Time to stop the bleeding

Children worry a lot, even if they don’t express it. They worry that their parents will die, they worry about problems that occur half a world away, not realizing that some of the problems are not a direct local threat. (“No, sweetie, we don’t get tsumanis here in central London.”) Is it good to be globally and politically aware? Yes. Is a certain level of insensitivity to life’s tragedies good for one’s health? Also yes. The constant barrage of inescapable doom and gloom frightens young children and continues to keep the more sensitive adults among us in a constant low level state of depression and fear.

It seems that everywhere we turn today, we are expected to care and weep for the world’s many victims of opression, injustice and the environment. Including animals.

The BBC announcer’s funereal tone of voice drifted over the radio waves early one morning last week. BBC announcers take the cake when it comes to “gravitas.”

“A Royal penguin found stranded on a New Zealand beach 2,000km (1,200 miles) from its Antarctic home has died.

Lisa Argilla, a vet at Wellington Zoo, said they suspected it had suffered multiple organ failure.

The bird, which was dehydrated and starving . . . . .

Enough! This is one bird thousands of miles away, not your dear grandmother, the gruesome details of whose death would not be shared with the grandchildren. Why is this one misbegotten bird considered international news? I call it news pollution. Its toxic effects are insinuated into the cellular energy of anyone within earshot, even half a world away.

Patience can be rewarding

I first got interested in the trauma theory of schizophrenia when I learned about neurologist Dr. Dietrich Klinghard’s pyramid of healing. Briefly stated, “schizophrenia” is located Level 4 of the pyramid, the level of intuition, dreams, trance, meditative states, out-of-body experiences, and the collective unconscious. Dr. Klinghart believes that healing that takes place at this level has a trickle down effect on the lower levels, where impaired physical health expresses itself.

If Dr. Klinghardt is on to something, then there is no pressing need right now for Chris to consult an immunologist about his immune system, as I wondered about in my last post. Since Chris has undergone several trauma clearing therapies and is boosting his immune system now with plant power (2nd level), a good strategy might be to continue to wait and hope for the trickle down health benefits. These surely don’t happen overnight. I have seen some small evidence that points to his immune system beginning to send the right signals to his body. This strategy also had the added allure of not bringing in medical doctors to to further complicate our lives.

So tired ………….zzz

Chris and I met with the plant power guy bright and early this morning for a check-up on our general level of health and energy. I’m well enough, as these things go, just a bit of cardiac trouble looming if I’m not mindful of his products, LOL. Chris, according to the PPG, has a barely registering immune response. Supposedly, it has improved only slightly since the last visit. I’m getting to the point of wanting a specialist, an immunologist, to run specific blood tests, now that we have more information pointing to a possible underlying condition that may have precipitated Chris’s psychosis.  But, I do wonder if it’s worth the bother. More doctors, for what? I haven’t heard of addressing symptoms of “schizophrenia” through treating the immune system. We’re not there yet. It’s still in the realm of promising areas of future scientific research. The other option is to just let the PPG do his thing (recommend special immunity boosting plant power) over the next few months and see what happens. It’s up to Chris to determine how he would prefer to handle it.

The scientifc method

I had lunch today with the scalar energy shaman. We discussed the frustrations that both of us are having with the plant power guy, namely, that he has no documented results of his testing, even though he uses credible scientific instruments and well-established muscle testing techniques. The plant power guy claims Chris has a deficient immune system, but he does not produce progressive reports based on evidence that shows whether the plant power that he prescribes to fix the problem is doing the job.

While lack of documented evidence is a common problem with alternative healers,  I feel that conventional psychiatry doesn’t do much better. We are asked to take a leap of faith based on one person’s best guess as to the diagnosis (symptoms), then we are asked to believe that the medication prescribed address the fictitious problem. “Fictitious,” because most antipsychotic medications are dopamine receptor antagonists, and there is growing scientific skepticism about the dopamine theory serving as all-encompassing explanation of certain kinds of mental illness.

Even though we know that it is often our belief system, rather than hard data, driving our choices, there is still a need for more documented evidence and greater disclosure in any path we choose to take.  Alternative healers, too, not just mainstream medicine, should be mindful of the scientific method.

Why “Brain on Fire” has important implications for the schizophrenias

Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan
review by Mehmet Oz, M.D.
“Engrossing. . . . Unquestionably, an important book on both a human and a medical level. Cahalan’s elegantly-written memoir of her dramatic descent into madness opens up discussion of the cutting-edge neuroscience behind a disease that may affect thousands of people around the world, and it offers powerful insight into the subjective workings of our minds.”

