Tag Archives: neurotransmitter

Changing Therapists and Current Concerns

When I was in the hospital this past February, I made the tentative decision to leave Dr O, despite having seen her and indeed depended upon her for nine years. At the time, I was feeling, I dunno, burned? Not in the sense of angry but in the sense of, uh, oh, I’d better cut out while I am not too hated, because soon she really will be sick of me and won’t remember anything about me but how much she hated me…Where did that come from? Well, you might laugh, but I did not. It came from having called her on her cell phone, as she has encouraged me to do, on a working day, and reached her instead of her answering machine. I had wanted to know if she had informed the book publisher about my hospitalization. I was taken aback by the sharpness and peremptory note in her voice as she answered. It did not sound like her .

“I, uh, it’s me, Pam, I was calling to –”

“Yes, Pam, what do you want?”

“It sounds like you are sick. I’ll call back later. I was expecting your answering machine anyway.”

“Tell me now. I don’t want to have to answer my machine or call back later.”

“But it is clear you are in a bad mood. I don’t want to talk to you now…”

“I’m not in a bad mood, I’m ill and you are calling me at home.”

“How was I to know that. It is a work day and this is your cell phone, you shouldn’t have picked up if you are sick. You are allowed to be sick you know…”

“Why did you call?”

So I told her, then when she said she would call the Press, I hung up. But I felt terrible, because it was clear that she was angry and it felt personal, felt as though she was angry at me. But I didn’t know why, could only imagine, and so I did, I came up with 100 reasons why she might be angry with me, hate me, want to get rid of me or leave me…This is important, that reasoning, because is lies directly beneath my first impulse to leave her, though it is not and was not in the end my primary motivation. Because I feared she wanted to leave me, I determined to leave her first. It was an old old story, and not a healthy one at all.

But as I said, in the final analysis, it was not really the reason I wanted to find another doctor. No, that was for two other more reasonable, um, reasons: one was that I did not want to have to traverse the state to see her any longer. It took me all the morning and part of the afternoon to do so, which ended up exhausting me for the rest of the day. That, plus the fact that I did not even drive myself, so it cost me extra to pay Josephine to drive me there and back. But more than that was the fact that the doc at the hospital was so – what? not into power, not into authority, or at least played it that way. He would ASK me what drugs worked for me and at what dose. And then proceed to prescribe precisely those drugs, not just ask me and then ignore what I said. Dr O never asked me what drug I wanted or what drug worked for me, simply decreed what I would take and then asked me to take them. She only listened to me when i refused to take them, perforce.

Now, this is not to make Dr O seem like any sort of dictator, because in fact I was very resistant and noncompliant, and often refused any med at all that seemed to help, so I could be infuriating. Also I was in and out of the hospital when not taking her meds. It was only she who had the patience to work with me for 6 years to finally find a combo that worked for me without any undesirable side effects (except a little sleepiness) so that I’ll take it willingly. Nevertheless, I think she is so used to my being ill that she cannot actually treat me like an equal, and someone who might be getting better..For instance, I really need to be able to call my shrink by his or her first name, esp if they call me Pam, which i would insist upon (because I cannot feel comfortable sharing personal information with someone who still calls me Miss Wagner!). It is patently ridiculous at my age that I should call someone twenty years younger than me by a title when they do not use one for me…But I would rather be Miss W than Pam if he or she is going to be Dr so and so at age 35-45!

Anyhow, where was I? Reasons why I was leaving Dr O. Yes, well, be that as it may, I had a feeling as well that she herself was not going to be staying. Don’t know why, but I just had this strange niggling feeling that somehow it was time, or would be. Then I mentioned, in my first appointment post-hospital that I might need to have some help finding a local therapist. She did not seem surprised or if she did, did not object at all, mentioned in fact that she was leaving her sleep practice in June, which precluded my continuing on as her sleep patient in any event. That gave me the first indication. Then when I returned two weeks later, which was last week, I said to myself, I know she is ending her practice of psychiatry as well, because she is moving, moving away, moving, well, inland…I knew this with absolute conviction, not delusionally. I knew I could be wrong, and I was hoping I was. But somewhere deep down I suspected I was not.

I was so exactly on the money it was uncanny. She was moving, was ending her practice. I asked her if she was moving inland. She made light of it, said she wasn’t going closer to the coast if that’s what I meant, but that wasn’t the point of moving. I said I doubted that…And she said nothing. But it scared me, as it always does, because I still feel that I will drown when Antarctica and Greenland melt, as they will MUCH sooner than any scientist now predicts…

I will not continue on that path at this time, however. I was speaking of changing therapists. So now I have made an appointment to see someone new, and only 10 mintues away from me, close enough that I can actually drive there myself. Very close, in fact, to the Vision Therapist I used to see. I do not know how to interview a prospective psychiatrist, or to doctor shop. All the other switches have simply been handed me, and they stuck, or I stuck with them as they seemed reasonably good, and i liked them. But this time, I have no one to hand me someone with their imprimatur and am on my own. I don’t know how to do this. Will I know who is good, who I can trust? I am very bad at that, trusting all the wrong people. Well, this person at least comes recommended by someone Dr O knows well, or at least knows. That ought to count for something. But it is a he, and I have not seen a male shrink in many years, nor had a good experience yet. Dunno how that will go.

