I Remember When I Lost My Mind

GUEST WRITER – Leo

My psychiatric troubles are, like many others, drug-induced. I was a consumer of large quantities of weed daily and began taking hallucinogenic mushrooms after using MDMA and cocaine. At the time I also drank enough to black out almost every time I drank during my first year in University. A friend who has been hospitalised several times once told me there’s no one in a Psychiatric Ward who hasn’t taken drugs.

After blacking out once again at a party, I witnessed my friends’ attitude change towards me. Strangers stared and laughed as I went by and the people I knew made increasingly frequent jokes about memory loss. I became obsessed with finding out what I had done but my questions remained unanswered.eab119fdbe8175785cc52b749c90ab3e

Two weeks later, I introduced a friend to hallucinogenic mushrooms. I was increasingly upset and in the weeks since the party I had travelled to Boston only to blackout again after taking pharmaceutical stimulants and drinking.

This time was different, to this day I do not know what happened but I can very clearly tell you how it felt: Like my mind, all my preoccupations of this world, my cares and rules and lifelines had all been vacuumed out of my skull leaving in their place a terrible emptiness.

My first experience in dealing with this new state was an attempt at buying pizza. We arrived in the restaurant and my friend asked me what I would like. I looked around me and realised my mind made no logical connection whatsoever between the question and our presence here. No connection between the man at the counter and pizza. No connection between the menu and the act of eating pizza. I left the restaurant in a hurry and, somehow managing to find old voice half-successfully, instead of the monotone one I’d recently acquired, explained I needed sleep and left.

I walked through Montreal for five hours trying attempting to find my way home; a trip that should have taken 30 minutes. I asked people for directions then instantly forgot them. I felt alien, disconnected, far. This lasted nearly nine months until a mix of anti-psychotics and therapy helped me reconnect with reality.

The reconnection is a thread you have to clutch for dear life. A moment’s inattention and it’s all gone. And then you’re back to square one.

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Over the course of those nine months I alienated almost all of my friends.  I found myself in a vicious spiral of social suicide. My thought process had changed dramatically since using drugs. My thought process now went along these lines:

  • They are laughing. Someone made a joke.
  • They look to me expecting an emotional reaction.
  • I say nothing and they stare.
  • The joke was about me and I didn’t get it.
  • Fuck them (fight or flight response).
  • Doubting my perceptions.
  • Ask for help.
  • Doubt the help.
  • Isolation.

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My advice to anyone considering taking hallucinogens is the following: ask yourself if you’d play Russian roulette with your sanity. Ask yourself what your sanity is worth to you.

If you happen to be going through a difficult and uncertain period after drug use or times of trouble know this:

The less you use, the better you will feel. Only you can choose to hold on to reality. Trust your psychiatrist – never be afraid to contradict him, he will help you find the cognitive dissonance in your thoughts like pulling at strings until a knot comes undone. Do not reject old friends and family. And if you are considering suicide, keep singing this mantra “Things can only get better than they are now.”

Guest Writer Bio: Leo is a second year communications student at university in Paris, France. He hopes to use his degree to work to reduce the stigma against mental illness.

 

 

Mental Disorders Exhibit: Experience It First Hand?

Science is disseminated to the public through a number of ways with some being more commonly used than others. One method that isn’t used or talked about as much are science exhibits at museums and other public places. Exhibits are one of my favourite ways to show science to groups as they allow the public to become fully interactive with the chosen topic. I have attended a number of science exhibits over the years, and even helped coordinate one or two as well, but the exhibit on Mental Disorders at La Villette in Paris was by far one of my favourite exhibits I’ve visited in my life.

I was fortunate enough to visit Paris, France for a week  in September 2016 and, between going to various bars and drinking copious amounts of wine, my host Lucie took me to visit one of Paris’ Science Museums. Cité des sciences et de l’industrie (City of Science and Industry, also called La Villette based on the museum’s location) is the biggest science museum in Europe. The museum consists of an astounding  11 permanent exhibits, 4 temporary exhibits, a planetarium, aquarium and a greenhouse spread over the five story building. ‘Mental Disorders’ is one of their temporary exhibits running from Tuesday 05th April 2016 to Sunday 06th November 2016.

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Paris, France. Parc de la Villette, Cite des sciences. Europe’s largest science museum.

