Friday, August 15, 2008

Never Mind the Girl; The Brain Can't Take It

This article in The New York Times gives a small idea how maddeningly complex the brain is. And -- as much as we love to hate "the pharmaceuticals" -- without this kind of research (albeit motivated by return on investment), probably we wouldn't be making any progress at all in understanding brain dysfunction.

Meanwhile, as we crawl out of the Dark Ages in our perspective on mental illness, the number and nature of disorders seem to be evolving much faster than we are, along with an explosion of brand new "crazies." Is it possible we'll discover that
none of us humans has evolved sufficiently to cope with life in the 21st Century? Is one or another brain drug in everybody's [not so distant] future? With the planet's increasing shift to multiple choice disorder, dizzying speed, repetitious tasking, sedentarianism, vast hours of frenetic sensory input, chemically-laced food, poor diet generally, pervasive social pressures, and fear of absolutely, positively everything -- maybe our brains simply can't keep up. Maybe the world we live in -- the world we've created -- is causing our various receptors to go haywire.

I asked several friends what they thought. One brilliant friend with a profound metaphysical bent, suggested that our growing mental problems are the result of poor nutrition. A second friend noted other environmental factors, saying, "I'm not sure what I would add to your list (it's pretty exhaustive!) other than a lack of sleep. As a society, I don't think we get enough sleep -- and isn't that recent research about breast cancer and light exposure at night interesting? I think (at least I hope) that we'll start to figure out that so much about the way we live is unhealthy, particularly the processed, chemical-laced foods."

Another friend -- a psychiatric nurse -- said, "Your premise is that modern life is causing an explosion in mental dysfunction of all kinds, by (indirectly) causing brain chemicals to go haywire. And your list of factors contributing to the problem is convincing and right on..... but still I hesitate. I'm not quite sure why." She went on to note that schizophrenia has "been around for centuries." She observed that though autisim seems to be on the rise, she suspects it occurs during fetal development. Eating disorders, she notes, are "a result of society's conflicting values... a modern life dilemma." She concludes, "When we talk about mental health, I'm concerned about what we're teaching young folks, without even being aware that we're teaching. I'm talking about violence as a form of entertainment. It's scary to me..... the way movies, TV, and video games glorify violence, and often allow the perpetrator to walk away without consequences."

In a terse one sentence response, a male friend agreed that life is making us crazy, but -- perhaps in concert with the posited nature of men to rush to solution -- mainly wondered "What can we do?"

A gifted eco-writer friend observed, "I see [the Internet] as an admirable idea gone wrong: technology intended to connect the world for noble purposes, hijacked by the less lofty masses for trivial, superficial pursuits. Media, once designed, again, to inform, educate and connect the world, now hijacked by commercial aims for pure profit. Corporate values that have severed the relationship between business and workers, favoring shareholders and thus, productivity and efficiency over everything else, leaving 'human resources' in cubicle mazes with mindless tasks to accomplish. To my mind, a particular type of person has gained control of our culture, and the rest of us are at their mercy."

A friend with two young children and a deep commitment to God, wrote, " ... we are on sensory overload on so many levels. Remember the axiom about early to bed and early to rise? And remember when food was wholesome and no one said you shouldn't eat it because it had too many carbs or too much fat or too many artificial whatevers? Remember when neighbors would help and talk to one another? Yes, we are overstimulated, but somehow underutilized as human beings. Where is the intimate connection? If a creative soul cries out for a 'stop the world moment,' we medicate them. Why can't they cope? Why can't they keep up? We are all racing but where are we going?"

Finally, one friend shared this: "With prozac, I gain weight, shop, and eat like a crazy woman. Add the Wellbutrin and the shopping and eating normalize. If that isn't a perfect testament to mind over matter I don't know what is. I believe our heads are hardwired-- and these drugs just normalize us, while sapping us of our sexual urges and creativity. If anything, the days of the Van Goghs and Hemmingways are done, replaced by well medicated intelligent beings who no longer suffer "needlessly". Needlessly being kind of a debatable word.

It's worth talking about, to be sure.

And, now for a *great* listen: "The Girl Can't Take It." Click HERE]


H said...
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H said...

Wow, Nancy! Beautifully written ... of course! I'm so glad you were inspired to write your blog -- insightful, thoughtful and relevant. I agree, our society, is on full speed and I think we are missing out. I wonder if Ira was rushing to get to work the morning of the tragic accident. Lyrics that frequently move through my head is "Slow down you move too fast, try to make the morning last now...". Our culture has always been more live to work rather than work to live. Have we taken that too far? Bravo for some thought provoking conversation. After all, doesn't that make us slow down ... a bit of thinking?

Karen M. Jones said...

Nancy, what a deeply thoughtful blog -- thank you for creating it. Maybe you and your readers caught the two relevant articles in the Aug. 24 Washington Post (Outlook section) about info-overload undermining democracy. One headline says it all: "If Everyone's Talking, Who Will Listen?" I'm blogging about it today myself at I am so grateful to have your voice shaping a meaningful dialog.