Monday, February 28, 2005

Winter's Frigid Hand

Old man winter is hanging onto the weather like it's a floppy fish, giving us glimpses of spring before closing his icy hands around us again. Winter is dying but spring has yet to take hold and so the world is fully of death and decay.

I'm in an odd mood today. I keep thinking of digusting things, seeing visions of my animals without skin, covered in flies and maggots like unloved carrion. I feel like half of my body is dead weight, dragging me down and destroying my joints with every step I take toward the fridge. I walk around campus and think about how it would look after a nuclear bomb exploded, how bodies can turn to dust in seconds and the wind could wash us to the sea.

I think about diseases in the third world, of curable ailments left to fester, disfigure and ostracize. I think about rats in a meat grinder and salivate for Taco Bell.

I just feel death and disease, but it's not ugly or horrible. It's like falling asleep after injesting a fatal dose of arsenic. There's something still and stunningly placid about it all. The decay is comforting.

Spring is coming and with it, a frenetic burst of life and growth. The calm will be broken by a cacophony of bird calls and the shrill laughter of hideous youths in love. And when that fucking robin is chirping at the sun at 5am, the death and decay of winter may seem idyllic.

Yup. Today is one of those days when I can walk beside Death, scythe and all, without being the least bit frightened. He seems more like a partner than an adversary. He's not a spectre, but an angel in his own way. He clears the decay so life can begin.

Told ya I was in a funny mood.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Causes and Symptoms

I stumbled on this article from CNN which details the sob story of a 15 year old boy found guilty of murder. The boy is a product of a troubled homelife and he was institutionalized at 12 after threatening to commit suicide to get away from his abusive father; his mother is not in the picture. After a week in the psych ward, the boy was released and moved in with his grandparents. He switched medications and was put on Zoloft by a local shrink.

The boy quickly started having intensely negative reactions to the Zoloft. He complained of painful restlessness and hearing voices. As his behaviors became more unpredictable, his grandparents resorted to threats, telling the child they would send him back to his abusive father. Desperate, the boy sat around, mulled it over and in his not-so-sane state decided to kill his grandparents and burn down the house.

The defense argued to the jury that Zoloft made the boy incapable of making rational decisions and therefore, he could not be held to the same standard as other 12 year olds. In the Carolinas, the jury has the option of declaring a person guilty but insane, in which case the person is institutionalized by the state in a hospital rather than a prison.

This case is the second high-profile case of a homicidal young male on Zoloft, the first being Eric Kleobold, one of the infamous Columbine murderers. A pattern has most definitely emerged.

But the central question in both of these cases has been left to the wolves. Some people are clearly sociopaths while others are so delusional that it is clearly unfair to expect them to behave in a rational manner. Were these boys delusional? What drove them to murder?

To me, the commonality I would point to before I would finger Zoloft is the utterly turbulent family lives of these kids. To be mentally ill is a trying experience, to have a chronic disease of any sort is difficult, but to be 13 years old trying to cope with a chronic disease that warps your perceptions? That's hideous. Add in the additional angst of an abusive parent. Yikes.

And yet, there are hundreds of thousands of kids in the US living in similar situations with similar disease who don't murder people. What translates a thought into an action? What shatters the moral compus to such an extent that murder/suicide becomes an acceptable action?

I suppose the biological explanation behind it all is a little bit like trying to understand why I like apples and you like oranges.

What stops us from crossing the line between destructive thoughts and destructive behaviors?


Royal Blood

Back in the middle ages, people used to believe that blood and the quality of a person's ancestry determined their fate on this earth. While the application of that idea was obviously not so splendid, the concept is frighteningly accurate.

Whenever I fall ill, the first thing a doctor wants from me is my blood. My blood can tell them more about my health that I can. It is an indicator of my most basic ability to function.

I stumbled upon this article while toodling around the web. Basically, scientists have devised a blood test with a 97% accuracy rate in determining whether or not a person is bipolar or schizophrenic, or whether they're "normal."

My brother had this really cool idea for a story once and in it, everyone's DNA sequences were stored with the government on discs. The government used the discs to eliminate diseases etc.

Anyway, I wonder if his vision of the future is that far off.

In some ways, scientific progress like this makes me nervous because I feel like some doctor I'll never meet will be able to tell me what kind of perfume would smell the best on me or what kind of ice cream I like the best. Where does DNA stop and sentience begin?

On the flip side, I know that progress is inevitable, and indeed, beneficial. I often complain on this blog about the utter inadequacy of current diagnostic measures. It would be nice to know in a day whether or not you are bipolar, instead of having to wait years for a doctor to make an official diagnosis.

