better more satisfying jobs and things all turned around and the disorder faded into the past (again, Whitaker details some fascinating case studies on this). 

For perhaps one of the biggest truths about the brain is the incredibly powerful effects belief will have on it one way or the other (placebo for positive, nocebo for negative - the neuroscientist Mario Beuregard's book Brain Wars is an excellent place to start in understanding these mind phenomenon). Belief can change our biology and neurology and physiology. This has been tremendously well studied and documented for many, many years (though no one in the psychiatric or psychology professions who deal with mood, emotional or psychiatric disorders wants to talk about this). So if whatever "fix" you believe in works, if that's what you deeply believe in (for whatever reason), that could well have the best chance of working for you. Belief can turn all kinds of things around in the brain.

So back to "quick fixes", many - if not most - people could give two figs how or why they work. They just want to feel that they work. If they are lucky enough not to be affected by the side effects (quite possible with most anti-depressants, something unlikely to be escaped with anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers), then who cares? Who am I - or anyone - to throw cold water on that? If it works for them, then all the power to them. They have busy chaotic lives and if a pill or pills helps them manage and get through life, that's all that basically counts. There are no bonus points for how we get through life, only that we do get through life. 

So yes, for a certain percentage of people (and what that percentage is is rather fuzzy but it is not inconsiderable, it seems) "quick fixes" could appear to work. And for how the human brain works, appearing to work may be all that matters, may be all that makes the critical difference. How and why they appear to work really and truly doesn't matter. People are busy, frazzled and experience periods of great distress or depression or anxiety or perhaps psychosis and if pills or a ECT or some other kind of quick fix treatment seems to work for them, it doesn't matter what competing sciences (nor I) say about that. 

For my part, I (sort of) don't care either. If someone I care about feels better taking medications, I'm going to support that. My positions on medications and the psychiatric and pharmaceutical industries become irrelevant; what matters is that they feel better and can cope. 

If this all seems rather odd and confusing, it is. But welcome to the world of the brain and of all the weird and wacky things that can go wrong in there, why it can go wrong and what may or may not get it back on track. 

I maintain that we have to work on certain core issues and work to attain and maintain better brain and body health to truly have a chance at and enjoy optimal mental health and sense of well being (relative to each individual's circumstances). But it is undeniable that what may appear to be "quick fixes" can indeed help a good percentage of people. 

I am more than extremely familiar with going through a life crisis and having everything fall apart around me while my mind was simultaneously falling apart and experiencing the ensuing horrendous mental madness. I am, therefore, extremely empathetic to what people go through during life and mental health crises. I deeply understand that people just need to get help in whatever form and get through that crisis and survive (IE: not lose their lives to suicide or descend into a life of homelessness and substance abuse). I deeply understand that people need to do whatever they can to get on with their lives and cope. 

And the ultimate truth (regarding mental health and life) is that that is the bottom line. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Deconstructing "Quick Fixes" for Psychiatric and Mood Disorders



I don't mean to be a wet blanket. I don't like to be a wet blanket. But I have to be. 

I've suffered from "mood disorders" all my life. In my case, bipolar disorder and bipolar depression with some good ol' unipolar major depressive episodes thrown in for good measure (along with Borderline Personality Disorder, at times major anxiety disorder (according to DSM clinical criteria, which isn't the best source for diagnosing anything but for whatever it's worth I did meet all diagnostic criteria), schizophrenic like psychosis and some other fun stuff). And I can tell you unequivocally that depression "sucks". No, I don't mean the popular slang use of the term "it/that sucks", I mean it literally sucks the very life out of you. It sucks all the light out of you. It sucks all the hope out of you. It sucks any sense of pleasure out of you. It sucks happiness out of you. It sucks your very soul out of you (readers and fans of the Harry Potter series will recognize the results and symptoms of a Dementor's Kiss, a fate in that series considered worse than death). 

But what I found even worse than all that in all my years of dealing with all my various "mood disorders" (a useless and understated euphemism if I ever saw one) was getting built up and run around by false hopes; the false hopes of promises of "cures" and "treatments". 

After a number of years of getting jerked around by psychiatrists and merry-go-round, roulette wheel, blind shots in the dark, yo-yo pharmaceutical "treatments", a couple of years ago I got really pissed off (a massive understatement but we don't need to go there) and I thought "fuck this, I'll learn what's going on myself and figure it all out from there". And so I took up neuroscience and in a massive manic rush (which I briefly touched on in The Mother of All Manic Depressive Cycles) I dug into every treatment there was and everything to do with the brain, what goes on in there and what may be involved in psychiatric (bipolar, schizophrenia) and mood disorders (depressions of various kinds, anxiety disorders, etc). 