—Mehmet Oz, M.D., Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Surgery, New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center (Mehmet Oz, M.D. )  

From Psychiatric Times Cahalan interview

HF: Everyone who reads Brain on Fire is going to experience an exceedingly well-written piece of medical journalism that is only made better by your being the reporter and the subject. In addition to simply being on the lookout for rare but thankfully treatable conditions with psychiatric presentations, do you think there are any special lessons for psychiatrists who read your book?

SC: This is a great question. Obviously, the implications of this disease and others like it (there are many other types of autoimmune encephalitis that have been consequently discovered) are that neurological diseases can cause behaviors that are nearly indistinguishable from psychiatric diseases. I think greater vigilance on the part of psychiatrists about ruling out neurological causes is exceedingly important.

Another, less obvious outcome is that early on in my treatment, when I was thought to be suffering from a psychiatric disorder, my care was less sympathetic than it was later, when I was diagnosed with a neurological disease. Why is this? And how can we remove this stigma attached to mental illness? At the height of my disease, nothing distinguished me from a person with schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia—the only difference came later: when I was cured. I don’t know how we change the systematic treatment of mental illness in this country, but clearly it needs to be rethought.

Excerpt from Cahalan’s book:
By the time I was a patient at NYU, Dr. Dalmau had fine-tuned his approach, designing two tests that could swiftly and accurately diagnose the disease. As soon as he received my samples, he could test the spinal fluid. If he found that I had anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis, it would make me the 217th person worldwide to be diagnosed since 2007. It just begged the question: If it took so long for one of the best hospitals in the world to get to this step, how many other people were going untreated, diagnosed with a mental illness or condemned to a life in a nursing home or a psychiatric ward?

Excerpt from Cahalan interview in The Guardian
“If an autoimmune disease can create symptoms that look exactly like schizophrenia, that raises the question, what is schizophrenia? And are there forms of schizophrenia that are caused by other types of autoimmune disease? Or other diseases that we haven’t discovered yet? It’s all neurological. We separate problems with the brain into neurological and psychiatric, and it’s because it’s stigmatised still. Mental illness is still stigmatised.

And, finally, the more traditional answer:

From ZocDoc (Get real answers to your health questions from real doctors)

Does schizophrenia cause seizures?

Q: My son, in his mid 20s, was just diagnosed with schizophrenia. Could this explain the seizures that he began having 6 months ago? I haven’t read anything about schizophrenia causing seizures, but if it does, then should we use another type of medication to treat them?

A. You have my sympathy about your son’s recent diagnosis. What you have read has been correct, schizophrenia does not typically cause real seizures. Therefore, if the schizophrenia diagnosis is correct, then the two are not likely to be related. While schizophrenia typically does not cause seizures, epilepsy can sometimes produce symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia. Therefore, one must be careful when diagnosing someone who has seizures with schizophrenia (you must make sure that the epilepsy is not causing the symptoms). The vast majority of time, epilepsy does not cause these symptoms. Without knowing anything about his case, I can say that it is possible that his seizures could have been pseudoseizures. These are convulsions that are not caused by epileptic brain activity. They can occur from during times of severe stress, something that schizophrenics can go through. Since pseudoseizures are not true seizures, they are very difficult to treat. I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your son’s neurologist (or whoever cares for his seizures). Make sure that he or she feels that your son’s seizure treatment is appropriate for his new diagnosis (unless this physician is aware already). It is also important for this physician to review his new list of medications because some psychoactive medications that can increase the likelihood of seizures. Good luck.

Lars and the Real Girl

My sister has been urging me to watch this award winning 2007 film, and finally sent it to me as her Christmas gift. Yesterday afternoon, I settled down to watch it. The basic plot: Lars, a 27 year old loner, decompensates into what the family doctor terms “delusional disorder,” by buying a mail order anatomically correct female doll, which he introduces to his shocked brother and sister-in-law with whom he lives. Karin, the sister-in-law “gets it” quite quickly, meaning she figures it’s better to enter into Lars delusion as a way of communicating with him. She suggests that “Bianca” probably needs a physical check-up after her long journey. The doctor convinces Lars that Bianca needs a weekly visit and that Lars should come along with her to keep her company.

