Aphantasia

Is Aphantasia Hereditary?

My pursuit to determine if aphantasia is hereditary was preceded by the discovery that I have aphantasia. I had never heard of it before. My inability to visualize—aphantasia… also known as image-free imagination—had a name! Fascinated, I immediately took to Google to search:

If you clicked the link on the history of aphantasia, you read that the term “aphantasia” was coined in 2015 by Dr. Adam Zeman, a neurologist from Exeter University.

Emerging Evidence of Aphantasia in Families

In a video interview with Dr. Zeman in May 2021, when asked if aphantasia is hereditary, he states, “We do have evidence that aphantasia is familial,” referencing a study he collaborated on in 2020. Dr. Zeman said, “If you have aphantasia, the chances that your first-degree relatives will have aphantasia are raised by about 10-fold. ” 

He mentions the likelihood of a “genetic story” as studies continue into the genes that influence imagery vividness and whether or not aphantasia is hereditary, adding, “The chances are that there will be some [genes specific to aphantasia]—though we haven’t yet found them.” Play the short video below to hear from Dr. Zeman directly.

With the understanding that scientific research is underway to find the genes associated with aphantasia, but that results may take a while, it was time for me to do some research within my own family tree to appease my curiosity about whether or not aphantasia could be genetic.

Families with Aphantasia

Parents with Aphantasia

I have one living parent, my father, who is 91. Keeping it simple, I first asked him if he could picture a red apple in his mind, on command. He paused, thought about it, and said that he couldn’t. I asked if he could perhaps see the shape of the apple, without color. He could not. I asked him to close his eyes and try the exercise again. We tried an apple, a rainbow, and a horse. He stated that all he could see was darkness. Like me, my dad is aphantasic. 

As for my mother, who passed in 2016, I believe that she too was aphantasic. Allow me to explain. 

Mom suffered cruel and terrifying circumstances during World War II, not the least of which was her escape from a Russian prisoner of war camp. As harrowing as her early life was, Mom didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks, and always seemed quite calm when remembering her ordeals. She recounted everything in great detail, painting the pictures of her recollections with language, rather than from a place of traumatic visual memory. Despite what my mother endured and survived, she never showed any symptoms of PTSD. 

PTSD and Aphantasia

I did some research and found emerging studies pertaining to PTSD in people with aphantasia. In this June 2020 research paper; A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia, the researchers “hypothesized that visual imagery absence might partially protect aphantasic individuals from experiencing some [PTSD] trauma symptomatology (such as vivid memory intrusions) in response to stressful past events. ” Click the short video below for Dr. Zeman’s perspective on PTSD and people with aphantasia. 

My research also led me to two anecdotal articles: What PTSD Flashbacks Are Like as Someone With Aphantasia and PTSD, and Aphantasia – coming to terms with my own experience of post-traumatic stress disorder. Each of these stories presents a unique set of PTSD symptoms, neither of which even remotely describe my mother.

While it’s not a hard-and-fast rule that people who suffer the horrifying conditions my mother did would absolutely have PTSD, I think it’s plausible that she was perhaps a “partially protected aphantasic”. 

Siblings with Aphantasia

My three older siblings and I are tight. We connect through Whatsapp several times a week, we live within a 45-minute driving radius, and we enjoy hanging out together, COVID notwithstanding. I feel as though I know each of them from a very unique perspective—that of the baby sister. 

During a recent sibling video call, before explaining what aphantasia was, I asked them, “Can you visualize?” Three faces stared back at me from my computer screen. Appreciative of their tolerance (‘cuz they love me and my crazy convo digressions), I continued. “Picture a red apple,” I said, “what do you see?” To my surprise, they all responded with something akin to—“I can’t see shit.” I told them about aphantasia and we collectively experimented with eyes open, then eyes closed. Nothing.

To my utter surprise (after all, I’m supposed to be tight with these weirdos), all four of us are aphantasic. Seems plausible given my dad is aphantasic, and lends further credence to the speculation that my mom was, too. 

As any good writer (and annoying baby sister) might do, I asked if I could interview them individually, to get their take on how aphantasia may have/has impacted their lives, in both cognizant and subliminal ways. In that same tolerant (and always very loving) way, they all agreed. 

Learning I Have Aphantasia

To put my siblings’ responses into context, I should first explain how I felt (in the past) about being unable to visualize and how I reacted to learning about aphantasia. 

My inability to visualize came with a variety of emotions ranging from confusion and frustration (cognizant) to feelings of inadequacy, failure, shame, and even exclusion (subliminal). You can read my other posts about aphantasia here.

Photo by Thiago Matos from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-with-smeared-eyes-in-studio-4576085/

Finding out that my life-long (congenital) challenge with visualization had a name—aphantasia—and that it was the focus of a burgeoning field of scientific study, fascinated me. More importantly, it immediately lifted from me the burden of those (seemingly illogical) emotions. In a word, I was elated! I didn’t have to struggle anymore. There was nothing wrong with me—is nothing wrong with me. Those things I couldn’t do that seemingly everyone else around me could do had finally been explained.

I had flashes of insights (I call them a-ha moments) into myself and my experiences where having aphantasia explained so much. Understand, though, that perspectives vary among aphantasics. For me, I was off the hook. I didn’t have to try anymore. Rather, I spent time exploring new ways to adapt, and appreciating the ways I had already (unknowingly) been doing just that.

(Follow these links to read about my experiences with meditation and hypnosis with aphantasia). 

Siblings with Aphantasia – Similarities and Difference

In preparation for interviewing my siblings to discover if aphantasia is hereditary, I crafted three questions that I shared with them in advance. 

  1. What was your reaction when you learned about, and that you have, aphantasia?
  2. How do you feel it has impacted your life, if at all?
  3. Have you had any revelations (a-ha moments) since you learned about aphantasia?

I asked that they really think about the implications of having aphantasia when formulating an answer. Here is a summary of their responses in the order of how they were interviewed. I’ve included myself to demonstrate the complexity of perspectives. 

Study Findings

ReactionsImpactsRevelations
MeAt first—fascinated, excited. Later—elated. Before finding out—Never wanted to admit couldn’t do it. Felt shame, frustration, exclusion. After finding out—relieved. A better understanding of aspects of self. Loves to read/write; skips over long descriptions of scenery, wardrobe, etc.; can’t remember the story long after finishing. Writes fiction and non-fiction. Tried hypnosis; didn’t work until after learning about aphantasia. Bad at numbers and memorization. Partner is hyperphantasic. 
Sibling 1At first—amused (what’s the big deal?)Later—upset, angry, sense of loss. Before finding out—None; didn’t think anything was wrong. After finding out—lowered self-confidence. Preferred not to know. Rarely reads books. Tried hypnosis; never worked/helped. Can draw; wonders where that ability comes from. Good at math, detailed work though retention after the fact lacking. Partner is hyperphantasic. 
Sibling 2At first—found it interesting. Later—indifferent (meh, whatever). None before or after finding out. It’s like having different hair/eye color. No biggie. Rarely reads books. Tried hypnosis once; may have helped—doesn’t remember. Doesn’t get too worked up/excited about things. Uses inner dialogue to “imagine”. Remembers dates/times very well. Partner is hyperphantasic. 
Sibling 3At first—wow. Later—interesting, thoughtful. Before finding out—Never wanted to admit couldn’t do it. Felt something was wrong. After finding out—better understanding of aspects of self. Filled in some blanks. Loves to read; skips over long descriptions of scenery, wardrobe, etc. ; can’t remember the story long after finishing. Couldn’t do hypnosis. Terrible at memorization. No ability to draw/write. Good with picking up spoken languages. Partner also aphantasic. 

