Tragedy

My Brother

My brother
A name
I simply moved
From
One column
To another.

The North Bird

Northern Lights

Upon a hidden sea
Dreams fabled Halcyon
Lulled by gentle waves
Her nest fringed ’round in ice
She sings for Mid-Winter
Her frosted melody
Soothes the winter wind
Calling the sea to soft repose.

New class of antidepressants?

Scientific research on cptsd

Source C&E News February 7, 2022

How do you know if a mouse is hallucinating?

Apparently mice on LSD and psilocybin twich their heads. Fascinating. But then, if I was a mouse and my world had gone all psychotropic I suspect there would be some head twitching, too.

So what do tripping mice have to do with Complex PTSD?

As many readers may already know LSD and psilocybin are two controlled substances that have been demonstraated to help alleviate mood disorders. In light of CPTSD these mood disorders may include depression, major depression, persistent depression and psychotic depression. (yes, we are such a fun bunch. </sarcasm>)

Why do these drugs help with Complex PTSD?

The simple answer is ‘brain chemistry’.

The longer answer goes like this:
There is a receptor in the central nervous system called 5-HT2A. This receptor is where serotonin binds to the cell. Serotonin in the brain is linked with mood, anxiety regulation, sexuality, memory, and some social fascets. In essence, your brain is bathing in serotonin. This is why SSRI – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors – class drugs are often prescribed to people with symptoms of depression.
Simple logic – raise the level of serotonin in the brain –> lower the presence of depression symptoms.

Guess what else binds to 5-HT2A. If you said magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and LSD you are correct.

However, these drugs also induce hallucinations. Psilocybin is “a Schedule I controlled substance because it has no approved medical purpose and the potential for abuse.”** LSD is also a Schedule I controlled substance. ***

What scientists are trying to discover is – what is the difference between a compound that binds to 5-HT2A that causes hallucinations vs. one that does not. That discovery will open an area of research into new antidepressive medication. It could also prove valuable for people who need antipsychotic medication.

So far scientists have produced two compounds based on this research that demonstrate antidepressant activity without hallucinations in mice.

There is a long step between the lab and a safe effective human medication. The process can take years. But, there is hope, and growing proof, of a new way to help people who suffer from a chronic imbalance of brain chemistry.


Article is at : Hallucinogen Chemistry Guies Antidepressant Drug Discovery by Bethany Halford
[ https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/cen-10005-leadcon ] (Sorry, you need ACS membership.)

**(source: USDA [ https://www.usada.org/spirit-of-sport/magic-mushrooms-prohibited-status/ ] as of Feb. 16, 2022)
***(source: DEA [https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling] as of Feb 16, 2022)

The Power of the Eight

Cover_Review_PowerOfTheEight

The Power of the Eight by Suzanne Rho is one of those books that improves after the fact. If that sounds like I am damning it with faint praise – hold on – I’m not.

As I initially read the story I found it enjoyable. It’s the kind of read I like to take along with me on a lazy afternoon where I have nothing else to do.

It’s the type of story I would classify as “pastime reading”. Not too heavy, moves along well, all good things.

Now here’s where things get interesting.

As I started to write this review I spent some time reviewing the story and my reaction to it. And out of a pleasant afternoon’s diversion emerged this facet I hadn’t registered on my first read through. It’s not just a fantasy with magic and adventure and True Love, it also contains a message.

The story at its core is one of longing to belong.

The protagonist is a young woman in a remote Scottish town. In chronic pain, with a generous helping of anxiety and a past of abandonment she manages her way through life. Her life is one of grey monotony. The endless rounds of doctor appointments, trips to the therapist, chronic physical pain and frustration define her life.

It was the idea that the story held a person with a chronic illness at the center that initially caught my interest. Usually most heroes are able bodied and relatively sound of mind.

Indeed, we meet Ren (aka Renee) in her psychiatrist’s office. Our first glimpse of Ren is of a young woman dealing not only with perpetual anxiety, but also persistent physical pain.

She manages both with a sharp self-deprecating wit and pure grit. Ren is not one to wallow in self-pity or use her physical challenges as a free-pass. It is wonderful to see the myth of the helpless chronically ill person smashed. In her portrayal of Ren, Ms. Roh captures a very realistic look at the life of the chronically ill. Ren exhibits the power of most of the challenged to elevate the skills of day-to-day life to a level which the healthy might never perceive.

There is one aspect of this trope that didn’t get smashed. Pity that. I was a bit disappointed to see that the line of traveling to the alternate – magical – world cured the protagonist. One day I would like to see a protagonist fight for their health rather than having their problems – pardon the pun – magically resolve themselves.

But, I have to give the story some slack. It is a fantasy, so why not envision good health or physical perfection. Some might consider those greater blessings than discovering they had magic. So, I shouldn’t quibble about that.

