Catatonia

I sit on the ground, my breath rhythmic and steady. My breath is my sole attention, as I watch the world go by around me. My thoughts go by immeasurably slow. My breath is the only thing I can focus on. I am aware that there is a world outside myself, but it does not feel like a real world, I am withdrawn into myself like a hermit crab into its shell. My limbs are statues. All I am is breath.

The above describes my first catatonic stupor. A state of immobility or repetitive movements that can last anywhere from hours to years. I do not know how long it lasted, but based on the length of my other episodes I would suspect it was at least an hour. I would later be officially diagnosed with psychosis NOS, an inherently varying disease that includes many symptoms of schizophrenia. I have experienced auditory and visual hallucinations, depersonalization and derealization, and lack of focus to the point where I could not read a book, but the catatonia is still what frightens me the most.

What is Catatonia?

As mentioned previously, catatonia is an elongated period of immobility or repetitive movement. While catatonia is extremely debilitating, it is not, in itself, a disorder, rather, it is a symptom of an overlying disorder, often schizophrenia. People in a catatonic state may not react to external stimuli, or may suddenly become agitated or react to no stimuli at all. They may also maintain positions that they are put in, a trait called waxy flexibility, while others resist all efforts to be moved, called rigidity.

Catatonic Schizophrenia

Although removed as a diagnosis in the DSM V, the “Bible” of mental health, some people with schizophrenia acutely display catatonic symptoms. Formerly, these people were diagnosed not just with schizophrenia, but with catatonic schizophrenia. Note that not only do these people qualify for a diagnosis of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, etc.), but they also have catatonic symptoms as described above.

Treatments

Catatonia can usually be treated successfully with anti-psychotics, and in some cases benzodiazepines. Most people respond well to these drugs and will quickly come out of a catatonic state within a few days. Some people may require ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), and may even require regular rounds of ECT to stay out of catatonia. It is to be noted that ECT is not the horrible torture that movies often make it out to be. It is painless, and the movements seen during old time ECT is simply due to involuntary movements. During current ECT procedures, the patient is given a muscle relaxant to cease the movements.

Prognosis

Unfortunately, the prognosis for people with catatonia, in general, is not a good one. This is why I fear it most out of all my symptoms. According to one study, 14 of the 36 participants were in need of “continuous psychiatric care”, take from that what you will.

Conclusion

While I may have catatonic symptoms, which studies show makes my prognosis rather poor, and while my symptoms, as we speak, may be getting worse, I have not given up hope, and neither, I believe, should anyone else who has psychotic and/or catatonic symptoms. Life isn’t over till it’s over, and every life is worth living all the way through, even if the part of the path you’re on right now is in a scary forest with wolves all around you. One day after walking (or running) down that path for long enough you’ll come out to a field full of bright tulips, and the sun will shine.

 

 

Joy

To begin this article, I would like to wish everyone that celebrates it a merry Christmas, and to everyone else, happy Holidays. This time of year is one filled with joy, wonder, and wishes. December itself is enveloped by this sentiment. I believe joy is something that is vital to all of our lives, and for not just one month, but for all of them. Joy is unbridled happiness, it is not hindered by logic or reality, in that moment, when you are joyous, nothing else but that emotion matters. Joy is pure.

I had an early Christmas present this year. It came in the form of a 37 pound black, white, and brown, bundle of energy named Jack. Jack was a shelter dog and had been there, much to our surprise (because of how sweet he is) for over 3 months. We immediately fell in love and brought him home. I bring up the story of Jack, which I’m sure must strike most of you as completely unrelated, because, as all dog owners know, there is nary a purer, more unadulterated source of joy than a dog. As a favorite show of mine (Limmy’s Show for those interested) said in one episode, a dog does not overthink things, he does not sit in a car going 70 miles an hour thinking “how is this possible?”, he just sticks his head out the window and enjoys the wind blowing in his face. That is joy.

Jack does not think about the 3 months he spent at the Humane society, in what surely must have been a terrifying experience. He does not think about the time he spent in a high kill out-of-state shelter, which I’m sure was much worse. He doesn’t think of the heartbreak he had to have experienced when he was adopted out for a week and then brought back because the owner “didn’t have time”. No, Jack does not think about any of that, Jack just runs around our half acre yard at full speed, trips, sending him somersaulted across the yard, gets back up, and keeps running like nothing happened with a huge grin on his face.

Jack is joy, and I think we could all learn something from him.

 

What is Mindfulness?

As a blog focused around promoting mental health awareness and mindfulness, I came to the realization that I had not yet written an article about what mindfulness is. So, what is mindfulness? There are many definitions on what mindfulness is, but the definition that I’ve always preferred is “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness”, which was coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness, as we understand it, stems from the Buddhist practices of vipassana, an insight into the true nature of reality, something I consider objective analysis through subjective perspective, satipaṭṭhāna, embracing mindfulness in one’s day-to-day life and anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing, also known as meditation. These three Buddhist practices make up the core concept of mindfulness. It was popularized and introduced in Western society by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which aims to help in the management of mental illness. Mindfulness is useful in coping with thoughts, emotions and feelings throughout an individual’s day-to-day life via awareness and analysis of the present moment, something researchers and proponents of mindfulness have called “concentrated attention” or “mindful attention”. In this regard, mindfulness is often viewed as a mental state or a set of coping skills and techniques.

