Thursday, February 25, 2016

Neurochemical in Focus - Dopamine




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) Contrary to the belief of some (or many, who knows), I do not randomly make this up. I have very solid and world renowned go-to sources for everything I write, and I am merely taking their findings and reporting it to you, the reader, often in very similar ways to how they explain their experiments and findings. 

(2) In a future more academic version of the posts of this blog, I will include many more source citations for segments like this. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Positive Difference Making Fundamentals in Focus - Habit Change




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!







Friday, February 12, 2016

Endorsements from Professional Associates and Readers





The world of mental health, both clinical diagnosis and treatment, is bewildering at best. Complicating the picture further are the stereotypes imposed on those who most need support from their families and communities. While well meaning community leaders, scientists and mental health practitioners can press forward with changing the quality of lives for those challenged by the extremes of mental experiences, it takes the honesty, bravery and intellect of someone like Brad Esau to bridge the gap for those in need of understanding and guidance. Brad isn't a trained scientist or clinician. Brad is a compassionate and intelligent individual who can speak directly to the experiences of some diagnosed with a mental illness. Whatever your diagnosis or lack thereof, there's something about the raw honesty and well thought out advice in Brad's conversations that will help raise the quality of your life. I recommend that you add Brad's work to your reading regimen.



Jeffery Mercer,
Clinical Psychologist



I came across Brad and his blog about two years ago (fall of 2013) and have known him and followed his blog since then. From the enormous creativeness of the blog's name to the meticulous and well worded prose translated from very difficult science content, there is nothing not to love about Brad Esau's blog, Taming the Polar Bears.

Working with neuroscientists on a daily basis, I've been taught to distinguish the real from the fake and to appreciate the enormous abilities it requires to sort through the paths of the mind as well as searching for the truths that explain many of our lives. 

Brad explores bipolar and other mental health disorders with a rarely seen authenticity of mind, spirit and scientific integrity. In my opinion, his material is worth archiving and you can't get any better than that.

Christy Johnson, Business Manager, Society for Mind and Brain Sciences





Brad Esau is one of the most remarkable persons in the neuroscience scene dealing with mental health disorders. It's his personal perspective and experience, powered by a tremendous amount of neuroscience knowledge, that invite the reader to walk in his shoes and to better understand what so-called mental health disorders are and what they mean.

It's not primarily a scientific interest to understand the matter. Brad's "Taming The Polar Bears" is first and foremost written based on the burning desire to understand what's going on in his brain and to develop and share principles and models how to live with those mental health disorders.

Brad's unique perspective of neuroscience, knowledge, experience and expertise, and his wisdom from walking the path - leveraged by his passion for writing - make a huge difference and create a very specific value for the readers of Taming The Polar Bears."



From my first interactions with Brad in early 2013, I could sense his passion for neuroscience.  Over the last several years I have seen him take that passion and blend it with an unmatched discipline to delve deep into the world of understanding the brain, its functions and human behaviour.  Brad leverages his own personal history of bipolar disorder as a resource as he takes readers on a first person tour of the working of the mind on his blog Taming the Polar Bears.  He has done years of meticulous research into the disorder and other aspects of neuroscience through a combination of reading research articles and daily conversations with the leading minds in the field.  I continue to be impressed with his insights and daily diligence and look forward to his continued contributions to the field.


Mani Saint-Victor, M.D.



I heartily recommend Brad Esau's wonderful and courageous blog full of wisdom, insight, compassion, and brilliance. We all struggle with something or another in our lives. Brad lays bare his own journey so that we can learn and grow alongside him. I am moved to the very core of my being by Brad's courage and generosity. 



One of the things that impresses me most about Brad is the inexhaustible personal integrity he brings to his struggles and his efforts to understand them as fully and deeply as possible. Brad plumbs the depths of neuroscience literature, consults experts, and subjects conventional pharmacological treatment approaches and his own thought processes to equally fierce scrutiny. He is unflinching in his honesty, unflagging in his persistence, and deeply committed to sharing his hard won understanding of the complex, interconnected biological and psychological processes that drive bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and mitochondrial disease. 