However, I do have one quibble. Lulled ≠ Lolled

I suspect the misuse of the word is a typo. Or even, a case of the computer thinking it was smarter than the human. Damn you, autocorrect. I trust the error will be corrected in time.

Quibble aside –

The story draws Ren, an abandoned, isolated, wounded person into an environment where she can flourish and most importantly finally find the place where she belongs.

Everyone could benefit from spending some time in Ren’s brogues.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

The Beginning Writer: ah, humility

beginning writer writing

I am here at my desk taking big calming breaths as I look at a mountain. A figurative mountain, but still it is impressive and daunting in its size for a beginning writer.

I have to climb it.

It’s not a question of do I want to or do I not. It is a necessity. One that I hadn’t considered. Actually, I’ll admit, I thought I wouldn’t have to climb this particular mountain. Not so.

I have reached the point, which I suspect all writers come to somewhere along the way, where I have realized that although I can tell a good story, and I have a good story to tell, I still have a lot of craft to learn.

The realization is both painful and, I hope, ultimately rewarding.

I have a lot of craft to learn.

I’ll admit – it is a painful realization. It’s right up there with stepping on a lego block, or stubbing your toe on the doorjamb. It’s the kind of pain that after a long hard day makes you sit down on the floor in utter defeat.

I suspect this is one of those junctures in life where people either give up or they dig deeper. I wonder how other writers have faced this particular Rubicon. What was the moment Neil Gaiman looked at his story and said – this is rubbish? And what made him go on? Margaret Atwood? Toni Morrison?

What made each of them know that this dream – their dream – was worth the effort? They embraced that challenge even though it was, maybe, wrapped in a bitter pill.

There are moments in learning that define careers. I’ll use Chemistry as one example – because I’m a Chemist. There is one notorious class that is often referred to as ‘the weed out’ class. It’s Organic Chemistry. I have seen dozens of people decide to switch their major after failing Orgo, as it is called in the nerd world of the lab. That course has altered the trajectory of more people than I can imagine. A great many Chemistry majors become Biology majors after Orgo. I had friends who wanted to become doctors, but after failing Organic Chemistry they changed their aim.

But, a few of my friends who had failed found something in themselves that refused to let this block derail them from their future. One friend took orgo three times before he passed. I admire him immensely. He’s got grit.

The beginning writer needs grit

I’ll be honest, I never needed grit. I have been blessed with a curiosity and the ability to understand complex things. I’ve always been more abacus than human. That’s from the Complex PTSD, but I won’t take you down that rabbit hole today.

After decades I finally have a dream in my life that is ‘my dream’. It is also something that is not coming easily. So, I’m learning grit.

I’m learning to recognize the places where I lack skill. Which is a hard thing to do with the drum beat of ‘not enough’ in the back of your head. But, I have learned that in order to get where I want to be I have to fight for it. I fight my own failings, and keep moving along that learning curve. Though, not always as smoothly as I would like.

I now know that to achieve anything that is close to your heart you have to climb mountains. Sometimes they are mountains that you never saw. But, the worst mountains are those that you thought you could avoid because you were already beyond them.

It’s humbling to find yourself at the foot of one of those.

So here I am. A bit bruised, my little proto-ego having taken a solid shot to the chops. Feeling very humble and getting ready to start my journey.

Gabby Petito – Another Lost

Gabby Petito

The video of the stop in Moab Utah.
Fair warning – It is hard to watch.

I heard the news this morning about Gabby Petito as I checked my feeds. The confirmation of my worst fears was there, displayed on the screen.

I heard there was a video of the interaction with law enforcement in Utah. I had avoided it until now. But now I needed to see it. I thought it was necessary – though, at the time, I couldn’t put ‘why’ into words.

Watching it reminded me so much of my own past with domestic and relational violence. The images hit close to home – the reverberation shaking loose forgotten things. In those forgotten images I pieced together the ‘why’.

#metoo

I suddenly appreciated anew that I survived. That I escaped. I saw again how close I had skirted danger. I celebrated the ones I helped get out and I cried for the ones that died. And I was reminded of one gold brick put in a friend’s wall with his name on it. A figurative gold brick, but nonetheless one where we all paid a very high price.

I remembered something I had believed long ago, and I remembered how my experience changed me. So I’m going to say something no one is going to like to hear, and then I’ll tell my story.

I believe everyone needs to experience that powerlessness of being the victim of domestic violence.

I’ll soften that statement and say – ok, maybe not everyone. Maybe there are people out there who can understand that position without having lived it, but most people can’t.

I didn’t. I didn’t understand at all.

I grew up in a house that was poisoned. I won’t go into the particulars of that today, but I will describe what those years made me.

