Friday, May 29, 2009

The magic age of ten

For Chris’s treatment, a transducer using both diamond and carnelian was placed at the front and back central positions directly in contact with his clothing. The electronic gem transducers in the lamp pulse vibrational energy through the gemstones, each of which have a unique vibration. The energies create a vortex that draws the split assemblage points back into position. Diamond is the strongest of the gems in energy terms and carnelian balances it by being a very soothing gem. Chris’s spleen was also energized at the same time with a diamond and carnelian transducer. People, especially those with a low position back or front, benefit from having the spleen energized, thus raising their energy levels. A depressed patient, for example, would be able to get out and about more.

As Chris settled in for his twenty-minute treatment, I pursued the theory behind the assemblage point. The shaman explained that the assemblage point is with us at birth, in a very low position centered around the navel, and travels up the chakra line as we develop, stabilizing in more or less the correct position slightly right of center at the level of the heart chakra at around the age of six. Children with seriously misaligned assemblage points find it difficult to interact with others. Childhood events can determine the location in which the assemblage point eventually settles.

Around the age of ten, the shaman continued, some assemblage points begin to split. The child may develop an interest in mysticism or begin to experience subtle changes that a trauma or shock in the teen years or thereabouts will tip into what we know as schizophrenia. It was at that moment that I understood why psychiatrists had asked me from time to time what Chris was like at the age of ten. When I told them about Magic cards, they didn't seem at all interested. This leads me to conclude that there must be something else about the age of ten that interests them.

Chris’s intense interest in Magic cards began at the age of ten. Magic: The Gathering is an extraordinarily complex game played on many levels, with its own game terminology. Choosing a personally designed deck, players or “wizards” cast spells on their opponents through a variety of means. Each player starts with twenty life points and the object of the game is to reduce your opponent’s life points to zero.

Some people consider card games like this evil or satanic and feel that the game itself exerts a negative influence that provokes mental illness. I don't feel that way. I considered this a fantasy game, reflective of the intense creative urge of the individual. I saw it at the time as a passing phase that Chris would eventually outgrow. We nurture children on fairy tales and Santa Claus but expect them to grow out of their fantasies. Children quickly outgrow their belief in Santa Claus and fairy tales. Chris, however, did not outgrow his liking for Magic. As he got older, he supplemented it with books on mythology and science fiction.

I had never considered the card game as a clue to what was later labelled "schizophrenia" in Chris's case. Chris has often said he feels like he is existing somewhere between living and being dead. The following is a editor's note from an ancient Syrian translation of "The Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World". I can't help but be reminded of the similarity of this ancient text to fantasy card games and computer games.

Ishtar passes through seven gates of the nether world. At each of them the gatekeeper removes an ornament. At the second gate, he takes the pendants on her ears; at the third, the chains round her neck, then he removes, respectively, the ornaments on her breast, the girdle of birthstones on her hips, the clasps round her hands and feet, and the breechcloth on her body. Each time, she asks the same question; each time she receives the same answer.

Translation by E. A. Speiser, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1950), pp. 106-109, reprinted in Isaac Mendelsohn (ed.), Religions of the Ancient Near East, Library of Religion paperbook series (New York, 1955), pp. 119-25; notes by Mendelsohn

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Desperate housewife

A reader contacted me. He was clearly alarmed at the direction in which he felt I personally am heading. He referred to my "grasping at straws", my being "on a crusade", and urged me to avoid "snake oil". He expressed his opinion that all of this plus maternal guilt was clouding my ability to think rationally. According to the reader, this means that I am not providing effective support for Chris. Furthermore, by claiming center stage I am placing my needs before Chris's. My blog, he feels, is a coping mechanism.

Since the reader knows me only through what I have written, his perception is valid. I believe in turn that I have pushed the bounds of his comfort zone.

My blog is about holistic recovery from schizophrenia. It also happens to include many references to my own understanding/healing process that was needed under the circumstances. The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines holistic as "relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts." My interpretation of holistic has grown to include self-examination as a component of Chris's and my healing process. I submit that looking at how I may have contributed to Chris's existential dilemma is a valid way forward. I do not feel "guilty" and neither should anyone in these circumstances. Guilt doesn't heal people.

Holistic recovery means that we are taking advantage of what healing information is currently out there and available. The information is not from traditional medicine. Going holistic means moving off level one of the healing pyramid. Level one is about treating illnesses, not just mental illnesses, with vitamin therapy, diet, medications and surgery, where necessary.

