Archive for the ‘Anxiety’ Category

tress, anxiety, and insomnia affect millions of people worldwide, and to alleviate the symptoms, there are a variety of routes one can take, including the ever-popular pharmaceutical pills. But as our world continues to break through the madness of synthetic options and expose each other to holistic options derived from both ancient teachings as well as present-day healers, it’s important we keep our eyes and ears open for our own good.

Anyone who suffers from the above disorders knows the word “simple” doesn’t quite fit with how they feel. In fact, it seems to be very much the opposite: a complex feeling that can barely be put into words. So, how can something as simple as sleeping with weighted blankets be a plausible solution to stress, anxiety, insomnia, and more?

Called deep pressure touch stimulation, (or DPTS), this type of therapy is similar to getting a massage. Pressure is exerted over the body and provides both physical and psychological benefits. Deep touch pressure, according to Temple Grandin, Ph.D., “is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling.” In comparison to very light touching, which has been found to alert the nervous system, deep pressure proves to be relaxing and calming.

Weighted blankets have been traditionally used by occupational therapists as a means to help children with sensory disorders, anxiety, stress, or issues related to autism, and research continues to support this practice. One study, using the Grandin’s Hug Machine device, which allows administration of lateral body pressure, investigated the effects of deep pressure as a tool for alleviating anxiety related to autism. The researchers found “a significant reduction in tension and a marginally significant reduction in anxiety for children who received the deep pressure compared with the children who did not.”

Of weighted blankets specifically, occupational therapist Karen Moore says in psychiatric care, “weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control.”

One study, published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health in 2008, showed that weighted blankets helped with anxiety, and another study published in Australasian Psychiatry in 2012 confirmed this.

Weighted blankets are like warm hugs. They mold to your body to provide pressure that aids in relaxing the nervous system. Think of it like a baby being swaddled — the weight and pressure work to comfort and provide much-needed relief, encouraging the production of serotonin in order to uplift your mood. This same chemical naturally converts to melatonin, which signals your body to rest and relax. Weighted blankets are perfect for anyone looking to try out a non-drug therapy that is both safe and effective.

To weigh the blankets down, plastic poly pellets are typically used, being sewn into compartments throughout the blanket for even weight distribution. The weight of the blanket serves as a deep touch therapy, stimulating deep touch receptors all over your body that promote a more grounded and safe feeling to the individual.

Though the weight of the blanket depends on your size and personal preference, a standard weight for adults ranges from 15 to 30 pounds. It is recommended to speak with a doctor or occupational therapist regarding using one if you are suffering from a medical condition. It is also strongly advised not to use a weighted blanket should you be suffering from a respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problem.

As for where you can buy them, there are many websites you can purchase them from, providing you with different weights, fabrics, colors, and sizes to personalize your experience. You can even make your own as well.

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2016/05/20/how-weighted-blankets-are-helping-people-with-anxiety/

By Ashley Strickland

Bullying can be defined by many things. It’s teasing, name-calling, stereotyping, fighting, exclusion, spreading rumors, public shaming and aggressive intimidation. It can be in person and online. But it can no longer be considered a rite of passage that strengthens character, new research suggests.

Adolescents who are bullied by their peers actually suffer from worse long-term mental health effects than children who are maltreated by adults, based on a study published last week in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The findings were a surprise to Dr. Dieter Wolke and his team that led the study, who expected the two groups to be similarly affected. However, because children tend to spend more time with their peers, it stands to reason that if they have negative relationships with one another, the effects could be severe and long-lasting, he said. They also found that children maltreated by adults were more likely to be bullied.

The researchers discovered that children who were bullied are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and consider self-harm and suicide later in life.

While all children face conflict, disagreements between friends can usually be resolved in some way. But the repetitive nature of bullying is what can cause such harm, Wolke said.

“Bullying is comparable to a scenario for a caged animal,” he said. “The classroom is a place where you’re with people you didn’t choose to be with, and you can’t escape them if something negative happens.”

