The Optimist

While digging through a “Free Swap” area on campus I came upon a forcefully optimistic series of etchings laid out on some sort of a plaque situation

The Optimist Creed:

  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind
  • To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet,
  • To make all your friends feel that there is something in them,
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true,
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievement of the future
  • To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile
  • To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble

Neat. A swirl of reactions shared that space behind my eyes after I located and skimmed over this. One reaction tasted like Wow this is psycho this is brainwashing and another reaction had some sort of a Yeah but you need it, you sick fuck type of overtone. Grabbed the thing, brought it home and made a commitment to memorize it. Thought I’d elect one item on the list as a area to focus on (optimistically, of course) & choose another that seems to be going ok. On typing out the list one jumped out as urgently in need of work and it was less clear which item I’m doing best with. Following that I’m curious to find/post at least an article or two on the neural substrates of positive/negative thinking.

Urgently in need of work: To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize othersThis one screamed at me.

Doing best: Maybe To make all your friends feel that there is something in them, or To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future? The former case makes me smile because I think friends would have good things to say about that. The issue with the latter would be the hours spent daily ruminating about past/current failures. But the feedback I often get from adults is that in the long game I am overwhelmingly more resilient and future-focused than the other young folks they run into. The discrepancy between that externally-imposed feedback and the actual inner experience/introspective assessment is really jarring but hey, that’s psychology.


Materials & readings on optimism, pessimism, & associated neural bonanza:

Richie Unplugged: My #1 role model explains to you how and why to keep your mind right. Had to start with this

  • Bonus- no powerpoint or reading necessary

Richie, plugged back in: A lovely overview of ~current research taking place in the Davidson lab back home in Madison. You’ll note some brief descriptions of research under WELL-BEING & BEHAVIOR that seem to dig most closely towards this gem called optimism

  • This is a pile of summaries about what Richie is working on in Madison. If you’re not salivating upon reading those studies (just consider all the other thousands of studies being funded in the biomedical sciences) you might not be optimistic enough!

From the NYT: Turning negative thinkers into positive ones

  • Mentions some neat research by a researcher by the name of Barbara Fredrickson (creates new bookmark) who I haven’t heard of before.

Good summary (on Oprah’s website! Ayyye!) of the merits of choosing happiness, featuring a boatload of neuroscience references

  • The article mentions a David Lykken, PHD, here in Minnesota at the U. Haven’t heard of him until now – (adds new bookmark to Brainman folder) – eager to see what he’s about and if he’s around these days. Bad news – on looking the guy up turns out he passed 12 years ago. Oh well.
  • Make sure to scroll all the way down in this reading – it’s actually 5 full pages long but one can easily get the impression it stops when the first page stops.

The association between resting functional connectivity and dispositional optimism (Ran, J. Yang, W. Yang, Wei, J. Qiu, Zhang)

  • Haven’t read this one all the way through but not surprisingly the abstract mentions the vmPFC. Heck!!!

“What is Unrealistic Optimism?” (Jefferson, Bortolotti, Kuzmanovic)

  • Absolutely necessary adjunct reading for anyone getting too hyped, biased, or fundamentalist about optimism
  • Uses the term positive illusion as an umbrella term encompassing their defined notion of unrealistic optimism. Positive illusion would be/is my overall characterization of optimism but it seems these authors demarcate between optimism as being rational/a proper assessment of circumstances (no illusion here) and optimism sometimes being irrational/an improper assessment of circumstances (illusory).

 

Tripping in context

Let’s say you’re sitting at a bar. You’re 1.5 drinks in: confidence blows in the sail of your diaphragm, smiles are beginning to seep from your cheeks, and the voice in your head informs your sad, previously sober-self: What the hell – I really can achieve my goals, and I really do take myself too seriously, and thank the lord for alcohol! We have to do this more often, you mopey fuck!” As GABA floats across the lanes of your head-highways your brain – rather, you – find yourself settling into a disorganized and disinhibited state of bliss. Euphoria is too complicated a word for a feeling this normal. You’re calm once more.

