The God particle gets going

As of yesterday, the Large Hadron Collider is up again and running at CERN*, albeit at a more modest pace than originally planned. Quantum physics geeks have something to celebrate – the smashing of the subatomic particles is expected to yield further insights into the origins of the Universe.

CERN’s Director of Research Sergio Bertulocci said “This opens the door to a totally new era of discovery. It is a step into the unknown where we will find things we thought were there and perhaps things we didn’t know existed”.

*The European Centre for Nuclear Research


In the interests of distancing Chris and his parents from becoming permanent patients of the mental health industry, I am in discussions with Dr. Stern to reduce not only the medications but also the number of psychiatrists that Chris sees. Dr. Stern seems open to drop one of the two medications, and would also be willing to oversee the process herself, rather than have Chris continue with Dr. XXX for the med monitoring. This two doctor arrangement was suggested by the staff psychiatrist when Chris left the hospital last May so that Dr. Stern would be free to concentrate on the head shrinking.

All this sounds reasonable, to me at least. It remains to be seen whether Ian will buy it. Ian has fresh memories of Chris’s downward spiral when he was off the meds briefly and is in no mood to jeopardize his own ability to wake up every day and go to work.

Little Angels

Little Angels is a BBC reality program about parenting, where a psychologist is called in to help the parents learn some techniques to cope with an out-of-control child. Like many BBC shows (Life’s Laundry comes to mind), it pulls no punches. It is horribly painful to watch. You can only feel smug for so long that these parents are clueless before it begins to dawn on you that you have been there yourself in some way or other.

Single mothers and absent fathers abound on the show. This is Britain after all. However, it is not just limited to the usual suspects. Some of the parents are actually married!

I am not talking about little Peregrine having mere temper tantrums. I am talking about little Peregrine having major meltdowns, trashing the place, hitting his grandmother, kicking and biting and spitting, refusing to eat and tossing the plates on the floor. Little P. and Little Olivia run the show, they are monsters, but then it all begins to fit once the psychologist spends some time with the parents. Mother and father are ineffectual, to say the least, responding angrily when it is not called for, and failing to respond adequately when it is.

In other jurisdictions these tiny tykes run the risk of being put on antipsychotic medication, but thanks to the Mary Poppins swat team, instead, the parents are taught how to set limits, how to negotiate, etc.

That these children will grow up and develop psychosis, is anyone’s guess. Prison is always a possibility, as is also what used to be called juvenile delinquency. Or, these children may be perfectly fine, despite the rotten parenting. What I am convinced of is that a Mary Poppins psychologist to teach young families how to parent is state money well spent.

Rope climbing

Chris’s unwillingness to stretch himself may not be solely related to his taking low doses of meds, I am sad to report. I wish it were that simple. Time and experience has taught me that it is not.

It occurred to me after my long talk with Chris this evening, by which point I was becoming very discouraged by his lack of motivation, that he was also unwilling to stretch himself in the womb. You see, he arrived twenty-seven days overdue. He didn’t even poke around a lot while he was in there. You may ask in this day and age, how can that happen? How can it be that he wasn’t induced?

He wasn’t induced because I felt nature should take its course and my doctor was okay with that. I couldn’t imagine forcing a delivery if the baby wasn’t ready. We monitored the situation with weekly stress tests at the hospital involving orange juice. Finally, something started happening, and it was a good thing because my obstetrician was just about to drag me in to the hospital. The doctor didn’t take vacations as far as I knew (the Chinese tend to be workaholics), otherwise Chris would be a Sagittarian rather than a Capricorn.

Back to my point, which is actually on the topic of risk/reward. Chris is like a rat, who doesn’t see cheese as an incentive to climb a rope. He didn’t see it then, he doesn’t see it now. Somewhere in between he got it. No longer. Current medications are partially responsible, but not entirely.