Rebecca McMillan

Founder, The Brain Cafe

Senior Editor | The Creativity Post

Founder & Ambassador, GHF Online


It's difficult to translate the complexities of the brain to layman's language so I read how different people do it and get ideas on how to frame things in the classroom to make it understandable. Yours (Brad's) is a good approach. So many people - smart people like yourself - are brought into the neurosciences because they wrestle with depression or something that affects them and I pay attention to their interpretation because they are motivated from the heart instead of some obscure, even academic interest. You are closely linked to understanding neuroscience and your passion shows. I encourage you to continue on your path and share your thoughts with the world.

Gerald Paul Kozlowski, Ph.D., BCN                                             
Board Certified Senior Fellow in Neurofeedback
Department of Clinical Psychology, Saybrook University

 
Brad Esau and Taming the Polar Bears

I have been a reader of Brad Esau’s essays in Taming the Polar Bears since he began the project. I myself am trained communication scholar with a Ph.D. Though while not a psychologist, I feel very capable of evaluating Brad’s work. In reading his work I have learned a great deal about the brain, human behaviour and mental health and have constantly been impressed with the thoroughness of his scholarship and growing expertise in the subjects he tackles. While Brad certainly has his own standpoints, he is also careful to take into consideration other evidence and present balanced views. I can recommend Brad's “Taming the Polar Bears” approach to anyone wanting a better understanding of mental health issues and how to deal with them.

Jim Parker, Ph.D



Brad Esau generously shares his knowledge, experiences, and wide-ranging research with the world at large both through his excellent blog and and also through his presence at the Google+ network, which is where we first connected years ago. Thanks to all that Brad shares online, I am able to reshare what he has learned with my students, helping them to better understand their brains, their emotions, and the ups and downs of their complicated and often stressful lives. And it's not only Brad who has been helping: his intrepid cat, Mrs. Bean, is well known to my students too! I've made memes with Brad's gorgeous photographs of Mrs.-Bean-in-the-wild that encourage my students to practice mindfulness, fearlessness, and empathy. My online classes have benefited from Brad's contributions, directly and indirectly, in so many ways, and I am deeply grateful.

  • Laura Gibbs, Ph.D., Online Instructor, University of Oklahoma

Your posts are excellent, informative, well written and honed to your audience.

Jon Lieff, M.D. Yale, Harvard, author of top ranked neuroscience blog, Searching for the Mind

 
TAMING THE POLAR BEARS by Brad Esau is a great mental health education blog.

This post gives an outstanding introduction to brain science, Brad! It's a great piece of writing for an intelligent general audience, and it is directly relevant to people's lives. The figures are very cool and exactly the right ones.

I've written two college textbooks on cognitive neuroscience with Nicole Gage, and we constantly try to bridge the gap that you are navigating so well.

It takes a lot of work and talent, and I appreciate your ability to reach out with it.

--- Bernard J Baars, PhD
Affiliate Fellow
The Neurosciences Institute
La Jolla, CA

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The War Over our Minds and We the Victims




This morning I came across a piece from The Guardian titled Psychiatrists Under Fire in Mental Health Battle (more on the wording of this title to come). Tomorrow - Monday, February the 8th - the British Psychological Society's division of clinical psychology will release a statement declaring that "given the lack of evidence, it is time for a "paradigm shift" in how the issues of mental health are understood."

The piece goes on to add, "The statement effectively casts doubt on psychiatry's predominantly biomedical model of mental distress – the idea that people are suffering from illnesses that are treatable by doctors using drugs. The DCP said its decision to speak out "reflects fundamental concerns about the development, personal impact and core assumptions of the (diagnosis) systems", used by psychiatry". 


And furthermore that "There is no scientific evidence that psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are valid or useful."

This is actually nothing new and is all very consistent with the general positions of psychology that I came across three years ago in my big quest to understand why thirty months under psychiatric care failed me so badly and failed tens of thousands of others so badly.

We'll return to this later.



When I'm not studying or writing about disorders such as bipolar or depression or schizophrenia, I greatly enjoy just studying neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and human behaviour in general. 

