Category: Mental Health

It’s All In Your Very Real Head

So many times we say it. Even more often, we think it. But like the old adage, “Just because i’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me, ” just because something is all in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

When we say, “It’s all in your head, ” what we really mean is that is where the problem begins. Medicine has proven that brain disorders can cause true health problems. Frustration can cause ulcers. Anger can cause strokes. Fear and anxiety can cause tachycardia. Depression can cause insomnia and anorexia. And pretty much everything can cause digestive problems. And the reverse is true as well. Vitamin D deficiency and lack of exercise can cause depression. Insomnia can cause memory loss. Hypoglycemia can cause attention deficit. Hormonal imbalance can cause psychosis. Body and brain are inexorably linked. So why do we consider brain causes to be inferior to body causes? If your heart races from fear instead of an intrinsic dysrhythmia, is it any less of a problem? After all, 180 beats per minute is 180 beats per minute. If you have irritable bowel from anxiety instead of irritable bowel from low serum ferritin, is your poo any less stinky? After all, shit is still shit.

The only real issue i see is in the treatment. If your high blood pressure is caused by genetics, and we treat it with anti-hypertensives, then you stand a chance of getting a good result. You can’t change your DNA (at least not yet), so you change the conditions it operates under: Specifically, you change the chemical cascade. But if your hypertension is due to the fact that you are forced to live in the basement of your chain-smoking, verbally abusive, peri-menopausal great aunt… Well, then, Metoprolol is really only masking the problem, now isn’t it? Even tho your blood pressure problems are caused from your stress and not your parentage, it can give you a heart attack or stroke just the same, so you have to deal with it. But the mechanism that causes the mercury to rise, when the mercury is taken away, is sure to find another outlet. In other words, if all you do is fix your blood pressure, the Aunt Gladys still remains, and who knows what that stress will cause next? You have to move out of the basement to really solve the problem.

Yet, we would never accept our physician telling us that the answer to our health issue is to move out of the basement. We want a prescription. A treatment. Something simple and easy, like twice daily shots in the bum with a magic serum. Somehow that seems better and more important than doing something about our sanity. A medicine chest full of pills is far more glamorous than taking charge of our lives. A prescription is far more socially acceptable than a Tai Chi class and an appointment with a therapist. An outpatient hospital procedure is far less problematic than standing up to Gladys. Give us the easy route, doc. We have enough complications in our lives already.

That is not to say that pharmaceutical mediation isn’t necessary for emotional conditions. Nothing mental is cured overnight. Gotta keep the stroke at bay while we learn to deal with the basement thing. The best long-term solution is to attack it from both sides: the mental and the physical. Take your Nexium AND your meditation. Take your Prozac AND get sunlight and exercise. Take your Beta Blocker AND move out of the basement. And don’t feel squirrelly about doing the “non-medical” things. I promise, using thunderstorm sounds to help you with your insomnia won’t cause you to wear bellbottoms and patchouli. Talking things out with a therapist or minister won’t make you social outcast, and it will probably lessen your need for the antacids. But remember, just like no magic pill cures depression, no magic herbal tea cures heart disease either. Both fronts, physical and mental, must be fought to win the battle.

I have made no secret of the fact that i hate society’s expectations and subjugation of the human brain. We concentrate so much on other parts of the body and their overall health, and yet neglect the most important organ of all, the one that makes us human. The issues in our heads that cause our bodies to be “off”, and the issues in our bodies that cause our minds to be “off” – these things should be one and the same. Part and parcel of this discipline we call medicine. Rather than a hierarchy of treatments, there should be an evolving cloud of health: Take your medicine, get your testing, sleep, eat, exercise, play, read, talk, think, laugh… All these things contributing equally to the overall well-being of the patient. Whether the problem starts or finishes in your head, the head requires treatment. For some, that treatment requires medication. For others, it requires peace.

I look forward to the day when a doctor can look at his patient and say without reserve, “Take your pill, get some exercise, and do a little fishing, ” and have each part of that statement be equally important. Indeed, it is already true, but we are just afraid to admit it.

