Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz

Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction

Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction by Maia Szalavitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 I read this book because many close relatives have been addicted to one substance or another. For myself, it’s sugar, and that’s been bad enough. My addicted relatives have suffered and lost much more than I. Now that our grandchildren are growing up, I want to learn as much as I can about addiction from a scientific perspective.

In 1985, I had an experience that convinced me that I know something about how people get hooked. That year, I got salmonella. I didn’t feel very sick at first, but after several weeks, my husband grew worried. I was losing weight and not eating. The mere sight of food was nauseating. He dragged me to the doctor. The doctor immediately put me in the hospital, where I was diagnosed with food poisoning. For a few days, I lived on jello. That was fine with me, because the mere thought of food was still disgusting. Then the doctor said, “They’re going to bring you breakfast tomorrow. You don’t have to eat it.”

The next morning, they left me with a cold, greasy-looking cheese omelet. I took just one bite and I can only say that my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. Pure pleasure! For the next year, I tried to recapture the “high”—if that’s what it was-- from that blissful first bite by eating lots and lots of cheese omelets, but that special moment never happened again.

Szalavitz’s book sets out to provide a “new way of understanding addiction.” It lives up to its promise. She sketches the history of addiction theory and treatment in America. For years we Americans could not make up our minds whether addiction is an illness or a moral failure or a bit of both. Svalavitz presents the case that it’s neither, but rather, a learning disorder. She challenges many of our cultural myths, including that of the “addictive personality” and the idea that you can be hooked with just one “hit.” There was so much in this remarkable book—autobiography, history, psychology, neuroscience—that I really welcomed her final chapter, “Neurodiversity and the Future of Addiciton, in which she not only summarizes the book but provides new ideas for coping with addiction.

I hope the following list of subheadings in her final chapter will make you want to read this book:

Drug exposure doesn’t cause addiction.
Set and setting matter—and can be more effectively controlled through regulation, not prohibition.
People can learn, even while addicted.
Punishment cannot solve a problem defined by its resistance to punishment.
Treatment must be reformed to be respectful.
Primary prevention should focus on coping, not drugs.
Harm reduction is the most important goal of drug policy.
Celebrating diversity—including “neurodiversity”—is critical to reform.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Switched On

Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional AwakeningSwitched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir tells what happened when John Elder Robison bravely volunteered to participate in a 2008 study to see what effects transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) would have on the so-called social deficits that characterize people on the autism spectrum. Mr. Robison was in his forties when he was diagnosed with Asperger's. Although he's a successful inventor, businessman, autism consultant and author, he says he's always felt like an outsider because of his blindness to emotional cues. After one TMS session, the "doors of perception" blew open. He wept tears of joy as he vividly re-experienced a rock concert he had attended decades before. After another session, he felt a soul-to-soul connection with members of an audience during his presentation on autism. Although the intensity of these initial reactions faded in time, as he was told they would, he continues seven years later to be more outgoing and sympathetic to the feelings of others. Not all of the outcomes have been favorable, however. His marriage ended. So did a relationship when Robison finally realized the "friend" had been subtly, and publicly, ridiculing him for years. I read this book because I am interested in how the brain works. especially for someone with autism.  Robison foresees a day when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may approve TMS for the treatment of conditions other than depression, the only one it currently approves.

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Butterfly Gals

Butterfly gals, won't you come out tonight,
Come out tonight, come out tonight?
Butterfly gals, won't you come out tonight
And dance by the light of the moon?*

Only three chrysalises left. We hope they'll emerge and fly away before we fly away for a few days.  The one on the glass is starting to darken, but the other two are still bright green. 

*from "Buffalo Gals," American folk tune. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Leaving Home

Early Monday morning we found two black chrysalises.
These two would soon break out of their chrysalises.

After emerging, they hung on the wire lid of the terrarium for awhile.
Our information sheet said that the butterflies would be ready to fly after 90 minutes.
When they began opening and closing their wings,
we took the terrarium outside and removed the lid. Seven green chrysalises
remained attached to the lid, undisturbed. The two butterflies soon took off. 

This morning, six more emerged. 
We took the terrarium outside. 

One went to the bottom of the terrarium. It tried to climb 
the glass wall, but couldn't gain traction.
Then it climbed onto a branch inside the terrarium.
Phil moved the branch close to a milkweed.

The butterfly crawled onto a broad milkweed leaf. Like the other five, 
it spent a long time hanging out in the milkweed, opening and shutting its wings
and then resting. This group seemed to be in no hurry to take wing.

A swallowtail dropped by to show the monarchs
how to fly and where to find the choice nectar flowers.