Friday, May 27, 2011

Summer Reading Picks from Prozac Monologues -- Repeat

The following is a repeat.  I tweaked it a bit and added book jackets.  If you click on a book jacket, you will go to a fuller description of the book at Amazon.com.  Ditto if you click on the title in the text.

Summer Reading Picks from Prozac Monologues -- June 17, 2010

Last winter I did the blog piece on movies for surviving the family holiday scene.  With or without family issues, here come my picks for summer reading.  This is an all purpose list, for normals and the mentally interesting alike, and just for fun.   Books to take to the beach -- or the backyard, should the beach be out of reach.

The following is my opinion.  Strongly-held, but my opinion.  Feel free to have your own.  That's what comments are for.

I asked friends for their input in two categories: lovable loonies and alternate worlds -- fiction, unless they could make a very compelling case otherwise.  Now I have a new reading list, too.

Lovable Loonies

We begin with lovable loonies.  My all-time number one favorite book, perfect for beach, book club, hospital bed, you name it, is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher MooreYou know, there were other gospels that didn't make the original cut.  I don't think this one would have, either.  Nevertheless, it had me at this sentence: The first time I saw the man who would save the world, he was sitting near the central well in Nazareth with a lizard hanging out of his mouth.  It seems Joshua (Jesus) was entertaining his little brother, who kept smashing the lizard's head with a rock, whereupon the future savior of the world would put it in his mouth, bring it back to life, and hand it back to his little brother.  Practice for later.  This gospel fills in the missing years of Jesus' life and explains the invention of cappuccino, judo and grace.  A loonier evangelist you could not find.  So that's number one.

Another Christopher Moore pick, though out of season, is The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror.  It reintroduces a character from Lamb.  And boy, is he stupid.  The lovable loony is the sheriff's wife, a former actress who played a Xena-type warrior and never quite got out of character.  In a sub-plot and nod to O'Henry, she quits her meds to save up for her husband's Christmas present, a bong, while the sheriff/husband/recovering druggie plants an acre of pot to buy her a sword.

Actually, the whole purpose of this blog piece is to get more people to read my second favorite book, Lucky Dog by Mark Barrowcliffe -- a talking dog named Reg who helps a helpless loser win at poker -- the helpless loser being the only one who can understand what Reg is saying, of course.  After first meeting him, Dave goes on meds.  So Reg gives Dave the silent treatment, because his feelings are hurt .  Notice the running theme, meds.  This is a Prozac Monologues list, after all.  Eventually Dave misses Reg's conversation, quits his meds and figures out that Reg gives him an advantage at the gaming table.  It's all about smell.  You've got the mob, a rich old lady, a love interest, the world from a dog's point of smell and redemptionWhat more could you want for summer reading?

A friend reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut -- whom I already started rereading a few months ago.  Vonnegut makes reference to his lovable loony, Eliot Rosewater in a couple of books.  Rosewater gets his own book in God Bless You, Mr. RosewaterMaybe he has a touch of psychosis.  Maybe he is a hopeless idealist.  Maybe he just needs to say no.  But he is indeed lovable and a volunteer fireman.  Bonus loony: Kilgore Trout.

Crossover Category -- Lovable Loonies in Alternate Worlds

Also in the lovable loony category is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams.  Couldn't we all use a book with the words Don't Panic on the cover?  Hitchhiker's Guide is the first of a triology with five books.  I think the second volume, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is where I learned that every planet in the universe has a drink called gin and tonic.  You make it differently on every planet.  But there you are.  You can get the perfect beverage to accompany your summer reading, assuming the ingredients don't mess with your meds, on any planet in the universe.

I just started The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  Yes, I spelled his name correctly.  Another friend, a bookophile who knows loony recommends it.  It is the first of Fforde's loony alternate reality series, starring Special Operative Thursday Next, a literary detective who is chasing down the evil Acheron Hades who has stolen... It's a Lost in Austen/Inkheart kind of alternate reality, blurring the boundaries between the world of normals and the many worlds of books.  But today I am going back to the library to check out the original Jane Eyre.  Okay, okay -- I've never gotten around to it, just seen the movie version.  What with Fforde bending time and plot, I can tell I will miss stuff if I don't know the original.