Reactions to Aphantasia Greatly Differ

I excitedly shared my discovery of aphantasia with my siblings thinking that they would be just as eager to examine their uniqueness through the lens of aphantasia as I was/am. In my haste, I inadvertently bulldozed right over Sibling 1’s self-esteem, leaving some psychological unrest in my wake. In direct contrast was Sibling 2 who was rather indifferent and unfazed (almost bored) by it all. After interviewing those two—diametrically opposed in their reactions—I was rather apprehensive about interviewing Sibling 3 who, as it turned out, reacted similarly to myself. 

Summary of Revelations

As for the revelations, it was interesting to see the similarities and differences between us. It certainly demonstrated strong similarities giving credence to the assumption that aphantasia is hereditary.

  • Hypnosis, for instance. We’ve all tried it with little to no success, a well-known complaint among aphantasics.
  • With regards to memorization skills, we range from “just ok” to abysmal.
  • Two of us have some artistic/creative capability (drawing and writing) whereas the other two are self-professed to be very low on this measure.
  • Two of us love to read but avoid superfluous detail, and are similarly unable to retain the details of the stories we’ve read beyond the fact that we enjoyed them. Begs the question—how then, do we even remember that we did enjoy them? The other two seem completely disinterested in reading long-form anything, though can and do when required.
  • We each possess a skill unique to ourselves; being good with numbers (Sibling 1), remembering dates and times (Sibling 2), picking up spoken languages (Sibling 3), writing fiction (me).
  • A last (and very interesting to me) item noted was this; three out of four of us are partnered with hyperphantasics (people with extremely vivid mental imagery). I wonder what that could mean? Perhaps aphantasia has given a whole new meaning to this idea that “opposites attract”? 

Final Thoughts

The diversity of our perspectives upon learning the term aphantasia, how each of us reacted to being aphantasic, and how we each perceived it has impacted our lives, really surprised me. We (all) share the familial neurodiversity called aphantasia but each of us has adapted to its limitations (cognizant and subliminal). We rely on and hone the talents we have and develop strategies to overcome that which doesn’t immediately fall in our wheelhouse. Our reactions, impacts, and revelations, it would seem, are as complex as the [spectrum of] aphantasia itself.

My conclusion—though obviously not a scientific one—is that (congenital) aphantasia seems to be genetic—at least, partially. I eagerly await what science has to say on whether or not aphantasia is hereditary.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Mental Health, Panic Disorder

Surviving Acute Panic Disorder That Lay Dormant for 20 Years

Panic disorder wasn’t even on my radar when I wrote my blog entitled The evolution of my Mental Health this past May. When I wrote it, I was in a very healthy place – spiritually, physically, and mentally. In fact, I (thought I) was the healthiest I’ve ever been in my entire adult life: enjoying retirement, exercising, eating right, reveling in the wonder of my three grandchildren. Nature was my new love and I was on an exciting spiritual journey, exploring a myriad of perspectives, beliefs, and teachings. Metaphysics was my new passion and I was fascinated by and explored many aspects of it. I was – quite literally – high on life. I was doing great… until I wasn’t.


Struggling with Mental Illness

The higher you climb, the harder you fall.

AMERICAN PROVERB

I have battled depression and generalized anxiety for two decades – which is when I was actually diagnosed. In truth, I suffered from (undiagnosed) panic disorder as early as age ten – that being my first cognisant recollection of having a panic attack, which you can read about here. I say cognisant because I’m almost sure the first panic attack I suffered was at a much earlier age – as early as age 3 or 4 – but it is a vague memory. Regardless, panic disorder followed me (infrequently) into my adolescence and beyond. Again, it was undiagnosed. I didn’t really know what these weird and scary episodes were.

There was no internet back then… no Google from which to glean instant information. All we had were our doctors and even then, given the symptoms associated with panic disorder, in those days, they tested for signs of stroke and heart issues, and they took blood and urine and such, all of which yielded nothing. Having finally been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety in 2001, and treated with medication and rudimentary psychotherapy, the panic disorder component of my mental illness melted away, becoming a backstory to the depression aspect which took center stage. Generalized anxiety was still a gnawing, fluctuating struggle throughout but it was relatively well managed.

After 20 years working with the same company, in varying high-stress roles, I retired in 2019 when I was 55. Having worked since I was 13 years old, being retired was a bit of an adjustment. Certainly one of the positive adjustments was to that of my mental health. Without the high-stress job, my depression and generalized anxiety were almost non-existent. My journey into spirituality and metaphysics was exciting and fascinating. I was meditating daily, really getting in touch with aspects of life and the afterlife that I had never known about or believed. I was enjoying life in a way I hadn’t experienced before. So much so that I began to wonder if maybe – just maybe – my mental illness had retired as well. Maybe it was time to go off my medication and go it alone.

At this point, I was managing my mental illness with a combination of an SSRI called Cipralex (10mg daily) and medical cannabis (THC vaped once daily). In October 2020, I began the titration of my Cipralex from 10mg down to 5mg a day. There were no issues, no changes to my mental illness. I had expected that during the dark winter months I would suffer a depression dip (as I have in years past) but this never happened. I was feeling great. Better than great. Encouraged, in February 2021, I took my last 5mg Cipralex. All was well. In June 2021, I took my last vape of medical cannabis. When my husband asked me why I was going off my medications, I said, “I need to know if meditation-Liana can replace medication-Liana.”

How foolish I was. You see, with depression and generalized anxiety being in the forefront for so long, undoubtedly exacerbated by my career, I had completely forgotten about (blocked out?) how it all began – a terrified little girl suffering from panic disorder.

Ignoring the Signs

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Aldous Huxley

The signs were there, I just didn’t recognize them for what they were – precursors to a devastating fall. Over the months since October 2020, I actually had a few episodes of heightened anxiety. I put these off as my body and psyche reacting to revelations I’d been having about myself as part of my spiritual journey. Self-therapy, as it were. I would have a revelation, confront it, examine it, talk about it. Experiencing real forgiveness, of others, of myself. These revelation events would be followed by a few hours of elevated anxiety. I got through these bouts easily. I welcomed them as I was really processing a lot of psychological baggage and I considered these episodes to be my body’s way of detoxifying – for lack of a better word. This happened 4 or 5 times between February and the months that followed.