Through the use of mindfulness, individuals can focus their attention on their present situation in a non-judgmental but responsive manner, allowing them to view situations or external stimuli affecting them in a calm and collected manner. It’s often easy to respond in an emotional manner in relation to an external stimulus, but through mindfulness, individuals are able to attain a level of objective analysis in relation to their subjective experience of the world.

Mindfulness in everyday life isn’t easy to obtain, especially when one is stressing constantly. It is suggested that to become mindfully aware, one should begin with mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation can be done in a variety of ways, but is often performed by sitting cross-legged on something comfortable, with their back straight and eyes closed. Once this has been done, the individual should focus their attention on breathing in and out through the nose. Thoughts will inevitably come; when they do, an individual should focus their attention back to their breathing, allowing one to recognize that their thoughts have wandered, but in an accepting yet non-judgmental manner. Through this process, if applied daily for 10-20 minutes a day, an individual can begin to apply this to their thoughts and emotions, as opposed to their breathing, allowing them to cope with and manage their stress effectively.

For individuals who are suffering from a mental illness of some sort, a combination of mindfulness, medication and therapy may help treat their mental illness and allow them to live happier throughout their day-to-day life. Mindfulness of all things in relation to an individual can be very beneficial, such as the substances we put into our bodies and the interactions we have with other individuals of varying perspectives. Unnecessary stress, called distress, can be taxing to both the body and mind. We all want to be happy in life, but until we can analyze the stimuli that stress and impact us daily, it can be difficult to do so. Mindfulness, if properly used, may be of great help in coping with and managing day-to-day stress, allowing us as individuals to live happier and more harmoniously with the world around us.

Exploring the Science of Depression

depression-20195_1280

Too often the general public relegates mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia to just that, mental illness, diseases of the mind. However, with modern science, we are beginning to see more and more the folly of this simplistic viewpoint. We are now seeing the science behind these illnesses;  the changes in brain form, function, and chemical balance that alter how our brain functions and perceives the world around us. For the next  month or so, in my “Exploring the Science of…”  mini series, I will be talking about how what happens in our brain impacts what happens in our mind. For my first post, I would like to talk about how adjusting a few key elements in our brain can cause depression.


What Is Depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), signs of depression include long term feelings of sadness and emptiness, feelings of hopelessness, excessive tiredness, and more. Suicide is also a risk in those suffering from depression. Depression can be moderate to severe, and by NIMH’s count approximately 7% of the American population suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, a clinical term for depression. Depression is commonly treated with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) or MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitor), therapy is also helpful in changing thought patterns that can help make a person depressed.

Brain Changer

A brain is a brain right? Wrong. Turns out there are a lot of things that can go awry inside our brain, just as there is in our body. One of the things that gets wonky in depression is something called neurogenesisa fancy word for the generation of new nerve cells, particularly in the brain. It is believed that those suffering from depression cannot regenerate cells as fast as those without. This leads to loss of brain mass, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory and recollection. Stress is believed to inhibit nerve growth, which may be one reason why the hippocampus is smaller in those that suffer from depression.

But the hippocampus isn’t the only area of the brain that changes due to depression. The amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for behavioral reactions and high level functioning, is also different in those that suffer from depression. According to Harvard Health, amygdala activity is much higher in those that have depression…even when they are not currently depressed!

The Juice

Brain function isn’t just about form, what goes inside that form matters too, specifically the juice of our brain; neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are a bit like messengers, to keep it simple (it gets a bit complicated). They tell your brain what to do, how to feel, and how to function. The neurotransmitter most looked at in depression is called serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness, so it’s no surprise that it might be involved in depression.

Those with depression do indeed have lower levels of serotonin in the brain. We all saw that coming, but how do we fix it? Adding more serotonin of course! Well, yes, and that is the goal of many anti-depressants on the market today, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. In depression, not only does serotonin make you happy, it also regenerates nerve cells…see the connection? Serotonin levels rise, neurogenesis increases, the hippocampus is happy, and you’re happy. This also explains why anti-depressants take a few weeks to kick into effect; neurogenesis takes time.

The Takeaway

Depression, like so many mental illnesses, is a complex disorder. It affects the brain as well as the mind, and requires treatment so that it’s sufferers can live a full, happy life. By understanding the science of why depression happens, scientists can create better treatment, tests, and therapies for it. If you feel you are suffering from depression, or have been diagnosed with depression, I hope you find comfort in knowing that this is a medical illness, with causes we can see, and not the fault of yourself. Thank you for reading and I hope enjoyed this, the first article in the “Exploring the Science of…” series.

Enter the Beast

Hello everyone. My name is the Beast. I am writing to you today to introduce myself as a new author on the blog. Daniel has kindly allowed me to share my writings here alongside his own. As of such I will be writing about one or two articles a month for the blog. Since I will be writing for you, I would like to tell you a little about myself.

I am college student majoring in biology. I also have a strong interest in writing, orchids, and photography. I have been diagnosed with prodromal schizophrenia, and am currently undergoing treatment (I talk more about schizophrenia here if you want to learn more).I will be writing primarily about mental health, mental illness, and mental health stigma.

I look forward to writing for you all, and hope that you will enjoy my articles.

You can like me on Facebook here, and follow me on twitter here.

Thank you.