I am especially fond of studying the human brain through its evolutionary past and its great similarities to animal brains. It has been established beyond a doubt that the human brain evolved from earlier primate brains (the division began to take place, I believe, some 200,000 years ago) and there remains many essentially identical anatomical structures to that of most higher mammals. 

There are of course some very key differences, mostly in the ability to learn, languages, higher executive functions, more sophisticated theory of mind and so on (to get into the details would be much more than we have time for today), but at our core, we are the same. And research shows that far more signalling traffic travels from the core up to the higher executive functions than the other way around. In other words, the core has more say in our behaviour than our higher executive functions. In times of frustration with and despair for humanity and what we do to each other, I have declared that humans are nothing more than more sophisticated baboons (and for the most part, I still hold fast to that position). 

And if you overlap the various fields of behavioural sciences, you will find remarkable similarities between human behaviour and animal behaviour. And deep in our animal past and throughout human evolutionary history to this day (both in the physical and cultural senses) you will find tribal behaviours, IE: tribalism. 

Tribalism can briefly be defined for our purposes here today as "the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes" or "the behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one's own tribe or social group". 

And indeed if we were to take a look at how humans mostly default to organizing themselves, we would see for the most part deeply divided groups or tribes. I was going to list some examples, but the mind reels at the sheer number of them. You see it in politics, sports, nationalism, gender wars, between and within all scientific fields, in virtually every job place, in regions (and even a general list could go on and on). 

So when I started my investigation into anything and everything to do with mental health three years ago, looking at every side and aspect I could, the war between the tribes of psychology and psychiatry became blazingly clear to me. These are two sides - and we're talking at the top levels here, not necessarily at the "front lines" level - have virtually no common ground whatsoever. 
At the time I was very angry with psychiatry (for reasons we needn't get into here but which I very briefly outline in the essays Psychiatry - The Emperor with No Clothes and The Myths of the Benefits of Psychiatric Drugs) so I found myself siding with positions that were against psychiatry (and those remain very well founded reasons).

In his ground breaking book Anatomy of an Epidemic, noted and Pulitzer Prize nominated science writer 
Robert Whitaker recounts the histories of psychology and psychiatry and showed how while they at one time were more similarly trained. However, as "medical treatments" began to be discovered in the 50's that appeared to be effective in treating hardcore cases of schizophrenia and depression (those who'd become disabled enough by their disorders to end up in institutions), the great divide began. As psychiatrists were trained to be closer to medical doctors and were thus able to legally prescribe drugs, their alliance with the pharmaceutical industry began to grow, the list of disorders that would qualify for "medical treatment" began to grow (as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) and the rest, as they say, is history (and Whitaker's book is a very good read to get a better understanding of this history). 

Through the 60's and 70's as more drugs promising cures began to hit the market, people began to flood to psychiatrists and doctors to get medications which they were promised would cure their minds. No longer did one need to spend hours on the couch (and thousands of dollars to lie there) to get one's mind in order, a simple and fast prescription would do. Medical explanations for psychiatric or mood disorders that sounded extremely well founded began to hit popular media with impressive descriptions about synapses and neurochemicals and how mental health difficulties were caused by imbalances in these neurochemicals and how drugs corrected the balance of these. Balance your neurochemicals, balance your mind and get on with life. It all sounded so convincing and psychology was pushed more and more aside and were increasingly left out of the "mind biz" and even marginalized and dismissed as quacks depending on "pseudoscience" (which, to be frank, is not something I would argue against).

This outright dismissal of psychology would be a wake up call - and it was a necessary one - spurred general psychology into action and new fields within psychology delved more and more into neuroscience and its related fields to better understand the neurological basis for human behaviours, a process that roughly took place from the 90's on (though of course there were beginning roots preceding that time). Psychology began to fire back and question the scientific validity of the psychiatric and pharmacological approach to healing the human mind. 

It was the summaries of psychology's findings that I began to come across three years ago as I worked to understand why psychiatry and pharmacology was failing so badly. 

As I looked more and more into factors that would lead to mental health breakdowns, I found all kinds of psychological, societal, socio-economic factors involved (and have begun a series of essays outlining those which can be found in the Table of Contents and Reading Guide). 