Alternate Worlds

Hitchhiker's Guide and The Eyre Affair are my segue into alternate worlds.  I was heartbroken when we got to the end of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and lost that annual Hogwarts fix with its witches and wizards, port keys, Marauder's Map and all the rest.  According to a Face Book quiz, if I were a Hogwarts teacher, I would be Remus Lupin.  I agree -- the mostly depressed but occasionally dangerous one.  We never saw him do any real damage.  Sounds like BPII to me.  Last year I reread all seven books in preparation for the seventh movie.  This year, I am rewatching the movies to prepare for the eighth.  Bring on the popcorn!

Another friend fave and mine, too, is The Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L'Engle.  These are cross-over youth/adult sci-fi, but you don't have to be a sci-fi fan to appreciate them.  One summer vacation/road trip, my six-year-old listened to Wrinkle on tape.  Every time we stopped for lunch, he wanted to discuss it.  Every time he got to the end, he started again at the beginning, and I was happy to listen with him.  I wonder if this was the root of his vocation as a philosopher.  The misfits are the heroes who save the planet from IT, the force that wants to eliminate unhappiness by eliminating deviance in the universe.  (I suspect that IT really just wants to get rid of deviance.  The unhappiness thing is just part of the sales pitch.)  In the first volume Meg figures out, same and equal are NOT the same thing.  Mitochondria play a major role in the second volume.  I'll write about mitochondria later this year.  Bonus: it turns out that It was a dark and stormy night is a great way to start a book, after all.

Michael Chabon rewrites history in The Yiddish Policemen's Union.  Imagine that at the end of World War II, Jewish people went to Alaska instead of Israel.  Fifty years later, Alaska is about to revert to the United States.  Enter your basic hapless detective.  Combine a murder mystery, political intrigue, orthodox Jewish mobsters, chess and a red calf.  Shake vigorously.  Serve on the rocks.

Chabon provides another alternate world in a tale of two Jewish adventurerers, Gentlemen of the Road.  Set in 10th century Khazaria, two con men/bodyguards/swashbucklers star in a dime store novel with elegant prose, inadvertently fighting for justice and the rightful heir to the Khazarian throne.

Not all alternate worlds are fantastical.  Like Gentlemen of the Road, books set in real times and places can sweep you up so that you leave your own world and enter the author's.  The day my mother left her third husband, the good stepfather, separating hers and theirs from his, I postponed going crazy by moving to China via Pearl Buck's The Good EarthSeventy years after it won a Pulitzer Prize, Oprah made it a Book Club pick.

Lately I have been living in nineteenth century England.  Jane Austen's biggest hit is Pride and Prejudice.  I haven't tried the graphic novel nor the sequels it inspired, including one with zombies.  You're on your own there.  Currently I am doing the Bronte sisters.  Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights.  That link takes to you the edition that is easy to read in bed -- whatever that means.  I mentioned Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte above.  It has inspired the same kind of take-offs as Pride and Prejudice.  All of them have been made into multiple movies and mini-series, if you want to extend your reading experience into other media.

Rounding out our alternate world category, Ellis Peters takes us to a Benedictine monastery in twelfth century England, in the midst of a civil war.  Cadfael is a second career monk, a crusader turned herbalist and forensic scientist detective. The series starts with A Morbid Taste for Bones and goes on for nineteen more volumes -- God bless Ellis Peters.  This series has also been filmed, with Derek Jacobi as Cadfael.

Nonfiction Anyway

Douglas Adams and Hebrew poetry have both inspired me through the years.  If they tell you three, then they add a fourth.  I told you I had two categories.  So here is a third -- compelling nonfiction.  These two are on my own to read list:

The first is friend-recommended The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. It is a tragic story of the clash between two cultures, that of the Hmong and that of Western medicine. The parents say Baby Lia Lee's soul is outside her body, captured by an evil spirit.  She needs a shaman.  The doctors say she has epilepsy.  She needs medication.  The doctors win.  The results are not good.  I haven't been reading biographies of people who live with mental illness lately.  But I might make an exception for this one.

The second and last is Invictus: Nelson Mandela and The Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin.  This edition has pictures from the movie.  The original edition is titled Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.  Combine the typical sports narrative structure: loser team triumphs, with that incredible, grace-filled moment in human history: oppressed people triumph and don't wreck vengeance on the oppressors.

