Mind over matter, can thinking kill you?

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

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Having just read this Guardian article, ‘The nocebo effect’, I’m reminded of how powerful the human brain is. Neurology is my special interest, and the ways that our psychology can interact with our physiology. We all know that stress does not just affect our minds, the way we think or act, but can physically manifest and even shorten your life (good old telomeres!). “Chill out, you’ll live longer” springs to mind. But can a patient affect the course of their treatment just with their mind?

I’m not talking about magic or supernatural powers. I’m referring to the way emotions and attitudes can affect the chemicals released by the brain, emotions after all are just that. A person with depression can be suffering a simple chemical imbalance; perhaps they are not releasing enough serotonin and can be given a tangible remedy. But a person with a state of mind leading to physical symptoms, this is perhaps more difficult to solve, and highlights the need for positivity and better mental health care in the UK.

Take the scenario of a woman suffering a ‘phantom pregnancy’ whereby the abdomen swells, appetite increases, breasts are tender or even lactating. Or an injured solider who still feels pain or an itch which cannot be scratched in the legs he no longer has. These cases exist in no small number, and phantom symptoms are no less real to the patient than those which are visibly proven, yet they are induced solely by the power of the mind. The mind exists only in the brain, and the brain communicates all vital messages to the rest of the body, even the slightest brain damage can have a huge impact on motion, speech, and personality.

Consider what your mind can do when applied to an actual physical condition, can thinking positively really aid your recovery and is thinking negatively detrimental? I believe so to an extent. For example placebos, be they ethically sound or not, undeniably have a positive effect for some people (be it an illusion or not). Countless studies back this up. But can you create your own placebo; can you trick your body into healing faster?

A very interesting topic relating to neurology is pain, which exists in the brain (ironic considering the brain itself feels no pain!). An interesting study I read a while back by the University of Nottingham is discussed in this video: Mind tricks may help arthritic pain

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Living with a terminal illness

I am humbled.

Image by squishband via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while. Mr Anonymous has an inoperable tumour in the right hemisphere of his brain, which means the left side of his body is mostly paralysed. His condition is neurologically complex, to the extent that he could die either any minute, or live for a few more years. Either way, it’s terminal, and the suspense is what depresses him most.

I’ve come to understand how his mind state can differ drastically from one day to the next, because of the conflicting emotions. Sometimes he begs me to pray for him to die, to get it over and done with. Other times he pleads, stating that he is not ready to die yet, and asks what is on the other side; would his wife and children be there. He asks me this despite his Atheist standpoint because, let’s all be honest please, in the face of death you never know how you will feel.

Being bedbound makes him feel useless, so I bring him round poetry and stories sometimes, and this cool device one wears on their hand to exercise it (his functional right hand). I love that he remembers my name, Ruth, even when he forgets some of the other Carers names. I feel we have a genuine friendship, he even agreed to be my guardian angel, which made me laugh because he says: “Guardian angels are the ones who move people up lists and grant wishes, because they seem so serene and wise that no one notices what they’re getting away with.”

It makes me sad that he has deteriorated in the time I’ve known him; he was able to walk slightly, now we use the electric hoist to move him. I feel sorry for his wife because she is going through the same hell that he is, she doesn’t rest enough, is never truly at ease but is always affectionate and polite despite her pain.

“There’s always one happy day, even when the rest are bleak and numbered.” – He said this to me this evening when we put him to bed. He said this is the happiest day he has had since being diagnosed, and that seeing us Carers visit is what makes his day everyday. Well, he made my day just by smiling so freely.

This is why I want to be a Doctor, to see that same smile on the faces of patients and go to sleep at night knowing I have truly helped another person. Being a Carer is helping others of course, but being a Doctor would mean so much more than just making someone comfortable; I could actually help cure them, find a solution, connect with them and their families in such a way that would minimise the pain, even if I am only in their acquaintance briefly. I know I am capable of this, and Mr Anonymous has reminded me of this regularly, he always says he can see me being a marvelous Doctor. I hope he is right, that I can make it someday. And I wish him and his family well, they deserve to be happy.

Who am I?

Raindrops

I’m a person who doesn’t write personal posts, other than my personal opinions on movies, media or events. Someone suggested yesterday that I might give it a go, so here goes.

I’m a young woman born in Essex, raised in Herts, whom attended college in Cambridge and University in London. With each year I become less tolerant, of everything, less patient with the world. This is because my whole life has felt like waiting. I see life as a giant hospital waiting room where all we can do is fill the time until the inevitable end.

I don’t think about the end all that much, just what I should fill the wait with. I chose movies, magazines, music, books, and making things. But I am also torn between that and my medical interests. I’m very good with Neurology and cardio, for someone who has never been taught. In less than two weeks I’ll be taking, and probably failing, my medical entrance exam.

I work as a trainee carer for senior citizens. I have a wonderful boyfriend who literally means more than the world to me, and is my best friend. We’ve been together for years. I don’t want that to change.

I realise I’m only really writing about practical things here, but that is because I’m incapable of writing about emotional issues, my patience with that kind of thing expired long ago, and I like my privacy too much. I’m not the kind of girl who cries on my friend’s shoulders or gushes about every drama. Especially because the only people in the world that I have any level of trust for are: my family, my boyfriend, and the lovely girl I wrote about a couple of posts back, Katie Baugh. The post was titled ‘My best friend’.