I was strong. I was stoic. I needed no one. I didn’t feel pain, not physical, not emotional, not mental. I never needed help. I was independent. I was hyperaware of everything. I knew my exits. And I knew to never admit fear or weakness because that was blood in the water.

This was me at 14, 16, 18 and on. So in those years when I heard of domestic abuse I was incredulous, even indignant. The lack of agency on the part of these women, the stuff they endured. How could they?

I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand.

I thought ‘I would have left.’ I would have got up and walked out. I would have, I would have…

Later, as I emerged into the world from the claustrophobic circles of high school I was convinced that every person was like my family, or like the evil portrayed on television, or found in the newspapers that I made myself a promise. If anyone ever struck me out of anger I would leave. There would be no second chance. There would be no reconciliation. It would be over and I would be gone.

So, why didn’t these women leave? I would.
I still didn’t understand.
And when I made this declaration on the first date – as was my practice – I saw very few second dates. As a matter of fact – the only second dates I had were with the men who would turn into my abusers.

Funny that.

What I didn’t know at the time – although I lived it every minute of my life – was that I wanted a rescuer. I wanted someone to come in and sweep me up in a romantic embrace, promise to never abandon me, and save me from my past. I wanted to be rescued from my life so badly that to someone abusive I must have looked like a neon sign.

And when my rescuers came I couldn’t see anything other than the ‘good’ that they presented at first. I ignored warnings from friends. My father knew – but he didn’t say anything – that’s a different story. These men became my rescuers – my romantic partner, my tormentor, my abuser.

I couldn’t reconcile the two realities. I was primed to believe that something was wrong with me. I believed that somehow I earned the disdain, the silence, the taunts, the threats. After all explosive violence was the legacy of my family – so, at least there wasn’t that.

Somewhere along the way that protective cocoon that he formed around me started to smother. I was isolated. Our finances were combined, we lived together. How could I leave? I couldn’t hurt him. He didn’t mean to hurt me.

Somewhere in those years, I began to understand why women (or men) don’t ‘just leave’ an abusive relationship. There are lives – jobs, obligations, a thousand little ties that connect you to where you are physically, mentally, and emotionally.

If you sever one thread there are still the other thousand to draw you back again and again.

And make no mistake those who would abuse another become skilled in playing their victim like an instrument. They are able to draw out any emotion they wish. To them, you are part toy, part safety blanket, part mirror, part captive audience.

My abuser had a distinct pattern that he moved his victims through. I stuck around long enough that not only did I get to see all the roles he shoved his partners into, I played those roles myself. When I saw the entire tableau, I helped the women he was grooming to leave before they were caught in the pernicious cycle. And they, in turn, helped me to leave.

Let me emphasize I was never struck. I don’t know if that is because of my declaration at the beginning or if I just got out in time. I suspect the latter. But, even if I was never physically hurt, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t wounded by the time I left.

Those years in the crazy-making, gaslighting, emotionally battering world stripped me of so much. When I finally fled I was a fraction of myself. And after you escape there is shame, and anger at yourself and them. There is the world not able to understand how you could leave someone ‘so nice’. There is a whole new landscape to navigate. And you start on your knees. Or, at least, I did.

But, I came away from those years with a new understanding, new compassion for those who live with violence. It is not something you can just drop and walk away from. You fight your way out of it. You fight to reclaim yourself. And I finally understood that leaving wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning.

Ta Le – Book 1: Knowledge

I picked up the novel of Yessoh G.D. entitled “Ta Le” because I wanted to experience a culture that was not my own. I find myself torn about leaving this review because my background is not African and I’m wondering if I am missing something, or if I’m taking something for granted that is not applicable.

Either way, I’m going to plunge ahead and leave my honest review. I will leave it up to the reader to decide if I have encapsulated the novel with accuracy and fairness. So, let’s begin.

Cover of Ta Le by Yessoh
Cover of TA LE by Yessoh

We follow two main storylines in the novel. The first is a government operation involving a young analyst drawn into affairs far above his pay grade. After the assassination of an important global figure, Kobenan is tapped to help solve the mystery of this death beside the mysterious leader of the government-based S-cell. The second storyline is of Joel a young man in the city who finds his familiar world unraveling at an alarming speed. In one evening he is orphaned and his sister is spirited away by creatures he has always seen, but never understood. With this act of violence, he is swept into a world of African lore, which appears to be preparing for war.

These two stories weave together through a convoluted series of events that introduces Kobenan and Joel to the unknown world of spirits and djinn that surrounds them. Powerful beings have come into the world and they are being manipulated and sought by a powerful magician who seems bent on the destruction of the current world. A nice twist arrives at the end when we discover — sorry, just can’t do that to you.

But, suffice it to say – I didn’t see them coming. That string of sudden revelations was a pleasant surprise. Overall, I found the pacing was good and the characters have so much more to give.