You’re alone in that sense. Somehow your eyes receive some brainspace from your nose, which has utterly hijacked your experience with an awful perfume smell. An older woman 2 seats over is the hare to your tortoise and the current colonizer of your nostrils. You see that she is already a walking (sitting) vessel for a bottle of wine. She orders another. Some song that your dad really likes plays on the bar speakers as you peek down at her right ankle. No mistaking the Louis Vuitton purse at her side, nor the 3 prescription bottles inside of it. Your background in medicine, druggery, and institutionalization have taught you about privacy, but being medication savvy, 3/4 of a second is all you need: notice that the pill bottles all look fresh but bear different logos: St. Paul Corner Drug, CVS, Walgreens Pharmacy. Citizen-healthy-voter you shouldn’t peek, shouldn’t judge, so you look away and try to mind your drink. Hospital-you sees the after-image of the bottles in your mind’s eye. Amphetamine, Xanax, Prozac. Yet another rich lady with a gaggle of doctors. A gaggle of neuroses, sure, and based on her medication choices she’s well aware of her own difficulties. The problem is, these medications shouldn’t be prescribed together. Any legitimate care provider would know not to prescribe an antidepressant with a benzo with a stimulant anywhere other than a college basement. The bartender asks if you want another – in the 1/2 second before answering you have a moment of sadness for all the doctors who are persecuted for prescribing. Yeah, America, blame the doctors for your kids taking adderall. Keep blaming the doctors for Prozac being ineffective. Keep blaming a bunch of debt-laden medical students for doing their best to please you. And then jump onto the next miracle cure, why don’t ya, until the next miracle cure fucks you up. And fuck wine, you think to yourself loudly. You try to remember that there’s no need to be judgmental. Even though you won’t ever relate to this lady she’s ruined your state of mind, which honestly isn’t her fault. So much for the calm.

Then, Grandma-Glamorous yells something that actually resonates: GOSH, I MEAN FOR A MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WITHOUT MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER, NONE OF THESE ANTIDEPRESSANTS WORK ANY BETTER THAN LIFESTYLE CHANGES ! THEY SAID ON THE NEWS THAT THEY’RE USING THOSE MAGIC MUSHROOMS TO MAKE THE BLUES GO AWAY, HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? DOESN’T A LITTLE WOODSTOCK SOUND MORE FUN THAN WHINING? Fearfully, you almost glance down at her purse again to see if she’s carrying any tabs. She isn’t. What is this lady onto, anyways? She’s not like you: She’s never hallucinated (recreationally or clinically), she prefers medication over lifestyle changes, she drinks like a fish, and – despite her ability to rattle off study findings – appears completely medically irreverent. She’s also upper class and has uttered words supportive of the Trump administration. You wonder if she has a therapist and realize that it doesn’t really matter. She is a consumer and she wants what she wants what she wants. So how do these folks, abusive yet wary of all things prescription, come to love magic mushrooms?

What about the clinicians who are eager to publish? Their credibility requires that they not abuse medication, and that they be less wary of prescriptions. In fact, they must plunge headfirst into pharmacological interventions despite any wariness they experience. Their patients rely on it.

What about you? The nerdy, liberal-leaning undergrad? You have seen in your own body the disastrous effects of various prescription drugs. You’ve also seen in your own body the disastrous effects of various psychedelic drugs. You’ve also seen the benefits of both of these classes of drugs. So, let’s get serious.

What do psychedelics have to offer to the everyman? To the world of clinical psychiatry? Are psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, or MDMA beneficial for mental health? Are they harmful for mental health? How do their effects differ between younger and older people? Between men and women? Are these drugs more effective for people with diagnosed illnesses? Less effective? Dangerous? If I have major depressive disorder, and medications aren’t working for me, should I ask the young fella at the bar if he knows where to buy some shrooms?

 

 

Do you cry after caffeine intake?

