Yeah, You Really are Sick


As you may know, I have two blogs, “Behind the Locked Doors of Inpatient Psychiatry” and “Notes in Passing,” and a strange thing has happened.  As I have been writing about fatigue, I have been posting the same pieces to both blogs.  The number of viewers on Notes in Passing has dropped by about half; at the same time, the same posts on Behind the Locked Doors approximately have doubled the number of viewers.  Hm-m-m, very interesting.

My interpretation of these facts is that the typical reader from the general public is doing okay and doesn’t have much interest in the subject of fatigue.  However, people with psychiatric diagnoses are experiencing a type or degree of fatigue that has sent them searching the Internet for explanations.  I have two ideas why people with psychiatric diagnoses are particularly interested in fatigue.

The first is that pharmaceuticals cause fatigue.  Virtually every drug you take is reported to have side-effects of fatigue, tiredness, lethargy, malaise, weakness or sleepiness.  This is because tiredness is the first symptom when the immune system is under stress.

The immune system, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is designed to keep foreign invaders out of your body.  To do this, it must first figure out the difference between “self” and “non-self” so it only attacks the foreigners.  (Mistakenly attacking the Self creates an autoimmune disease.)  The NIH reports “the proper targets of your immune system” are bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.  The NIH does not countenance the fact that the immune system considers vegetables to be Self but drugs to be Non-Self; drugs are foreigners and therefore the immune system considers them a proper target.

When you take drugs then your immune system knows it and responds by causing fatigue, probably because it’s using up all your energy trying to get rid of the invaders.  It is, in its own quiet way, saying “Don’t give me this crap.”  Once you’ve taken your first dose of psych meds, you soon find yourself inundated with multiple other drugs because that’s what psychiatrists do:  persistent poly-pharmacy.  As the drug load gets increasingly heavy, you find yourself overwhelmingly fatigued and sitting at home of a Saturday night reading the Internet in search of an explanation.

If this be your problem, then stop taking psych meds, eat your vegetables, get some exercise, make friends with people with whom you can share your problems, and you’ll feel better.

I have a second theory about why people with psychiatric diagnoses are being drawn to my writings about fatigue:   there is a peculiar kind of fatigue that carries with it unstable and atypical emotional activity.  You just can’t get a grip on your emotions and somehow, someway, you intuitively think it is because something is wrong with your body.

First of all, there is the brain.  The brain’s activity is the mind.  The mind thinks.  “Meaning occurs in the mind, and the brain obeys the mind. They are not the same thing.”  (For a lovely essay on “I love you,” see also http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/how-the-brain-interprets-meaning_b_981685.html ).  Basically, nobody has a clue where emotions come from; they just are.  At any rate, I certainly don’t know where love lives.  What I am certain of is that the brain and the rest of the central nervous system, along with hormones and the immune system, can totally screw up your existing emotions.

Psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology (PNIE) says that your emotions are connected to the central nervous system, which is connected to the immune system, which is connected to hormone production, which is connected to your emotions.  Interrupt the healthy functioning of any part of that cycle and you can expect to mess up your emotions.

I have long been interested in the role the immune system plays in emotional health.  For example, chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic hyperglycemia (Uncle John who has diabetes and won’t watch what he eats) both cause depression.  So can having a fight with someone you love.  We are standing here, loves, on the bridge between mind and body.  Your mind and your body each can make you feel depressed.

In addition to chronic fatigue and chronic hyperglycemia, multiple sclerosis causes depression, and lupus frequently is initially diagnosed as psychosis.  Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS) is an illness which messes up the immune system and the brain and, consequently, messes up the emotions.

I think that the readership of my blog is increasing because there are a whole lot of you out there who have CFIDS and don’t know it.  What you do know is that you are suffering from emotional dis-ease and fatigue, and you suspect that somehow they are connected, and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on.

You are right:  your fatigue and your emotional dis-ease may co-exist under the umbrella of CFIDS.  I suspect that there are a heck of a lot of people who are emotionally messed up and they are being blamed—their ego or personality or character—for their instability when, in fact, the blame belongs on their body.

Yeah, hear me?  I know your personality is not crazy; your body is sick.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that nobody knows what to do about it.  If you read the last three pages posted on this blog then you will know a little more than you did, but not a lot.  Nobody knows what causes CFIDS.  There are no lab tests to identify it.  There’s a little bit about how to treat it, but not much.  And there are no doctors—at least not in Central New York.

