• 13Dec

    So, apparently I have Essential Tremor. There’s no test for it. But I shake. And it’s ‘familial’, meaning inherited. Dad had it. It’s not just visible shaking. I shake inside. So I feel like I’m vibrating. Although I’m still trying to figure out right now, I can’t help but wonder what the future will be like. The shaking’s enough, but Dad had dementia issues. I remember him periodically doing things like going to pick up food with a fork he hadn’t put in his hand yet. He was in his 70s then, so we just quietly handed him a fork.

    Apparently, it’s not unusual for ET to start in your 40s. The progression is different for everyone. The cerebellum is believed to be the source, since that’s the center for movement. The usual test for ET is a writing test, to see if your handwriting is shaky. I’m not that bad yet. But will it eventually affect my writing? Typing? Driving? Even steps?

    The cerebellum “is also involved in some cognitive functions such as attention and language, and probably in some emotional functions such as regulating fear and pleasure responses.” (Wikipedia) These things are the center of my being. What happens when I have problems with them? Is worrying about it making it worse? I’m finally finding my life, and it’s becoming intellectual. I don’t want that taken away. Ever.

    Of course everything I know about ET is from reading online, or in journal articles. The neurologist I saw didn’t even say “ET.” He said “I’d deal with it” (the shaking). It was my primary doctor who said ET. He’s pretty sure because he knew Dad. I think he was trying not to make it a big deal, but said there is medication that I can take in the future. Apparently the main ones are propranolol which is a beta-blocker, and primidone which is an anti-epileptic. Speaking of which…

    I had a seizure about, oh, 25 years ago. Just one. Throat spasms led up to it. While investigating my recent shaking, a neurologist gave me an EEG. Yes, the seizure activity is still there.

    To make things more interesting, I went through a period of panic attacks. (Wow, I sound like a basket case…I’m really not) Bad time in my life. I’m currently going through a stressful time buying a house. And it’s all rearing its ugly head.

    More than a little unnerving.

  • 21Mar
    Written by: Categories: Uncategorized Comments: 0

    Links to web sites related to madness,
    psychiatry, neuroscience, and the mind

    This post will be periodically updated.


    h-madness blog
    Updated almost daily, this blog presents the latest information and commentary on topics related to the history of psychiatry


    History of Psychiatry

    Trends in Cognitive Science

    Most of these podcasts can be downloaded via itunes.


    Brain Science

    Shrink Rap Radio


    Philoctetes Society
    The Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination: This non-profit organization holds roundtable discussions and events on topics related to creativity and thought. All events are free and open to the public, and most are posted online in video form.

    Conferences, Seminars, Events

    Madness and Literature
    1st International Health Humanities Conference: Madness and Literature to be held at Nottingham 6th – 8th August 2010



    Bethlem Royal Hospital
    “The Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives and Museum records the lives and experience and celebrates the achievements of people with mental health problems.” Founded as a hospital for the medical treatment of insanity in 1547, the museum opened in 1970 and exhibits primarily work by artists who have at some time suffered from mental disorder, but also houses historical material.

    The Prinzhorn Collection
    This Psychiatric University Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, houses a collection of drawings, paintings, collages, textiles, sculptures and a great diversity of texts which were produced in hospitals, mainly in the German-speaking world, between 1880 and 1920. In addition to the core Prinzhorn collection, permanent loans and donations were deposited in the Psychiatric Clinic, such as works created at the Rhine Federal Hospital Viersen (around 1900), wooden sculptures by Carl Genzel from the Wesphalia Psychiatric and Psychotherapeutic Clinic, Eickelborn near Lippstadt (approx. 1920), the Petschner Collection, Psychiatric Hospital Merxhausen, Bad Emstal (1960-1980), as well as works of art of contemporary patient-artists. Description paraphrased from museum site.

    Case Histories

    Case histories from the history of psychiatry

    Other helpful sites

    Google Translate
    Google translate makes it possible to read many of the pertinent sites that are written in German or French.

  • 10Jun

    conversationPresident Obama recently quoted the Koran and mentioned Allah in reaching out to the Muslim community. One person in the audience commented that when he hears the word “Allah,” his heart opens.

    Lera Boroditsky and colleagues at Stanford University studied grammatical gender systems by asking German-English and Spanish-English bilinguals to describe “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish. The German-English bilinguals used words such as “elegant,” “slender,” “pretty,” all feminine-leaning adjectives. The Spanish-English bilinguals used words like “strong,” “towering,” “heavy,” “dangerous,” considered masculine in the English language. The gender of “bridge” in the native language seemed to have an impact on each bilingual’s view of the object.

    In a recent Brain Science podcast episode, Alice Gaby said, “…when we write, the word that’s written to the left corresponds to what would have been spoken earlier than the word that’s written to its right. Now this is the way we do it in English but of course Hebrew or Arabic go from right to left, [in] Chinese, the writing system goes from top to bottom. Lera Boroditsky’s work actually looked at people’s non-linguistic cognition about time and particularly their gestures – how people move their hands when thinking and talking about time– and found a strong correlation between temporal sequence moving left to right for English speakers and right to left for, say, Hebrew speakers and top to bottom for Chinese Mandarin speakers.”