This is why early on I tried to convince Dr. Stern to refer Chris for other kinds of therapy in conjunction with what she is giving him. Up until now it has been perceived as unhelpful, and maybe disloyal. I have had to deal with Ian, who is against bringing in other therapists in deference to Dr. Stern. I would like to bring in someone to do past life regression, hypnosis, anything that could shed some light on the fetal situation. Chris needs an emotional cracking open which may take reaching back into the pre-birth environment to bring about.

Risk/reward and dopamine

Here is an e-mail I sent recently to Chris’s psychiatrist, Dr. Stern. I based my concerns about the continued use of the meds on the dampening of dopamine levels to suppress anger and anxiety while simultaneously suppressing the risk/reward incentive.

Dear Dr. Stern,

The concerns I expressed about the medication suppressing the risk/reward incentive I think is very real. While Chris seems very stable in many ways, he lacks an enthusiasm and a willingness to stretch himself. I am puzzled why he is content to continue to audit one course at a time at university, rather than jump in for credit. Ian and I have not been pushing him in any way, just the opposite. We are letting things go along at the pace he wants to set. But, he is 26 now, and time is moving on. Leading a fuller life requires being willing to take some risks.

I don’t want Chris to become a perpetual patient and that is a risk that is very real the longer he continues with the medication. Already, because of the Serdolect (a drug I never wanted him to take), he has to check in with his family doctor to have ECGs. This is keeping him a patient by adding new medical visits to his schedule. In one week recently he had two appointments with you, one with Dr. XXX, and one with Dr. YYY for the ECG. I am all in favor of the work you are doing with him and twice a week is fine as long as you feel that greater progress is being made, but I am not at all in favor of adding medical complexity of more doctors and unnecessary medical tests.

Dr. XXX is connected with a program that I wanted to extract Chris from because the program failed to deal with the root cause of psychosis, offering instead a biochemical view of mental illness that didn’t help Chris for the two years that he was enrolled in the program. I feel that our wanting to meet with Dr. XXX and her chief threatens the program’s established view of mental illness as biochemical. This view is rapidly becoming out-of-date due to many recent published articles and books that question the efficacy of medications to treat mental illness and that look once again at mental illness as a logical reaction to pain.

I am sharing my concerns with you because I think you share to some degree the points I am raising. I do not have confidence that Dr. XXX and her boss feel to the extent you do that there is a time limit to medication. I hope they prove me wrong. I have been thinking, but have not mentioned to Ian, if we could eventually trade Dr. XXX for a private psychiatrist to monitor the meds (and work with you to reduce/eliminate them when the time comes). I know that you don’t want to be side-tracked by focusing on meds when you see Chris, and you like the idea of a second person to handle the meds. A private psychiatrist would be more open to working with the desires of the patient, instead of imposing the thinking of the institution on the patient. I have never met Dr. XXX, but know the program she is involved with.

These are my concerns which I thought I should share with you before we meet with Dr. XXX in the near future.

Best regards,

Rossa Forbes

Cheap, effective and long-lasting

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on new and different mental health therapies when there is one intervention that is guaranteed to work. This “secret” is not found in institutional programs nor is it promoted by mainstream mental health organizations, but it does work.

The institutional program that Chris was enrolled in for two years thought that as an institution it could replicate the secret, but it couldn’t. An institution cannot do this. It tried to integrate the young people back into the community by giving them a reason to wake up every day, to interact with people their own age, to not become marginalized and excluded. It encouraged the “patients” to express themselves through art therapy, role playing, music and group therapy. I’m not saying these aren’t worthy goals. It’s just that this focus misses the real problem.

What it failed to grasp is that the constructs surrounding the defense mechanism of the individual are the result of the individual interacting with the familial environment, not the result of a biological disease nor of the schools he went or friends he has known. He is the way he is because of who he is is in relation to us. Exploring the different therapies that I have written about on this blog has made me understand the importance of emotional vibration. Emotional vibration begins in the womb.

So, the secret is very simple. The family (mother, father, close relatives) needs to accept the person as he or she is, not exclude him or her, value the person, empathize, sympathize, understand their own involvement in why this has happened, take steps to change, and give it time.