But things change and so do people. The doc in the hospital was male, both of them were, and I liked them both. So maybe this time I could tolerate it. Dunno, but we’ll see. If I can, I will write again on April 1, which is when I have the consultation. Will let you know how it went, if it turns out to have been productive in any fashion.

Note: All the information that I have been reading points to two things that I find very disturbing: one is that Inderal (propranolol) which I take for akathisia, a side effect of many psychotropics but for me of Geodon, apparently and quite effectively “blocks traumatic memory.” Now this would be fine, except that it seems to block the formation of emotional memories of ALL bad events, or at least block the bad emotional memories of the events, such that if you recall the event, you cannot actually go back and feel the way you did at the time. Now I imagine that this would be desirable for most people, who usually do not want to suffer from their memories, but I feel deprived of so much of my life, having been on Inderal or a beta blocker (the same class of drugs) for thirty years. I never knew why i could not quite feel the memories I wrote about the way others seemed to be able to feel their memories…I can see them, but I am outside of them, looking on. I feel nothing. I literally look in and see myeslf from the outside, that is how detached I am from the person I used to be, all because, as i believe, I have no emotional recall of the event. Which is why I want to stop taking the inderal…If my blood pressure rises (it is also effective for that) then I will deal with it another way, but I need to see if not taking the Inderal brings back something vital to my memory.

Number two is much more problematic, because it involves the very medications that keep most of usw with this ilness sane and this side of an institution: most antipsychotics and even the SSRI antidepressants block dopamine to a greater or lesser degree. Now no one knows where or even if people with schizophrenia are actually suffering from an excess in dopamine. That is the theory and it may be that dopamine is involved in some fashion but it is not the whole story, The newest drugs are now working on glutamate, another neurotransmitter entirely. Either neurottransmitter may not affect the entire brain the same way. What is certain is that the drugs tamp the dopamine levels down. Supposedly this is only down to a “normal” level, but who knows what a normal level of dopamine is? We know that dopamine is the pleasure molecule, that without enough of it people become thrill seekers, needing highly exciting situations in order to experience pleasure. But what does it mean that many SSRIs cause sexual dysfunction and/or loss of interest in sex? It implies that with suppression of dopamine (and cure of depression?) the dopamine falls below “normal” producing this lowering of normal pleasure and pleasure-seeking.

It is well known that many fewer people with schizophrenia marry, have children or even fall in love…I myself feel detached and cool, feel no particular sexual urge or even the desire to meet a significant other, let alone pursue someone with marriage in mind. Now I’m wondering if this was not me, not really, so much as the anti-dopamine drugs I’ve been taking most of my life…What a tragedy if the reason I feel no love for anyone is the lack of dopamine the drugs forced on me! What a pity if the coldness I feel towards all of my life and all people in truth, is due more to my drugs, the inderal as well as the anti-dopamines than to any deficient genetic make-up . It’s like the wind farms and the sonar of nuclear submarines etc. We build them as if they are reasonably green, having zero effect on the enironment. only to find out years later that the effect was devastating. (I suspect that the wind currents and subsonic vibrations given off by mega-windfarms might be discombobulating our honeybees and even undermining the vitality of our bats (both dying off alarmingly in 2009). What I mean is, we have developed all these so-called miracle drugs for schizophrenia and depression etc but do we really know what they do to the person, quite apart from the alleged antipsychotic effects? What about other costs to the individual? What are they and has anyone thought to look for them? Does anyone have a choice in the matter? Is it fair? (Obviously no, it is not fair, but then life isn’t fair, so that is a silly question…) Should they have a say, a choice?

These are notions that currently concern me. I wonder if anyone else has been pondering them…If the honeybees and bats and dying whales and dolphins deserve our attention, as most surely surely they do, the highest priority, I would hope that somewhere down the pecking order we with schizophrenia might deserve someone taking a good hard look at just what the suppression of dopamine might be doing to us in the larger picture as well as the smalller one. Just as schizophrenia, I am convinced , does NOT condemn one to obestiy, but the drugs do, just so I believe that the drugs do a number on us the full nature of which we have no inkling of.

Note: this is NOT to encourage anyone to stop taking their medication. Obviously I still take mine, fearing psychosis and the return of the voices far more than I want some dopamine at this point. But I ‘d like some input in the matter, too, and wish they’d develop some better drug or treatment protocol than the present one. Surely I can still be human even with schizophrenia. What with Inderal and the antipsychotics etc I feel more like an automaton, or Mr Spock or Data.