Children can internalize the harmful effects of bullying, which creates stress-related issues such as anxiety and depression, or they can externalize it by turning from a victim to a bully themselves. Either way, the result has a painful impact.

The study also concluded with a call to action, suggesting that while the government has justifiably focused on addressing maltreatment and abuse in the home, they should also consider bullying as a serious problem that requires schools, health services and communities to prevent, respond to or stop this abusive culture from forming.

“It’s a community problem,” Wolke said. “Physicians don’t ask about bullying. Health professionals, educators and legislation could provide parents with medical and social resources. We all need to be trained to ask about peer relationships.”

Stopping bullying in schools

Division and misunderstanding are some of the motivations behind bullying because they highlight differences. If children don’t understand those differences, they can form negative associations, said Johanna Eager, director for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program.

Programs such as Welcoming Schools, for kindergarten through fifth grade, and Not in Our School, a movement for kindergarten through high school, want to help teachers, parents and children to stop a culture of bullying from taking hold in a school or community.

They offer lesson plans, staff training and speakers for schools, as well as events for parents.

Welcoming Schools is focused on helping children embrace diversity and overcome stereotypes at a young age. It’s the best place to start to prevent damaging habits that could turn into bullying by middle school or high school.

The lesson plans aim to help teachers and students by encouraging that our differences are positive aspects rather than negatives, whether it be in appearance, gender or religion, Eager said. They are also designed to help teachers lead discussions and answer tough questions that might come up.

Teachable moments present themselves in these classrooms daily, and Welcoming Schools offers resources to navigate those difficult moments. If they are prepared, teachers can address it and following up with a question.

They cover questions from “Why do you think it’s wrong for a boy to wear pink?” and “What does it mean to be gay or lesbian?” to “Would you be an ally or a bystander if someone was picking on your friend?” and “Why does it hurt when someone says this?”

Welcoming Schools is present in more than 30 states, working with about 500 schools and 115 districts.

Not in Our School has the same mission to create identity-safe school climates that encourage acceptance. They want to help build empathy in students and encourage them to become “upstanders” rather than bystanders.

Their lesson plans and videos, viewed by schools across the country, include teaching students about how to safely intervene in a situation, reach out to a trusted adult, befriend a bullied child or be an activist against bullying. While the role of teachers, counselors and resource officers will always be important, peer-to-peer relationships make a big difference, said Becki Cohn-Vargas, director of Not in Our Schools.

These positive practices can help build self-esteem and don’t focus on punishing bullies because the emphasis is on restorative justice: repairing harm and helping children and teens to change their aggressive behavior.

But it can’t be up to the schools alone.

“What’s really important is getting the public and the medical world to recognize bullying for what it is — a serious issue,” Cohn-Vargas said.

A global problem

Bullying, the study suggests, is a global issue. It is particularly prevalent in countries where there are rigid class divisions between higher and lower income families, Wolke said.

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, a University of Ottawa professor and Canada Research Chair for Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention, believes that defining bullying can help in how we address it. Look at it as a behavior that causes harm, rather than normal adolescent behavior, she said.

Role models should also keep a close eye on their own behavior, she said. Sometimes, adults can say or do things in front of their children that mimic aggressive behavior, such gossiping, demeaning others, encouraging their children to hit back or allowing sibling rivalry to escalate into something more harmful.

“We tend to admire power,” Vaillancourt said. “But we also tend to abuse power, because we don’t talk about achieving power in an appropriate way. Bullying is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t make it right. We should be taking care of each other. ”

The study compared young adults in the United States and the United Kingdom who were maltreated and bullied in childhood. Data was collected from two separate studies, comparing 4,026 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the UK and 1,273 participants from the Great Smoky Mountain Study in the U.S.

The UK data looked at maltreatment from the ages of 8 weeks to 8.6 years, bullying at ages 8, 10 and 13 and the mental health effects at age 18. The U.S. study presented data on bullying and maltreatment between the ages of 9 and 16, and the mental health effects from ages 19 to 25.

