Monday, August 4, 2014

My Weird Brain

Back in the days when I was suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression, I used to get a symptom that I never mentioned to anyone, because it was the least of my worries.  When one can barely manage to stand upright, that tends to trump everything else.  However, I used to get this strange sensation, as I was falling asleep, of receiving mild-to-medium electrical shocks to my brain.

I would hear a sound that went "GZZT!", at the same time as seeing a burst of static (like that on a TV that's not tuned to any station), and feeling an unnamable sensation affecting every nerve in my body.  It would last a fraction of a second, as though I had reached out and touched a live wire and then instinctively pulled my hand back.  Sometimes it would happen several times before I drifted off to sleep.  I had no idea what it was, but it wasn't terribly uncomfortable, so I more or less ignored it.

Imagine my surprise when, in the course of some random internet explorations, I happened across a list of symptoms for SSRI medication withdrawal.  Among them was something called "brain zaps", the description of which fit to a T the symptoms that I describe above.  Apparently they are caused by a shortage of dopamine.  Since I had not yet been on psychiatric medication at the time, I can only have been "in withdrawal" from my own natural dopamine supply.  Now that I think on it, I stopped experiencing brain zaps when I started taking paroxetine.  Clearly I am on the correct medication!

I had another "aha!" moment when I discovered connections between narcolepsy (a neurological disorder that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness), cataplexy (a neurological disorder that causes one to lose conscious control of one's body, therefore collapsing into a limp heap, while remaining awake and aware), and depression.  I have been watching a series of BBC documentaries on YouTube called "Extraordinary People".  They are really worth a look-see.  I warn you that some of them are medically kind of gross, if you're squeamish.  The one I'm referring to here was called "I woke up in a morgue".  This one lady lapsed into such a deep state of unconsciousness during her cataplexy episodes, with such minimal vital signs, that she was declared dead on three separate occasions.  Oops.

Anyway, what interested me personally was the similarity of cataplexy symptoms to sleep paralysis (a transitional state between wakefulness and sleep characterized by a complete loss of muscle tone.)  If you've never experienced sleep paralysis, it's pretty much the most frustrating experience you can imagine.  You're half-awake, and conscious of lying in bed, but completely unable to move a muscle.  I don't know how long I lay like that this morning, willing myself with every ounce of determination to wiggle a finger or flop an arm, to no avail.  It felt like ages.

These days, I only experience sleep paralysis on days when I sleep in.  Since I usually take my medication around 8:30 am, this means that I'm late for my dose, which probably accounts for my brain screwing up.  Interestingly (at least to me), sleep paralysis actually runs in my family, through the same branches that contain the most colourful and moody personalities.  IMHO a lot more of my relatives should be medicated than actually are.

Apparently there's some kind of connection between sleep disorders and depression, which isn't fully understood because the research in this area is still ongoing.  The statistics are that narcoleptics are six times more likely than average to be clinically depressed.  I can tell you, with all the trouble I had staying awake and upright during the worst of my depression, I might actually have qualified as a quasi-narco/cata-leptic.  I had trouble staying awake during the day; trouble sleeping at night; and loss of muscle tone to the point where I was practically disabled.

I'm not sure if this is at all interesting to anyone other than myself, but I do feel that it goes a long way to explaining some of my mysterious experiences.  It helps to know that science is on the road to discovering more about my weird brain, and that I am not alone.  I am quite happy and healthy on my current low dose of medication, but it's good to know that if life throws me any curve balls, medical science might be on track to help me again when I need it.


Warped Mind of Ron said...

Drugs can be good and I'm glad you found one that works well for you. It's nice when you can finally put some pieces of the puzzle together even if it's after the fact.

DarcKnyt said...

I'm so happy for you to be where you are. You've come so far in your journey to being the happy, healthy Spark you are. :)

Granny Annie said...

According to my 1909 medical book you should strike a match and hold it to the supposedly deceased person's "greater toe". If it causes a puss filled blister, that person is yet alive. Who needs the internet anyway?

Ginny said...

Sleep paralysis is the worst. I used to have it almost every morning when I was a child. Now it rarely happens. The brain zaps sound very strange to experience. Can't say I've had that happen.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: It's so satisfying when something that was devastatingly confusing starts to make sense.

DarcKnyt: Thanks! It's crazy to remember just how far gone I was. I have come a long way.

Granny Annie: Thanks for the tip! I'll keep that in mind. ;-)

Ginny: Waking up seems to be a process that can get stalled by more than just sleepiness. I'm glad to hear it doesn't happen to you much anymore.

Vanessence7 said...

It's all fascinating, Spark. Nearly all my life I've had some kind of sleeping problem, where I couldn't fall asleep at night, and then couldn't stay awake during the day. I had an (half) aunt that had narcolepsy for years and no one in the family knew it, they just said she was a bad, lazy mother. I always wondered if her issues and mine might be related even though we weren't full blood relatives.

The link to depression is also fascinating. I've been finding in my readings about food related stuff that many people aren't getting enough fat in their diets, and since the brain is composed of mostly fat, the fat deprivation causes a lot of neurological issues that can be helped, if not cured, by diet.

It's so amazing how intricately woven the body is. What a great designer!

I'm so happy that you've found the help you've needed to kick your brain's butt, so to speak. :) The world is a better place.


Lynn said...

That's interesting - especially that brain zapping thing.

Jenski said...

The brain is an amazing thing! I wonder with all the focus on studying it if we can ever really know how it works. I'm glad that at least in retrospect your experiences make sense. It's too bad that when we're really awful that the small clues that could help diagnose us are overlooked for the major ones.

Sparkling Red said...

Ness: Hmm, that sounds like an official Sleep Disorder to me. You'd think that sleeping should be the simplest thing in the world, but somehow it's not.

Lynn: It certainly does get curiouser and curiouser.

Jenski: Yes, the brain is very mysterious. I'm sure we're not even 10% towards the full understanding that we may one day have.