This is your brain. This is your depressed brain. THIS is your MANIC brain.

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Those of us who were adults  in 1987 in the U.S., will remember this commercial. It was striking. as that noted expert Wikipedia says:

This Is Your Brain on Drugs” was a large-scale US anti-narcotics campaign by Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) launched in 1987, that used two televised public service announcements (PSAs) and a related poster campaign.

If you go to the infomercial on YouTube you will see all manner of people arguing that this is a false analogy. They have a point, but the evidence is weighted in the other direction. If you are interested in exploring this or finding out the truth for yourself, do a quick search on the Internet for images that show the effect of methamphetamine on the brain and upon the addicts’ exterior appearance. Reality is in fact more striking than this commercial.

The same thing dramatic change goes on in bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder strongly affects the brain’s neurochemistry and, our best guess at this point, can create brain damage, probably dependent on how many or the extremity of the episodes that we’ve have.

I’ve been struggling and how to communicate to people who are addicted to hypomania what the long-term consequences are of what they’re doing. But trying to teach hypomanics is like trying to capture mercury on the floor after the thermometer breaks. Whoops. Age dependent analogy. Capturing the mercury out of thermometers was a lot of fun, but we could only watch. Thankfully our mother would not let us touch it and was exceedingly careful herself. At any rate there’s a reason it was called mercury and it’s very changeable, always out of reach, and unreliable.

My brain has burned by too much hypomania. I used to be impressively smart. Now I’m down to about 80% of what I started out with, probably just “smart.” And it can’t be undone, or at least entirely undone . I was hypomanic for years at a time. It felt marvelous at the time.  But, hypomanic as I was, even so I would have listened to the following, especially the graphic pictures.

In the two pictures below you can see what a “normal” brain looks like, on the right side. These are PET scans. PET scans measure how much glucose (sugar) the brain is using, similar to how much fuel a car is burning. If you measure the amount of glucose that is being used in different portions of the brain you can gauge how much fuel the brain is using in the different anatomical structures – like the same centers for abstract thinking or memory.  Pretty bright colors mean a lot of activity. Blue black colors, not so much.

The first two images contrast a brain of someone who is depressed and someone who is not depressed. The credits on these images do not state whether or not it’s the same individual at different points in time.

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This next image is my favorite. These are pet scans from an individual who appears to be a rapid cycler. Over a 10 day. You see the PET scans (1) when they are depressed, then (2) when they are manic, and then (3) when they return to depression. The enormous swing in glucose consumption in the brain is staggering. I imagine it as the neurochemical equivalent of whiplash.

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I could not find any PET scans from reliable sources of people who are in a manic episode. Having experienced florid manic episodes, I can guess that it’s very hard to get someone in a manic episode to lay down long enough to get a PET scan. Looking at how extreme the brain change is in the rapid cycling individual above within one day, you can imagine how the PET scan of someone who has had a week or two to work themselves up into in a extreme manic state would probably be impressively bright.

The last image is also interesting because it is “within subject” — measuring the same person at two different points in time. This is from the National Institute for Health, from their aging research division. So I’m imagining that this is related to depression in the elderly . That is a very important problem, especially for those of us with mood disorders. As we age and begin to experience more depression and less mania.

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3 comments

  1. This is a fascinating post! I’m glad I started following your blog.

    Recetly I’ve been reading mostly blogs written by those w/bipolar who have been profoudly affected by a tragic event.(I don’t want to trigger anyone, so I’ll leave it at that.) Most of those bloggers seem to be hovering towards the depressed end of the spectrum. I’m sad and anxious, but not depressed.

    I was also curious about brain damage that can come from having bipolar disorder. I know next-to-nothing about concepts in which damaged brains are said to create new cell growth by doing certain things such as eating particular foods, etc. That would be cool to learn about.

    p.s. Did you know that Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s next book is about Robert Lowell? It will be released in February – here’s the link:

    https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Lowell-Setting-River-Fire-ebook/dp/B01FPH2MNA/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474312522&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Dr.+Kay+Redfield+Jamison+Robert+Lowell

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    1. Hi again Dyane – thank you for my first excellent comment. «The crowd goes wild.»

      There are a couple things that I know and a lot of ignorance on my part. The most hopeful thing to me is the fact that scientists used to believe that brain cell death was a one-way street – we couldn’t regrow neurons. Fortunately we didn’t know what we were talking about. So much for scientific “fact.” 🙂 It shows me how we are really at the beginning of understanding any of this. Another helpful fact is that lithium actually helps to regenerates gray matter (tissue) in the brain (in addition to being a suicide prophylactic). Since everyone is still stumbling around in the dark we can help each other figure out what works and does not work.

      When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder all of the doctors told me that there was nothing that I could do that would change the course of the disorder. In retrospect I realize that they or not encouraging passivity, they were trying to be kind, so that I would not blame myself about having such a seemingly cataclysmic disorder. Fortunately I was raised to be skeptical and independent reminded and didn’t believe these expert psychiatrists, which turned out to be correct on my part. If all they had done was to say to me “Hey, baby bipolar, sleep is the primary thing that you can do for and against yourself – that would’ve been a stellar start, instead of “Take the drugs!”

      I told one of my psychiatrist once, “Hey! So you guys have been issued a bull’s-eye that you put in your office closet, with all the various drugs written on the chart. And when you’re not sure what drugs to give to somebody you open the closet, throw a dart, and choose the next one.” Although my joke was funny, what was really funny was how much the psychiatrist laughed at it. Very telling. Fundamentally we know more than psychiatrists about this. I would hate their job, trying to get a bunch of recalcitrant bipolars to take the drugs and rely on their “expertise.”

      Interesting about the Jamison book. I’ll definitely look into it. And come over to your blog and see what you’re up to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Loved this reply!!!!!! I wish I could take you out to coffee…we’d have a fabulous chat! By the way I get this one of my best friend’s sister lives in Hawaii. She lives near either a stream or pond; I can’t remember, but the water was tested and they found lithium in it She swims there regularly and she doesn’t have any wrinkles…I do, but she’s 5 or 6 years older than I am ; I’m 46! I told my friend she better not drink that water! :000. ;)))

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