Lars’ brother Gus is quite hostile to the idea of buying into Lars’ delusion while his wife is more supportive of the idea. This, of course, causes tension between the two of them. The screenwriter, Nancy Oliver, has cleverly intuited that how well or poorly a bizarre behavior by a family member is handled by the family (and the community), makes a huge difference to healing. She also strongly implies that the behavior is the attempt at healing. This film would be an excellent teaching aid in mental health recovery programs.

Doctor: What we call mental illness,
isn't always just an illness ...

It can be a communication,
it can be a way of work something out.

Gus: Fantastic. When will be over?

Doctor: When he doesn't need it anymore

Karin: How can we help?

Doctor: Go along with it
Gus: -- Oh no.  No that's...
No no...
No I mean...
pretend that she is real? I'm not gonna do that,
I mean I can't. I'm just not gonna do it

Doctor: She is real.
Gus: -Well...

Doctor: She's right out there
Gus: -- Right, I get that

I'm just not gonna... You know, I'm just not gonna
I'm not gonna do it, so...

Doctor: You won't be able to change his mind anyway

Bianca's in town for a reason.
Gus: -- Right, but... but ...

Doctor: It's not really a choice.

Gus: Then we'll do it, whatever it takes.


28 up and Side Effects

One half of the title of this post is an homage to the British documentary series about the hopes and aspirations of a diverse group of children seen at the ages of 7, 14, 21, 28, etc.  I have written about the importance of the first Saturn return, which takes place around the ages of 28 to 30. This is the age when people’s lives begin to take on a direction to carry them forward for the next few decades. So, here’s what the ages 27 to 29 have looked like, from a strictly activity point of view, for my son Chris.

  • discovers love of musical theater and connects with different choral groups
  • practices Transcendental Meditation (for over a year)
  • expands circle of friends, including now a girlfriend
  • starts taking piano lessons again after a 15 year hiatus
  • talks more seriously about getting a degree

Why am I even bothering to mention these activities, which many people already manage to sandwich into a busy schedule while holding down jobs or pursuing education? Because, if you are, or were, like me, having a son or daughter in an almost total state of withdrawal and dependency lasting longer than we could have imagined, we may begin to believe that our adult child will never become self-advocating and independent. It is very likely that this dream of ours was discouraged at the outset by the people who should instill hope, but don’t do a very good job of it – namely the medical profession. To gain real hope, I learned early on from others who had been there, you have to distance yourself from the medical view, which is pessimistic and incomplete.

And, speaking of movies, Side Effects, opens this week-end.
 Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” follows twists and turns involving a fictitious antidepressant (which has its own real Web site).

A new film: Beyond the Medical Model

From Sera Davidow’s blog at Mad in America

Accepting the true message of the film would mean having to admit we don’t have all the answers. It would mean acknowledging that we’ve given or received incomplete or flatly incorrect information for a long time. It would mean that some well-intentioned people who are highly educated have done harm when they thought they were helping.

It would mean a loss of income for pharmaceutical companies who thrive on the message that virtually everyone can benefit from some sort of pill. It would mean we don’t have easy explanations for why some really scary things happen. It would mean we have to say ‘I don’t know why,’ a hell of a lot more. And sadly, it would mean that some of us will find ourselves asking, “You’re telling me I didn’t have to live like this for all these years?”

No, the message of the film is not anti-medical model. But the film does call for recognition of the pain the medical model has caused. That pain has been caused not so much by its existence but because of the force and dishonesty with which it has been applied. Were there more transparency about the medical model being just one of many options, about the lack of definitive scientific proof for its claims, about the true benefits and risks of psychiatric drugs… Well, then, it would just be another tool in the tool box that we could try or not try, use or discard.

The Message is…
The film’s message is one of freedom. It is one of the right to tell your own story and choose your own path (including the medical model), or to meander about across many paths as works for you.

Read more about the film here and watch the trailer.

Splenectomies, immune system development, and schizophrenia

Chris is incapacitated in bed today with the flu and running a fever. I can’t recall when he was ever sick as a child or adult. Not a cold, not a fever, no ear aches, stomach aches, nothing. For the past month he’s been taking drops that are supposed to strengthen his zero functioning immune system, according to the naturopath. There is now something quite bizarre going on. Occasional flus and fevers are normal. Perfect physical health like Chris has experienced is not. If Chris’s immune system begins to function  (“if“)  will this mean that he will trade his particular brand of “schizophrenia” for different health concerns or more everyday health? The immune link interests me because my spleen was removed as a child due to thrombocytopenic purpura, which suggests that Chris may have an inherited autoimmune condition.  

Some recent research finding on the immune system courtesy of Psych Central