I do. It’s weird

Coffee is a devilish drug with a tendency to cultivate dependence and craft caffeinated chains between itself and the user. As I type this I’m maybe a few ounces (probably 30-50mg of caffeine) into a cup of coffee &, as often happens, I started crying in what totaled to a brief 10-second spurt. Playing on my mental radio was a sudden dialogue with a formless stranger about how beautiful my cats are, how grateful for them, etc. An image of myself much older came to mind; I was seeing an old picture of the cats and hadn’t seen that old picture in some time and I was crying tears of gratitude.

This mental trip took place in less than 4-5 seconds, was profound, colorful, and detailed, and took me straight out of the room I was sitting in. There was a glowy feeling of being decades older and shown these gorgeous pictures of these gorgeous cats. It was less a thought process and more of a vision or fleeting headline on the newsreel of my frontal lobes.

It immediately passed and I felt funny for having had the experience yet again. Self aware, un-emotional, and nonreactive to what had just occurred. This type of thing occurs very often after coffee but it was quite some time before I realized that. I thought I was the type of person who had an early morning cry session, or a few chaotic ones (always of about 10-20 seconds maximum) but the link with caffeine became clear after a long period of daily journaling. Will post an excerpt soon but just wanted to leave this note here for myself later. With that said, I’m off to finish this coffee

Amygdala regulation

Ain’t easy. Especially on low sleep. I recently stumbled upon some literature describing the relationship between the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Specifically it went over the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdalae. Will have to come back here & post the link(s) but wanted to jot this down here, as it’s timely & highly relevant to mood disorders.

Sleep is a fickle thing & it seems that quality and duration of sleep is related to one’s ability to keep their amygdala functioning well. The absence of good quality sleep of proper duration can lead one to experience impulsiveness, out-of-control distractibility and responsiveness to irrelevant stimuli, and immense irritability. Take it from me: the vast gulf between being contented & calm or being a murderous monster can be crossed, in part, by hitting the hay.

F&c% you, NAC

And no, I don’t mean N-Acetyl Cysteine. I’m talking about the nucleus accumbens. This devilish bit of brain tissue is one that seeks for its larger meat-sack the experience of reward and short-term pleasure. To be honest the NAC isn’t the only zone related to that tendency: the frontal striatum and a few other areas are instrumental as well. To finally reach the end of the fall semester a bit bruised and battered reveals to me that my own proclivity for pressuring pleasure to pop up in the present is pretty problematic.

So the quest now is to develop skills and habits that enable the delay of gratification. In order to conduct this oversized ganglion through larger and longer movements I’ll be getting in touch with some professionals in the area who focus on this issue specifically. How exciting! Will post updates as that moves along. Here’s some soul food for any of you mind-wanderers wondering what to read about to get a sense of the issue.

Delay of gratification in childhood linked to cortical interactions with the nucleus accumbens

Frontostriatal White Matter Integrity Predicts Development of Delay of Gratification: A Longitudinal Study.

Reduced delay of gratification and effortful control among young children with autism spectrum disorders

 

pictures, shapes and patterns <3

 

“Synesthesia” was a word that had never entered my vocabulary (or perhaps even my eyes or ears) before age 16. But the first time that the concept encroached on my consciousness it felt immediately familiar, to the point of utter, unquestioned normalcy. My sister was sitting next to me on the couch explaining that her friend at school had a bizarre tendency – an automatic habit of associating letters or numbers with colors, and quickly rattling off the sequence of colors associated with names or other words. I was struck (But Casey, you’re just blue-blue-red-green-yellow!) and a quick Wikipedia search showed both of us that I definitely had synesthesia.

2 or 3 years later during my freshman year in college I stumbled upon this documentary. If you’ve never seen it you really should- Daniel Tammet is a remarkable human being and a living window into the world of the brain. And he seems really nice too! I’d actually seen this film once in my early high school years and nearly forgotten about it. I watched this scene with Tammet’s magical description of his synesthesia on the very same day that I declared my neuroscience studies major at Macalester. It’s been 7 years and watching this still sends shivers up and down and back up my spine.

(and 7 years later, the example photo on the Wikipedia page – to roughly demonstrate the experience to non-synesthetes – is still the same! check it out below)

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