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(15)00165-0/abstract

Psychedelics were highly popular hallucinogenic substances used for recreational purposes back in the 1950s and 1960s. They were also widely used for medical research looking into their beneficial impact on several psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression. In 1967, however, they were classified as a Class A, Schedule I substance and considered to be among the most dangerous drugs with no recognized clinical importance. The use of psychedelics has since been prohibited.

Psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, at Psychiatrist and honorary lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, at King’s College London, James Rucker, MRCPsych, is proposing to reclassify and improve access to psychedelics in order to conduct more research on their therapeutic benefits. He believes in the potential of psychedelics so much that late last month he took to the pages of the prestigious journal the BMJ to make his case. He wrote that psychedelics should instead be considered Schedule II substances which would allow a “comprehensive, evidence based assessment of their therapeutic potential.”

“The Western world is facing an epidemic of mental health problems with few novel therapeutic prospects on the horizon,” Rucker told Psychiatry Advisor, justifying why studying psychedelics for treating psychiatric illnesses is so important.

Rucker recognizes that the illicit substance may be harmful to some people, especially when used in a recreational and uncontrolled context. He cited anecdotal reports of the substance’s disabling symptoms, such as long-term emotionally charged flashbacks. However, he also believes that psychedelic drugs can have positive outcomes in other respects.

“The problem at the moment,” he argued, “is that we don’t know who would benefit and who wouldn’t. The law does a good job of preventing us from finding out.”

From a biological perspective, psychedelics act as an agonist, a substance that combines with a receptor and initiates a physiological response to a subtype of serotonin known as 5HT2a. According to Rucker, this process influences the balance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters.

“The psychedelics may invoke a temporary state of neural plasticity within the brain, as a result of which the person may experience changes in sensory perception, thought processing and self-awareness,” Rucker speculated. He added that psychedelic drugs can act as a catalyst that stirs up the mind to elicit insights into unwanted cycles of feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

“These cycles can then be faced, expressed, explored, interpreted, accepted and finally integrated back into the person’s psyche with the therapist’s help,” he explained. Reclassifying psychedelics could mean that the mechanism by which these substances can help with anxiety, depression and psychiatric symptoms could be studied and understood better.

Several experts in the field of drug misuse have disagreed strongly with Rucker’s proposals in this area, and are quick to refute his findings and recommendations. Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), emphasized the fact that psychedelics can distort a person’s perception of time, motion, colors, sounds and self. “These drugs can disrupt a person’s ability to think and communicate rationally, or even to recognize reality, sometimes resulting in bizarre or dangerous behavior,” she wrote on a NIDA webpage dealing with hallucinogens and dissociative drugs.

“Hallucinogenic drugs are associated with psychotic-like episodes that can occur long after a person has taken the drug,” she added. Volkow also says that, despite being classified as a Schedule I substance, the development of new hallucinogens for recreational purposes remains of particular concern.

Rucker has several suggestions to help mediate the therapeutic action of the drug during medical trials, and thereby sets out to rebut the concerns of experts such as Volkow. When a person is administered a hallucinogen, they experience a changed mental state. During that changed state, Rucker points out, it is possible to control what he describes as a “context,” and thereby make use of the drug more safe.

According to Rucker, the term “context” is divided into the “set” and the “setting” of the drug experience. “By ‘set,’ I mean the mindset of the individual and by ‘setting’ I mean the environment surrounding the individual,” he explained.

To prepare the mindset of the person, Rucker said that a high level of trust between patient and therapist is essential. “A good therapeutic relationship should be established beforehand, and the patient should be prepared for the nature of the psychedelic experience,” he suggested. The ‘setting’ of the drug experience should also be kept closely controlled — safe, comfortable and low in stress.

It is also necessary to screen participants who undergo the drug experience in order to minimize the risk of adverse effects. Rucker suggested screening patients with an established history of severe mental illness, as well as those at high risk of such problems developing. It is also important to screen the medical and drug history of participants.