CFIDS properly belongs in the domain of immunology but there are relatively few physicians who are trained as immunologists (which I don’t understand because I think it is the most important, interesting and provocative field of medical study).  Absent immunologists, you might seek a neurologist who knows something about CFIDS.  Occasionally a rheumatologist might be helpful, but before you put yourself in the hands of any of these doctors ASK HOW MANY CASES OF CFIDS THE DOCTOR HAS DIAGNOSED OR TREATED.

It is better not to have any physician than to stumble blindly into the hands of a “dinosaur doctor”:  “An unhelpful line of thinking among ‘dinosaur doctors’ is to say to a fatigued patient, on receipt of a normal set of blood reports, that there is ‘nothing wrong’.”  There really is something wrong; you really are sick.  Unfortunately, there are some patients who report having seen 20 doctors before getting correctly diagnosed.

Please write to me about what’s going on with you.  Together, we can work this out.

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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5 Responses to Yeah, You Really are Sick

  1. jane says:

    Anne—we are suffering the same problems here. Gifted, intelligent, extremely capable, and stuck at menial minimum wage jobs. Born poor, and born in a financial hole because our parents were. Unfortunately they don’t teach Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE in school; they only touch on meat sanitation which is not even what the book is about!

    Our lives seem more comfortable with little luxury material items and less hours per week, but we are still slaves; they cut the food with chemicals, and then instead of healing people and keeping people in a balanced state of health, the only answers you ever get from “doctors” — DRUG SALESMEN– are drugs. And the alcoholism and mental illness, probably from toxins everywhere in our environment, gets passed on to kids, and it never gets resolved. Just more drugs.

    Been reading a book called Profession and Monopoly (written in the 70s); it’s about how the AMA institutionalized medicine in the US and Great Britain and monopolized it, effectively stamping out alternative medicines. Yes we have them today, but they are not in our emergency services, and they are limited in their knowledge at times and hard to find. Thank you for your post.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Agreed, with one exception. Alternative medicine has not been stamped out in Great Britain. Because the royals use homeopathy and such things, the National Health Service pays for it. Not so in the U.S. with Medicare.

  2. jane says:

    Oh my god, how do I get in touch with you? I’m having a crisis with my boyfriend, he hasn’t slept more than microsleeps in at least a week but I’m realizing this may have been going on for a month. I don’t believe in western medicine and I think they will only make it worse, but I have no idea where to take him!! Tried calling acupuncturist since there seems to be no TCM psych people here where we are.

    I keep only getting told to take him to CPEP–wth violent druggies, etc, and he’s not that. I’m not sure what to do and like you say and I also believe that psychiatrists are not going to help.

    I’m checking ‘notify me of followup comments’ but if theres any way i could talk to you, it’d be an enormous help. Thank you SO MUCH for posting these things and for the one about CPEP. I knew there was a reason I didn’t wanna leave him there. It just felt disgusting, like a prison guarded by zombies.

    and–speaking of foreign invaders, (and all the chemicals in our water and food!) please check out this yahoo answers link. We have a SERIOUS black mold problem in the basement of his mothers house (where we live) and he’s been there exposed to it for 3 years. I really think this has something to do with it. He even keeps saying there’s something about that house, that the house is a prison.
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060713141656AAE2WyI

    • annecwoodlen says:

      First, is he taking any medicines for anything? What I would do is slowly withdraw all medications (except where it clearly would be immediately life-threatening to do so, e.g., insulin for a type I diabetic). Ginger is really good for withdrawal symptoms–ginger candy would be my first choice. You can eat as much as you want without overdosing.

      Second, a good diagnosis is often based on noticing WHAT ELSE happened at the time that the physical troubles started. Did something change within a couple weeks before he started having trouble sleeping? For one woman, the trouble turned out to be that they got a new mattress and she was allergic to it. Did he start taking a new medicine just before the trouble started? Call your pharmacist and check dates.

      Third, try a warm shower before bedtime, chamomile tea, reading. Massage therapy is very good and much easier to come by than acupuncture. Also, Reiki is sometimes dramatically helpful.

      You say you’re having a crisis with your boyfriend–well, which is it? Are you in crisis or is he? Why would you be taking him to CPEP–why wouldn’t he be taking himself? Why are you writing to me, not him? WHAT DOES HE WANT?

      Check out the black mold possibility. Do the research–can it be the culprit? If so, why haven’t you gotten out of the house? Three years?

      What are “TCM psych people” and where are you?

      Keep in touch.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Yeah, Jane. Two days and I haven’t heard from you. I didn’t think you really wanted to work with me. I require that you take responsibility for yourself, and that doesn’t go well with most people.

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