Once we move off level one we are headed into the realm of energy medicine, energy psychology, psychotherapy in its many branches, acupuncture, homeopathy, yoga, meditation, chakras, shamanism, out of body experiences, the Akashic records, meaningful coincidences, quantum physics, near death experiences. These pick up where Dr. Hoffer and other proponents of orthomolecular medicine left off. (See: Energy psychology and Emotional Freedom Technique - April 21. 2009.) When orthomolecular medicine was introduced it tread on a lot of people's comfort zones. It still does, to some people.

All of the therapies that I discuss in my blog incorporate the idea in one form or another that human beings are energy masses. We vibrate. Our molecules rub up against other people's molecules. We have cellular memory. The individual has his own energy field, but the family also has an energy field. I believe that psychotherapy as a discipline implicitly acknowledges our molecular co-dependence but does not usually describe itself using these terms.

Correcting misaligned energy can be done physically and psychically. It can be done by a doctor, a shaman, a psychiatrist, a priest or through your own thought process. This is a new concept that is vying for a place alongside orthomolecular medicine and psychotherapy in treating mental illness. New ideas invariably disturb people's comfort zones. They take a long time to gain acceptance.

I occupy center stage in my blog because I write it. Writing any blog seems like an inherently narcissistic act. Where I hope my value added lies is precisely because I am the mother and I am willing to share some of myself and Chris with others. Chris and I have undergone many of the therapies together, which means I can report on them with some confidence. Publishing this may leave people with the impression that I am desperately clutching at straws and trying to convince people that if people would only do what Chris and I are doing, all will be well. We know it doesn't work that way.

A holistic approach has taught me to appreciate that there are no such thing as coincidences. By contacting me when he did, my reader has helped me think about perception. I am sharing Chris's and my experiences in the higher levels of healing to allow you to cherry pick what you want from the realm of healing possibilities. It is not desperation on my part that drives me to investigate these rather unusual therapies for Chris. These therapies have helped Chris to heal in ways that the medications did not do. They might just do the same for you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A visit to the shaman

The shaman was a pleasant looking middle-aged woman with long black hair and billowing blouse and skirt of gemstone hue. From a chain around her neck hung a huge moonstone pendant. We entered the converted garden shed, which contained an examining table with an electronic gem lamp, a bunch of old blankets, some huge quartz crystal wands calibrated and cut in India, and a tiny desk. She took a medical history, although not much was needed. There was absolutely no risk to this procedure from a medical point of view. Chris signed a medical release form anyway.

Sometimes a patient with a high left assemblage point can be violent, although more commonly, the person is withdrawn and passive, presenting no risk to the examiner. As a precaution, it is recommended that an assistant be in the room. The shaman has found that two people of the opposite sex working together allow the best healing energies to enter the patient. Hence, her male assistant, who was dressed all in black.

She asked Chris to stand up and face her and she gently passed her hand over his chest to determine the positions of his assemblage points. When she came to a certain position, Chris swayed slightly as if caught off balance, indicating she had located the points where energy entered his body, which were equidistant from the center to the high left and high right. These were the typical two split assemblage point locations indicating a position typical of schizophrenia. She found similar points on his back and an additional third location. Inexplicably, she asked Chris if he spoke more than one language (he does) since the additional back position might indicate that he did.

According to our shaman, off center locations either cause certain conditions or are caused by them, so it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation to determine which came first. She often finds them in patients who have experienced trauma earlier in life.

"We can treat you, Chris, in one of several ways, using either quartz crystal wands and a sharp blow to the shoulder blade, or using electronic equipment." Chris opted for the gem lamp treatment. The shaman nodded with understanding. "You’ve probably been pushed around quite a bit already because of your illness and don’t want somebody like me doing it, too."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The shaman's blow

The assemblage point shift is similar in principle to electroshock therapy. Both therapies can be used to address depression, mania, schizophrenia, and catatonia. However, shifting the assemblage point is noninvasive compared to electroshock. It complements Hoffer's and Osmond's understanding of the link between the hallucinogenic plants of the American Southwest and the state of mental well-being. (See: Why it is an honor to pay income tax - April 16, 2009)

In Castaneda’s The Fire from Within, Don Juan repeatedly warns about the health dangers that come from an assemblage point that has been knocked off center. Both legal and illicit drug use can knock an assemblage point off center. Don Juan uses peyote and other medicinal plants to induce a hallucinatory state in Castaneda. To bring him back to a balanced state afterwards, Jon Whale observes that Don Juan surreptitiously gave the author a quick sharp blow to the shoulder blade, popularly referred to as the shaman’s blow.