And to sum it all up extremely briefly, I just realized that a) there are an enormous amount of factors flung all over the brain involved in any disorder, b) almost invariably there will be numerous complicated chronic or acute external factors such as socioeconomic conditions, family, work or social circle dynamics, etc and c) there is absolutely no way any "quick fix"  treatment could possibly or realistically untangle all that, be it drugs, electroconvulsive therapy (a "lite" version of the barbaric old electro shock therapy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fame, but essentially the same thing) and the relatively new kids on the block, transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy and deep brain stimulation therapy. There's just no way, I could easily see, that these relatively simplistic "treatments" are going to untangle everything that's going on in any given patient's brain and body and external life factors that are giving rise to the condition they are suffering from. 

So it came as no surprise to me today see the headline Much-touted Deep-Brain-Stimulation Treatment for Depression Fails Another Trial in Scientific American's online edition. As has been the case with all so called "treatments", it failed to outperform a placebo in double blind studies. 


A team led by Darin Dougherty of Massachusetts General Hospital tested 30 subjects with treatment-resistant depression. Half of the patients received DBS, and half received a “sham” treatment. Last December, the team reported in Biological Psychiatry finding “no significant difference in response rates” between the treated and untreated subjects.
“The bottom line is that we can’t separate out active treatment from placebo,” Dougherty, the trial leader, told Neurology Today. “Whether that is a dulled active or an overactive placebo, or a combination, it’s bad news.” He added: “Given the investments in these pivotal trials, the manufacturers would have to have some awfully compelling reason” to continue sponsoring research.

Which may appear rather depressing (yes, just sorting through all the so-called treatments for depression and the seeming hopelessness of it all can itself be depressing) but I don't think so. We can't find what will work, my thinking goes, if we don't eliminate what doesn't work. Plus, there's nothing worse, in my opinion, than being jerked around and our hopes falsely built up by "treatments" that don't actually treat anything. 

But let's dig a little deeper to understand why treatments such as these and pharmaceutical drugs don't work either long term nor can outperform placebos (I really must get to soon a post dedicated to understanding the extremely powerful placebo and nocebo phenomenon in the brain). 

My whole education in neuroscience came as a result of simply asking the question "why?". I asked and searched for the answers to that one word question literally hundreds of times (and I've yet to stop. I'll never stop until I find satisfactory answers ... should keep me busy for a while). And I mean I ruthlessly searched. And I mean I ruthlessly culled out bullshit claims and science. I didn't just look at studies, I wanted to know who conducted them, who wrote them and why they wrote them. I wanted to know where their funding came from and why. I wanted to know how and why they selected their test subjects (massive errors, bad science and outright corruption takes place in this one aspect of clinical trials alone). I cross checked and referenced everything I found (yes, this was a staggering amount of work, but hey, I was enormously motivated and very manic (at one point I went a mind blowing 864 hours straight with no sleep other than occasional cat naps - I kid you not)). 

So let's take just one disorder - depression - and have a brief look at what's going on there. All or some of the following will be involved in any one case. Today this is just off the top of my head (sorry, I'm not in my monster mood of writing a huge scholarly piece but I will get to all of this in more detail with proper citations, etc at some point soon. I did have some of this in a post, but I took that post down in a fit of fury last winter and now I can't find it). 

As follows, we have (not necessarily in this order):

The Limbic Region

This is the main (though not only) emotional processing center of the brain. Here we'll find the amygdala and the hippocampus duo (one of each in each hemisphere). The amygdala is responsible for both "tasting" incoming sensory information (via all five senses) for emotional content and assigning emotional content (fear, for example if the sensory data happens to be visual input of a tiger about to jump on you and eat you). The hippocampus is a sort of a "filing lady" that files stuff away in your short and long term memory areas (flung all over the brain). Many, many studies will show that just these two nodules alone will determine to a great degree how you experience your environment and react to it. 

There are massive communication trunks tying these two regions to other parts of the limbic region (thalamus, hippothalamus, etc) and how these communication trunks are formed are going to affect how one experiences and processes sensory data and reacts to it. There are massive (in relative size to the brain) communication trunks tying these nodules to other important areas of the brain, such as our vaunted human frontal lobes. How these are formed, how thick they are and so on are going to affect how one experiences and processes sensory data (the world around us, in short) and their reactions. 