    Each of these examples show the importance of communicating with people in their own language, if you wish to reach them. Many people repeatedly bang their heads against the wall trying to get a message across to people who are not like them. If some of that time was used to learn about and try to understand the people you are trying to reach, not only would your head feel better, but you might actually open a line of communication.

    I have seen ‘professionals’ talk to seniors like they are children. Making assumptions that they don’t understand normal language. It’s belittling. And I know for a fact a senior will walk away rolling their eyes and give up trying to communicate. In senior facilities, this makes for a miserable life. Not all seniors are alike. Yes, some may have comprehension difficulties. Some may clearly understand what’s being said to them, but have trouble responding. It’s so important to get to know the senior you are speaking to and reach them at their own level, instead of expecting them to respond at the level you’re assuming. I guarantee, anyone who is continually talked down to will slowly regress.

    Some parents yell at or order their children. Sometimes out of frustration, or lack of time. Maybe they’re just plain irritated. A child will only learn to ‘obey’ or act out even more. Scientists believe that language is acquired most easily during the first ten years of life. And how do they really learn their language? By how they are spoken to and the language they hear around them. Children want to learn. We can even think back and remember what it’s like to be a child who is confused because something was just stated without any explanation. Once a situation is explained to them, they are much less likely to rail against it. And hey…they’ll even learn! I know there are things I never truly learned in school because they were presented to me in the form of information to memorize. I was not given a context in which to place it, which would have worked it into my life and understanding.

    There are as many ways of communicating as there are types of people. Open your mind and listen to whom you’re speaking. They don’t think like you do. Because everyone has a slightly different mind. It’s what makes the world so interesting.

  • 06Jun
    Written by: Categories: Thought Comments: 0

    I’m currently reading Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher. In pondering her descriptions of mood swings during bipolar illness, I recognize the characteristics of mania and depression. The racing mind…so many thoughts rushing that you just can’t grab on to one long enough to do something with it. The depression that hits almost as a result of not being able to grab onto one thought and move forward.

    It makes me wonder if some mental illness is made up of what we all go through, but taken to an extreme, interfering with your daily functioning. The brain not being able to manage normal processes until your capacity to control it has been completely usurped.

    I recently described my mind as a ping-pong match between the right and left sides of my brain. But neither scores, and neither wins. I suppose a ping-pong game seems balanced. And my game probably is, in the sense that my left and right are both active and vibrant. But they battle…back. And forth. And back. And forth.

    A Stroke of Insight

    Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor literally experienced this battle during a stroke. She described her experience vividly during a TED talk. A hemorrhage in the left side of her brain caused her consciousness to exist almost fully in her right brain, completely changing her perception of her body, the world around her, and of reality. Alternating between left brain perception, and what she calls “la la land”, she eventually worked out a way to plan for the shifts between hemispheres and got herself some help.

    “Imagine what it would be like to be totally disconnected from your brain chatter”

    Ms. Taylor experienced this through her stroke. Artists experience this during their work, becoming engrossed in the creativity involved while they create. I once had a drawing teacher who said that when she was going to work on a drawing, she told her family she was “going under.” She was about to become part of her right brain…the creative, sensual, emotional part of herself that she accessed to create artwork that flowed from her. It’s difficult to communicate with someone in this state. It takes time for them to transition back into allowing the left brain to function and access the language portion of the brain. And often when this occurs, the creative spell is broken.

    Alternatively, accessing this creative state can be extremely difficult. Last fall I took a weekend drawing and painting workshop with Tim Hawkesworth. Tim is a fabulous artist and teacher who encourages artists to reach within and express who they are. Even with his guidance and inspiring morning talks, I struggled the entire first day of the workshop. I was approaching art with my left brain. With the help of his associate who gave me a massage and talked me through my struggle, I was able to relax. I finally made the conscious decision to stop fighting myself and was able to produce work that surprised me.


    I had never done work like this before. I didn’t know it was in me. It was exciting, fulfilling, invigorating. And yet, I haven’t produced anything since. Although it’s always hovering in the “back” of my mind. The necessity of left brain activity in my regular work day keeps me from delving into the intangeable right. I battle every day. That practical chatter cannot justify my taking the time necessary to transition to the “la la land” where my art emerges.

    And yet, I love my left brain. Not only am I able to think things through to conclusion, understand words and numbers, and troubleshoot problems, I need my left brain to contain the energy that comes from the beauty of my right. The next step is to learn how to manage the back…and forth. Jill Bolte Taylor was able to determine a plan while in the midst of stroke.

    I need my right to allow the left to do its work: creating structure that allows me to function properly, accomplishing what I have to as well as what I want to; managing my time so I can create the space I need for my right brain to flow; planning my finances and the steps I need to take to acquire income that will allow me to explore my right brain, as well as develop my left; and allowing my right brain the freedom to roam.