Hello friends, it has been some time.
Writing has been difficult. I hope everyone is staying healthy, safe, and inside their homes.
For those of us with mental health issues, all the panic, the uncertain information and unpredictable future can exacerbate our mind-states. If you are feeling effects from the global death, the misinformation and poor leadership (in some places), know that you are not alone. Many of us are feeling this. We are experiencing a collective trauma. Think of this as beautiful: we are stuck getting through this together as the economy flip-flops, healthcare becomes a war zone, and our sick family members and friends fight for their lives.
It’s obvious we lack some scientific understanding, as I mentioned in my last post, and that becomes scarily evident with the orange, diseased walrus in office (here in the U.S) barking empty threats to pull U.S funding from the WHO, lying about the amount of PPE and testing kits available, and tossing around ideas of re-opening public spaces against medical advice.
In the mean time, though, I browse mental health support pages on Instagram because they are recommended in my feed or I find them through other mental health connections I have on the app. It still baffles me that those of us who advocate for each other aren’t educated in the science of the brain. It’s great that we are experts in our own experience. It’s great that we leave space for others to be experts in their own, and don’t push drugs or not-drugs as an agenda. But how can we do that if we aren’t pulling from both sides?
Science and personal experience are how we exist in the world: our brains react to biology and environment, and both influence each other. Genes play an almost negligible role when it comes to the deciding factors of someone developing mental health symptoms, and yet we still push this idea that things like schizophrenia are inherited. They are not: schizophrenia in particular has a high level of heritability, meaning it swims around in the general population’s gene pool, and you are more likely to develop symptoms as a result of genetic chance than you are receiving it from your parents.
Now, before you say “well, I know that my mom. . .” or “well, my friend’s dad had schizophrenia and he does too . . .”, remember that your personal experience, or your friends’, are not common enough to generalize. Please stop.
As for environment, genes turn on and off in reaction to what the body experiences in this physical world. Brain structure changes. Trauma reroutes cells, wilts some, builds some in different, non-beneficial places. At the end of this pandemic, we will see noticeable changes in society and in the people living in areas hit the hardest. In the United States, New York healthcare works in particular may not be the same. In Italy, those who have been quarantined with the dead bodies of their relatives will not be the same. Trauma will change how they see the world, politics, life, friendship, and in their healing process they will learn new things, understand new things. Some will be okay. Others will not. And this variety of reaction is a testament to the way environment shapes us.
When we, as advocates, focus on spreading this disingenuous positivity, this overly positive positivity, as I call it, and we forfeit spreading facts, we are only harming our own cause. So, in light of that, I’ve been reading some research. Sleep is one thing I struggle with, and in my three-am database search for an interesting read, I came across this article here.
I had had access to a full text version, but right now can only link the abstract. If you have access to pubmed, or found it somewhere else, let me know.
But this article states they’ve found a consistent decrease in melatonin across those diagnosed with schizophrenia. Their participants had already been diagnosed and were not on antipsychotic medication (YES that is a possibility for some). Antipsychotics did not increase melatonin levels when introduced.
Nine people is a poor amount, and not very indicative of the population of us, but I assume a bulk of participants were just not available: how many do you know diagnosed with schizophrenia have the ability to take on their journey without meds? Not many.
This study however, has implications for how sleeplessness could be treated in patients with schizophrenia. What this also reveals is that the sleep you get from your antipsychotics (and I remember mine fondly, because I got LOTS of sleep, and I hadn’t had much in a very long time) is not restful. It’s more like a heroin knock-out, and less of your body’s choice.
Assessing those who were not on antipsychotics allowed these researchers to see a natural reduction in melatonin, not linked to the psych-drug usage, and although we could never say for certain that schizophrenia is the cause, the implication is there. What could be other reasons for the melatonin decrease? Perhaps large doses of antipsychotics when hospitalized had rerouted these patient’s melatonin years before, although unlikely considering doses of these antipsychotics int he experiment did not decrease levels of melatonin further. Perhaps their bodies adapted over the years as they got less and less restful sleep because of their symptoms. Perhaps their pineal glands had always secreted a low level of melatonin and THAT contributed to the development of their symptoms. We could hypothesize for years. We have been.
If you have something on the spectrum of schizophrenia, how would you rate your sleep? I rate mine poorly, particularly in times of stress. It takes me longer to fall asleep and it’s harder to wake up. I also attribute some of this to screens and my incessant need to play video games.
That study was from 1997: there may be updated research on this, or conflicting research. If you’re feeling lazy during quarantine, sad, anxious, scared, whatever your emotion, maybe some good old boring, informational research on schizophrenia could pull you out of your funk. It’d help your advocacy, too.
Also, welcome to the load of new followers I’ve received over the last few weeks. I promise I am much more consistent with my writing than I have been these last two months. Feel free to browse the blog for great past posts like this one about positive thinking and this one about supporting your loved one.
Be healthy, be safe, be mindful.
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