And if you are experiencing chronic depression, anxiety, overwhelm and so on, I would bet the farm that key parts of this major brain region are formed in important ways differently than that of people who don't so suffer, not to mention the aforementioned communication trunks. There is now tremendous amounts of evidence for this. 

There is a good amount of evidence (which I'll get to presenting when I get to all of this in more detail) that the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus may be heavily involved. This is a brain region that is between the limbic region and our neocortex (and in evolutionary terms it would have evolved somewhere in between those two as well). Numerous thought processes are believed to arise here, including those associated with self-rumination, and new research is showing a heavy role in mediating attention and focus that could be disrupted during depressive phases or episodes. This includes evidence that both glia cell density and neuronal size may be reduced in major depressive disorder.

Speaking of self-rumination, all kinds of distorted thoughts are going to be involved with any case of depression, many of them negative, self-ruminating, highly irrational, self-critical thoughts (AKA: "beating ourselves to a pulp" thoughts) and these are going to arise in, be consolidated by and routed to our consciousness (that weird, undefinable feature of the human brain where we experience what our brain produces) via all kinds of brain regions and wiring spread all over the brain and in turn our very thoughts are going to have incredible brain changing effects (hunting all this down and learning it all was quite exciting and fun, I can tell you, all serious implications of it all aside). I'll be getting to the effects our own thoughts have on our very neurobiology and brain anatomy at some future point (I swear, I really will).

How all this is formed and works is, as I explained in Genetic and Environmental Factors in Brain Development, vastly complex and takes place over years from our very conception through to early adulthood. A tremendous amount of "who we are" is going to be determined during our "formative years" (yes, Virginia, the term "formative years" is not just an out of date expression, it actually does work a great deal that way). 

The Stress Response System:

For reasons that are entirely unclear to me, psychiatry, psychology and medical clinicians all almost completely overlook the stress response system and all its wild and wacky machinations and "downstream" effects on the mind and body biology in their "attempts" to treat psychiatric and mood disorders (and I do not use the word "attempt" at all flatteringly). The SRS will alter vast amounts of our neuorobiology, it will switch genes on and off, the stress hormone glucocorticoid will almost literally melt your brain down (it will cause neuronal death in the hippocampus as just one example) in chronic doses and all kinds of other fun stuff (top fifteen neuroscientist in the world Robert Sapolsky is my go-to source on most of the SRS and long term implications of its chronic over-activation). 

If you are suffering any mood or psychiatric disorder, I would bet the house that you are in some way (and there are numerous, numerous possible ways) living under or with all kinds of identifiable and unidentifiable stressors that are keeping your SRS locked on or in a constant state of "high alert". 

Phew, what else?

The Brain-Gut Axis

Only recently have researchers begun to start to unravel (and even discover in the first place) the importance of this axis and the role our intestinal tract has on our brains and brain functions. It turns out that the trillions of microbes that are in residence there and how they're balanced - or out of balance - can have enormous effects on our brain functions, cognitive abilities and - tra-la! - moods. 

And yes, Virginia, it really does matter what you eat (and not eat). For it also turns out that all the shit we shovel indiscriminately down our throats has a) a huge effect on our gut microbial ecosystem (yes, it is an ecosystem down there) and - AND - that this in turn can - pardon my French - fuck with our heads (I know, I know, I really am a wet blanket).  

Environmental Factors One:

This is very simple and straight forward and I'm not going to get into much detail because there is so much detail to get into. In our modern environment we are almost completely surrounded by toxic materials. A list of these and their ubiquitous presence all over most of our daily living environments alone would fill a large book. It wasn't long after I started looking into environmental toxins and their effects on the brain (and thus human behaviours, mental states, abilities and so on) that I had to stop because a) it was too overwhelming and b) it was too depressing. I simply concluded that to give myself the best shot at living/feeling better, I had to minimize environmental toxins as best I could (for one, see above about the shit we shovel down our throats indiscriminately). 

And that's all I could suggest for anyone.  

Environmental Factors Two:

By this environmental factor, I mean anyone and everyone you have to be in contact with and deal with on a regular basis in the real face to face world along with everything you take in via any and all media (hello, Facebook, TV, et al). 

Humans are highly social animals and social connections - or lack of them or quality of them - are going to have enormous and vast implications into how your particular brain works. 