Further in the press release reported in that Guardian piece, it goes on to say that "
there is now overwhelming evidence that people break down as a result of a complex mix of social and psychological circumstances – bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse". 

That is a rather simple and short list but a look into any mental  breakdown involving or stemming from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia to bipolar will indeed find those or other psychological factors running through every case. This has been the position this blog has taken since I began coming to similar conclusions in the summer of 2013. And this is what I found when I looked into why psychiatry and pharmacology were failing so many people - psychiatry inexcusably overlooks so many factors involved in human lives and reduced all their treatment protocol to merely prescribing often dangerous and addictive psycho-active drugs. 

So this newly stated position of the British Psychological Society (and the American Psycholigical Association's position is very similar) would appear to be very affirming of the Taming the Polar Bears position, right?

Well, wait, not so fast, for it is not so simple (nothing ever is, I'm afraid).

I spent a good deal of 2013 pounding away at psychiatry and the pharmacological approach (as evidenced from some of my posts of that period). As well, I spent the first half of that year vehemently denying mental illness, at one point even declaring the concept of mental illness a "myth". What I desperately wanted to believe, however, was that 
I wasn't "mentally ill". 

However, as I studied science, I had to adhere to the principles of science and make sure I did not succumb too much to confirmation bias and therefor I always tried to keep an open mind to opposing views and evidence and indeed I kept in my circles of sources members of what I'll refer to as "the other side". I read countless stories recounting the anguish of depression or bipolar and how drugs had helped them. This, I found, could not be ignored. Some of my best sources of science held to the position of pharmacological treatments and studies they cited could not be ignored, either. 

At the same time, the thing that I could least ignore was my own continuing breakdowns. 
Something was clearly going on to cause my own disordered mind (I think I have some very credible ideas which I am furiously trying to get outlined and written down). 

And what I especially could not ignore was that while various psychology societies and associations could convincingly launch well founded attacks on the validity of pharmacological psychiatry's approach to defining and treating mental health disorders, I couldn't help notice 
they didn't seem to be coming up with any kind of effective definitions, explanations and treatment protocols either

Looking long and carefully at all sides and angles involved in psychiatric and mood disorders led me to a conclusion and position that I have wished to write about for about two years now but until now couldn't quite find the right foundation and with tomorrow's pending announcement from the British Psychological Society, I think the time has come. 

For this, my dear Polar Bears readers, is the truth of what's going on in mental health - psychology and psychiatry are two polemically opposed tribes in a titanic battle over the same territory. 

And that territory, people, is our minds. And we, people, are the battlefield. And we, people, are the victims. 

In truth, neither of these two tribes really gives a shit about us. They're too locked onto their battles with the opposite side to even see us, let alone care about us. They are generals in ivory towers pushing pieces around on a board. They are two armies at war. And as in any war, there are victims on the ground that the generals cannot see. 

While I spend an enormous amount of time studying and researching and searching for clues and answers, I also have spent and continue to spend a good deal of time in "the trenches". I talk to people on the streets, I talk to others fighting disorders, I have talked to dozens of people in psychiatric hospitals and I have talked to dozens of people I have met through this blog.

And quite frankly, I don't see either psychology or psychiatry helping 
any of us as they war away in their baboon like territorial battle over our minds. The overwhelming evidence I found was that neither of them really seemed to understand what was going on and why or, worse yet, know what to do. 

And we the victims continue to suffer in ever increasing numbers. 

While to attack psychiatry and come out and boldly declare that "
current psychiatric diagnoses such as bipolar and schizophrenia are useless" seems reasonable from psychology's point of view, to do so without offering any kind of scientifically valid alternative is, well, not only utterly and absolutely useless itself, it's outright irresponsible and dangerous. 

For while these high and mighty generals ensconced safely away in their ivory towers can easily launch their verbal missiles at one another, without supplying effective alternatives to the "troops" on the ground (psychologists and psychiatrists) who are dealing with the mounting numbers of victims (us), they serve only themselves. 

