Anxiety–Klonipin withdrawal

As I noted here a while back–June 21 to be exact–I embarked on a campaign to withdraw from the .25 milligrams of klonipin I take each morning. I have been employing the tablespoon withdrawal method. Dissolve the .25 in a cup of water and every fourth day go down a tablespoon. At that time, June 21, I was taking out 4 tablespoons and now, July 26, I am taking out 16 tablespoons each morning. Unfortunately I still have about 1.5 tablespoons to go perhaps because the cup I am using is imperfect. But we live in an imperfect world. As Plato noted it’s hard to draw a perfect triangle. The concept–cup–seems only incidentally to match the reality.

But going down 16 tablespoons is probably in part responsible for the recent compulsive thoughts about the death and dying stuff. The anxiety is back. That’s what klonipin is for–anxiety reduction, or at least that is one of its uses. They use it on the TV show “House” each time somebody has a seizure (about every other show); “Five milligrams clonazepam,” you can hear them shout.

Whatever its uses, the anxiety is back. Not awful. But when I wake up I feel edgy and restless: it gets a bit worse as the morning goes on. Not pleasant. And another telltale sign. I do this thing of rubbing my fingers, thumb against the other four digits, rather unconsciously most of the time when anxiety is on the rise. The last two or three days I have caught myself doing that frequently.

Finger rubbing. In the olden days, I would be smoking more.

Also I have had odd dreams. This morning I woke at 6 and then went back to sleep for about an hour, during which time I had a kaleidoscope of unpleasant dreams. I can’t remember all. But in one I was in an apartment, with other people, and it was raining and the rain started to drip in at the bottom of the walls. Then I noticed the ceiling was sagging, presumably from the rain, though actually no ceiling could sag like that without bursting. I stuck a pole there to hold up the roof. And then we were hungry and found a DIY restaurant (I didn’t know such things existed except for Kramer’s make your own pizza place) and I cooked up some little black looking hamburgers, and went some where and came back and was told that W.B. wanted something too. This upset me too since I didn’t know W.B. was there. Or wanted something.

When the walls starting leaking, and the roof starts sagging, and I can’t find food, and I fail to do what W.B. wants…well, these are anxiety dreams.

So the anxiety is back. I will see how that goes. Six days left and then no more of the .25 morning klonipin. Then we will really see whaz…up.

Bright Red Luggage

Carol will be going soon to Santa Fe to participate in a conference called Madness and Creativity. Yesterday she was out and about and decided to buy some new luggage for the trip. Our stuff for travel is pretty old, ripped, torn and on the verge of falling apart. So she got this bright red, very light, state of the art luggage, and at one point in the evening she said I bet it will last twenty years.

She was thinking of how we tend to use something until it falls apart. I thought of something else and felt a little cold, stab in my heart.

In twenty years, I could easily be dead or in terrible shape in some “home.”

I have been pretty good lately at keeping the death stuff at arm’s length, but at that moment I was taken by surprise at the idea of luggage–bright red luggage–that could outlive me (in terms at least of its usefulness).

The LA Times runs an occasional feature in which a financial consultant looks at somebody’s finances and gives recommendations. Today I glanced at it and then read the whole article because the couple (they appear to have no children) roughly parallel in their financial situation Carol and me. The wife of the couple is 68, the husband, who looked slightly overweight in the picture, is 64, and the consultant’s advice was direct, unequivocal, and clear: RETIRE. And, oh, they should put less of their money in stocks and more in money market and bonds. But mostly it was RETIRE because you have the money to do it without worry and because you only have so much life and if you wait too long you may lose the health, the relative physical well-being, that will allow you to enjoy your “golden years.”

OK, so given our financial situation, I guess my thinking about retiring July of next year is sort of rational.

I know the financial consultant is right. I have enough experience at this point to know that, while one might have ten thousand interesting and enlivening things to do, if one doesn’t have the energy to do one damn thing these ten thousand things might as well not be at all.

So RETIRE while you still have the energy left–while your big outing of the week is NOT going to see the doctor–and use the money you have to enjoy yourself.

But the financial consultant didn’t have much advice about what to do to enjoy yourself. Travel, he said, and, oh, take up multiple hobbies.

Fine, I guess, but I don’t like thinking about this stuff. It feels odd to be making such a big decision based mostly on the fact you will be dead in 20 years.

Offloading Memory

Louis Black does a funny bit about the elderly and “senior moments.” The elderly don’t talk, he says, they engage in verbal charades. Something like:

“Hey, you remember that guy, you know, in that movie?”

“What guy?”

“You know he was in a movie with that other guy.”

“What other guy?”

“The one who was in that movie with that woman.”

“What damn woman?”

“The one with lots of hair.”

“Lots of hair?”

“Yeah, she was like famous for all that hair.”

And so on, as the elderly attempt in vain to remember who the hell that guy was with the other guy who was in another movie with the woman who had lots of hair.