Dr. Whale has observed that psychiatric drugs do a poor job of moving the assemblage point back into position. According to him, psychiatric drugs do not take into account the complexities of the endocrine system and leave the patient in a chronic depressed state rather than correcting the situation. Dr. Hoffer’s niacin treatment is, in my opinion, another way of realigning the assemblage point. Whether you hallucinate naturally (e.g. schizophrenia) or unnaturally (e.g. mescaline and peyote), the antidote is the same: moving the assemblage point back into its correct position.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Split assemblage points and trauma

Assemblage points can shift due to sickness, medications, or trauma. Assemblage points can split. Dr. Blaen has found that split assemblage points are often associated with trauma to the energy field earlier in life. Both schizophrenics and bipolars are found to have two (and sometimes three) energy shadows or split assemblage points. The schizophrenic’s assemblage points are often found equidistant from the center, in high left and high right positions, front and back. Sometimes a low right point is also found. People with bipolar disorder often have a manic position at the back of the chest and a lower depressed position at the front of the chest. Misaligned assemblage points can be corrected, according to Dr. Blaen.

In 2001, Dr. Blaen became the first person in the world to measure the energy of the assemblage point from front to back and back to front. The measurements were conducted using stone sensors developed by a physicist and dampened with a standard isotonic solution.

The link between schizophrenia, trauma, and the body’s vibrational energy was beginning to reinforced in my mind, not only from learning about the assemblage point but also about energy medicine in its various forms, such as through the visualization work that Chris was doing with the help of his psychiatrist and by learning about Dr. Emoto’s water molecules. It is also noteworthy that Dr. Hamer measured two and sometimes three Hamer Herds resulting from trauma in the schizophrenic’s brain and that the assemblage point can also divide into two and three splits or shadows. Both Dr. Hamer and Dr. Blaen have linked this to an earlier trauma in the individual’s life.

Dr. Whale goes back even farther than that. According to him, the assemblage point is “assembled in the womb through the navel by the vibrational energy of the outside universe and that of the mother and everything to do with the mother.” Once the umbilical cord is severed, the universal mind connection is broken and the child develops a new perspective.

Jon Whale interview on Stationary Assemblage Point (SAP),

Friday, May 22, 2009

Assemblage point and chakras

The mapping of the assemblage point is relatively recent. In the late 1980s, Dr. Whale was quickly healed of his debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome through having his assemblage point shifted at a workshop conducted by Harley “Swiftdeer” Reagan, a native American shaman and one-time apprentice to Don Juan’s friend Don Genaro. Swiftdeer then asked Dr. Whale to document the quantum physics of the assemblage point and to apply its principles to the shamanic technique.

Many people are familiar through yoga and meditation with the spinning vortexes of spiritual and energy points in our body called chakras. Each chakra in the body has a different vibrational frequency that needs to be balanced and energized individually to ensure optimal spiritual and physical health. According to Dr. Angela Blaen, founder of the Assemblage Point Centre and author of From Intention to Technology: Assemblage Point and Gemstone Healing, since energy enters the body through the assemblage point and is thought to leave the body through the chakras, "balancing the whole energy field via the entry points of the assemblage, back and front, therefore energises and balances the body in a manner much more important than healing the chakras."

Dr. Angela Blaen,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The assemblage point and extreme right brain activity

In more scientific terms, British engineer Dr. Jon Whale describes the assemblage point as the vortex of our body’s vibrational energy that is located slightly off center in our body at the level of the heart chakra. It is not the heart chakra, though it is near the heart chakra. It is thought that energy enters the body through the assemblage point, whereas at the chakras, energy leaves the body.

The angle at which energy enters the body can have a profound impact on physical and mental health. A common but misplaced center of vibrational energy high and to the right of the heart chakra indicates excessive left-brain activity. This can manifest in panic attacks, extrovert behavior, and high levels of adrenaline. (The location of the assemblage point in the high right position may be the price we pay for the stressful demands of living in an excessively left-brained, fact oriented, ego-driven culture.)

In contrast, a high left assemblage point leads to extreme right-brain activity and can manifest in introversion, fantasies, hallucinations, and delusions.

Once the assemblage point drops below the navel, death will soon follow.

Jon Whale interview on Stationary Assemblage Point (SAP),

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The assemblage point

I became an avid follower of the anthropologist Carlos Castaneda and the German high court judge Daniel Paul Schreber after stumbling upon the concept of the assemblage point while researching light and color therapy early in the new year, 2006.

The assemblage point is familiar to fans of Carlos Castaneda and the shaman Don Juan Matus. Yet, despite the many hours of instruction that Castaneda received from Don Juan, he remained unclear as to what exactly the assemblage point was and where it was located. From Don Juan he learned that it was a hairy, luminous egg-shaped cocoon located about an arm’s length away from the body and linked to the energy at our disposal. A warrior’s energy, according to Don Juan, is always a consequence of a shift in his assemblage point. "Any movement of the assemblage point means a movement away from excessive concern with the individual self."