During this time, I also started experiencing heart palpitations. I put that off to caffeine. My right eye began to twitch. I put that off to eye-strain from doing too much crochet. Then, I got pins-and-needles in the small of my back. I put that off to strain from exercise. (Louder than usual) ringing and rushing sounds in my ears. I put this off to my ever-finicky tinnitus. My body would often buzz and my hands would feel as though they were floating. I put these off to the energies I believed I was experiencing from awakening my spirituality.

Around mid-July I put my sweet dog, who’d been with me for 13 years, to rest. I can honestly say that I believe I processed the grief associated with the loss of my dog quite thoroughly. She was old and sick and I believe I did the right thing by her.

None of the precursor symptoms I listed above, nor the grief I experienced for my dog, concerned me. I was so far into metaphysics and spirituality that I considered some of what I was feeling (body buzzing and floating hands) exciting. I wasn’t scared – at all! Not consciously, that is.

Panic Disorder Hits Hard

The calm before the storm.

Sailors’ idiom

Funny thing about our sympathetic nervous system, the primal system gifted to us by nature that detects and alerts us to danger and readies us for fight-or-flight by pumping adrenaline into our bodies… when this chemistry is dysfunctional – and it goes unheeded and untreated – all hell breaks loose.

In early August 2021, I had what I now call my mini panic storm. I had waves upon waves of panic; rapid heartbeat and breathing, nausea and dry-heaving, dilated pupils, tingling all over my body, tinnitus was off-the-charts, crying, feelings of disassociation, fear of insanity. It had started on a Friday night and lasted on and off for about 36 hours. By Sunday morning, the storm had passed. I felt weird and winded and openly wondered – what the actual F just happened??

The next day, Monday, I went to my daughter’s and played with my adorable, giggly grandson. That Wednesday, I signed a self-publishing book deal for a children’s book I’d written. I was so excited. I was back in the game! Sure, all the ignored/explainable precursor symptoms were still there but I’d survived the storm – what I thought was the worst of what the universe could throw at me – and I was invincible.

One week later, to the day, the big panic storm hit. Only this time, I was stuck in fight-or-flight mode for 3 full days, sometimes shocking me out of a dead sleep. Why?? I had no idea. All the symptoms I’d had the week before, I had again, only magnified tenfold. I started disassociating from myself and my husband. My limbs felt detached from my body. I thought I was going crazy. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get off the hamster wheel from hell! That’s the thing about panic disorder – you get stuck in a cycle of fight-or-flight where each wave triggers another… and then another… and then another.

Getting Medical Advice for Acute Panic Disorder

By Monday morning, desperate for relief, I resumed my Cipralex at 5mg even though I knew it would take time – weeks! – before taking effect. I called my doctor’s office and was connected with a nurse practitioner who, upon hearing my plight, agreed with my resumption of the Cipralex at 5mg and prescribed .5mg Lorazepam, a fast-acting (dissolved under the tongue) medication (benzodiazepine) that would help me calm down. I was warned to take it only when in extreme distress as it was habit-forming.

The nurse practitioner also prescribed Gravol for nausea and suggested that I might take it instead of the Lorazepam because Gravol often causes drowsiness which may be enough to calm extreme panic. The nurse practitioner reiterated that Lorazepam can be habit-forming and warned that I shouldn’t take the 2 (Gravol and Lorazepam) together, that I should space them apart by at least 4 hours. I wasn’t in a state of mind to ask why. Lastly, the nurse practitioner said that since I had been on Cipralex before, I could increase the dosage from 5mg to 10mg “in a couple of days”.

The Lorazepam worked, to a degree, which I’ll come back to later. Within about 2 hours, aided by the Lorazepam and exhausted from more than 3 days of adrenaline rushes, I fell into a fitful sleep. I was off the hamster wheel, still in an acute state, but the terror had subsided.

I heeded the nurse practitioner’s warning and took Gravol rather than Lorazepam when I felt as though a heightened state was coming on. Tuesday passed. On Wednesday, it being “a couple of days” since I’d taken 5mg of Cipralex, I increased to 10mgs. I also took a Gravol as, by this point, my appetite was non-existent and I was very weak. Within an hour the extreme panic returned with some added terrifying symptoms. I told my husband that something was very wrong and to take me to the hospital. He worked to calm me and together, we called our local crisis line.

What is Serotonin Syndrome?

After describing what was happening and what I’d taken (Cipralex + Gravol), the amazing lady at the crisis center suggested that the Gravol was likely a red herring but that it sounded like I was suffering from serotonin syndrome, the symptoms of which include agitation, restlessness, confusion, rapid heart rate, and more. As for me, I felt like a caged animal, pacing, circling, wringing my hands, breathing fast and shallow. These symptoms activated my fight-or-flight and I was back on the hamster wheel only this time, I was spinning out of control. The crisis center lady suggested we call Telehealth Ontario (a phone-in medical service in Ontario, Canada) for advice on the 2 medications and my symptoms.

My husband and I thought that perhaps there was a drug interaction between Gravol and Cipralex, and, given I was back in an extreme state, I badly wanted to take a Lorazepam. I couldn’t as it had only been an hour since taking the Gravol. We called my doctor’s office again, who said a nurse practitioner would call me back, and Telehealth, which had us on hold and offered to return our call should we wish to leave a message. We did. I called my pharmacist to ask about interactions between Cipralex and Gravol. He said he couldn’t find any.

At this point, my panic – coupled with the symptoms from the serotonin syndrome – was so bad all I could think of was taking a Lorazepam to find relief. It still hadn’t been 4 hours since I’d taken the Gravol, and because I didn’t know why I had been warned about this 4-hour window, I waited – in a state of heightened panic – for a call back from either Telehealth or my doctor’s office.

When my doctor’s office called back, less than 45 minutes later, it was a different nurse practitioner. I again explained what was happening and what I’d taken and asked if I could take a Lorazepam despite it being less than 4 hours since taking the Gravol. She confirmed that she didn’t think Gravol played any part in my current state but that increasing the Cipralex dosage from 5mg to 10mg so quickly (after “a couple of days”) had, indeed, caused serotonin syndrome. She said I could take the Lorazepam despite taking Gravol and explained that, because both cause drowsiness, caution should be exercised if taken together. Lastly, she said I should go back to 5mg of Cipralex and stay at 5mg for another 7 days.

It took several hours for the serotonin syndrome symptoms to subside, aided in part by the Lorazepam I had taken. I leveled off later that afternoon, again, fried and exhausted from the ordeal.