I wonder if children who will become bipolar adults but have not yet manifested with the disease themselves will have indicators present in their blood. I wonder if the markers for this study would look the same in someone with an acute psychosis, someone on a period of normal time and some in a serious depression. Would the markers change if the disease was present for more than 5 years as opposed to say, less than 6 months? If the markers are not present in childhood, when would they appear in adults? Before the first episode? After? During?

That's the lovely thing about science. Every answer generates myriad questions.


Monday, February 14, 2005

what goes up...keeps going up!

I'm SO happy today. Although I'm not fond of South Bend, for the first time since I got here, I finally feel like I can survive two and half years of this. For quite some time, I was secretly thinking of turning tail and running back home to Phoenix, but alas, my location has ceased to dominate my existence.

Instead, my moods have reasserted their prominence. I am happyhappyhappy. I think I spent more money this weekend than I can make in an entire month. (Worry not, my darlings, Brendan has cut me off).

The world fascinates me today because while it is ugly, grey, raining and cold, beneath the surface lies the budding potential of a jovial spring. Life is like that too. Sometimes when everything seems awful, a little bit of effort and a lot of faith are enough to germinate a renewed, brighter outlook.

As if you can't tell, my thoughts are rigid and choppy. They're slimey and I feel like I'm trying to pick up a vigorous fish and the little bastard keeps slipping out of my hands.

But I'm still happy, tenuous though my current state may be.


Monday, February 07, 2005

The Call of My Bed

It's official. I'm entering my fifth week of being unemployed and utterly bored. My sister, a brilliant PhD-hopeful at UCSB, empathized with my situation, having spent her own purgatory in Scotland, waiting for her husband to finish up a degree at the University of Edinburgh. Being unemployed sucks. It's boring and this sense of laziness infects me until I can barely move at all.

Of course, the fact that it's the dead of winter isn't entirely helpful either. It's cold and isolating. There are definitely days when the most entertaining conversations I have are with my cats and somehow, pretending a purring kitten is a great conversationalist only cements that pathetic and despondent feeling that a fruitless job search generates.

Honestly. My goal this week is to apply for two jobs every day. I know it doesn't sound impressive, and that's probably because it's not. Somehow, when I drop my application at a movie theatre or an office or the library, I always feel silly because I know I'm ridiculously overqualified for the post. Every interview I have, they ask me, "so, why are you applying for this job when you have a master's degree?" I feel like throttling these people and ranting about how I need to feed my damn kittens and pay my rent, same as the idiot with a 70 IQ they'll hire after I leave. Growl.

The repitition of these experiences breeds such a hostility for the process that I'm content to lay around in bed all day doing nothing at all. In fact, I'm one of the few people I know who has the remarkable ability to sleep 15 hours a day. Of course, it helps when there's no good reason to be awake. I mean, if I have a choice between cleaning my house or sleeping, which option do you think I'll choose?

Naturally, I then become depressed that my house is dirty and thus, I sleep even more to ignore the obvious chaos around me.


I'm lethargic and unhappy. My meager savings is dwindling. I feel like I'm watching a car crash develop, but there's nothing I can do to stop it.

Maybe tomorrow will be a better day. And maybe a hundred monkeys typing on a hundred typewriters will produce the next great American novel.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Following the bread crumb trail

Reuters is reporting that a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry has found that half of patients with bipolar disorder treated in an academic setting have experienced some type of childhood abuse or trauma. While not pathbreaking, the study replicates the conclusions of numerous previous studies that have found a similar link.

Of course, there are some oddities in the study's conclusion. For example, while in the general population, women are more frequently the victims of all types of abuse, particularly physical and sexual abuse, in the bipolar population, the rates of abuse are not impacted by gender. Interesting, eh?

The study also found a link between the severity of abuse and the incidence of adult suicidality. So, for example, if man A was physically abused and man B was sexually, physically and emotionally abused, man B would be more likely to commit suicide. His bipolar disorder would typically manifest itself sooner that his counterparts as well.

Abuse was linked to rapid cycling and substance abuse as well.

Personally, I don't find these conclusions all that shocking. The study was unable to explain the mechanism by which abuse impacted the development of a child's brain. Moreover, it did not attempt to explain why one child exposed to abuse would develop bipolar disorder while another would not.

The study also didn't explain or examine the 50 percent of bipolar people who do not have a history of serious childhood abuse. After all, it seems odd that a child raised in a nuturing environment could manifest with a more severe case of bipolar disorder than a child raised by abusive and neglectful parents.

I don't deny that it's fascinating that the rates of childhood abuse in people with all mental illnesses, not just bipolar, are higher than the rates of childhood abuse in the rest of the population. But to me, this study simply raises questions without providing any concrete answers to any of them.

It almost feels like these psychiatric folk were staring at two kittens and trying to determine why one slept while the other groomed.