Now to the part of the story where I had problems. There were moments when through the voice of the narrator the modern world could fall away. I found myself immersed in a dark night on a vast savannah with only the comforting light of a campfire, the figure of a storyteller, and the story.

These moments were wonderful and engrossing and rare. The problem I had was that they were also invariably interrupted. As a reader I found myself confronted with a harsh flip back to modern times. Don’t mistake me. This wasn’t because of the mention of suits, or ties, or watches, or SUVs. The presence of modern items was not the problem. The jolts came from a sudden trip in style or the intrusion of modern language.

When the author draws the reader into the world of lore and djinn, and the ancestors it is truly a magical transformation. I wanted to stay there. My disappointment was that in the end, my time in those wild and untamed realms was all too brief.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Dark Apprentice

Cover for Dark Apprentice

Wow, I really dislike Nikolai Fedorov.

I know this guy. He is the guy who smirks when they think you can’t see. He is the guy convinced of their own superiority.

From the first page to the last Nikolai, the main character, is both protagonist and antagonist in his own story. He undoes himself at every turn. And, by the end, he has learned absolutely nothing, grown not one hair, and is still the conniving creature he was at the beginning.

Some readers might argue that Nikolai did “change” by the final scene. Nope. Look again. The only change was that he moved his teacher from his mental list of adversaries to his list of allies.

That is not growth. That is merely rearranging his opinion on someone’s usefulness to him.

So, why did I stick with the novel to the end? Good question. I’ll admit – I put it down twice and walked away. I think the thing that drew me back was a simple need to finish the thing so I could get it out of my head. And, because I think I know what Nikolai is hiding under all that calculating cunning. So, back I went.

Allow me to insert a note here: My degrees are in Soviet and E. European studies. My mother is a survivor of WWII. I have spent many hours speaking with people about the sieges of Leningrad and of Stalingrad. I have a well developed idea of just how grim a childhood was in one of those, or other Nazi occupied areas of the Soviet Union.

It makes sense that Nikolai would see the world as one brutal conflict to win – at all cost. So, on one hand I despise what he is and, on the other, I can pity him.

The other major player in the story is the immortal mage Medea. She takes Nikolai as an apprentice against all her better instincts. She has his measure and yet still takes on a power seeking, lying, cheating psychopath.

Her decision is explained late in the story. My response to the revelation was — And your best solution was to teach him? Uhm. Yeah. Medea may be immortal, but I have serious problems with her judgement. This is not to say she is a paragon. She obviously still has a few problems of her own to work out.

As far as the technical side of things went, the writing was clear and the story moved along. But, the emotional depth of the characters left me wanting something more. I didn’t so much make an emotional connection with the characters as I had an emotional reaction to them.

So, would I call this my usual “brain popcorn”? No. It’s more like candy-corn, you either like it or loathe it. This is the first in a series – Will I read book #2? At this instant, I don’t know if I’m willing to allow Nikolai to take up any more of my time.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Steady

Cover for Steady

Steady: A Guide to Better Mental Health Through and Beyond the Coronavirus Pandemic by Dr. Sarb Johal is one of those books I wish everyone would read.

80% of the people around the globe would find some idea or thought within these pages that would help explain the currently fluid world we find ourselves within. They would find an understanding professional who clearly lays out the current causes of anxiety at every level from personal to global.

Dr. Johal is imminently well qualified to write this touchstone for the world. He has worked with governments and international organizations, to develop psychosocial responses for over a decade. Among the crises he has helped guide populations through is the H1N1 pandemic.

He knows his stuff.

The prose is clear and approachable. The concepts are clearly presented and there is ample reference to resources for those, like myself, who are inclined to look at the nuts and bolts of research.

It is, overall, a calming and reassuring look at the changing social landscape caused by the COVID pandemic. Dr. Johal offers understanding and practical approaches to the mental stresses that it seems everyone is facing. He doesn’t offer rainbows, but he is offering umbrellas to help us make it through the current series of crises.

One thing I found of particular note is his refusal to advocate for the ‘normal’. Quite rightly Dr. Johal reminds the reader that every situation is fluid, even if it is familiar. He doesn’t give any promises, but he does make emerging from the pandemic seem possible.

— Oh, and that other 20% or so, those are the folks who live with long term trauma. And while we may know a good bit about anxiety and uncertainty, we would do well to read the book, too. Because, sometimes we need to remember that not everyone is as programmed to flourish in the shifting unknown.

(And no, I don’t know if it really is a 80/20 split – it’s a metaphor.)

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Poem: Glitter dust

poem glitterdust

Talk to me of whilom days.
Remember them as you speak.
Comfort me with simple lies
of color, joy, and laughter.
Allow me to breathe again,
in a time before the dark.
Fill my mind with glitter dust.