Several days passed. Anxiety ebbed and flowed. The most disturbing times occurred when symptoms would wake me up. I would be in full fight-or-flight mode even before reaching consciousness. Obviously, my brain chemistry was seriously F’d. I took my 5mg Cipralex daily and took Gravol for nausea and occasionally when I felt mounting anxiety. I did take 1 Lorazepam during this time, preemptively, when I knew that Gravol just wasn’t going to cut it.

Remember earlier when I said that Lorazepam helped – to a degree? Well, every time up until this point when I had taken a Lorazepam, I was already in a heightened state of panic. This time, I wasn’t. I was on my way there but I hadn’t reached that state. What I noticed was that within about fifteen minutes of the pill dissolving under my tongue, both sides of my chest above my breasts tightened and tingled, and my heart started to race. Whether these odd sensations were brought on by the Lorazepam or the anxiety these sensations induced, Lorazepam seemed to worsen the situation before making it better. Still, I couldn’t be sure as again, the panic was on the rise. Within about 2 hours I had calmed.

The following Wednesday, as recommended by the nurse practitioner, I again, nervously, increased the Cipralex from 5mg to 10mg. Blessedly, there were no adverse effects this time.

Recovery Cannot be Rushed

During this time, my husband and I (mostly my husband) were packing to go away for 2 weeks to a cottage we rent annually at this time of year, a place we absolutely love – peaceful, beautiful, tucked into a forest, and surrounded by water. Despite my worry and stress about leaving the safety of my home, what better place to recover from acute panic disorder than in a place of tranquility? That, and, I didn’t want to disappoint my husband, or my kids and grandkids who would visit while we were there.

I was making progress – slow, but progress nonetheless. The first couple of days at the cottage I did okay. I used all the coping tools in my toolkit and hadn’t yet taken another Lorazepam, despite several bouts of increased anxiety. Lorazepam is habit-forming, remember? A fact I fixated on. It had been 10 days since increasing my Cipralex to 10mg and given the erratic anxiety fluctuations, I called my doctor’s office to ask if I should now increase from 10mg to 15mg. They said yes.

Within an hour, I was – once again – in the grips of serotonin syndrome. I won’t repeat what I experienced. Suffice to say, it was horrible and this time, it lasted several hours longer than the previous time. I called my doctor’s office and explained what was happening (serotonin syndrome) and asked – “Do I skip a dose at 15mg? Go back to 10mg? To 5mg?” They advised me not to skip a dose and to go back to 10mg and stay there.

At this time it’s important to point out that, despite having called my doctor’s office several times for care and advice, I had not yet spoken to my actual GP. I spoke with two separate nurse practitioners on several different occasions and this last time, to a resident at their clinic. I finally spoke with my own doctor 2 days later. She confirmed that going back on Cipralex was the right course of action. She confirmed that serotonin syndrome was what I had experienced and said that we would NOT be going up to 15mg again. I was to stay at 10mg. If necessary, she would add a different medication to the Cipralex reiterating that SSRIs can take up to 6 weeks (at this point it had only been 2 weeks) to become fully effective.

As for the Gravol? My doctor said I was to stop taking Gravol altogether. Why? Because there is a known link between Gravol and Cipralex to heart arrhythmia! Are you F’ing kidding me??? I told her that it was their nurse practitioner who had advised me to take Gravol in lieu of Lorazepam! “Regardless,” she said, “no Gravol.” As for nausea, I was limited to ginger tea. For breakthrough anxiety, she stated Lorazepam was the solution. When I explained the side effects I was having from the Lorazepam (tight/tingling chest, pounding heart, heightened anxiety) she said she had never heard of this reaction and left it at that.

That same evening, I kept thinking about the Lorazepam. Had I imagined the sensations I had felt? With my fight-or-flight on overdrive, it was possible. Was it just anxiety about feeling something odd in my body? I needed to know once and for all. Since I was feeling pretty level that day, I decided to take a Lorazepam around 8pm. BAM! Just as I had experienced before. Within 15 minutes the side effects began and my anxiety went up. I was able to breathe through the effects as I knew they would last for only a couple of hours, at worst. Within 45 minutes the tightness/tingling and increased heart rate subsided. Within another 60 minutes, I calmed down and was very drowsy. I slept okay through the night having to breathe through only a couple of anxiety waves after waking to go to the bathroom.

Late the next afternoon, my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter arrived. I was fatigued and shaky but ever so glad to receive them. They were to stay for 4 days. We spent some time on the dock, went for a walk, then enjoyed a lovely dinner together. I played with my granddaughter and helped with her care where I could. By around 9pm, we said our goodnights. It had been a good day. My husband and I settled into bed and I read my book – as I do most nights – to get me good and sleepy.

My husband turned off his light first and was sleeping within a few short minutes. Sometime later, I turned off my light, rolled over, and closed my eyes.

Panic Disorder Makes You Lose Control

With eyes closed for less than a few minutes, my heart began to race, pounding loud and hard. I breathed, as slow as I could. Tinnitus blasted my eardrums. Counting. Slowwww inhale through the nose, slowwww exhale through the mouth.

I did this over and over and over – to no avail. I tried everything. Relax, don’t fight it. Let it pass through you. I worked my way through the multiplication tables – twice. Recounted dialogue from movies and TV shows. Sang songs in my head. All while breathing. I did this for 4 hours as wave after wave of panic hit me over and over. None of it worked. I was exhausted, thought that I was having a heart attack, and was sure I was dying! I wanted to die. Please take me home. And I knew I couldn’t take a Lorazepam because of the side effects. I didn’t think it was possible but my panic level was higher than it had ever been. If I took a Lorazepam it would go even higher!

Frightened out of my mind, and body, in tears, I finally woke my husband. I told him I felt like I was having a heart attack and that I needed him to take me to the hospital. It was 2am. We were in cottage country. The closest hospital was 45 minutes away. As he had done many times before, my husband helped calm me – a bit. He suggested I watch movies to distract myself, which I did on our portable Blu-Ray player.

A few times I fell asleep only to be woken up by another wave of flight-or-flight crashing down on me. By 6am, when my husband woke up from his own fitful sleep, I was distraught in a way I had never been before… crying, no – sobbing – in a way I had never done before. The sound coming from me was foreign to my own ears. I was outside myself. Disassociated. Terrified.

My husband went and told my daughter and her husband. They helped me to the car. I cannot stress enough how awful I felt at this point – not just because I was so panicked – but because my beautiful daughter had to see me in that state! My heart broke in those moments. I broke. Into a million pieces.

“I’m so sorry you have to see me this way,” I sobbed.

My daughter reassured me. Loved me. Supported me. As she always has. Still – I just wanted to collapse and disappear. I hated myself.

The amazingly compassionate ER doc, when he came to see me, said they were going to run some tests and asked if I wanted something to calm me down. I said yes, but not Lorazepam, explaining why.

“No problem,” he said.

They took my blood, urine, and a chest x-ray, and ran a quick test on my heart. Then, a lovely nurse came in and offered me two little orange pills to help calm me.