But, nowadays, what with the internet and with just a little bit more than “that guy” to type in, one can google it and eventually, and usually pretty quickly, come up with the name of “that guy.” I went through something like that–I can’t remember though what exactly–recently and I was able to google up the name of “that guy.” I remarked to somebody, “It’s like we our outsourcing our memory to the web.” He said, “Maybe that’s better.”

I don’t know, but apparently the elderly are not the only ones outsourcing their memories. According to the L.A. Times, Chinese young people in their twenties, previously drilled for hours and hours in the memorization of the approximately 3,000 characters necessary to communicate intelligently in Chinese are forgetting how to do it. Not because of the web, precisely but because of the new communication technologies.

According to the Times:

The more gadgets people own — cellphones, smart phones, computers — the less often they go through the elaborate sequence of strokes that make up Chinese characters. Whether on their computers or texting on phones, most Chinese use a system where they type out the sound of the word in Pinyin,the most commonly used Romanization system — and presto, they are given a choice of characters to use.

As a result of their reliance on these gadgets, younger Chinese people no longer write out long hand as it were their characters and as a consequence forget them. No problem, though, says one young Chinese person, who believes she has forgotten about 20% of the characters she once knew, “If I don’t know a character, I take out my cellphone to check.”

OK. I don’t know what this means. But it means something.

chinese tree.gifThe character for “tree.”

The Very Thought

I have been making use of this blog lately a) as a way of remembering what I have been trying to read and b) in the pure act of doing it as a way to convince myself, though the production of organized words, that my brain has not been paralyzed by the longueurs of withdrawal, or, as if, adrift in a windless Sargasso Sea. Water! Water! Everywhere, and not a drop to drink!

I think that for me at least the blows of age to my brain will be worse than the limitations it imposes on the body. Well, maybe that’s a toss up, and it’s a toss up too, in any case, as to whether or not the withdrawal has beaten my brain down to nothing (aside from these self imposed moments of making an appointment with it).

Yesterday I was trying to read something and found myself on the verge of tears at not being able to make heads or tails of it. I would look at the chain of words, try to concentrate, and then I would lose it. But I was reading words like this:

To bind education to its own unthought, to make a case for the idea that something within education resists thinking, that there is something about education that one knows nothing about, may seem counter intuitive to the project of education since ostensibly education is a deliberation, a judgment, and oddly a result of itself. Yet as both experience and institution, as training ground and as learning life, and as natality and its repression, people who are undergoing education as they are directing others in their learning rarely think the thought of education. (Britzman, The Very Thought of Education)

Maybe something as prolix as this is reason enough to be on the verge of tears both for what I don’t and do understand of it.

Brain Science 3, Or: Fear

Noting that brain scientists have long ignored the feelings and emotions, the emotion that figures most prominently in Huther’s discussion of the brain is the one that lies at the root of the fight/flight response: fear. Fear, for Huther, can produce a disequilibrium in the brain; it is a state of extreme stress. The ability of the individual to deal with this feeling is determined primarily in the first year of life:

There are children who enter this world with much more fear than others. And there are children, who following their birth, encounter conditions that are not conducive to developing a sense of security. These children have less confidence than others about their ability to eliminate a a disturbance to their inner balance through their own efforts and with the help of their mother–and less confident that they can share their joy over this successful enterprise with her. There are psychologically disturbed mothers, immature mothers, unhappy and discontented mothers, insecure and fearful mothers who are plagued with self-doubt, moody and fickle mothers, overly self-centered mothers or mothers who are overly controlled by others.

Children who enter the world with an excess of fear or children whose nurturing (environment) is inadequate can and do develop what Huther calls “Defective Installations,” brain networks that allow the child to deal with the fear but in ways that make their responses to the world “one-sided.” Once a child has developed such a one sided coping strategy there is little hope that he or she will abandon it in later life with the consequence that he or she will cease in large part to be capable of continued development. He or she is stuck.

I don’t know that Huther has read any psychoanalysis but the conclusions he reaches remarkably resemble those psychoanalysts reached some 80 years ago by means other than cutting up the brains of rats.

In her “Our Inner Conflicts,” Karen Horney, for examples, writes of the “basic conflict” and those environment factors that can produce a “defective” response to that conflict:

A wide range of adverse factors in the environment can produce this insecurity [basic anxiety] in a child: direct or indirect domination, indifference, erratic behavior, lack of respect for the child’s individual needs, lack of real guidance, disparaging attitudes, too much admiration or the absence of it, lack of reliable warmth, having to take sides in parental disagreements, too much or too little responsibility, overprotection, isolation from other children, injustice, discrimination, upkept promises, hostile environment and so on and so on.

Horney continues:

Harassed by these daunting conditions, the child gropes for ways to keep going, ways to cope with this menacing world…. In doing so, he develops not only ad hoc strategies but last character trends which become part of his personality. I have called these “neurotic trends.”

One sided development or neurotic trends. Take your pick. In either case, the child becomes stuck and doomed to follow in the same rut for the rest of its life.

Brain Science 2; Or, What Is Huther onto?

So what is Huther onto (see previous entry)?