In 1900, Daniel Paul Schreber, who was thought to be suffering from dementia praecox (the old term for schizophrenia) wrote to Dr. Flechsig, his psychiatrist, about what appears to be the assemblage point, although he calls it the soul. "The human soul is contained in the nerves of the body, about their physical nature I, as a layman, cannot say more than that they are extraordinarily delicate structures—comparable to the finest filaments—and that the total mental life of a human rests on their excitability by external impressions. Vibrations are thereby caused in the nerves which produce the sensations of pleasure and pain in a manner which cannot be further explained, they are able to retain the memory of impressions received (the human memory) and have also the power of moving the muscles in the body which they inhabit into any manifest activity by exertion of their will power."

The benefit of institutions

Chris is out of the psychiatric hospital after three months and 10 days. This time around it was a different experience than when he was last hospitalized in the same institution for three months in the summer of 2004.

This time around I had warm fuzzies for the psychiatrist and staff. The atmosphere felt "homey". Chris and his fellow inmates appeared much more functional to me than was the case before. We were moving up the food chain.

Although he is back on medications for the foreseeable future, I am no longer as uptight about the damage they are supposed to inflict. I have worked with a holistic psychiatrist for three years and I experienced how the other side of the drugs versus no drugs debate can be played out. It can be every bit as exhausting, demoralizing and propagandistic in its own way as what I experienced worrying about the damage that the drugs were doing. (See: The tyranny of vitamins - April 17, 2009.) At the same time, holistic/orthomolecular interventions take into account the personal history and biochemistry of the individual. For this reason alone, they are infinitely superior to meds. My position on the meds versus vitamins front now looks quite schizophrenic. In my own way I have become quite schizophrenic since schizophrenia befell Chris.

In the exit interview, Chris's psychiatrist spoke warmly about Chris. He expressed a clear belief that Chris was evolving and that Chris will continue to evolve. I agree that Chris's general future direction looks good, but not wanting to be a party pooper, I kept quiet about the niggling fear that Chris had merely gone underground for a while. No doubt the psychiatrist was also putting the best polish on the situation. Chris had been there long enough. There was nowhere to go but out. We discussed Chris taking life one baby step at a time in order to move onto the next level. We discussed letting him make his own decisions. During his worst periods Ian and I assumed that unwanted role. Chris has expressed an interest, in no particular order, in Buddhism and cooking classes. I was pleased to see that he pulled out an agenda during the exit interview and wrote down all his upcoming appointments.

The dreaded R words to the anti-meds folks are relapse and re-hospitalization. Re-hospitalization is seen as a sign of failure (relapse) and falling into the clutches of the drug lobby. I am now somewhat open to working with medications because (a) my husband is threatening to divorce me if I don't support them (the gun to the head approach) and (b) because Chris has made progress over the past few years. I attribute this to the vigorous holistic interventions that he underwent during this period and the fact that we didn't give up on him. The holistic interventions will continue, but I have "bought" the psychiatrist's point that if, from time to time Chris needs a respite, the door is always open for shorter hospitalizations or overnight care on the road to good health. He suggested that this strategy shouldn't be seen as a failure, but is more often a need for a sort of "regrouping". The staff can offer help in this way. I nodded enthusiastically at the mention of short overnight stays. Although I fervently hope and pray that it doesn't deteriorate to that point again, the idea of a little R & R away from Chris is very appealing.

First day back home, he was fine. Second day back, I wondered what Chris had been doing for three months in the hospital. He was acting pretty weird, possibly the voices, maybe not. The behavior always shakes me. This time around I promised myself that Chris was not going to get to me. I went to my room and closed the door, no longer wanting to be "helpful". Let Chris come to me if he needs something or just wants to talk. At the end of the day, I broke my vow and instigated a little chat. Since Chris had still not filled the prescription that was about to run out, I asked him what exactly he was told at the hospital about the repercussions of not taking his meds. "Well, they just told me that I am supposed to take them every day," he claimed. "And, what happens if you skip them or "forget" about them?" I prodded. He didn't know. "I'm surprised that the doctors didn't detail for you the physical consequences of not taking the meds as prescribed," says I. "Being told to just take them every day is not as informative as spelling out the gut-wrenching head-clanging experience that you get by "forgetting" to take them." I'm prepared to let Chris learn experientially on this one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The hair test

Unlike most psychiatrists who will judge you insane just by looking at you, Dr. Gregory House is perhaps too willing to run tests on his patients. Overlooking the fact that he is the fictional MD star of the eponymously named hit television series, I don't want House anywhere near my son. Dr. House will run a battery of invasive tests, drill into your skull and perhaps harvest your spleen before he finally figures out what your real problem is. No thank you! There are better, less invasive ways of getting a snapshot of your underlying health problems.