And meanwhile the bodies literally continue to stack up (suicide numbers and tens of thousands of others who suffer mentally and end up dying of overdoses or slow deaths from substance abuse) and almost literal refugees who have nowhere to go (those of us who do not die, but who are also not able to effectively get back into society or those who must hide their conditions and suffer silently because they are too ashamed and confused to seek treatment). 

When I first began to break down in the summer of 2008 and began to think about seeking treatment, what I encountered most was complete and utter confusion and no clear path to finding understanding and treatment. Some people swore up and down about this, others swore up and down about that. So I did nothing until I completely broke down and was hospitalized in the summer of 2010.

And this confusion is what I see over and over and over again in countless cases while both psychology and psychiatry, in their blinkered war with each other, are blind to the confusion we must endure with many ultimately ending up dying as a consequence or at the least must continue with near unbearable suffering. Any objective and broad look at the current mental health situation would tell you this. 

So what do I think is the answer?

In truth, it is not conclusively known at this point what causes any disorder. While psychological factors are unquestionably important in 
triggering behavioural changes and symptoms, it would be entirely incorrect to say that they are the root cause either. Evidence is mounting for key yet complex anatomical differences in brain structures as being the underlying basis for most disorders. Neurobiological changes and physiological changes absolutely occur in the brain and the body in both long term and short term mental health cases from depression to bipolar to schizophrenia to anxiety to various compulsive disorders. 

So to take an entirely psychological approach is not correct either.

Furthermore, at this time, tens of millions of people depend on the current psychiatric definitions of disorders and pharmacological treatments, yours truly to an extent as well (while I do not rely on medications, understanding that I am bipolar absolutely helps me deal with how my mind works, enabling me to cope with it. As well, a medical designation is the basis for the pension I rely on, without which I would have absolutely no means of supporting myself. This is also the case for thousands of others like me). And while I remain opposed to the general position of psychiatry and its pharmalogical approach to treatment, t
o just suddenly declare the psychological position the "winner" and pull this rug out from underneath these millions of people without a vast new infrastructure to take its place would be utterly disastrous and unspeakably cruel.

So as of now, psychology can offer nothing concrete in ways of understanding and diagnosing disorders, let alone any kind of treatment and care infrastructure. 

Yet to only continue on the same path of the pure psychiatric course is clearly not working either. 

So what to do?

This is the approach I believe may be best. 

If you study drug treatment, it is undeniable that drugs will show short term improvement and stabilization for great numbers of people (though not all). While it is far from perfect, for many it is absolutely necessary. 

Where drug treatment demonstrably falls short or fails is in long term results.

So what if we were to look at psychiatry and psychology this way?

What if we were to think of psychiatry as the mental health equivalent of emergency rooms and short term hospitalization? Just as with a medical emergency, an acute mental health crisis case would go to the emergency room (the infrastructure for this is already in place) and drugs would be administered to stabilize the patient. Some short term hospitalization and further short term drug treatment may also be necessary. 

Then what if we were to think of psychology as the rehab part of the equation? Once the patients were stabilized, it would be up to psychology to understand and treat the root causes and put in place long term  mental "rehab" strategies along with helping to facilitate perhaps the long term lifestyle change or adaption strategies. 

And I have seen enough evidence to suggest that this is indeed the best long term course that produces the best long term results. 

What I strongly and passionately believe is that it's time for these two sides to put aside their baboon like territorial battle and begin to function more like the highly advanced humans we can potentially be and work in better harmony for us. 

For while there are a great number of reasons for our suffering, the absolute 
#1 reason I found in all my research is the confusion resulting from this inexcusable and, frankly, immature battle between the fields of psychology and psychiatry over our minds and mental health. 

In future pieces, I hope to outline clearer strategies for negotiating this mess and I will try to provide links to other sources that help with similar strategies. 

While I obviously strongly believe the understandings of the mind and that strategies for change I teach in 
Taming the Polar Bears can work for or greatly benefit anyone, it would be dishonest of me to believe or declare they were the only way. People are enormously varied and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other. What our core beliefs are will greatly affect what may work and how (something I briefly outlined in the essay In Praise of Quick Fixes).