“Not Lorazepam,” I hiccupped between sobs.

“No,” she said, “Clonazepam.”

Within about 30-45 minutes, and having felt no odd side effects/sensations as with the Lorazepam, I was asleep. I woke a couple of hours later to the sound of the nice ER doc telling my husband that all the tests had come back normal. Of course. It’s only panic disorder, after all. I was discharged with a prescription for Clonazepam, .5mg a day when needed for extreme anxiety. With the aid of my husband, I stumbled to the car as 2 Clonazepam (1mg) packs a punch.

As a sidebar, I have since looked up side effects from taking Lorazepam and the ones I had were listed; chest tightness and fast or irregular heartbeat. To be fair, similar side effects can be felt when taking Clonazepam. I’m not sure why I experienced side effects with one and not the other except to say that obviously, my body metabolizes them differently.

Back at the cottage and for the rest of the afternoon, I slept on and off on the couch, waking every now and then to the sounds of movement around me, with ripples of anxiety hitting me as soon as I became conscious. The movement I heard was that of my daughter and husband packing the cottage. He was taking me home.

I lasted 1 week at the cottage. 6 days, really, given we arrived on a Saturday afternoon and left the following Saturday morning. I had ruined everyone’s vacation, was useless in terms of packing up to leave, couldn’t share the burden of driving us home, was too weak to haul everything into the house, and couldn’t be relied upon to put any of it away. I carried a mantle of guilt and self-recrimination the likes of which I had never carried before. All self-imposed, of course, as nobody – not one single person – said a single word to me that wasn’t loving and supportive. I am so blessed in that regard.

Recovery Ebbs and Flows

Sometimes my anxiety hits toxic levels. Many times, I don’t know whether what I’m experiencing is an anxiety, panic, or heart attack. It’s like my heart is pounding so intensely that it’s about to burst through my chest.

― K.J. Redelinghuys, Unfiltered: Grappling with Mental Illness

Being home was a relief though. It took a few days but I started to slowly progress, though tenuous at best. I found a new therapist and discussed next steps with my doctor. I was still being woken up by anxiety, my heart was still palpitating, and I was teetering on a very precarious tightrope whereby any little thing – even benign heartburn – could set me off.

My doctor ordered special tests to check my adrenal glands (fight-or-flight chemical production/secretion), my heart (ECG, Holter monitor, and heart ultrasound), and several others. So far, most of these have come back normal. I should be glad of that, right? I am. At the same time, I wanted there to be something that could explain why all this happened, seemingly so suddenly, in the first place. It seems ridiculous but a tumor on my adrenal gland, called a (neuro)endocrine tumor, could explain the fury with which my sympathetic nervous system has attacked me!

Or course, it hasn’t really attacked me. In fact, our sympathetic nervous system is there to protect us. Just because mine senses life-threatening danger, when I have simple heartburn, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t thank it for doing its duty. <sarcasm>

After being home from the cottage for a week or so, I started to level off. The 10mg of Cipralex seemed to be reaching its apex. I visited with each of my 3 siblings and my 91-year-old dad, all of whom have been incredibly supportive. I visited with my daughters, their husbands, and my grandbabies. Each day I was getting a little bit better. I had only had to take one Clonazepam post-hospital. Otherwise, I was managing the daily waves of anxiety well with breathing and therapy. I had an appointment with my doctor and we were staying the course.

Self-Medicate With Caution

I’ve written before how medical cannabis helped me with mental illness in the past. You can read about this in my The evolution of my Mental Health; 2 decades in the making blog or by reading any of my blogs on the subject. I saw no reason why medical cannabis, CBD specifically, couldn’t help with the daily anxiety waves with which I was contending, as it had done for me in the past with my generalized anxiety. I knew enough not to take THC as it can cause and/or exacerbate anxiety.

Though I’m relatively well-versed in cannabis use, I scheduled a call with a cannabis educator at my medical cannabis clinic and spoke at length about my ordeal. We discussed CBD specific to its use in the treatment of anxiety. I had been on 50mg CBD a day in years past but knew that starting low-and-slow was best. I asked the educator what kind of side effects might be felt if the dose was too high to start. She said that mild headaches were the most common for the first few days, and maybe some diarrhea. Pretty benign.

I ordered 10mg CBD gel caps from my favorite provider. On day 1, remembering to space taking CBD and Cipralex—which I take in the evening—by several hours as CBD can sometimes lessen the efficacy of SSRIs, I took a gel cap in the morning.

As CBD impedes the body’s system that metabolizes certain SSRIs, this could interfere with how these medications are metabolized if/when taken with CBD oil or other products, making them potentially less effective.

CBD oil and SSRIs (Antidepressants) – https://resolvecbd.ca/

That afternoon I got a mild headache, as I knew might happen. That evening, I had a couple of mild waves of anxiety. I slept okay that night and when I woke up the next morning, the headache was gone. The next morning – day 2 – I took another gel cap. I got another headache. It was worse than the day before. Okay. To be expected. I started feeling more anxiety but used the coping tools in my toolbox. Slept okay but when I woke up, the headache was still there. Day 3, I took another gel cap, determined to push through the first few days of the headache side effect, trusting that the CBD would help with anxiety, as it had in the past.

That afternoon, the waves of anxiety started to mount, quickly. As with the Lorazepam, whether it was the CBD itself that induced and heightened my anxiety or my sympathetic nervous system detecting danger from the headaches I had, I was back on the dreaded hamster wheel! I stopped taking the CBD on day 4, and for the next 2 days, dealt with waves of heightening anxiety that reached a peak on the 3rd day post-CBD when I was reaching a state of panic. I took a Clonazepam that night, slept deeply for about 6 hours, awakened mid-sleep by panic – again! The next morning, after much insistence by my husband, I took another Clonazepam – 2 within 24 hours.

My doctor’s assistant took pity on me when I called their office and begged to see my doctor – in person – that day. My doctor – never a fan of cannabis as a treatment for anything – reluctantly stated that while cannabis can be potentially helpful for some symptoms of mental illness, that CBD has been known to exacerbate panic. In this case, I couldn’t argue. There I was in her office, in tears, afraid of everything, desperate for answers. She made me promise not to take any medical cannabis – which I did – and scheduled me for a few more tests given these attacks sometimes wake me from a dead sleep. She prescribed Seroquel, an antipsychotic medication (quetiapine) that in low doses (half 25mg a day) can help with panic disorder, and help me sleep.

Leveling Off from Acute Panic Disorder

There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

The first night I took Seroquel, I slept almost straight through until morning. Happily, that continues to be the case since I began taking Seroquel. I am – once again – leveling off. Yesterday, when my sister asked me how I was doing, I said, “I feel almost like myself.” I don’t exactly know what that means given I feel utterly rudderless and am doing my best not to live in a state of waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop.