An alternative to muscle testing is hair tissue analysis. Hair tissue analysis is known to the general public in the context of forensic science, but what is not so well known is that it is often used for people with mental illness and other health concerns to discover and correct underlying problems in metabolic rate, energy levels, sugar and carbohydrate tolerance, stage of stress, immune system, and glandular activity. Tests can be ordered through your family physician.

Hair tissue mineral analysis is a relatively cheap, accurate method of testing for the presence of minerals and toxic metals that can be symptomatic of body chemistry imbalances. For example, excess quantities of copper found in the body are associated with various health concerns, from fatigue and anorexia to depression and schizophrenia. Persons with too much copper in their system might tend to be creative, dreamy, and inattentive. A test involves simply snipping a small amount of hair near the base of the scalp and sending it in the mail to a laboratory such as Analytical Research Labs in Phoenix, Arizona, or the Great Plains Laboratory in Lenexa, Kansas. These laboratories analyze the hair sample and send back a printout of the test results, along with a recommended diet plan and protocol of supplements to address the revealed deficiencies and imbalances.

My youngest son, Taylor, was a bright but dreamy and woefully underachieving student throughout his entire elementary and high school studies, right up until I got him a hair test. His test results showed that he was off the charts in terms of his high copper levels. Excess copper made him an excellent artist but a poor academic performer. He had trouble focusing and with attempting to solve complex problems. He all too often just gave up. The turn-around in him in the second half of his penultimate year in high school was astonishing. He graduated in the top 10% of his high school class, and has kept up the pace in his first year of college. Many people would say this pattern is typical of boys, who often pull up their socks academically in their last year of high school. I strongly believe (but cannot prove) that Taylor would not have done so well without the increased focus that the vitamin support provided.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dr. Carl Pfeiffer's 29 medical causes of schizophrenia

When people first fall into the rabbit hole of schizophrenia, the logical question to ask is "what causes schizophrenia?" A psychiatrist's standard answer to this question is that "nobody knows" what causes it and then, rather inexplicably will hasten to add "but there are good treatments available to manage it". Technically, the psychiatrist is correct, at least as far as the cause goes, because no medical explanation has yet evolved to apply in a general sense to all of its victims.

As a parent, I want to know what causes my child's schizophrenia. I'm not interested in schizophrenia in a population.

A lady I am acquainted with was convinced that a particular acne medication may have triggered her sixteen year old daughter’s psychosis. The doctor told her that her daughter's psychosis was of unknown origin. She was very, very angry because she felt the doctor patronized her by denying possible causality in the case of the acne medication. It is also patronizing of a doctor to believe that he or she knows more than the mother or father as to what makes their child tick.

It is difficult to say what causes psychosis in a particular individual because there may be multiple factors involved, but that is not to say that one shouldn’t look for cause. I am convinced that from knowing cause comes cure. Cure is a word that you are not supposed to use in the context of schizophrenia.

In his book Nutrition and Mental Illness, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer states that there are 29 medical causes of schizophrenia, ranging from pellagra to drug intoxications, to heavy metal toxicity, to wheat-gluten insensitivity, to chronic candidiasis, to a host of other rare and not so rare ailments. That does not necessarily mean that your schizophrenia can be pinned down to one of these 29 medical causes. What I find incredible is that no doctor in Chris's hospitals bothered to ask me if there was a family history of any of these ailments or called for tests to rule them out.

It is worth noting that Dr. Pfeiffer is referring to 29 "medical" causes of schizophrenia. Half the fun of schizophrenia is figuring out the non-medical, i.e. psychological causes of schizophrenia. Understanding and treating the emotional underpinnings of schizophrenia has been pushed aside over the past few decades in favor of the biochemical model. I am getting ahead of myself here. There will be plenty of time to delve into this fascinating subject in later blogs.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Judging a book by its cover

When Chris was showed up at the hospital emergency room in December 2003, he was diagnosed simply because he appeared schizophrenic in the opinion of the doctor. Now, I ask, is this the best we can do in this day and age? If you show up in the emergency room complaining of an intense headache or a stomach ache, chances are you would be subject to a whole battery of tests until a diagnosis is made. Six years later any tests that Chris has undergone were at my insistence, never once at the instigation of his doctors. To put this another way, Chris's medical care has amounted to over 500,000 USD, a staggering amount to bill to an insurance company without it demanding accompanying medical examinations to determine what may be causing the problem.