In summary:

For decades the presumption was that the neuronal pathways and synaptic connections established during the brain’s initial development were immutable. Today we know that the brain is capable throughout our lifetimes of adaptively modifying and reorganizing the connective pathways that it has laid down, and that the development and consolidation of these pathways depends in quite a major way on how we use our brain and what for.

So what does this mean in some larger sense. Well, it means the structure of any particular brain….and one can only study particular brains…may well not be the structure of any other brain with the consequence that locating an immutable DNA conditioned structure is difficult, if not down right impossible. Certainly down there somewhere is a structure determined by DNA but “overlaying” that structure are all the structures or networks that arise from the inter-relation of the organism with its environment.

Huther writes:

A few years ago, no researcher in the field of brain science could have conceived the possibility that what we experience could be capable of changing the structure of the brain in any way. Today most scientists who study the brain are convinced that the experiences of our lives do become structurally anchored in the brain.

This notion that experiences themselves can “program” the brain or create structures provides some “scientific” proof for the process of socialization…that sociologists talk so much about. We learn, it might be said, from experience when those experiences create a new structure or reprogram the brain in some way.

Consequently, Huther argues that human beings did not develop big brains so that they might think or reason but so that they might become socialized. He writes: “Our brain is thus much more a social organ than it is a thinking organ.”

The brain of course is not equally open at all stages of development to being reprogrammed through experience (as the interaction of the organism with it environment). Rather, more like Freud than not, Huther suggests that the most profound and possibly unalterable experiential reprogramming occurs during the first year of life. Reprogramming or possibly first programming at this level is so profound, so obdurate that structures produce by it may appear DNA determined. They are not however and possibly because they are not Huther proposes as a kind of ideal brain one that is not boxed in by its early experiences but capable across the whole life cycle of learning (being reprogrammed by experience).

Very few and relatively rare individuals however achieve this brain ideal. Rather, to use Huther’s phrase, most of us develop brains that are in one way or another “one-sided” and relatively unopen to alteration. To address this problem he suggests scientists should expend less energy on asking how the brain is structure and more on how the brain is used, for how we use the brain is what determines whether “…the potentialities built into it can really be fully actualized.”

Brain Science

I got a book from Amazon, as I said, called “The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Creates Intelligence.” I read the whole thing in a day–or rather parts of a day–not because it was all that interesting, but it was short and with pretty big print (helpful for me, these days).

The subtitle was really misleading. Huther, the author, says very, very little about empathy and nothing at all about how empathy creates intelligence. That was disappointing. I guess the publishers wanted some sort of catchy title, though had they been honest they would have called it “A User’s Guide to the Brain” which is what Huther calls it in his introduction. I don’t know. The book was written in German. Maybe something got lost in translation.

Huther is a brain scientist. He admits to having cut up in his day lots of rats’ brains and seems to have learned a good deal about the social life of rats. In fact, what he learned about the social life of rats seems more important to his line of thought than he learned cutting up the brains of rats. He has pretty much transcended that sort of brain science. He writes:

They [certain other brain scientists] think that the amygdala is the source of fear, the hippocampus is the source of learning, and the cerebral cortex is the source of thinking. Now in case you have heard of any of this stuff, you can just go ahead and forget it. The same goes for any claims that particular genetic configurations are responsible for what goes on in your brain. There are no genes for laziness, intelligence, melancholy, addiction or egoism.

I am glad he says this because I have long been suspicious of such claims, as in Looky-Looky when we have X masturbate this part of his or her brain lights up! First of all the brain never “lights up.” That’s just some sort of digital special effect. And the whole business of making things light up and then inferring something about “intelligence” or “addiction” strikes me as no more than slightly advanced phrenology.

Hegel pretty well did in phrenology as science as far as I am concerned; he writes in part (he always writes “in part”):

Thus then, on one side we have a number of passive regions of the skull, on the other a number of mental properties, the variety and character of which will depend on the condition of psychological investigation. The poorer the idea we have of mind, the easier the matter becomes in this respect; for, in part, the fewer become the mental properties, and, in part, the more detached, fixed, and ossified, and consequently more akin to features of the bone and more comparable with them. But, while much is doubtless made easier by this miserable representation of the mind, there still remains a very great deal to be found on both sides: there remains for observation to deal with the entire contingency of their relation. When every faculty of the soul, every passion and (for this, too, must be considered here) the various shades of characters, which the more refined psychology and “knowledge of mankind” are accustomed to talk about, are each and all assigned their place on the skull, and their contour on the skull-bone, the arbitrariness and artificiality of this procedure are just as glaring as if the children of Israel, who had been likened to “the sand by the seashore for multitude”, had each assigned and taken to himself his own symbolic grain of sand!

Now that’s a long quotation, but I would point to the line that suggests that implicit in phrenology (as science) is a ” miserable representation of the mind.” I think Huther would agree. Modern day let’s light it up brain science is based implicitly up a pretty miserable representation of the brain.

He is unto something else.

Not phrenological.