The more often you have panic, the more you anticipate panic. It’s part of the disorder. For me, these post-menopausal panic episodes weren’t just occasional one-and-done events, as they had been in the first half of my life. These were multiple attacks in an hour, several hours in a row. Right now, I’m just trying to survive hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Therapy is helping me deal with anxiety by teaching me new coping skills using treatment strategies such as Brainspotting, EMDR, etc., and with the trauma, I have suffered as a result of this ordeal. While I’ve suffered traumas in the past (who hasn’t?), for me, nothing compares to, nor could have prepared me for, the trauma of surviving acute panic disorder that lay dormant for twenty years.

—–

Mental Health resources

Feature image courtesy of Pexels.com, SHVETS production.

Aphantasia

Understanding the Nuances of My Aphantasia

Do I, or don’t I, have aphantasia?

Just answering that seemingly simple question can be very confusing. How do I know if I have aphantasia?

I learned the term aphantasia a few months ago. I was participating in a hypnotherapy session where I was asked to visualize. Frustrated – as this wasn’t my first time being asked to visualize – I told the practitioner that I couldn’t visualize. Casually – as I guess I wasn’t her first client who couldn’t visualize – she told me that I have aphantasia. This word rocked my world. Firstly, because the inability to visualize had an actual term associated with it – aphantasia. Secondly, that people who can visualize, depending on their level of capability, picture things in their mind’s eye as though they are literally seeing them. Read more of my newest article on how I navigate the nuances of my Aphantasia on the Aphantasia Network.

Mental Health

Healthyplace.com Coping with Depression Blogs

In 2013 and 2014, I wrote many articles on Coping with Depression for healthyplace.com. Below is a list of my offerings.

Are You Still On Your Depression Meds?

A Note To Depressed Parents Everywhere

Depression and Alcohol Is a Dangerous Combination

Making the Most of Depression Remission

The Painful Emotions Caused by Depression

I Hate My Depression Symptoms – Ergo, I Hate Me

Control Your Bad News Consumption To Control Depression

Fresh Air and Sunshine Can Help Relieve Depression

Depression Messes With Your Ability to Concentrate

Depression Can Drain You Of Your Will To Live

How Depression Impacts Family

Lack of Motivation Due to Depression Makes Recovery Hard

Laughter–the Unsung Hero for Alleviating Depression

Depression Taught Me a Thing Or Two

Using All of Your Coping With Depression Skills

I Am Scared – But I Talk About Depression Anyway

Post-Vacation Depression

Weight Gain! Now That’s Depressing!

When Seasonal Depression Looms, Go Easy on Yourself

I’m Still Afraid To Talk About My Depression

Manage Depression With Gratitude and Positivity

The Weather Is A Sure Trigger for Depression, If You Let It

Depression and Low Self-Esteem as a Symptom

The Face of Depression Doesn’t Discriminate

The Catalyst to My First Bout of Depression

The Self-Stigma of Having Depression Never Goes Away

Birthdays Don’t Have To Be Depressing

When A Depression Trigger Sneaks Up On You

Daylight Savings Time vs Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter Weather Can Be So Depressing

Depression During Menopause Makes a Difference

Depression and Oversleeping: I Want to Sleep All the Time

Why A Correct Depression Diagnosis Is Important

Mental Illness, Depression is Hereditary

The Depression Roller Coaster Won’t Let You Enjoy the Ride

Get Involved and Help Others to Treat Depression

Create a Support System When Coping with Depression

Practicing Positivity Can Help With Depression Remission

A Powerful Depression Coping Principle: Know Thyself

My Dog Knows Depression and Helps Me Through It

I Disclosed My Depression to My Boss

Exercise To Help Combat Depression

Group Therapy for Depression – Help or Hindrance?

Quitting Depression Medication On Your Own A Very Bad Idea

That First Depression Diagnosis — A Blessing and a Curse

Explaining Depression To A Friend

Do I Have Bipolar Depression or Unipolar Depression?

Talk About Depression, Tell Somebody

Experiencing Depressive Episodes: Will It Ever End?

Teenage Depression: If We Caught Depression Early

Depression and The Very Real Threat of Suicide

Coping With A Life High Followed By A Depression Low

Aphantasia, Hypnosis, Meditation, Spirituality

Hypnosis with Aphantasia

Close your eyes and visualize…

I recently wrote about meditation with aphantasia. Specifically, how guided meditation can exacerbate the (sometimes subliminal) states of confusion, frustration, shame, and inadequacy aphantasics feel when asked to visualize, which is how most guided meditations begin. My experience with hypnosis was annoyingly similar. Now… if you will… imagine a wave of relaxation washing over your body, loosening every nerve and muscle, and read on as I lead you through my journey of hypnosis with aphantasia. 😏… Read more of my newest article on Hypnosis with Aphantasia on the Aphantasia Network.

Anxiety, Cannabis, Depression, Mental Health

The evolution of my Mental Health; 2 decades in the making

With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to a close in Canada and the US, what follows is the evolution of my mental health. My hope in writing this cautionary tale is…

  • that it will illustrate the importance of immediate, accessible, sustained professional care essential to help everyone suffering with mental illness
  • that it helps the sufferers understand the sometimes life-threatening pitfalls of ignoring mental illness and/or its treatments
  • that sufferers understand that advocating for what is best for you, the individual, is necessary and is your right
  • that it illuminates the need for continued improvements in government policy and spending, and the workplace, for those on, or considering, medical leave due to mental illness
  • that my story provides you with a sense of determination, unwavering willingness to fight for yourself, knowing that you are a HERO during every phase of your illness, and that you should never give up.

This is my story.

I stopped working in 2018 when I was 54, leaving a place I had worked for nearly 20 years. Not by choice, not really, but because I simple could not go on.

During those 20 years, I suffered 4 major depressive episodes.

The first, in 2001, was when I was diagnosed with chronic unipolar depression and generalized anxiety disorder (which I now know I’ve had since I was a child), and put on medication, an SSRI. I attended a few talk-therapy sessions (four free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a year-long wait) and returned to work after 4 months. Was I ready to return? Let’s just say, I was more preoccupied with the idea of having to stave off my employer’s weekly check-ins – to convince them I was sick – than on my own recovery. Real recovery. Had real recovery been part of the equation, who knows how life would have unfolded.

Whether from unrest, lack-of-information, shame, or stigma, I stupidly went off my medication in 2003. Of course, I did a tailspin and fell into another major depressive episode. I went back on my medication, did a few more therapy sessions (six free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a year-long wait), and returned to work after 3 months this time.

The 7 years that followed were good. I functioned. I advanced. Then, in 2010 I became obsessed with the idea that I was no longer depressed. I was a top performer at work and had convinced myself (the trickery of mental illness) that I was no longer sick. I stopped taking my medication – AGAIN! This time it was brutal. I endured weeks of brain-zaps (withdrawal symptoms) and within 3 months, I crashed headlong into another major depressive episode. I was off work for another 4 months, had more therapy (six free sessions through my employment benefits; private sessions were cost-prohibitive; government-subsidized sessions had a six- to eight-month wait), and went back on my meds. At this point, my doctor said I would be on medication for the rest of my life.