People who are critical probably don’t belong in support groups

If I wanted to bowl I’d join a bowling league. If I wanted to golf, I might join a golf club and read Golf magazine. If I wanted to meet more people with my interests while developing and improving my skills I could do any number of things. One thing I am not inclined to do is to join a support group for family members of people who are labelled somewhere on the mental health spectrum.

I thought it was a good idea once. It is what people are supposed to do, isn’t it? You join these support groups and you learn to cope, hopefully you learn greater compassion for your relative, you meet other people in the same boat so you feel you are not alone.

I would not make a good support group member because I want my relative (a.k.a. my “son”) to relinquish his label, not to embrace it. I don’t want to perpetuate his problems, I want to help him get over them and get on with life. I’m willing to admit that I am part of his problems, and I’m working on that, too. My experience with attending what passed for a support group for families opened my eyes to the fact that support groups perpetuate illness, just like bowling groups perpetuate bowling. Except in the second case that’s a positive, and in the first case, it’s a negative. There used to be stigma surrounding mental illness. Stigma does serve one useful function and that is to make some patients and some families damn anxious to get rid of the problem. Acceptance of a condition that you believe is a biological illness doesn’t have this galvanizing effect.

One thing most support groups do is tell you that medication is important to your functioning. There has been a whole slew of articles recently that medication prolongues depression and turn something episodic into something chronic. See this one from Beyond Meds. Schizophrenia is no different.

Oh, how I suffered whilst faithfully attending the support group. Everybody in the group was suffering. The mothers were tearful, the fathers were stoic. Everybody was scared. If I felt depressed, how was my son supposed to feel hearing his particular condition discussed so gravely and clinically? What was probably a coming of age crisis for him was turning very rapidly into something chronic and maybe even contagious, judging by the fact the room was full. The support group included several psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, psychologists and art therapists in addition to the stricken family members.

This kind of support group perpetutates suffering and turns the sufferer into a chronic patient. I never learned from the support group that all I had to do was to believe my son was well, to take some personal responsibility for the crisis and time would take care of things. The doctors seemed to be the people taking personal responsibility for the outcomes. All questions were funnelled through them, and of course, they dispensed the medications. It was always about the meds, never about how Chris and I could improve on the mistakes of the past.

I might want to join a support group that took an entirely different approach (buck up, you’re fine, maybe you might want to consider exploring certain kinds of non-drug therapies, talk, really talk with each other) because the outcome would be to leave that episode in your life where it belongs – in the past.

Strange double standards

A top health website invited me to subscribe to other blog feeds on their site that share my interests. My interests are really only singular (schizophrenia) but I am willing to stretch myself so I included bipolar as a second interest.

The site then suggested some treatment options that might further interest me in both these categories.

Aside from a long list of nearly identical meds in each category, beginning with Abilify and ending with Zyprexa, the other “help” targeted to these pharmaceutically very similar conditions was interesting, or rather “telling.”

In the complementary/alternative medicine category, bipolars apparently benefit from crying, holistic health, marijuana, meditation, music, pets, running and yoga while their identical twin, the schizophrenic, can only take advantage of music and pets!

Under the treatment program category, bipolars may benefit from not only psychotherapy, but cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and group therapy, while their “twin” only is thought to benefit from mere psychotherapy.

Apparently this website doesn’t think that people with schizophrenia will benefit from diet and vitamin support, because they get zilch here, while their bipolar twin is thought to benefit from taking fish oil. Wow, fish oil!

Music and pets while ignoring everything else except drugs? Sounds like this website sees schizophrenia as hopeless and chronic.

