Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The plastic brain

The concept that the brain is plastic (has the ability to change and grow) was not in vogue a mere six years ago when Chris had his breakdown. The doctors informed us very solemnly that Chris absolutely had to be on antipsychotics because otherwise his brain would deteriorate. They spoke in terms of his brain becoming rigid, like solidifying, but flawed, concrete. Ian and I were scared stiff that we had already lost precious time and that Chris would soon be little more than a vegetable if we didn't put him on meds right away. (There are valid reasons why antipsychotics may be needed for the short term.)

A person experiencing a psychotic breakdown is terrifying to the uninformed observer, to whom the symptoms must surely be evidence of brain deterioration. This is where science will rush in with neuroleptic medications to "put a stop" to the problem. Pharmacy has you in a moment of crisis and it will not let go of you. The fear of a return of symptoms and therefore a further deterioration of the brain is ever present.

But today's New York Times reports on how a dancer, who has lived with cerebral palsy for over 30 years, has improved beyond recognition through unconventional "body work" training he undertook. His choreographer specifically did not want to learn much about his condition, because that would have prejudiced any outcomes she was hoping to achieve. It is also interesting that the dancer underwent twelve years of physical therapy without getting the dramatic changes in the way he walks that the body work therapy has achieved in a year.

“Everybody told me there was nothing I could do,” he said. “That’s just what you hear, from the time you’re 5 to adulthood. Tamar gave me an option.”

Everybody tells you that schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain that will require you to take medications probably for the rest of your life. Don't believe it. There are many exciting therapies that Chris has undertaken that are changing the way we view what "the experts" tell us is a lifelong illness. Most of these therapies have not been publicized for schizophrenia.


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