“The action of psychedelics is changed by many antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs and some medications that are available over the counter, so a full medical assessment prior to their use is essential,” he said.

In order to avoid the danger of addiction, psychedelics should be given at most on a weekly basis. Indeed, for many patients, very few treatments should be required. “The patient may need only one or two sessions to experience lasting benefits, so the course should always be tailored to the individual,” Rucker advised.

If there are any adverse effects during the psychedelic experience, a pharmacological antagonist or antidote to the drug can be administered to immediately terminate the experience. “This underlines the importance of medical supervision being available at all times,” Rucker noted.

Psychedelics are heavily influenced by the environment surrounding the drug experience. Rucker is proposing they be administered under a controlled setting and with a trusted therapist’s supervision. Together with a reclassification of the drug, medical research could generate a better understanding and application of the benefits of psychedelics to mental health.

1.Rucker JJH. Psychedelic drugs should be legally reclassified so that researchers can investigate their therapeutic potential. BMJ. 2015; 350:h2902.

http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2902/related

An analysis of data provided by 135,000 randomly selected participants – including 19,000 people who had used drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms – finds that use of psychedelics does not increase risk of developing mental health problems. The results are published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Previously, the researchers behind the study – from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim – had conducted a population study investigating associations between mental health and psychedelic use. However, that study, which looked at data from 2001-04, was unable to find a link between use of these drugs and mental health problems.

“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” says author and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen.

“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” concurs co-author and neuroscientist Teri Krebs.

For their study, they analyzed a data set from the US National Health Survey (2008-2011) consisting of 135,095 randomly selected adults from the US, including 19,299 users of psychedelic drugs.

Krebs and Johansen report that they found no evidence for a link between use of psychedelic drugs and psychological distress, depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.

In fact, on a number of factors, the study found a correlation between use of psychedelic drugs and decreased risk for mental health problems.

“Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics,” says Krebs.

However, Johansen acknowledges that – given the design of the study – the researchers cannot “exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others.”

Despite this, Johansen believes that the findings of the study are robust enough to draw the conclusion that prohibition of psychedelic drugs cannot be justified as a public health measure.

Krebs says:

“Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personality, and free-time and play.”

Commenting on the research in a piece for the journal Nature, Charles Grob, a paediatric psychiatrist at the University of California-Los Angeles, says the study “assures us that there were not widespread ‘acid casualties’ in the 1960s.” However, he urges caution when interpreting the results, as individual cases of adverse effects can and do occur as a consequence of psychedelic use.

For instance, Grob describes hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, sometimes referred to as “a never-ending trip.” Patients with this disorder experience “incessant distortions” in their vision, such as shimmering lights and colored dots. “I’ve seen a number of people with these symptoms following a psychedelic experience, and it can be a very serious condition,” says Grob.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290461.php

brain

The many documented cases of strange delusions and neurological syndromes can offer a window into how bizarre the brain can be.

It may seem that hallucinations are random images that appear to some individuals, or that delusions are thoughts that arise without purpose. However, in some cases, a specific brain pathway may create a particular image or delusion, and different people may experience the same hallucination.

In recent decades, with advances in brain science, researchers have started to unravel the causes of some of these conditions, while others have remained a mystery.

Here is a look at seven odd hallucinations, which show that anything is possible when the brain takes a break from reality.

1. Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome
This neurological syndrome is characterized by bizarre, distorted perceptions of time and space, similar to what Alice experienced in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Patients with Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome describe seeing objects or parts of their bodies as smaller or bigger than their actual sizes, or in an altered shape. These individuals may also perceive time differently.

The rare syndrome seems to be caused by some viral infections, epilepsy, migraine headaches and brain tumors. Studies have also suggested that abnormal activity in parts of the visual cortex that handle information about the shape and size of objects might cause the hallucinations.

It’s also been suggested that Carroll himself experienced the condition during migraine headaches and used them as inspiration for writing the tale of Alice’s strange dream.