Ego death

Strange, perplexing dreams last night. I started off in a swamp with other people, then moved further up the road to a very ordinary house, whose owners were allowing paid guests to view Christian themed tableaus acted out by their children. I didn’t stay long enough to watch. I moved on to another interior where the owner ran some sort of volunteer, not-for-profit, talent agency/character search. We watched three groups of aspiring young women from behind the glass walls of the office. The owner’s husband was hovering somewhere in the background, occasionally shouting out his approval of one character or another. I couldn’t understand why my old friend from college wasn’t considered worthy. The odd thing was, while I was dreaming, I felt that I had dreamed this dream before – the swamp sequence, the religious house, the talent agency.

In another dream later that night, I was driving my car along a frozen canal in a city where I used to live and the weight of the steamroller in front of me caused the ice to crack apart. I had enough warning and was determined to free myself from the seatbelt before my vehicle sank. I was floating above the vehicle at the time, looking down on it which gave me plenty of time to release the damn seatbelt before I landed safely on the embankment and the car sank below the ice. There was a press conference held on the embankment, but no one knew that someone (Me!) had survived the unfolding catastrophe on the canal.

I woke up, and lay there quietly. Then I heard a cat in heat, yeowling piteously like a new born baby crying in the night. I thought of Chris, and his first month of life, when my supply of milk was inadequate yet I was refusing to supplement. I was sure I could get it right and just needed a little more time. This logic was a reflection of the power of the “breast is best” thinking that was so widely promoted. It was almost considered poisoning your baby to think of introducing a Nestle’s product into its developing immune system. So, I struggled on and Chris continue to yowl and not gain weight at the required rate. When I finally added bottled milk into his diet, he fell silent, a look of beatific joy on his face.

Walking to work this morning, I reflected on the intense conversation Chris and I had the evening before where he told me that he has no idea who he is. He had also been thinking a lot about the number three that day and noticing how it tied into many coincidences that he encountered. He didn’t know what anything meant anymore, if it ever meant anything at all. I thought about my dream. It had three sequences (the swamp, the house and the talent agency). I recalled that I had “auditioned” once for the part of “receptionist” at the aptly named Three Characters Talent Agency and that there were three groups of people auditioning at my dream talent agency.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is holistic recovery from schizophrenia. I sometimes ask myself, even though it’s all very interesting, are we getting anywhere? Are we knowing ourselves more or are we deluding ourselves into becoming bystanders in the game of life? I like to think Chris and I are getting somewhere, and that what we are experiencing is true healing, even if it doesn’t come swiftly and has a habit of arriving disguised as something else.

“Shudder” Island

Saturday evening Ian and I saw Shutter Island, the new Martin Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a film noir, set in a fictitious asylum for the criminally insane in Boston Harbor, 1954. People may dismiss the film as giving psychiatry and the insane the “Hollywood” treatment, and there is always some truth to that when it comes to Hollywood, but I feel the film goes deeper and makes some interesting observations. The film is about trauma and doesn’t shy away from linking trauma to a later diagnosis of insanity.

So, Hollywood is there, but mainstream psychiatry continues to avoid linking trauma to insanity. It is nobody’s “fault” they say except your faulty brain chemisty. Pushing the diseased brain model of psychiatry for decades has prevented people en masse from regaining their health and well-being by confronting their deepest pain. If you believe that movies are the vanguard of social change, then be prepared for a sea change in treatments for mental health. It’s already evident in the number of books and articles taking the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession to task for mental illness disease-mongering and drug treatments that are not only ineffective, but also ensure life long patients.

I am looking forward to reading Robert Whitaker’s latest book, due to be released in April, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. Whitaker is the author of the highly acclaimed Mad in America.

A review of this book by Daniel Dorman, UCLA School of Medicine, posted on Amazon, exposes the growing link between recovery outcomes and long term use of drugs.

Why are so many more people disabled by mental illness than ever before? Why are those so diagnosed dying 10-25 years earlier than others? In Anatomy of an Epidemic investigative reporter Robert Whitaker cuts through flawed science, greed and outright lies to reveal that the drugs hailed as the cure for mental disorders instead worsen them over the long term. But Whitaker’s investigation also offers hope for the future: solid science backs nature’s way of healing our mental ills through time and human relationships.