There are times I would feel quite at home putting up a poster with these words “Help wanted to find missing person”. Of course that missing person would be me, or at least the part of me that is, at that time, gone. During depressive episodes I feel the real ‘me’ the part of me that enjoys and embraces life is literally just gone, lost and forlorn. We all know the state, its where all hope has departed, where instead of positivity we have the other demons on our shoulders, hopelessness, desolation, anxiety, profound sadness and all their lovely cousins…
It’s a grim state, the depressive element of bipolar. I’m not entirely sure which part of being bipolar I hate the most; the highs or the lows. Each has their own fascinating and treacherous ‘side-effects’! I say fascinating because despite all our medical discoveries, we are no closer to a ‘cure’ now than we were a few hundred years ago. We have made breakthroughs and invented drugs to keep the symptoms of mental illness at bay, but a cure? – Nah! Not yet!
It is however fascinating to realize there is nothing more resilient than the human psyche. I have come back from the deep and come down from the pinnacle and while I can’t and won’t say ‘unscathed’, I have survived. The consequences of my illness mean I’ve lost friends, I’ve alienated those I love, I’ve done many things I wouldn’t even begin to write about. At the same time, I have an unquenchable desire to understand my actions, to comprehend my emotions, to recognize the pits and pendulums so that I can do better, be better.
Nowadays the medical profession prefer to use the term ‘mind’ instead of psyche. Mind, psyche, cognizance, perception they are pretty much the same when dealing with a ‘sick’ psyche (sorry -mind)!! My perception of things is askew because of an imbalance in hormones somewhere within my brain. It could even be a teeny tiny imbalance, the medical profession doesn’t quite know for sure yet! In the past, I’ve been vocal about the lack of understanding, research and treatment for people with mental illness irrespective of the category. But the treatments that have been available up to just quite recently (as cutting edge medicine!!!) were barbaric.
Mental illness was once mistaken as demonic possession. In an effort to ‘cure’ the infected, holes were cut in their heads to force the demon out! This was called trepanning or trepanation. What’s weird (or weirder perhaps) is that practice is alive and well today, I kid you not….
Trepanation is the practice of making a hole in the skull in order to improve the brain pulsations and hence the overall well being. A trepan is the instrument used for making a hole in the skull bone. It is sometimes spelled trephine. The idea is to pump up the brainbloodvolume. It’s known that one’s level of consciousness is directly related to the volume of blood in one’s brain. As a result, trepanners say, one feels happier and more energetic.
For more on this wonderful technique see http://www.trepanationguide.com
Hydrotherapy was also another wonderful treatment thought to ‘cure’ mental illness. Some patients were mummified in towels and soaked in freezing cold water for hours on end. Other patients were strapped into freezing cold baths (sometimes for days on end) and only allowed out to the toilet. If that wasn’t bad enough, patients who didn’t respond were subjected to hosing from high-powered jets! Needless to say, this type of treatment was discredited for lack of tangible results.
In the early 1900’s the purposeful infection of a patient with Malaria to induce a high fever to cure their illness was first used. The procedure was hypothesized and carried out by Austrian physician Julius Wagner von Jauregg (who incidentally was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927).
After that came along came a young Polish neurophysiologist and neuropsychiatrist named Manfred J. Sakel. While an internist in the Lichterfelde Hospital for Mental Diseases, in Berlin, Germany, he provoked a superficial coma in a morphine-addicted woman, using an injection of insulin, and obtained a remarkable recovery of her mental faculties. He then embarked on a coma inducing rampage treating patients with this technique for years. Despite claims of a greater than 60% success rate, controlled studies showed that a long-term cure was not achieved and that improvements were many times temporary. But, since Sakel’s method was the gentler and less harmful of all somatic (affecting the body as opposed to the mind) techniques, it was still in use in many countries until recently.
Up next comes a Hungarian pathologist named Ladislas von Meduna who in 1933 reasoned that, because schizophrenia was rare in epileptics and because epileptics seemed much happier after seizures he hypothesised inducing seizures in schizophrenic patients with the use of drugs would make them calmer. So the drug Metrazol was pumped into patients at varying levels. Of course, inducing a seizure had side-effects including fractured bones and memory loss, so doctors soon turned away from this treatment.
“The procedure, controversial from its inception, was a mainstream procedure for more than two decades (prescribed for psychiatric and occasionally other conditions) despite general recognition of frequent and serious side effects. Whilst some patients experienced symptomatic improvement with the operation, this was achieved at the cost of creating other impairments, and this balance between benefits and risks contributed to the controversial nature of the procedure. The originator of the procedure, António Egas Moniz, shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine of 1949 for the “discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses”, although the awarding of the prize has been subject to controversy. The use of the procedure increased dramatically in some countries from the early 1940s and into the 1950s; by 1951, almost 20,000 lobotomies had been performed in the United States. Following the introduction of antipsychotic medications in the mid-1950s, lobotomies underwent a gradual but definite decline.
Lucky us huh!!
So, along with probably hundreds of other ‘treatments’ (I use that term flippantly) tried out on us mental patients over the last three hundred years or so, the above gives a glimpse of what our predecessors had to endure for a cure. There is no doubt that casting a glance backward and seeing how modern treatments were developed, it makes me feel extremely lucky to be alive at this time. Medicine is not perfect, but it’s better than the above. Necessity is the mother of invention. With so many of us struggling with all sorts of ailments, some environmental, some psychological, some physiological, perhaps now the ‘necessity’ for something more lasting and complete than medication will finally come along. One can always live in hope……