Herbert Was Wrong

They tell me it’s because i’m getting older. All these things that keep popping up. Getting lost. Falling off. I just keep thinking to myself, “That can’t be right. I’m not old.” As an American woman, i’m supposed to be in my prime. OK, maybe the saying is about sexual prime, but it stands to reason that you wouldn’t hit your sexual prime only to have your body and brain fail for no good reason. I hope God isn’t that kind of Sadist.

I am reasonably fit. I eat healthy most of the time. My weight is spot on the recommendations. I sleep a full night. I take medicines as directed. I don’t overindulge in alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I try to meditate. I try not to break the law. I wear my seatbelt. And i don’t wear white pants after Labor Day. Yet i am plagued. Cholesterol. Shingles. Menopause (OK, maybe that isn’t a bad thing after all), bifocals, bunions, hypertension that causes other complications, osteoporosis, wrinkles, sags, bags… And now i’m losing my mind.

My similarly middle-age friends tell jokes about going into a room and forgetting why they’re there. They lose their keys. They can’t recall phone numbers. They draw a blank on the name of their partners’ favorite beer. They miss important dates. They forget to thaw the chops for dinner. Me? I accidentally call my daughters by each others’ names. I have accidentally called my son my dog’s name. I have stared at the dog and for the life of me can’t remember the word for that species of animal. And when i get angry or excited or giddy? The words in my head come out in the wrong order. And not like Yoda, either. Like a verbal Yahtzee toss. It’s frustrating as hell. To be there, mouth open, word at the back of my mouth and i can’t bring it forth. And it gets scary when i hear a thought come out of my mouth and it makes no sense.

As a writer, words are important to me. I will delete whole paragraphs from a piece of work if i can’t find the perfect word for a single thought. I love my Thesaurus. And much like Charlotte from her web, i will yell from my laptop to my weedlings to request ideas for a word that means suchandsuch. I try to say and write exactly what i mean. To be unable to pull those words out of my brain is like craving Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday. Vexatious. To hear gibberish come out of my mouth is more like hearing Elmo swear. Sacrilege.

Now, i realize that it seems far worse to me than to those around me. I am able, sometimes, to recognize that my mouth is awry and manage to shut it before spouting off like a word puzzle from the Sunday paper. And perhaps my panic magnifies the issue in my personal reality. Perhaps i don’t deal well with stress, and it short-circuits my brain when i can’t maintain calm. Perhaps all people my age say “cat” when they mean “coffee” on occasion. Perhaps all our brains are so full, at this age, that the files get jumbled. Perhaps the cumulative effects of weed and Bovine Growth Hormones and red dye #5 are catching up with my generation and having a bad impact. Perhaps we all are losing our memory bit by bit. Perhaps. But, damnit, I DON’T LIKE IT! I DON’T WANT IT! AND I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT I AM NO LONGER YOUNG!

Ma was just a couple of years older than i am now when she died. This makes it difficult to assess how i compare in the familial trend, though i remember my grandmothers from both sides being sharp and acute til the very end, and they were much longer lived. I hesitate to compare my brain to the men before me because, well, let’s face it… Male brains are a different animal entirely. Both my body doc and my head doc tell me that this is all normal, and that if i could learn to control my stress better, my brain will respond (As will the blood pressure, the shingles, the tmj… Pretty much everything but the bunions.) But i regularly attempt meditation, and i always fall asleep. I tried yoga, but the sweaty mats made me schieve. I considered running, but my boobs begged to differ. Tai Chi moves too slow. BioFeedback isn’t covered by my insurance. I’m too poor for regular massages.  And weed is illegal. So what is left? I write. I walk. And i bitch to my girlfriends. I may still be stressed out, but i’d hate to see what i’d be like without those things. I’d probably explode like in that old movie Scanners. And that would give my children nightmares, so that option is out.

In my all-time favorite book, Flowers For Algernon, i still cry every time i get to the part where Charlie starts to lose his edge. The pain of him knowing what is seeping away is so profound that it stabs me right through the pages. And i worry it will happen to me. Even knowing in my head that i am no worse off than anyone else my age, my soul still panics at the thought of losing my intellect. I have no doubt that my healers are correct and that obtaining some zen, some way, some how, will improve my health and clarity. Tho i may still misplace my dog, i will at least be able to remember her species. It’s an improvement anyway.

In Dune, when Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit, he recites a mantra to remind him that fear is the mind killer. I disagree. It isn’t fear. The real mind killer is stress.