English psychiatrist John Todd first described the condition in an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1955, and that’s why the condition is also called Todd’s syndrome. However, an earlier reference to the condition appears in a 1952 article by American neurologist Caro Lippman. The doctor describes a patient who reported feeling short and wide as she walked, and referenced “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to explain her body image illusions.

2. Walking Corpse Syndrome
This delusion, also called Cotard’s Syndrome, is a rare mental illness in which patients believe they are dead, are dying or have lost their internal organs.

French neurologist Jules Cotard first described the condition in 1880, finding it in a woman who had depression and also symptoms of psychosis. The patient believed she didn’t have a brain or intestines, and didn’t need to eat. She died of starvation.

Other cases of Cotard’s syndrome have been reported in people with a range of psychiatric and neurological problems, including schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury and multiple sclerosis.

In a recent case report of Cotard’s syndrome, researchers described a previously healthy 73-year-old woman who went to the emergency room insisting that she was “going to die and going to hell.” Eventually, doctors found the patient had bleeding in her brain due to a stroke. After she received treatment in the hospital, her delusion resolved within a week, according to the report published in January 2014 in the journal of Neuropsychiatry.

3. Charles Bonnet syndrome
People who have lost their sight may develop Charles Bonnet syndrome, which involves having vivid, complex visual hallucinations of things that aren’t really there.

People with this syndrome usually hallucinate people’s faces, cartoons, colored patterns and objects. It is thought the condition occurs because the brain’s visual system is no longer receiving visual information from the eye or part of the retina, and begins making up its own images.

Charles Bonnet syndrome occurs in between 10 and 40% of older adults who have significant vision loss, according to studies.

4. Clinical lycanthropy
In this extremely rare psychiatric condition, patients believe they are turning into wolves or other animals. They may perceive their own bodies differently, and insist they are growing the fur, sharp teeth and claws of a wolf.

Cases have also been reported of people with delusional beliefs about turning into dogs, pigs, frogs and snakes.

The condition usually occurs in combination with another disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression, according to a review study published in the March issue of the journal History of Psychiatry in 2014.

5. Capgras delusion
Patients with Capgras delusion believe that an imposter has replaced a person they feel close to, such as a friend or spouse. The delusion has been reported in patients with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, advanced Parkinson’s disease, dementia and brain lesions.

One brain imaging study suggested the condition may involve reduced neural activity in the brain system that processes information about faces and emotional responses.

6. Othello syndrome
Named after Shakespeare’s character, Othello syndrome involves a paranoid belief that the sufferer’s partner is cheating. People with this condition experience strong obsessive thoughts and may show aggression and violence.

In one recent case report, doctors described a 46-year-old married man in the African country Burkina Faso who had a stroke, which left him unable to communicate and paralyzed in half of his body. The patient gradually recovered from his paralysis and speaking problems, but developed a persistent delusional jealousy and aggression toward his wife, accusing her of cheating with an unidentified man.

7. Ekbom’s syndrome
Patients with Ekbom’s syndrome, also known as delusional parasitosis or delusional infestations, strongly believe they are infested with parasites that are crawling under their skin. Patients report sensations of itching and being bitten, and sometimes, in an effort to get rid of the pathogens, they may hurt themselves, which can result in wounds and actual infections.

It’s unknown what causes these delusions, but studies have linked the condition with structural changes in the brain, and some patients have improved when treated with antipsychotic medications.

http://www.livescience.com/46477-oddest-hallucinations.html

imrs

Psychedelic mushrooms can do more than make you see the world in kaleidoscope. Research suggests they may have permanent, positive effects on the human brain.

In fact, a mind-altering compound found in some 200 species of mushroom is already being explored as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety. People who consume these mushrooms, after “trips” that can be a bit scary and unpleasant, report feeling more optimistic, less self-centered, and even happier for months after the fact.

But why do these trips change the way people see the world? According to a study published today in Human Brain Mapping, the mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.