The exhibit consisted of 19 different activities designed to not only educate the public about mental disorders, but also designed to place the public in their shoes. This ranged from classic activities showing the history of how mental health is treated and understood and quizzes on mental health to the weird and wonderful such as a large shredder to ‘destroy’ depressive thoughts and placing yourself in Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

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My face making a cameo in ‘The Scream’

One singular aspect of the exhibit has stayed with me more than any other which was  an activity designed to how your perception of reality changes during a psychotic episode commonly seen in schizophrenia. It was a very simple but effective way to show how metal illness changes a person’s thought process. The room was set-up like a barber’s shop and featured an internal monologue of not only what the person thinks, but also what they see. Throughout the monologue you see how the reality we know is distorted into something terrifying yet realistic. The monologue begins relativity tame but quickly ramps up intensity. Before long you’re hearing that this is ‘their’ hideout and everyone at the barbers is out to get you. This is accompanied by faces turning to stare at you and bottles of hair product flashing to reveal hidden bottles of toxic chemicals. You leave the room with a better understanding of reality can be distorted to show a dangerous and frightening scenario in all locations. More information on ‘Mental Disorders’ can be found here.

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Enter the barber’s chair and see your reality distort before your eyes.

While I was in Paris, I was introduced to Leo, a friend of my host. Our conversation turned to what I saw that day at the exhibit which was when Leo told me he had experienced a similar distortion of reality after taking drugs, specifically hallucinogenics. He describes his experience in that state-of-mind below:

 My first experience in dealing with this new state was an attempt at buying pizza. We arrived in the restaurant and my friend asked me what I would like. I looked around me and realised my mind made no logical connection whatsoever between the question and our presence here. No connection between the man at the counter and pizza. No connection between the menu and the act of eating pizza. I left the restaurant in a hurry and, somehow managing to use my old voice half-successfully, instead of the monotone one I’d recently acquired, explained I needed sleep and left.

Leo has kindly agreed to write about his experience in more detail which can be found here.

Exhibitions are a fascinating way to show science in an interactive and novel environment to the public and an outlet that I believe is currently not utilised to its fullest potential. The reason I found this exhibit so memorable was the interactivity aspect did not treat the visitor as a child and put everything in a kid-friendly manner. Instead, it tried to show the brutal truth of what having a mental disorder might be like and for that I must applaud the designers of the exhibition.

 

New HIV Drug funded by the NHS?

HIV has caught the headlines in the UK again in recent weeks when the National Health Service, NHS England, was brought to the High Court over funding of the new drug type PrEP. The High Court has ruled that NHS England can fund the new drug type Pre-Expose Prophylaxis (PrEP) to help combat HIV.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, more commonly known as HIV, is still seen at large within the UK with approximately 104,000 people living with HIV in 2014. HIV is commonly seen as ‘the gay disease’ however, this is not the only demographic affected. While the largest proportion of those with HIV is MSM (men who have sex with men), the second largest proportion is in fact heterosexual Black African men and women. With modern medicine, such as the early form of PrEP drugs, AZT which was distributed in the late 1990s, being diagnosed with HIV is no longer a death sentence.

The HIV virus is spread through bodily fluids, most commonly being semen and blood during unprotected sexual intercourse. Once it infects the body, it hijacks cells and uses their resources to create new HIV viruses.  When the new HIV viruses are released, they infect even more of the body and the cycle continues. During the initial infection, many appear to have ‘flu-like symptoms’. This is as HIV often attacks cells of the immune system to replicate, specifically T-Helper White Blood Cells, known as CD4 Cells. This replication process kills the CD4 cells, leaving the body more vulnerable to infection. When the number of CD4 cells decreases below a certain point, the patient is diagnosed with  Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

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A 3D rendered image of the HIV virus. Photo by iStockphoto

 

PrEP currently costs £400 a month per person to administer and has been shown to cut HIV infection rates by up to 90%.It is an antiretroviral (anti-retro-viral) drug, which means it stops the HIV virus from replicating inside the host cell, therefore stopping the spread of HIV should a person become infected. Specifically, the drugs block the making of new RNA specific to the HIV Virus,  a molecule used to create new structures in cells. The drug would be given to those who are HIV negative but have a high risk of coming into contact with the virus.

However not everyone is happy with this new court ruling; NHS England has claimed that the preventative drug was not their responsibility, but instead should be funded by HIV preventative bodies and local councils. It has also claimed that funding for PrEP may reduce funding for other medication. The National Aids Trust, the body that brought NHS England to the High Court after claims that NHS England did not have the power to fund PrEP, have announced they are thrilled with the news. NHS England have said they shall launch an appeal into the ruling given here before they begin funding PrEP.