The medication did its job, for the most part – until it didn’t. Around 2012 I started going through depression cycles every 2 months or so. My doctor made a minor medication adjustment and referred me to a psychiatrist – a 6-month wait – who would determine if I had been misdiagnosed with unipolar depression. Was I bipolar? No. I was suffering from cyclic unipolar depression.

By the end of 2012, I was so drained, distraught, and disgusted with myself, that I considered taking my own life. To an outsider, I had it all; a wonderful husband, 3 amazing children, living parents, siblings, friends, pets, house, job, etc. In that moment of deep despair, none of it meant anything. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, crying in the dark, with a handful of pills in the palm of my hand, desperate to end my pain. Somewhere in that dense, dark fog of psychological turmoil, I remembered something from one of my therapy sessions – to try and think of just one thing to live for. That one thing was seeing my beautiful daughter in her wedding dress in May the following year. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – to get up off the floor, walk into the bathroom, and flush the pills down the toilet.

Despite how close I came to ending my life, I managed to crawl out of that particular hole of cyclic depression and go on with my life. For many years, I continued to experience ups and downs, though I (thankfully) never again got as low as I did on that dark day. Every morning I would find just one thing to look forward to and so, the years passed.

At this point I should mention two things. First, nothing in my mental illness treatment had changed substantially since 2001. The only medication change my doctor made was to play with my dosages and to switch me from one brand of SSRI to another. The therapy sessions I had were limited and geared more towards return-to-work than uncovering the cause of my pain. Second, by this point, I was drinking between 3-4 bottles of wine a week, plus vodka-based cocktails on the weekends. I had also started dabbling in cannabis, sometimes drinking and getting high at the same time.

So far, I have focussed mainly on the depression side of my diagnosis. Thankfully, the panic attacks associated with my anxiety were pretty much nonexistent and the generalized anxiety itself was well managed. Around 2016 – the year my eldest daughter got married (elation) and my mother passed away (desolation) – there began a very slow, yet persistent undercurrent of anxiety. Mental illness was, again, threatening to undermine the precarious balance of my life. Still, I took a new position at work – my dream job, as it were – and I stopped drinking. I went about keeping my leaky, life-boat afloat.

In 2017, my dream job was set adrift, and me along with it. There were reorganizations in the department and I was to be sent back to my old department, for which I should feel grateful as several others had been terminated altogether. I wasn’t even given a choice. I felt abused, abandoned, and angry. But mostly, I felt defeated. I went back to my old department, but it didn’t last. Try as I did, as many were depending on me, I simply couldn’t do it.

In 2018, I suffered my 4th major depressive episode in 19 years. I was done. I could go no further. I’ll admit there was a certain level of relief when all was said and done with the job. Given my state-of-mind, however, there was a lot of work to be done to put myself back together – again. I had my first, beautiful grandchild by then – he was my just one thing every day that year.

Despite rounds of private therapy (paid for 100% by my employer who, by 2017 was a front-runner in their benefits-based support for mental illness – kudos!) – which definitely helped with the turmoil around my job loss; shame, defeat, guilt, grieving, etc. – the undercurrent of anxiety I had been feeling since 2017 was increasing at an alarming rate. With my anxiety on the rise, no real strategies put forth by my doctor, and a deep desire NOT to drink alcohol, I looked for alternative relief.

I began taking medical cannabis in late-2018 as an accessory to pharmaceuticals, to help with my mental illness. My doctor, who knew/knows very little about cannabis as a therapy for mental illness, prescribed a radical change in my medication – which did NOT go well. The dreaded brain-zaps were back and my blood pressure shot up. My GP responded by ignoring the brain-zaps issue altogether (frustrating!), and prescribed blood-pressure medication to control that side-effect. I refused the blood-pressure medication (it’s so easy to go down medication rabbit holes taking one medication for one thing then another to combat side-effects, then another, and another…), and went back to my old meds. The brain-zaps subsided and my blood-pressure stabilized but I was no further ahead than before the experiment.

So, once again, in June 2019, I was referred to a psychiatrist to determine what this latest iteration of mental illness had in store. She was a stern, no-nonsense, close-to-retirement lady who told me, flat out, that heightened anxiety is often a symptom of peri-menopause. My GP had never told me that! The psychiatrist said that the medication I was on was essentially the best under the circumstances and admonished me for taking cannabis. She stated that, in a lot of cases, heightened anxiety brought on by peri-menopause has been known to dissipate a couple of years post-menopause.

I walked away, yet again, without any new strategies to improve my mental wellness. I had exhausted the tools at my disposal on the medical profession side of things. Left to my own devices, despite my GP’s resistance, and the psychiatrist’s warnings, I delved further into medical cannabis. It became my saving grace. I worked with a respected online clinic that provided great information and support as I searched for what would work best for me. Cannabis worked quickly to help stabilize my depression and anxiety, with little to no side-effects, and has become the primary treatment for my mental illness. I am lucky insomuch as, I can afford to pay for cannabis as a treatment. The Canadian and provincial governments levy taxes on medical cannabis when it should be treated like any other prescription drug. This fight is ongoing.

I will end this blog by saying that support for mental health in Canada (and around the world) is evolving. In 2001, there was little to no discussion about mental illness, very few support tools or resources were available, and governments and places of business were ill prepared and focused on the wrong things. In 2021, we (try to) talk openly about mental health, tools and supports are improving with many resources available at the click of a mouse, and governments and businesses are stepping up to recognize and support mental health. Is it perfect? HELL, no! Still, I am ever so grateful for the resources I’ve had along the way. It may not seem like it given this cautionary tale, but small changes over the years have kept me going. Have I had to fight? HELL, yes! Writing this chronology has reminded me of where I was, how far I’d fallen, how brave I’ve been, and how far I’ve come.

My hope in writing this blog is that it gives you… hope.


Mental Health resources:

Aphantasia, Meditation, Spirituality

Meditation and Aphantasia

Close your eyes and visualize…

Seems super simple, right? A five-word instruction that, for most of the population, is easy to follow. Whether it’s for guided meditation, hypnosis, psychotherapy, yoga, classroom study, team-building exercises, self-help practices, elite sport/career mental coaching, childbirth coaching, etc., being asked to visualize is almost always at the top of the list for getting into the mood, spirit, zone, or state-of-being. Read more of my newest article on Meditation and Aphantasia on the Aphantasia Network.

Aphantasia

Aphantasia – “Mind Blindness” – The inability to visualize mental images

Picture a red apple. Eyes open or closed, it doesn’t matter. Go ahead – picture a red apple.

Can you picture it?