The study examined brain activity in those who’d received injections of psilocybin, which gives “shrooms” their psychedelic punch. Despite a long history of mushroom use in spiritual practice, scientists have only recently begun to examine the brain activity of those using the compound, and this is the first study to attempt to relate the behavioral effects to biological changes.

After injections, the 15 participants were found to have increased brain function in areas associated with emotion and memory. The effect was strikingly similar to a brain in dream sleep, according to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doctoral researcher in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.

“You’re seeing these areas getting louder, and more active,” he said. “It’s like someone’s turned up the volume there, in these regions that are considered part of an emotional system in the brain. When you look at a brain during dream sleep, you see the same hyperactive emotion centers.”

In fact, administration of the drug just before or during sleep seemed to promote higher activity levels during Rapid Eye Movement sleep, when dreams occur. An intriguing finding, Carhart-Harris says, given that people tend to describe their experience on psychedelic drugs as being like “a waking dream.” It seems that the brain may literally be slipping into unconscious patterns while the user is awake.

Conversely, the subjects of the study had decreased activity in other parts of the brain—areas associated with high level cognition. “These are the most recent parts of our brain, in an evolutionary sense,” Carhart-Harris said. “And we see them getting quieter and less organized.”

This dampening of one area and amplification of another could explain the “mind-broadening” sensation of psychedelic drugs, he said. Unlike most recreational drugs, psychotropic mushrooms and LSD don’t provide a pleasant, hedonistic reward when they’re consumed. Instead, users take them very occasionally, chasing the strange neurological effects instead of any sort of high.

“Except for some naïve users who go looking for a good time…which, by the way, is not how it plays out,” Carhart-Harris said, “you see people taking them to experience some kind of mental exploration, and to try to understand themselves.”

Our firm sense of self—the habits and experiences that we find integral to our personality—is quieted by these trips. Carhart-Harris believes that the drugs may unlock emotion while “basically killing the ego,” allowing users to be less narrow-minded and let go of negative outlooks.

It’s still not clear why such effects can have more profound long-term effects on the brain than our nightly dreams. But Carhart-Harris hopes to see more of these compounds in modern medicine. “The way we treat psychological illnesses now is to dampen things,” he said. “We dampen anxiety, dampen ones emotional range in the hope of curing depression, taking the sting out of what one feels.”

But some patients seem to benefit from having their emotions “unlocked” instead. “It would really suit the style of psychotherapy where we engage in a patient’s history and hang-ups,” Carhart-Harris said. “Instead of putting a bandage over the exposed wound, we’d be essentially loosening their minds—promoting a permanent change in outlook.”

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/07/03/psychedelic-drugs-put-your-brain-in-a-waking-dream-study-finds/

It seems simple: Walk to the refrigerator and grab a drink.

But Brett Larsen, 37, opens the door gingerly — peeks in — closes it, opens it, closes it and opens it again. This goes on for several minutes.

When he finally gets out a bottle of soda, he places his thumb and index finger on the cap, just so. Twists it open. Twists it closed. Twists it open.

“Just think about any movement that you have during the course of a day — closing a door or flushing the toilet — over and over and over,” said Michele Larsen, Brett’s mother.

“I cannot tell you the number of things we’ve had to replace for being broken because they’ve been used so many times.”

At 12, Larsen was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. It causes anxiety, which grips him so tightly that his only relief is repetition. It manifests in the smallest of tasks: taking a shower, putting on his shoes, walking through a doorway.

There are days when Larsen cannot leave the house.

“I can only imagine how difficult that is to live with that every single living waking moment of your life,” said Dr. Gerald Maguire, Larsen’s psychiatrist.

In a last-ditch effort to relieve his symptoms, Larsen decided to undergo deep brain stimulation. Electrodes were implanted in his brain, nestled near the striatum, an area thought to be responsible for deep, primitive emotions such as anxiety and fear.

Brett’s OCD trigger

Brett says his obsessions and compulsions began when he was 10, after his father died.

“I started worrying a lot about my family and loved ones dying or something bad happening to them,” he said. “I just got the thought in my head that if I switch the light off a certain amount of times, maybe I could control it somehow.