Paranoia and Hallucination

Argh… An incident of paranoia and, hallucination unrecognized by any of us, including me, caused certain people close to me unnecessary distress this week.  I won’t go into the details of that particular incident, except to say that I had absolutely no appreciation for the fact that I was both paranoid and under the influence of false perceptions and so took what I hallucinated as solid reality, with predictable consequences. Since I felt attacked and “heard” corroborating evidence, when I accused the responsible parties, as I felt certain they were, you can imagine how people reacted…Anyhow, I don’t really know how to make things right now, since the accusations themselves seems to reveal a fundamental lack of trust, however paranoid and generated out of the whole cloth that is my imagination going full tilt…I don’t imagine it would  help anyone much to say that this has happened many many times before, and that I have accused so many people of so many outlandish things that it embarrasses me even in the remembering…Nor that some, no, most of the accusations have had utterly NO basis in fact other than the predisposition of my brain at that precise instant in time. They didn’t even reflect any longstanding attitude, so much as a temporary, very fleeting feeling that burst out as full-blown paranoia-of-the-moment.

 

Be that as it may, instead of dissecting this particular incident, I want to discuss paranoia of the rather prosaic sort that afflicts me these days, rather than the grandiose and global kind — involving the usual suspects like the CIA plus certain shadowy figures known as The Five People — which used to. These days, paranoia — which I’ve been taught to recognize and deal with by my psychiatrist, though success at either task remains elusive as best — reveals itself most often at the grocery store or the post office or the lobby of my “elderly-disabled” apartment complex. Or it might pop up in my suddenly suspecting  theft by someone near and dear, or accusations of malfeasance or betrayal by someone who would have no possible reason or motive for such an act, if an act of that sort were even in the realm of being contemplated. But usually the accusation is so outrageous as to be laughable if it weren’t so insulting or potentially dangerous to reputation or livelihood.

 

What happens in general is something like this: (and Dr O has broken it down for me, knowing the neurology of paranoia) my brain generates a feeling, that is the amygdala spontaneously, chemically, spurts out neurotransmitters of some sort that spell “fear” or “threat” coupled with a sense of absolute certainty. I don’t know if there has to be a trigger for this amygdala burst or not, but it seems to me that stress does induce it more often than calm does, and that certain stresses bring it on more often than others. But that is not to say that I can ever predict when or if my amygdala will produce an outburst at any given time; it is definitely unpredictable to the max! So imagine that I am, say, visiting someone in the hospital with another friend, and in that stressful situation — crowded hospital, stress of strange place and sick friend and not knowing what to do — my amygdala pours out the fear neurotransmitter. I’m suddenly on alert and feeling threatened. Someone is attacking me, my brain decides, and he or she is right there in the room with me! In fact, I just heard them both conspire against me, the sick friend and the well friend visiting him…They are both in on it and against me! I hate them both, they got me here on false pretenses and now are plotting against me, they want to hurt me, to do something to me, they…And so it goes.

 

Anyhow, after the primary flood of “threat” feeling (“the feeling is primary” and that feeling is almost always fear in some form or another) the brain’s longer pathway — as I understand it — kicks in and generates an explanation, a storyline to go along with the “threat feeling.” The important thing to know is that the storyline need not make any sense whatsoever. The brain doesn’t give a damn whether there is any evidence outside of it to explain the threat feeling, because the threat feeling is already inside and felt…So anything can explain it, literally anything can seem or feel reasonable, and does. So wherever the mind goes, or tends to go at that moment, will be the form of the storyline that explains the threat-feeling. If one’s brain travels along the line of (I should only be so reasonable) “why do I feel so threatened?  Did they just say something bad about me? Maybe I’d better ASK them! then one is in good shape, because at least then one can check out what is going on, and short circuit any tendency to mistake false perception for reality. But for me, while I do not, often, these days go so far as to opine that cosmic forces are behind my threat-feeling, I do find other less than reasonable sources than reality to explain it: voila paranoia. 

 

One example, when I am in the grocery store, particularly when alone, I almost always hear and as a result know that I am being followed, and instructed as to what I can and cannot buy. I generally race through the store in an effort to get out, and get away from my pursuers,  or if I do not, suffer from dreadful fear of imminent assault or at least dire consequences. At a minimum, in the best of times, I know that someone is following me and keeping track of what I put in my cart, and will be transmitting the “evidence” to a central authority, which will lead to later consequences that I will regret (which my mind spins into longer more detailed scenarios that change each time I am in the store but which vanish as soon as I am safely back in the car or walking down the hill a distance away…)

 

So that is both an explanation of how paranoia arises — from Dr O’s mantra, “the feeling is primary” , meaning the fear that is initially and instantly generated from that burst of neurotransmitters or neuroelectricity to the brain’s subsequent confabulation of a narrative, an explanation for that all-compassing feeling of threat and the certainty that the threat is real. And I hope I have given some examples of paranoia, specific examples, where the situation stimulates the content without the two being necessarily significant or significantly related. For example, in the instance of the two friends at the hospital, it is the fear and the feeling of threat and certainty that provides the stimulus for the paranoia, rather than any underlying distrust of the friends. The friends are simply the carriers of the fear and the certainty of the reality of the threat, which would have been borne by almost anyone stepping into the picture at that time…