Memoirs, Anyone?

So there are more than enough books to fill out my local library's summer reading club requirements.  I'm thinking of an autumn post with a list of mental illness memoirs: Kay Jamison, Elizabeth Wurtzel, etc.  Recommendations?

What are you reading this summer?  Enjoy.

photo of umbrella by Molku, who placed it in the public domain
book jackets by amazon.com
illustration of popcorn by digitalart used by permission 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting My Brain Back -- Neuroplasticity and Friends.

No, You Don't Already Have All Your Brain Cells

When we were kids they told us we already had all the brain cells we ever would have, that these brain cells would die off over the course of our lifetime, and if we killed them off early, we'd go senile.

Bummer.

I doubt this warning ever really kept anybody home from the kegger.

And as it happens, it is not true.  For those who survived the drive home, our brains were already hard at work, repairing the damage. 

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the vocabulary word for the day.  It refers to the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

BDNF

Think of neuroplasticity as the road repair function inside your head.  BDNF is the crew, a protein that helps the brain grow new brain cells and new connections between the brain cells.  BDNF is one of my very favorite brain things, even if I can never remember whether the D or the N comes first.  I will be writing more about it in the weeks to come. 

Epigenetics

Okay, one more vocabulary word for the day, epigenetics.  This word is about the nature/nurture debate.  Do you have a mental illness because you lost the genetic roll of the dice, or because a hurricane happened later?

Answer: Yes.

Evidently there are on/off switches installed in your genes.  After your DNA was poured, it still wasn't set.  Experiences after conception and into your life can determine which way the genes express themselves.

A few paragraphs above, I said your brain was already at work, repairing the damage you did to it at the kegger.  BDNF was patching holes.  Epigenetics means that unfortunately, the brain was also already at work, setting that damage in place.  Some of the substances consumed that night turned the switch in the direction you did not want it to go, especially if your roll of the genetic dice was already iffy.

Good News/Bad News

So your brain isn't finished forming.  And you have some control over what happens next.  Not absolute control.  But some control.

I tend to write about the bad news, how things go from bad to worse.  That's because I started this research trying to figure out what the hell happened.

But last month, I wrote a book report.  You may not have noticed.  But that was rather extraordinary.  Something new is happening.  I will be writing more about that in my new series, Getting My Brain Back.

Meanwhile, May is graduation month.  And graduation makes me think of Shel Silverstein.  Poetry, inspiration, you know.  Listen to the mustn't's, child; listen to the don't's...  But that poem isn't about neuroplasticity.  This one is.  Sort of.  Enjoy.



photo of Oktgoberfest at Fort Benning by Donna Hyatt, a US Army employee, and in the public domain
photo of sink hole by FEMA employee and in the public domain
flair by facebook

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Future is Bright -- For Whom?

The Future is Bright for Psychopharmocology Breakthroughs --

Okay, I'll bite.

I subscribe to an online journal Psychiatric Times.  Or at least, I have access to the articles for which there is no charge.  I don't get paid for this, you know.  Anyway, I get emails that link to the articles of the week.

So that was the subject line on the email dated 4/21/11, The Future is Bright for Psychopharmocology Breakthroughs.

This I'd like to know about.

Inside the email was a link to Novel Treatment Avenues for Bipolar Depression: Going Beyond Lithium, by Roger S. McIntyre and Danielle S. Cha.

This I'd really like to know about.

The article was not what I had been led to believe.  But I learned a lot, will share some of that with you, and explore the miscommunication at the end. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Treating Bipolar Disorder Part IV -- Summing Up

Intending to review Ellen Frank's Treating Bipolar Disorder, I spent most of April describing the treatment itself, Interpersonal Social Rhythms Therapy, IPSRT.

Part I laid the foundation in work done on the relationship between circadian rhythms (our interior physiological clocks) and mood disorders.

Part II outlined Frank's Social Zeitgeber Theory and the treatment that proceeds logically from it, a process of establishing regular daily rhythms that set our interior clocks and keep them running on time.  (Zeitgeber means timekeeper.)

Part III explained how work on interpersonal issues helps people reduce stressors and prevent disruptions to their social rhythms.

This last post will pull together my appreciation, my reservations and my hopes for future directions.

Social Zeitgeber Theory