I insisted a week after Chris entered hospital that he undergo an Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to rule out a brain tumor. There was a reason for my concern related to a specific incident a few months earlier. The doctor never once suggested an MRI. Amazing, isn't it? For such protracted, expensive treatment that not even the insurance company demands additional tests be done, makes one wonder.

What is truly outrageous if you think about the money aspect, is that six years on, Chris is still considered schizophrenic by his doctors (or possibly now obsessive-compulsive, judging from the pamphlets he has picked up in his current hospital stay) despite the oceans of money being spent. Mental patients are the cash cows of the mental health system.

Psychiatrists are not doing a very good job of it. If a company failed to make money for its shareholders, the president would be fired. If a Broadway show failed to attract an audience, it would close. Why does high-priced treatment for schizophrenia persist in the face of failure? Sadly, the answer is that the public has bought what author Robertson Davies calls the "higher hokum" of psychiatry ("teacup readers in an age of faith") It hasn't dawned on sufficiently large numbers of people that psychiatrists, researchers and academics are making money off the misery of mental illness by favoring the interests of pharmaceutical companies over the public interest.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Not a joiner by nature

During this early period, I toyed with the idea of joining the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The website proclaimed: "Join NAMI today! When you become a member of NAMI, you become part of America’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness." I just couldn’t join. Maybe it’s that I’m not a joiner by nature, but the message I got from NAMI's website is that mental illness is a lifelong commitment with no escape hatch: "Individuals with schizophrenia face enormous challenges, including society’s stigmatization of people living with schizophrenia, and the discrimination that results from these prejudices." Why, for heaven’s sake, instead of celebrating people whom they seem to regard as chronically disabled, don’t they say that they are dedicated to helping people with serious mental illness get over it and get on with their lives? Why not, indeed?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The trouble with institutions, Part II

Modern science, according to German writer Hermann Hesse, is in the Stone Age compared to the teachings of ancient Indian mythology. I'm sure he's right.

Dr. Vandemaele, Chris's psychiatrist at the time, felt that Chris was on the upturn and would be ready to be released from the hospital in early March, 2004. Based on Chris’s reported symptoms and the doctor’s clinical observations, Dr. Vandemaele was of the opinion that Chris had schizophrenia, with a secondary depression, the two together not uncommon in the first presentation of the illness. Dr. Vandemaele assured us that there are effective treatments for both conditions and we could expect Chris to continue to improve with the initiation of the antidepressant. I did not disagree with Dr. Vandemaele’s assessment that Chris had schizophrenia and was also depressed, but to me it was situational depression, prompted by being forced to drop out of university while residing in a mental hospital. To Dr. Vandemaele, depression was a medical thing that could be treated with drugs.

To a doctor working in a psychiatric institution effective treatments mean medication. The institutional doctor does not convincingly project to the patient or the relatives a belief that the patient will eventually be capable of functioning in normal society, probably because the doctor does not work with normal society. His belief system comes from a conservative medical training and what he sees on the psychiatric wards. He only sees the breakdown within the walls of the institution.

For decades, psychotherapy has been downgraded as an effective treatment for schizophrenia in favor of drug treatment. Many people did not benefit from this treatment because it was considered of little therapeutic value when it came to schizophrenia. Dr. Vandemaele spoke of effective medications and did not speak of psychotherapy except to turn that job over to Chris's priest.

R.D. Laing was one psychiatrist who understood. "Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death." This sentiment may have been echoed by Dr. Vandemaele, but if it was, he never shared it with me. I could have used the encouragement and the hope in this very dark period. Instead, the language of the institution and the staff was psychosis, comorbid symptoms, prodromal symptoms, effexor, respiradone, etc. These words are terrifying.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The trouble with institutions, Part I

In late January 2004, when Chris was first hospitalized, Chris's treating psychiatrist wrote that although Chris had a good initial response to the treatment, his condition had worsened over the past week to the point that he was in danger of harming himself. Chris had become disoriented while on a pass with a group of people and had returned to the hospital an hour later. Although no physical harm had befallen him, with the temperature outside hovering around –30ºC, he would not be going out again without one-on-one nursing support. Given the state his mind was in and the need for supervision, Chris was formally asked to withdraw from his university courses. This prompted his rapid descent into a deep depression. He stopped eating and drinking, believing that the world was going to end and resigning himself to his fate.

According to his doctor, his nihilistic beliefs had reached the point that he did not grasp that he had an illness that could be treated. The hospital made him an involuntary patient and deemed him incapable to make treatment decisions. He asked that either Ian or I be the decision-maker for treatment decisions, although Chris had a right to appeal these decisions. Chris had become preoccupied with a number of religious and existential themes and the doctor believed that he could benefit from speaking with his college priest since they had shared a strong relationship in the past. He added that Chris was challenging the finding of his incapacity to make decisions, so no new treatment could be initiated until a hearing took place, which could be as early as the following week.