“Then I just kept doing it, and it got worse and worse.”

“Being OCD” has become a cultural catchphrase, but for people with the actual disorder, life can feel like a broken record. With OCD, the normal impulse to go back and check if you turned off the stove, or whether you left the lights on, becomes part of a crippling ritual.

The disease hijacked Larsen’s life (he cannot hold down a job and rarely sees friends); his personality (he can be stone-faced, with only glimpses of a slight smile); and his speech (a stuttering-like condition causes his speaking to be halting and labored.)

He spent the past two decades trying everything: multiple medication combinations, cognitive behavioral therapy, cross-country visits to specialists, even hospitalization.

Nothing could quell the anxiety churning inside him.

“This is not something that you consider first line for patients because this is invasive,” said Maguire, chair of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California Riverside medical school, and part of the team evaluating whether Larsen was a good candidate for deep brain stimulation. “It’s reserved for those patients when the standard therapies, the talk therapies, the medication therapies have failed.”

Deep brain stimulation is an experimental intervention, most commonly used among patients with nervous system disorders such as essential tremor, dystonia or Parkinson’s disease. In rare cases, it has been used for patients with intractable depression and OCD.

The electrodes alter the electrical field around regions of the brain thought to influence disease — in some cases amplifying it, in others dampening it — in hopes of relieving symptoms, said Dr. Frank Hsu, professor and chair of the department of neurosurgery at University of California, Irvine.

Hsu says stimulating the brain has worked with several OCD patients, but that the precise mechanism is not well understood.

The procedure is not innocuous: It involves a small risk of bleeding in the brain, stroke and infection. A battery pack embedded under the skin keeps the electrical current coursing to the brain, but each time the batteries run out, another surgical procedure is required.

‘I feel like laughing’

As doctors navigated Larsen’s brain tissue in the operating room — stimulating different areas to determine where to focus the electrical current — Larsen began to feel his fear fade.

At one point he began beaming, then giggling. It was an uncharacteristic light moment for someone usually gripped by anxiety.

In response to Larsen’s laughter, a staff member in the operating room asked him what he was feeling. Larsen said, “I don’t know why, but I feel happy. I feel like laughing.”

Doctors continued probing his brain for hours, figuring out what areas — and what level of stimulation — might work weeks later, when Larsen would have his device turned on for good.

In the weeks after surgery, the residual swelling in his brain kept those good feelings going. For the first time in years, Larsen and his mother had hope for normalcy.

“I know that Brett has a lot of normal in him, even though this disease eats him up at times,” said Michele Larsen. “There are moments when he’s free enough of anxiety that he can express that. But it’s only moments. It’s not days. It’s not hours. It’s not enough.”

Turning it on

In January, Larsen had his device activated. Almost immediately, he felt a swell of happiness reminiscent of what he had felt in the OR weeks earlier.

But that feeling would be fleeting — the process for getting him to an optimal level would take months. Every few weeks doctors increased the electrical current.

“Each time I go back it feels better,” Larsen said. “I’m more calm every time they turn it up.”

With time, some of his compulsive behaviors became less pronounced. In May, several weeks after his device was activated, he could put on his shoes with ease. He no longer spun them around in an incessant circle to allay his anxiety.

But other behaviors — such as turning on and shutting off the faucet — continued. Today, things are better, but not completely normal.

Normal, by society’s definition, is not the outcome Larsen should expect, experts say. Patients with an intractable disease who undergo deep brain stimulation should expect to have manageable OCD.

Lately, Larsen feels less trapped by his mind. He is able to make the once interminable trek outside his home within minutes, not hours. He has been to Disneyland with friends twice. He takes long rides along the beach to relax.

In his mind, the future looks bright.

“I feel like I’m getting better every day,” said Larsen, adding that things like going back to school or working now feel within his grasp. “I feel like I’m more able to achieve the things I want to do since I had the surgery.”

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/24/health/brain-stimulation-ocd/?c=&page=0