And if you suffer from mood disorders, I can virtually one hundred percent guarantee you that you are a "highly sensitive" person. I do not in the least use the word "sensitive" to in any way implicate "weak" or "wimpy" or anything like that. What it means is that you not only taken in more sensory data from the world around you than the average person, but you process it much more intensely (see limbic region and stress response system above). 

What this means is that you have a high "emotional quotient" (not a term I'm particularly fond of, but for lack of a better one for now) and that people that aren't as "sensitive" have the EQ of a fence post (though I at times envy these emotional fence posts). It means that you see and experience far, far more of the world around you than the average person, plus you tend to feel the pain of all the world's injustices, PLUS you feel compelled to do something about all the pain and injustice and unfairness all around us PLUS you feel incredibly disempowered and/or inadequate to fight it all. This is also called our empathetic system, something which I briefly introduce and touch on in the post Bipolar in Focus - Empathy and Bipolar (which is actually more than just empathy in bipolar people). Talking about how our stress response system stays chronically activated, this is going to be a major factor as well.

I'd also bet dimes to donuts that you are experiencing intense feelings of isolation and that this factor alone could be deeply effecting your brain and how you experience the world (a vast topic I will cover in enormous detail at some point).  

In a future post I'll tie this into how our stress response system works and you'll easily see why many of us are in near constant states of overwhelm and meltdown. 

Also under this category are past environmental factors and by this I'm going to specifically mention childhood trauma. Evidence is pouring in from around the world for the enormous and vast effects on a person's brain (and thus mental functioning, emotional functioning and cognitive functioning and moral/reasoning abilities) child or early adulthood trauma will have. 

Lessee, what else? 

Oh yeah, as I outlined in a piece two years ago, how our memory functions and forms our inner world and perceptions of the world is going to have profound impacts on how we experience and react to the world, our mental models, our positive/negative perceptions and so on. How that works goes back to how our brains developed in the first place (see above link about Genetic and Environmental Factors in Brain Development). 

Phew, there's more but that's just roughly off the top of my head for now. 

Now all of this can change but that is through a process called neuroplasticity which is how the brain repairs itself when severely damaged (following a stroke, for example) or rearranges itself for more optimal and efficient functioning in response to a major change in our body or body structure (the loss of a limb, for example) or the loss of a sensory function (sight, for example). 

It changes synaptic connections, it changes brain regions, it can change enormous amounts and areas of how our brains (and thus us) work. 

But it is a very, very complex (and still somewhat mysterious) process. What is known is that be taught or learn a new habit or mental process and the brain will change itself in response to that. Give the brain a certain stimulation (musical training or intense music listening, for example) and it'll respond and rearrange itself in response to that. Give the brain a new task (a new dance step, for example) and it'll respond and rearrange itself to that. 

But whatever the new task, it has to be repeated regularly (like any training, like building a muscle). 


And when you understand all that is involved in any given mood or psychiatric disorder (and what I've mentioned here is breathtakingly brief), you cannot help but wonder (excuse my French again) how in the fuck simplistic quick fix "treatments" are a) going to target everything in the brain and body that may be going on and b) reverse what's going on. 

If this all sounds rather depressing and hope deflating, please, don't let it be. For I see all kinds of promising approaches to dealing with all of our messed up brain circuitry. 

I know I keep pimping my Positive Difference Making Fundamentals, but they really are solid and well founded fundamentals for changing how our brains (and thus us) work. And they're not "mine" at all, they are merely what I discovered when I went looking for answers as to what to do about our wacky brains and minds and mental states and moods. But there's more, much more, in terms of therapies and therapeutic approaches which I hope to start compiling and getting to at some point soon. 

In the meanwhile, I only ask you to approach with some healthy skepticism any "treatment" that promises a quick and easy fix to your depression. The world is full, I'm afraid, of charlatans trying to cash in on your misery (and mine). The professional ranks are, quite frankly, full of them. I suffered at their hands for years and so have many, many others (and yes, I am aware that there are those who believe professional psychiatry and pharmaceutical treatments have helped them or have helped hold them together). 

But since learning all I have about the brain, behaviours and what goes wrong and why in various disorders, I can vouch, with almost one hundred percent certainty, that if one doesn't on some level work on life issues, emotional issues, environmental issues and so on, no psychiatric or mood disorder is ever going to leave us alone. I'm not implying that we can make them completely go away either, but we can certainly learn to optimize our lives regardless (and I have, aside from myself, seen countless case stories of this happening, something else I hope to get to soon).