At this point in time I don't think we can trust the institutions of psychiatry and psychology; they are just too far removed from us as people, as humans, as individuals. This is not to say all members of these societies (in the organizational sense of the word) are bad or that perhaps one could find someone from either profession who may provide some useful help, but the odds, I must frankly say, are against it.  

If you are reading here it is quite possible that you too are in some way a victim of this battle over our minds and the resultant confusion and lack of clarity over what to do. However, dear reader, it is possible for you to make it through, there 
are ways. 

It takes a lot of bravery and personal responsibility but I created this blog and contents to give you some guidance and something to work with. I'd wished to do more, but in the end it was all I could do. 



Thursday, February 4, 2016

Table of Contents and Reading Guide for Taming the Polar Bears





At some point it is my hope to port the Taming the Polar Bears content over to its own website where it can be organized more along the lines of the eventual ebook (which I know is beginning to sound like a mythical beast that will never appear) but there are a number of issues that stand in the way of that and for now and the foreseeable future, hosting it here on Blogger.com will be it.

One of the problems with blog templates like Blogger, however, is how it arranges posts chronologically and or along popular lines (like the "popular posts" feature you see at the right). It gives me no control over how I list the posts and how I could make posts more logical and easier to find. 

So for now I'm going to return to what I'd done before and that's create a "table of contents" and "reading guide" post. 



The sole (soul) reason I exist and write this blog


Part I 

The Neuroscience of "You"

 

When at the dawn of 2013 I started looking into better ways to understand mental health problems and disorders and why people have such problems overcoming their disorders and improving their lives and inner mental states, it became very clear to me that we needed a better understanding of how our brains work and why. 

It is my position that a better understanding of brain systems and how they create our behaviours, mental states and moods and reactions of all kinds can greatly help us understand our selves and our difficulties. More importantly, it can help us understand how to truly change how our brains work - and thus us. Even more than that, however, I learned that understanding how and why brains work the way they do and how they got to be to any one state can help us work past self-blame and towards self-compassion and understanding and acceptance of who we are - or of who others in our lives are. 

 

Chapter One - Neuroanatomy 101 



A brief and fun look into some of the basic brain anatomy and neurobiology that makes up an individual, all of which "sets the table" for later chapters to come. Since originally writing this in the fall of 2013, I've received a great deal of enthusiastic and sincere endorsements of from laypeople to those from the fields of psychology to neuroscience itself. 



Chapter Two - A Brief Look 

at the Evolutionary History of the Human Brain




For reasons I can't quite fathom, most professionals in the study of human behaviour somehow either overlook how the human brain evolved or inexplicably don't think it's important. This is a gross oversight in my view (and I am not alone in this view). At any rate, this chapter is a very brief look at the history of human brain evolution. Understanding our evolutionary past can also greatly aid in understanding modern human behaviours and what we'll call for now "brain difficulties". 



Chapter Three - An Introduction to Genetic and Environmental Factors in Individual Brain Development

 

We are to a large degree our brains. This chapter begins to look at some of the factors that are at play in developing a given brain or "you". While both genetics and environmental factors are important, of course, starting in this post I argue that it is environmental factors that either trigger genetic pronation towards a given disorder or psychiatric condition or alter the brain's development in such a way as to give rise to various mental health disorders. 

Furthermore, in a future post (or series of posts) I will argue that there may be absolutely nothing wrong with a particular person's brain but that the mental anguish and suffering may be on account of being stuck in an environment that is unsuitable to that person's core personality, character and emotional needs. 



Chapter Four - Brains as Reality Creators: An Introduction




Something that is very hard for people to wrap their heads around is the fact that our brains "create" what we experience as "reality". Which is not to say that the world around us is not real, only that our individual perceptions of it are not exactly or necessarily "real" and that much of what is in our heads is not "real". While this would appear to have nothing to do with mental health problems, in fact it lays at the very crux of most of them. Understanding the concept introduced here is very important for when we start looking at cognitive distortions, delusional thinking, hallucinations and other factors involved in any one case of a mental health disorder. 

It is also vital in working to understand that many people who society see as "mentally ill" merely perceive the world differently and it is the difficulties of being different that gives rise to the mental perturbations that become viewed as an "illness". 



