Possible New Treatment for Depression

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Researchers have recently found a way to measure neural signals across regions of the brain that decode patterns that represent a person’s current mood. They did this by using the intracranial electrodes already inserted in seven patients who have epileptic seizures. They tracked brain signals across the electrodes and asked the patients to report mood symptoms. From this they developed a decoder that will predict mood variations over time based on brain signals.

Their hope is that from these findings a closed loop system can be developed to treat individuals with depression and anxiety who are treatment resistant to SSRIs, other medications, and standard therapies. This closed loop system would in theory be able to stimulate the appropriate neural regions of the brain needed to affect mood in a positive way in real time.

They think this decoding technology could even be useful for other conditions that are not localized to one area of the brain and are spread out through various regions like depression and anxiety are. Some examples include chronic pain, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Source:  University of Southern California. “Breakthrough brain research could yield new treatments for depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 September 2018.

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Those With Depression Have Larger Hypothalamus

New research shows those with depression have a five percent larger hypothalamus than those who don’t have the illness.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), is the system that responds when we are under stress by releasing cortisol into the body, giving us more energy to react to a challenge, and then returning the body to its natural state when the stressor has been removed.

In those with mental illness, the HPA axis is dysfunctional and releases cortisol even when no real stressor is present due to the over activity of the hypothalamus. It is unclear whether the increased hypothalamus activity is leading to its increased size or not.

Regardless, the larger size could explain the increased levels of cortisol and the periods of tension often experienced by those with depression.

Source: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. “In depression the brain region for stress control is larger.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 September 2018.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180920115531.htm

Why I Never Get Used to Being Stable as a Person with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder

Not barely one month ago I wrote here about my mental illness, and praised the universe for my glorious period of stability.  Months of relative non-dramatic and chaos and anxiety-free days left me to do as I pleased with family and friends; with hobbies and productive work.  I even made money doing something I absolutely love to do!  ME!  Someone on disability, making a dime doing a creative job for people that I would be doing anyway on my own.  It was a dream come true this summer, I tell you, a dream come true!  And then IT happened.

One day, all of a sudden, I dreaded the next paid gig that I was so eager to do just weeks prior.  The thought of having to do it; of being obligated to do it now weighed so heavily on me I started feeling panicky.  I was overwhelmed at the thought of all it entailed and so, so unmotivated to go through with it.  All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide for the next … well, indefinitely.  I couldn’t focus on the amount of steps the whole job called for and I especially couldn’t cope with the social interactions it forced me to have.

Then two weeks later, the kids went back to school and things only got worse from there.  My depression plummeted to another level as I spent every day at home alone in bed with no purpose other than to get up when they came home seven hours later.  I came across this awesome mental health pain scale put out there by Rori, the Graceful Patient, and thought, “By God, I am already at a solid 6 going on a 7 here, and I was a fricking 1 five weeks ago!”

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As an aside, before my stable period this summer, I was in a mild depression for several months through the end of spring.  This is me.  This is the life of rapid cycling bipolar disorder.  It is not pretty or fun or predictable.  Although, many times the depression does coincide with transitional events like the kids starting school in the fall and ending the school year in the spring, so there is some predictability in that sense.  But, for the most part it is riding a mood wave that ebbs and flows over the course of weeks or months, sometimes even days when it gets really ugly.

So, here I am, turning to the thing I always turn to when I start to feel crazy: writing.  I get into that darkness and I write myself out (i.e, “write into the light” = this blog’s name.)  I also went and saw my doctor, of course, and told her what was going on.  So, I’m starting yet another new med this week.

I have been on so many medications I couldn’t even name them all.  No joke!  I seriously wouldn’t remember all of them that I’ve tried over the last 17 years.  I do know we make changes or adjustments at least a couple of times a year due to my rapid cycling.  She told me one time she has some patients with bipolar that go years without a med adjustment but not me and my rapid cycles.  I’m what they call “hypersensitive”…to people, to meds, to situations, to changes, to seasons, to temperature, to noise, to lights, crowds, to smells.  I also fall under the description of an “empath” as well, which explains a lot of my ills after being around certain people and large crowds.  It also explains my excellent intuition.

All of this just makes me realize this whole mood disorder, sensory system, personality thing is very complicated and intertwined.  Who’s to say what one thing is and what’s another or where one thing begins and another ends?  People are complex.  Don’t judge or compartmentalize, if you can help it.  We are all so much more than our labels.  Kind of makes me want to retitle my post.  But, for Google’s sake I won’t.  Google search likes labels. 🙂

Do you or anyone you know experience rapid cycling moods?  How do you cope with it?  What helps you manage?

Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder: What it is and What You Can Do about it

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She said, “You’re fine and then you’re sad.  Then you’re up and then you’re depressed.  Then you’re fine and then you come back and your anxiety is out of control.  Then you’re fine again and then you’re sad.  You are a rapid cycler.”  When my doctor summed me up in that way I couldn’t help but feel deflated, almost hopeless, and at the very least, more ill than when I walked into her office.

Then I realized I’ve been dealing with this illness my whole life and the ups and downs have been such a part of my daily living that I hardly think twice about them.  To someone like her, observing from the outside with a critical eye, I must seem extremely unstable, but to me, everything feels completely normal, and believe it or not, my life does not have major disruptions due to my mood swings.

This is not to say we aren’t always trying to achieve stability because we are.  Tweaks to medication and coping skills are constantly being made.  It is a dance of fine tuning that takes the skill of a seasoned and caring specialist and the patience of a willing and compliant patient.  She said there are some people she sees with bipolar disorder who go three or four years without needing a medication adjustment.  She adjusts my medication several times a year.

According to WebMD, rapid cycling is described as having four or more episodes of mania, hypomania or depression in one year.  For many people, this is devastating and wreaks havoc on their life.  For me, it’s just another day in the life of me.

You get to the point of acceptance after living with an illness for so long and you learn that it is not going to kill you and it doesn’t have to control you either.  It doesn’t scare me anymore.  I know what I need to do to deal with my symptoms and I know that I won’t have my symptoms forever.  It is the very nature of cycling: the symptoms are constantly changing.  I think the vigilant tweaking of my medications keeps my symptoms from getting too far off-balance, so I am fortunate in that respect, but the cycling is still there.

Do you rapid cycle?  What does that look like for you and how do you cope?

As an aside, I just received news that Write into the Light was selected by Feedspot’s panelists as one of the Top 100 Bipolar Blogs on the web.  What a nice surprise!  I always thought you had to pay to be on those lists, but I was wrong. 🙂  Check out the list at https://blog.feedspot.com/bipolar_disorder_blogs/

Call for Literary and Art Submissions

Turtle Way™ is Write into the Light’s online creative arts magazine showcasing the work of individuals suffering and recovering from mental illness. Its mission is to offer experience, strength and hope to those who are living with mental illnesses.

Each issue of Turtle Way™ may include poetry, photography, artwork, and prose (including quotes, meditations, opinion pieces and essays) from individuals with mental illness and/or those who love them.

It has been quite some time since an issue has been published, but I would like to put another one together soon. So, please check out the submission guidelines here if you are interested in being a part of this project.

Bipolar Disorder and Chronic Pain

The Bipolar-Pain Connection

According to recent research, about 14% of people with bipolar disorder experience migraines and another 24% experience some other form of chronic pain. That’s almost a third of people with bipolar disorder who are in some sort of serious pain!

In particular, migraines affect 1 in 7 persons with bipolar disorder, which is 3 times more likely than the general population. I’ve been living with chronic migraine for ten years now. Some days I feel like it’s a death sentence. Some days I wish that sentence was carried out. My doctors are still trying to figure out a way to decrease the frequency of my 8 to 12 migraines per month. Apparently, “bipolar disorder and migraines are multifactorial in etiology—there appear to be vascular, cellular, molecular, neurochemical (serotonergic and noradrenergic), and genetic (KIAA0564) components in common between bipolar disorder and migraine conditions.”

Pain and Mental Illness’s Affect on One Another

In general, people with mental illness who experience chronic pain tend to have worsening symptoms of their illness. Often doctors do not take seriously the complaints of physical pain from those individuals who have mental illness. A lot of times people with mental illness have increased sensitivity to pain because they are experiencing depression. Also, because they are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, many times people with mental conditions do not seek the medical care they need to address their physical pain. This leads to greater functional impairments, poorer quality of life, increased disability, and increased risk of suicide compared to those without pain.

Treatments that Address Pain and Mental Illness

Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants or other select antidepressants can be used to help minimize physical pain symptoms as well as address depression symptoms in some patients. Care needs to be taken in patients with bipolar disorder, however, due to the increased risk of triggering a manic episode in those who take antidepressants alone. Often times, a mood stabilizer will be used in conjunction with the antidepressant in these patients.

This is exactly the treatment I am currently receiving under the care of my physician. I am excited to see if it will decrease the frequency of my migraines while addressing my depression and anxiety symptoms at the same time.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments for physical pain and some mental illness symptoms can include things such as meditation, yoga, exercise, prayer, talk therapy, and diet modifications.

Work with your doctor to figure out what may be the best course of action for you. The most important thing is to not give up hope and to never give up trying to find a way out.