My brother developed psychiatric symptoms in response to neurological changes almost twenty years ago. He was diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia. It has changed my family’s life as his cruel disease played out and wreaked havoc on him. While you wouldn’t know this about me unless I shared it, i.e. my social media pictures don’t reveal this, I can not deny the responsibility to become part of the solution to help people heal. We don’t understand the complete etiology of the disease, (the exact cause of the disease), but I hope we can move past conversations that label this as a shortcoming, a failure, a spiritual problem, or any of the other inappropriate terms that I have heard over the years. The brain is an organ, a refined organ, that I hold in high esteem. Yet, it is composed of cells, ion activity, hormones, neurotransmitters, chemical cascades, receptors, voltage activity, an immune system, and the capacity to deviate from homeostasis. The brain has the capacity for dysfunction, just as the kidneys, lungs, liver, or eyes can develop problems. I’ve worn glasses since seventh grade and each year the deterioration is slightly worse. I can not imagine living in a world that made me feel guilty or responsible for my vision loss. This is an oversimplified analogy, but I hope the message is clear.
I hope we can move past the unfortunate stigma of “mental illness” to embrace the idea that one day there will be interventions and treatment options to help more people THRIVE despite having what were once considered to be life-altering disease processes.
When I watched Brain on Fire, I was so excited to see her story shared. Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis is a frightening disease, like other neurological diseases. I’m so thankful that more people are coming to terms with the fact that hallucinations, delusions, or other psychiatric symptoms are not spontaneous. There are biochemical explanations for why they occur. One day we will be able to pin-point causes for the variety of mechanisms that cause depression, bi-polar disorder, dementia, or schizophrenia based on a more elegant understanding of the way the brain interacts with the rest of the body. I hope that in our lifetime, we will move closer to effective precision therapies. Until then, we can offer awareness, kindness, patience, and encouragement. The age of marginalizing people needs to be replaced by an attitude of compassion. More resources need to be allocated to give support to patients who could benefit greatly from a world with more empathy.
I remember being tested for thyroid dysfunction as a teenager, because of my depressive symptoms. I felt very guilty when the doctor told me it was functioning properly. It seemed like my organs were fine, but it was my own fault for my symptoms. Wish I could go back and speak to that version of myself. If you struggle with something you’ve been told is “all in your mind” or is frustratingly invisible to other people, please read this:
While our organs are magnificent and often work very hard without our conscious awareness- biological & environmental factors can interrupt the machinery. Even in our brains. You might need medical, pharmacological, and psychological interventions. That is ok. A disease that is not understood does not make a patient more at fault for having that disease. Seeking help is not indicative of weakness or shame. You would seek medical attention for a laceration on your arm or chest pain. Please begin to view your mental health as analogous to physical health, even though the path to recovery may be different or difficult.
There is one more thing about our brains I’d like to point out. There is great capacity for elasticity, for change, with proper treatment and support.
Please be patient with yourself, and the science that slowly investigates how to help you.
I hope you understand how dignified you are for fighting to be where you are.
It takes a large amount of courage to exist in a world that does not always understand your battles.
I hope you feel less alone.