Years later, reflecting on the psychiatrist's request to bring in a priest, it occurred to me that this psychiatrist or another psychiatrist should have been the logical first person with whom Chris could discuss his religious and existential themes. What the heck was he a psychiatrist for, if not to deal with a patient’s religious and existential themes? What had become of the psychiatric couch and the empathetic psychiatrist well versed in religion, mythology and psychoanalysis? In Thomas Szasz's view, he has become the prescription writer for the state. Unfortunately, in a psychiatric institution, the patient and his family give up freedom of choice. The institution operates on a one-size-fits-all mentality. If we wanted something tailored to our specifications, we would have to search for it outside the walls of an institution.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Existential concerns

Chris will soon be released from the hospital after three months. I am concerned that we will be right back to the situation that prompted his hospitalization in the first place. He knows that he needs to get out, he is bored out of his mind, and yet he is not looking like he can blend in with quote unquote "normal people". He arrived home for the week-end on Saturday morning, attended to his e-mails and fixed a few computer problems. He talked to me very thoughtfully on Saturday evening. Sunday was a different story. We invited him to join us for a lecture and lunch. We went for a walk on the grounds of the lecture hall before lunch. He was in existential despair. He didn't want to spend his day with "old people". I can't fault him there. He said he didn't know what was real anymore - was I real? Was this scenery real? Was the day going to end and the sun go down? He claimed he didn't know. I asked him if he wanted to resume his Alexander Technique lessons when he came home. "No, I have learned everything I need to know", he answered.

The hospital fussed with his medication, introducing a second antipsychotic over my objections. I maintain that despite the elaborate, weird behavior that got Chris committed, his problem cannot be fixed with medication. It is looking likely that I am correct. The doctor is not satisfied with the addition of the second antipsychotic, noting that Chris seemed overall better just after they introduced it in a low dose. So, now they are tapering it back but not discontinuing it. Discontinuing it would be admitting they were wrong. Nobody, not my husband, not the hospital psychiatrist, not Chris's regular psychiatrist nor anybody having seen Chris in his pre-committal state, understands my objection to the medication. It is they who just "don't get it". Chris has problems that persist whether he is on medication or not.

What I think has taken the edge off the situation while Chris has been hospitalized is not the medication but the fact that Chris got away from us, from living in claustrophobically close quarters every day and being treated like the two year old he was becoming. The doctors acknowledge this reality, but medicate anyway. When I object to the fact that this latest med was the fifth antipsychotic Chris has been on, and shouldn't we conclude that antipsychotics don't work for Chris, the clear message I receive in return in that it is foolhardy not to use antipsychotics as one treatment modality. My husband is almost threatening to divorce me if I undermine in any way Chris's staying on medication. He reminds me of the lead-up to the hospitalization. Yes, I am painfully aware of all that but I also know that Chris has exhibited extremely weird behaviour while on medication, beginning with his first antipsychotic. His mind is more powerful than any drug or vitamin. Until he resolves his existential problems, we will continue to weather the storm.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reparenting and Jacqui Schiff

Another proponent of the bad parenting school of thought was social worker Jacqui Schiff, who took a number of schizophrenic young people into her household in the early 1970s to “reparent” them, using Transactional Analysis techniques that she had learned from Dr Eric Berne. All My Children, published in 1970, provides a graphic account of the struggles she and her husband went through in the process of reparenting. She is scathing about the failure of parents to send the right messages to their children, which, she claims, results in their subsequent development of schizophrenia. Despite the fact she is acquainted with the parents of her charges in only the most superficial ways, she feels qualified to pass judgment on them, while making the same questionable judgments in her reparenting that parents make in parenting. She is particularly harsh on the mothers.

This harsh view of the parents, and in particular the mother, was shared by many psychiatrists at the time, notably Dr. Loren Mosher, Dr. Leo Kanner and Dr. R.D. Laing. Unfortunately, blaming the parents played right into the hands of drug companies. Why do I say this? I say this because drug companies don’t blame the parents. Drug companies claim that schizophrenia is a matter of biochemistry, by implication not by bad parenting.

By labeling schizophrenia a brain disease, not a result of bad parenting, psychiatrists and drug companies have made it easier for parents to say, "Look, it’s not my fault my child has schizophrenia; my child actually has a brain disease." They have also ensured fat profits for pharmaceutical companies for years to come by this particular logic. What parents, feeling bad enough about the situation, would want to believe that it was their fault, especially if they had raised other well-adjusted children?