Chapter Five - Zombie Programs: An introduction



"Zombie programs" is a term coined by the neuroscientist David Eagleman in his book Incognito which he uses to refer to the vast and enormous numbers of neuronal circuit programming that hums away below our conscious awareness controlling all of our physical movements, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, actions, decisions and so on. When I talk about our "subconscious" running our lives (as I do repeatedly throughout this blog), this is for the most part what I am referring to, not in the Freudian subconscious sense (which is what will generally spring to most people's minds when they hear the term subconscious). What we are experiencing consciously is but a very small fraction of what's going on beneath the surface of our minds. In this chapter I begin my argument that much of what goes wrong with those of us with various psychiatric disorders is our deep autonomous programming running faultily. 





Far and away the most important discovery of neuroscience in my view is the concept of "neuroplasticity", the brain's ability to reform connections and networks and even its neurobiology in response to internal to physical injury, to both internal and external events and mental and physical demands.

I said above that "we are our brains", and this is absolutely true. But it is also absolutely true that we don't have to be what our brains currently are (assuming we are suffering from some sort of neuropsychiatric disorder, mood disorder or emotional pain). It is all changeable, it can be trained to work differently. Change how your brain works, change how you work and experience life.  


Chapter Seven: An Introduction to Stress 

and the Stress Response System


A good deal of our behaviour and responses to life around us is originated in deep stimuli processing hardware located in the limbic region. Despite our higher evolutionary advancement, this area and its largely subconscious effects on our behaviour are gravely, in my view, overlooked. In this series we begin to look at what's involved, how it affects behaviours and drives many of our responses and emotions and most importantly, what we can do to change and improve it.

It is in this series that I will begin to establish how environmental stressors will shape and affect our brains and thus our minds, realities and our very lives. 





As part of one of the enormous complexities of the brain and all its myriad of functions, we have hundreds of trillions of synapses and at least a hundred neurochemicals that form the basis for tremendous amounts of critical brain functions. Here we begin to take a look at that through the dopamine reward system and the role this system plays in our behaviours and mental states.


Chapter Nine: Neurochemical in Focus - Serotonin 


 Serotonin is probably the darling neurochemical (or neurotransmitter) of the psychiatric world and pharmacological treatments and we are told a great narrative about its roles in depression among other DSM disorders. In this chapter we take a bit of a look at serotonin pathways and question this narrative. Along the way we learn more about brain functions at the synaptic level and the basic premise for how the very popular SSRI antidepressants work.




It is hard to understate the importance of sleep to both proper brain function and to stable emotional and mental health. Sleep disturbances can set off an enormous chain reaction of mood and cognitive difficulties and distress and greatly affect quality of life. This piece is borrowed from my other blog until I can rewrite a specific piece for Taming the Polar Bears.


 


Part II




 Taming the Polar Bears

Positive Difference Making Fundamentals



Everything I do and teach pertaining to better mental health is based on neuroplasticity and retraining our brains. These are the basic fundamentals that can help you or anyone do that. 




The original post needs some rewriting and brushing up again but it still stands up well as an introduction to the basic fundamentals to better mental health, resilience and improved mental outlooks and in the end, an improved life. 


Spirituality - Gratitude and Compassion 


Gratitude and compassion are two age old concepts and practices for taming our minds (or polar bears). I introduce and talk about them in this post. 





A shorter, snappier "to the point" post on self-compassion. 


Brad's Brain Training Games


One of the principles of neuroplasticity is to have regular ways to stimulate specific brain regions (and de-stimulate others). I devised my own approaches to working on better mental states, problem solving strategies, correcting negative self-talk and attitudes and so on. I introduce the principles of the approaches I developed in this post. 


An Introduction to Music Therapy


There is now an enormous amount of neuroscience and real world evidence for the benefits of music therapy on the brain. In this post we look at a bit of the neuroscience, what music therapy did for me and how you can begin to develop your own music therapy program.



A bit of a fun look at some of the aforementioned neuroscience of music and the brain



An all important difference making fundamental - creating better and healthier habits for both our physical and mental health. A primer into the neuroscience and difficulties of habit change, along with some very useful and well grounded tips for getting started. 


