Thursday, May 14, 2009

Complicating Issues © Megan Snider

"O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim"
---Keats ("Ode to a Nightingale")

There are many issues that can complicate "recovery" from mental illness. More than likely, a mental illness will be a life-long prognosis, unfortunately. On the other hand, there are things one can do for oneself to assure that one is taking appropriate care of oneself and may not have to suffer a devastating relapse. One of the most important issues, and one I'd like to touch on somewhat briefly, concerns the use of central nervous system depressants.

Central nervous system depressants are important for people with mental illnesses to avoid for a variety of serious reasons. The central nervous system is responsible for controlling higher brain functions such as breathing, heart rate, and thought while the lower brain controls things such as motor function, balance, and, interestingly enough, sleep. These seem to be mostly involuntary things, but unfortunately, I am no neurologist.

Specific dangers depend on what your diagnosis is and how your body reacts to the chemicals you put inside it. Some agents are already central nervous system depressants to begin with-- some of the most famous being benzodiazepines, certain tricyclic antidepressants, barbiturates used in seizure prevention, anti psychotics, and anticonvulsants like Neurontin which may also double as treatment for Panic Disorder as many other anticonvulsants do. Nonbenzodiazepines (among them Ambien), which are a string of new drugs that behave as benzodiazepines without being structurally related to them, are also included on this list. Please note that this is in no way a complete list.

The problem comes in with the fact that often the patient being treated for a mental disorder does not believe he or she is receiving adequate help. This assertion may very well be true for unless a patient can afford to be admitted into private care, the centers available to the public can be under staffed and met with a superfluous quota of patients, all of whom require serious help, whom can simply not all be treated effectively nor given enough individualized care.

Met with the options of hopelessness, genuine terror, and the feeling of an isolated, wasted, and doomed future, the patient may turn to self-medication in the hope of remedying his or her quality of life. And here is where the great danger dogs at the feet of a great temptation. The temporary, psychopharmaceutical Band-aids that have been hastily applied start to fray at the seams and slip off when a new rush of problems meets the patient head-first and he or she begins to turn to self-medication, administered oftentimes ruthlessly and frequently to dull the constant, roaring ache of a mental disorder.

Substance abuse, both in its legal and illegal form, may entail ingestion of central nervous system depressants depending on your drug of choice. Substances with the potential of being abused and acting as central nervous system depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, opioids, and, once again, benzodiazepines. As before, please note that this is in no way a complete list.

It is a general rule that when any psychopharmaceutical is administered, alcohol consumption is not generally advised simply because that alcohol is one of the most famous central nervous system depressants. The dark relationship between alcohol and mental illness stretches back centuries and has been explored countless times. From dealing with Major (Clinical) Depression to Panic Disorder, alcohol seems to be the drug of choice. My intent for this blog, however, is not to explore alcohol specifically, but to warn about the adverse effects of mixing too many central nervous system depressants. I assure you, I have much to say on that issue and many others, but the need to verify my information and explore my sources supersedes my desire to swan dive into a dangerous tirade against mixing alcohol with medicine.

Basically what happens when a person combines too many central nervous system depressants is, at first, the symptoms of being under the influence. This can be observed in Xanax overdoes as well as over-indulgence in alcohol. Drowsiness, a general numbness, perhaps an initial sense of well-being and a loosening of inhibitions all overtake the body and mind. As the amount of depressants are increased, the user begins to entrap him or herself in a dangerous state between life and death. What can begin as a rather pleasant experience, rapidly deteriorates into something dangerous. Respiration slows, heart rate plummets, and the user could fall into a coma which may be followed by death.

When one is cautioned not to mix depressants, it is for a good reason. The physical reasons alone should be scary enough, but there are more reasons to follow the advise of not piling depressant upon depressant such as rebound-anxiety, increased inducing of psychosis and an increase in disordered and confused thinking, to name a few. I will explore each of these in upcoming posts.

It is not my goal as a writer nor as a human being suffering which some of the aforementioned afflictions to be lazy or take a simplistic approach to my posts. Nothing about mental illness is simple and can be wished, waved or prayed away. Anyone suffering from a mental illness has probably tried one or all of these methods at some point in his or her life and can assure you that easy solutions and simple fixes are most certainly not the case.

If you would like to verify my sources or simply read more about these conditions, below I've provided some links with more information. Google searches are always helpful as well and I encourage anyone in treatment or dealing with someone in treatment to do firsthand, in-depth research into their particular diagnoses as well as mental illness itself.

The links:

Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" (Read it all at:

Personal Disclaimer

While I am documenting these posts as a writer, it is important to understand that I am also documenting them with personal experience and emotion tied to the issues I present. I will be frank about conditions from the point of the diagnosis (or, at least, by explaining what I can understand myself if I am unaffected by the particular ailment) and from the point of view of the diagnosed, as I have struggled through various situations myself for at least a decade now.

It has never been my intent to treat any of this lightly because I have seen my own problem treated lightly and I find it insulting, if not extremely insensitive. (I once had someone kindly suggest that I "pinch myself" when faced with depersonalization or derealization brought on by Panic Disorder. I'm not sure that "pinching oneself" would be an adequate course of treatment found in the DSM for treating dissociative features.)

© Megan Snider

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