At the same time, and this is important, why would parents prefer to believe that their son or daughter has a damaged brain? Why would anyone want to believe that they were somehow "damaged"? That idea is horrible. It is a hopeless view. It is locking the young person into a lifetime of misery and dependency on drugs. There are many websites devoted to showing computer images of the damaged schizophrenic brain. One such website shows pictures of early and late gray matter deficits in schizophrenia. "But", proclaims the website, "while there is a significant loss of brain gray matter, this is not a reason to lose all hope." (see link below) Yes, according to the website, these deficits may be reversible and scientists are hard at work on inventing a miracle drug that could potentially reverse these cognitive declines.

I began to appreciate these out-of-favor psychiatrists (and one social worker) after I decided that there was no way I was going to believe that Chris had a damaged brain. The more I read, the more I agreed with them. They were downright interesting. They weren’t trying to toe the politically correct line. They criticized the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatrists for entering into unholy alliances. For all of the emphasis on the pharmaceutical approach, patients weren’t getting much better and of course, there were the side effects. All of this struck a chord with me.

They seemed to be in favor of schizophrenia as giving added value to the world. R. D. Laing believed that schizophrenia was a creative process leading to spiritual and emotional healing and noted that other cultures view schizophrenia as a state of trance, which could even be valued as mystical or shamanic. Isn’t finding “value” in schizophrenia more likely to lead to healing?

I looked into Dr. Leo Kanner’s work again and realized that, as with much of our sound-bite-obsessed culture, even in 1960 his remark about refrigerator mothers was probably blown out of proportion. Dr. Kanner had gone on to say something that shows an understanding that the origins (he was referring to autism) might go further back than the parents have control over. "The children’s aloneness from the beginning of life makes it difficult to attribute the whole picture exclusively to the type of early parental relations with our patients…We must, then assume that these children have come into the world with innate inability to form the usual biologically provided affective contact with people." He then challenges the mothers to turn against the psychobabble of the contemporary psychiatrists in favor of their (the mothers’) innate common sense: “[R]egain that common sense which is yours, which has been yours before you allowed yourselves to be intimidated by would-be omniscient totalitarians.” Well said, Dr. Kanner!

Friday, May 1, 2009

It's likely I am at least part of the problem

I'm going to have to come clean early in my blog. For some time now it has been no longer permissable to blame the parents especially the "mother" for a child's schizophrenia. But surely it would be remiss of me to attribute my son's problems entirely to him. I am operating on the assumption that I can help his healing if I find out what it is about me that has affected him. We have heard over and over again that the parents are not to blame. Maybe so, but since schizophrenia emerges in the teenage years, parents are the people who have controlled the environment up until then.

Dr. Loren Mosher was a former chief (1969–1980) of the Center for Studies of Schizophrenia at the National Institute of Mental Health. He blamed schizophrenia on bad parenting, typically by the mother: “There are two aspects of family life that have been consistently highly associated with what’s called schizophrenia. One has been dubbed ‘communication deviance.’ It’s simple. Just means that when you sit with these parents, you can’t figure out what the hell it is they’re talking about. They can’t focus on things. You can’t visualize what they say. They go off on tangents. They are loose in the way that they think.” He stated that the other thing that was clear from studies was that “when families are very hostile to and critical of their offspring, that’s not good for them.”

Dr. Mosher’s patronizing view of the parents echoes the view of Dr. Leo Kanner, who wrote the first English language textbook on child psychiatry in 1935. In it, he adopted the term “infantile autism” to describe a set of behavioral characteristics of certain aloof children. “All too often this child is the offspring of highly organized, professional parents, cold and rational—the type that Dr. Kanner describes as “just happening to defrost enough to produce a child.” Such a mother became popularly known as a “refrigerator mother”, a term used for mothers of autistics but also of schizophrenics.

An article in the British Journal of Medical Psychology (1961) claimed: “In the interviews they manifested chaotic forms of communication while sounding superficially sensible. . . The mothers of schizophrenics did not adapt well to external reality, as shown by poor reality testing, marked denial, and projection. Disorders of thought were prominent, giving an impression of ‘diluted schizophrenia’ in these mothers.”

I am willing to entertain the thought that I may have communication deviance while sounding superficially sensible. I have always thought of myself as on track and a cut to the chase type of person. Nobody has ever accused me of not being on track. Come to think of it, my university English professor once said that I write well, but vaguely. Hmm. Since I started paying attention to this flaw, I have stopped using vague terms like "seems to" and "appears to". I am trying hard to be more definitive, if only to avoid an impression of diluted schizophrenia. There are enough people around me at work who give off this impression.

1. The Child Is Father, Time (July 25, 1960),,9171,826528,00.html