An Introduction to Meditation

People get turned off by the concept of meditation because of popular notions about it. Here I explain more the importance of it and introduce some very simple and doable starter steps that serve as a perfectly good foundation for most of us mental health peeps. 


An Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation CBT

Mindfulness Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be enormously beneficial but again, people get turned off because it's not properly explained or it seems overly complicated. Here I give a brief introductory look into how we can learn to practice it on our own. 




Belief is a tremendously powerful part of the human mind and it plays a huge role in what makes up our "reality" and conscious experience. It also determines our levels of optimism and pessimism and the roles those play in our life outlooks. 

Here we take a brief look at the evolutionary basis for belief and why we have the power of belief.





It is impossible to overstate the importance of living within each day on its own while leaving all the yesterdays behind and avoiding getting caught up in future days that have not yet happened. It is, of course, very hard for many of us. Here I outline why it's difficult, why it's vital for mental health and improved cognitive functioning and give some powerful tips on how to stay within the present day.



Taming the Polar Bears in Focus


As I try to point out and teach, there is no single human behavioural aspet or trait that is completely necessarily "good" or "bad" and so it is with empathy or empathetic feeling. As we first saw in the post On Empathy and Bipolar, there are a good number of people who struggle with the pains in the world through greatly taking on those pains - in other words, they are weighed down with over-active empathetic pain networks. In this post we look at both the negative aspects of empathy and ways to "tame" them. 



 

Part III

Building a Different 

Understanding of Bipolar Disorder

(other disorders to come)


It quickly became clear when I started my quest at the dawn of 2013 to attain a better understanding of my disorder that the psychiatric and pharmacological model of mental illnesses was vastly incomplete, overly simplistic, one sided if not flat out wrong. This position was reached not only from reading through enormous amounts of research conducted by researchers from the fields of psychology, neuro-pyschology and even from a great number of psychiatrists who'd become disillusioned with psychiatric treatments, but also from advanced studies of neuroscience and learning how brains create behaviours and responses to environmental conditions and are in fact greatly changed and shaped in response to environmental conditions. 

I then from my own experience with my disorder and reviewing hundreds of case studies began to build my own models for understanding mental health disorders. 

In this section, I begin to build a different understanding of what is referred to as bipolar disorder, what creates the symptoms and how to live with it. 







Part IV
Psychological Factors
in Psychiatric Disorders

The psychiatric and medical establishments miss vast areas of the psychological impacts of our disorders and how our minds are impacted by those. I attempt to address that in these (and more to come) posts and essays that don't fit the other categories. 










Essays on Mental Health Issues





Deconstructing Quick Fixes for Psychiatric and Mood Disorders


In Praise of Quick Fixes for Depression and Other Disorders


Mania and the Story of Icarus and Daedalus


Planes, Why, Black Swans and Mental Illness Stigma


The War Over Our Minds and We the Victims




On Psychiatry and
Pharmaceutical Drugs



Through a relatively brief period of personal experience (only thirty months along with two briefer periods in the summer of 2013 and the winter of that year) and through enormous amounts of extremely in depth research, I discovered that the psychiatric industry is wildly and tragically inept at understanding, diagnosing and treating any psychiatric disorder. Furthermore, that in alliance with the pharmaceutical industry much of what they do is designed - in a very literal, and very well documented sense - to create life long consumers for psycho-active or neurotropic drugs. 

I wrote at great length about this in a now abandoned manuscript back in 2013. I'd hoped to get to outlining more about the false claims put forward by these two groups (the American Psychiatric Association (and their counterparts throughout the Western world) and pharmaceutical industries) but it's an enormous task and I decided instead to focus on what I found instead to be going on in psychiatric disorders and positive ways and approaches to understanding them and working through and even past them. 

I did write briefly about both, however, and I'll include some useful links for further reading. 




The Myths of the Benefits of Psychiatric Drugs


Endorsements and Testimonials

A few samples of feedback I get from followers, readers, some of my neuroscience mentors, those who just come across certain posts, people I associate with, people who I am helping, etc. 


 



I am less than half way through writing all the material that will eventually go into the finished blog and e-book. Additional materials will be added regularly.

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. 

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