If you can’t – like me – you have aphantasia, also known as mind blindness or blind imagination. People with aphantasia are unable to visualize mental images.

In a therapy session a few weeks ago, I was asked to “visualize” a train track as though I was looking down upon it from 500 feet up. I said to the therapist, “I can’t see it.”

“What can you see?” she asked.

“I can’t see anything. I see only greys and blacks.” (It was the first time I had admitted this to anyone).

“You have aphantasia,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“What, what, what, what?” I replied, surprised that there was a name for my inability to see images when I close my eyes. In fact, I was more than surprised. My mind was blown!

I’m 56 years old! My whole life, any time someone asked me to close my eyes and visualize something, I thought they meant figuratively, as in, close your eyes and remember it. Or, sense it. Or, perceive it. I had no idea that visualizing was a literal term and that people – most people – have the ability to literally “see” images when they close their eyes.

I immediately asked my husband. “Close your eyes and visualize a red apple.” <pause> “What do you see?”

“A red apple.”

“How about a rainbow?”

“I see a rainbow.”

“How about a horse?”

“I see a horse.”

“How about a horse running with a red apple in its mouth in a field with a rainbow overhead.”

He could see it all.

MIND BLOWN!

Now, not everybody can visualize as vividly as my husband can. For instance, when I asked my three grown kids if they could visualize a red apple, my son and one of my daughters said they could see the apple’s shape, contours, and some colour. Whereas, my other daughter said she could see the apple in absolute detail – just like her dad. This demonstrates that people with the ability to visualize do so on a spectrum, of sorts.

The graphic below depicts a very simplified version of this spectrum. My husband and one daughter can see the red apple as depicted in image 1. My son and my other daughter can see the red apple as depicted somewhere between images 2 and 3. I, on the other hand, can’t see the apple at all and so, I’m a 5 on this spectrum.

I immediately asked my three siblings. All four of us are aphantasics (people with aphantasia). I asked my 91 year old father. He too is aphantasic.

Clearly, there is some hereditary correlation here. Or, is there? This is all so new, in terms of scientific discovery and exploration. The term aphantasia itself was only coined in 2015! I am going to now direct you to a great article about the history of aphantasia.

Only 2-3% of the population are aphantasic, although I suspect this number will grow as more and more people, like myself, discover they have aphantasia and reach out to others with aphantasia – over social networks, in their families, by participating in research studies, etc. I invite you to join or visit the Aphantasia Network at aphantasia.com to learn more information. Follow them on Twitter and/or Instagram as well.

Learning that I have aphantasia was such a relief! All this time I had this subconscious feeling of – not failure, exactly – but, just this odd pressure to see things in my mind. Learning that my brain is simply wired a little differently has me, more and more, saying – “OHHHHH! So THAT’s why!” – about so many things in my life. Why I can’t remember faces or events very well. Why I’m less proficient at math and science – all those symbols and equations! UGH! Among many other realizations. I’m not saying that all “aphants” have these difficulties, but I sure do/did. The science is in its infancy and I can’t wait to SEE what the future holds.

Mental Health

Managing Mental Illness – Will I ever truly be well?

Mental illness is a shit-show. To combat it, one must always be on the look out, watching for signs and symptoms of recurrence. When detected, one must pull out the big guns, as it were – the weapons of learned coping skills , methodologies, medications, and support team – with the constant hope that thusly armed, the event will pass with minimal damage left in its wake.

Grateful as I always am when the event does pass, I am often left wondering. Will I ever truly be well? Or, is this how things will be for the rest of my life?

I’ve been asking this last question for over two decades and counting and, as much as I want to believe that the last event was THE last event, so far, it has not been so.

Mental illness is real. It’s not imagined. It’s not something one can simply will away. I know. I tried – twenty years ago before I took my first antidepressant. The shame I felt then… the defeat… when swallowing that first pill. If someone had told me twenty years ago that I’d be sitting here today, on guard, constantly at-the-ready to fight this ongoing fight, I wonder what I would have said – or done?

I’ve had many ups and downs over the years. I hit rock bottom in 2012 when I came close to suicide. That’s how far and deep I’d fallen. It was the hardest fight of my life, getting out of that hole. But I did it – and I’m grateful every day that I’m still alive to tell about it. And, while seven years have passed since that dark day, I’m still fighting – like today’s seemingly for-no-reason symptoms of anxiety sneaking up on my psyche, ready to pounce.

Out comes the weaponry. I’m always on alert, remember?

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I will battle mental illness until the day I die. I will have to be vigilant. Because, the truth is, wellness ebbs and flows – a recovery/remission/recurrence, as it were. I must practice my skills while I am well so that they are well oiled and ready for battle when the next one comes. As I’m sure it will.

If you are reading this and you need support, please reach out. Get help! Don’t wait to hit rock bottom. Do it now. I’ve provided some links below.

CAMH
Crisis Services Canada
US Suicide Prevention Lifeline
healthyplace.com

Cannabis, Mental Health

Misleading headlines about cannabis. Due diligence is key.

I think we can all agree that controlled, scientific studies on the (medical) benefits of Cannabis are sorely lacking. With its popularity surging globally and people demanding/clammering for legalization, no doubt these studies will be forthcoming in the very near future.

Having said that, patient-based information, collected through user tracking apps like Strainprint, and websites like Leafly and Lift&Co, paint a very real picture of the myriad health benefits of marijuana. The sheer volume of empirical data stating marijuana’s benefits can no longer be ignored. Controlled study or not, the people have spoken! Whether it be as a treatment to curb symptoms (e.g. pain from inflammation), or a treatment of the condition itself (e.g. reducing the inflammation), cannabis is helping innumerous people.

Yesterday evening I saw an article that both angered and stupified me, entitled: Medicinal cannabis does NOT help treat depression, anxiety or ADHD, reveals review of 83 scientific studies. That’s a pretty bold headline! The first thing I did was check who published the article; it was from a UK tabloid-style newspaper known for its lack of credibility. Still, it quoted a credible source (The Lancet Psychiatry) so I checked that too. They essentially examined studies spanning 30 years, with a ridiculously low combined subject count of between 3K-4K, on depression, anxiety, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, and PTSD. One study had as few as 10 participants! Not only did their report NOT say what the tabloid headline so recklessly stated, but it concluded the following:

There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders within a regulatory framework. Further high-quality studies directly examining the effect of cannabinoids on treating mental disorders are needed.

The Lancet psychiatry: Cannabinoids for the treatment of mental disorders and symptoms of mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Regardless of the irresponsible tabloid headline, The Lancet themselves have made some astonishing proclamations stating, “We found little evidence for the effectiveness of pharmaceutical CBD or medicinal cannabis”. They found little evidence because there is little evidence to be found. There are not enough studies! I find their conclusions astoundingly irresponsible! Controlled studies based on today’s science are in their infancy. They need to seek out real-time patient-based data, then conclude. They need to do better!