Akathisia
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Akathisia

Survival of the Wildest

What we should be learning from the animal kingdom

If you own cats, you might be familiar with this look on their faces.

cat
©Photo courtesy of Hemingway and his tolerant nature of my phone’s camera constantly in his face.

Of course, it’s easy to anthropomorphize animals and infer all kinds of human emotions in their expressions, but I think Hemingway’s face says it all, clearly and irrefutably:

Really?

To be fair, it was a rather esoteric question, asking him if he had any aspirations to be a “comfort animal,” the new therapeutic excuse to get out of ‘pet discrimination,’ despite the valid and legitimate resources animals are to humans regarding our mental and physical health.

Here’s the thing.

Human beings are notoriously gifted at believing we’re at the center of the universe, that our needs are more important than other creatures’ needs, and in fact, some of us ickily believe our needs supersede the needs of other human beings.

Even more distressing, we’ve become more and more tribal, selfish, and entitled than ever before, and the truth of that can be traced back to our overall health (as a species) and our declining lifespan.

What does this have to do with drug-induced, acute, or tardive akathisia?

We share one thing in common with animals, plants, and other lifeforms on the earth.

We are all wired to survive, and akathisia poses a unique and unprecedented threat to human survival.

Rescue Animals

When you read the above term, what comes to your mind?

Dogs, digging for avalanche survivors in the snow?

Pets who can predict seizures in their humans, or even sense the early growth of cancerous cells?

Animals locked up in cold, steel cages who are waiting to be adopted into a good home?

Well, I’m actually talking about a very social creature that we’d likely see as pests more than pets. I’m referring to the Matabele ant.

Matabele ants. Photo courtesy of National Geographic

These ants raid nests of termites — a dangerous business indeed. But what’s remarkable about them is that they don’t leave wounded ants behind. Wounded ants release a pheromone that acts as an SOS signal, and they are retrieved and bought back to the nest.

Even more shocking, the uninjured ants actually participate in healing their wounded comrades by holding broken limbs in place while licking wounds for several minutes at a time.

How does that benefit human beings?

Funny that we even ask that question. See above, but also, why would we ask that question?

Ah, that’s right, to learn the secrets of these ants so we can find the cure for human diseases like ____, the secret to healing injuries such as ____ and ___.

But… we’re such an advanced species… surely we already know more than ants.

Right?

If we’re so advanced, though… why can’t we regenerate our organs or limbs when they get damaged?

Self-Medicating = Bad

By Nancy Wong — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31449483

We’ve had this hammered into our collective minds for decades. Of course, self-medicating human animals tend to medicate with things that are long-term detrimental to their health. Sometimes.

People who favor natural approaches to their health are often seen as anti-science and ignorant. The reasons for that are multifaceted but many people who have had medical science harm them find their distrust of the entire profession colors their perceptions of any possible good it can offer them.

What’s true is this: Medical science is a victim of its own success, and while we shine in emergency care, we have failed, miserably, in the practice of wellness and preventative medicine.

We sold-out our national soul to mass-produced, convenience foods — arguably the most important building block of health, our food — because we were sold the idea that time spent preparing, growing, or buying healthy food was time spent away from the important duties of family and parenthood.

Thank god for fast food! Please, let’s all take a moment and reflect on how takeout and frozen pizzas have brought us closer to our parents, our children…

Ahem.

We work to live, eat to reward ourselves, and live to make it through another day. And those are the luckiest of us. What happens when something goes wrong?

Well, if a chimpanzee has intestinal worms, it eats the pith of a plant called Vernonia amygdalina to kill the parasites. No RX necessary.

Mountain gorillas eat clay to absorb, then rid themselves of toxins and pathogens, and no, the clay isn’t ‘berry flavored’ or ‘mint.’

Observations of capuchin monkeys show that they rub their fur with millipedes containing insect-killing chemicals called benzoquinones

If any of you own cats, you know how important cat grass is to their health — or do you? Are you one of those who buys the ‘hairball’ formula cat food to avoid the messy, gag-inducing chore of cleaning up their hairballs and puke? If you are, I’d suggest doing research on the myriad of benefits cat grass has for your cat’s immune system, kidneys, and ability to rid itself of toxins. If you think the cat yak is gross, just wait until you get the vet bill for a cat in slow kidney failure.

What’s important to note in that last bit is this: we see the cat’s gagging and throwing up as a pathology, when in fact, it’s the optimal way for cats to allow their own physiological makeup to keep them healthy.

We also see cat yak as inconvenient. To us.

The phenomenon is called zoopharmacognosy, and broken down, zoo (“animal”) pharma (“drug/medicine”) cognosy (“knowing”) is fairly self-explanatory.

Why can’t humans self-medicate? We don’t know how, and maybe at one time we knew some things, but it’s all been lost to the “miracle” of modern medicine.

Instead of learning how and why these creatures instinctively know how to self-medicate, we turn to our doctors, who then medicate us after it’s way too late. There are no miracle cures for “too many Big Macs.”

Gut Instincts Aren’t Just Feelings

If I could go back in time to the doctor who prescribed me Zoloft, I’d ask him what effects it had, or has, on the human Enteric Nervous System. I have a feeling his face would have looked something like this:

©Image courtesy of me and Chewy Chewbacca, unafraid of his own majesty.

Because I bet there isn’t a more awesome experience doctors have than when a patient asks informed, critically thought-out questions that they’re not only unprepared to answer but can’t possibly know the answer to.

Back then, I doubt many primary docs would have considered the brain that resides in our gut when prescribing, nor its vital role in our mental and physical health. Sadly, not many doctors consider the ENS when prescribing today.

We’re seeing more and more gluten-free products, dairy-free, because people are becoming sensitive to these proteins and foods. Or… have we always been, but the antacids are right in the bedside table drawer?

We can’t really know why, but it’s not a ‘health food craze,’ it’s a paradigm shift about our food, and it’s happening on a global scale in First-World parts of the world. Why here rather than in other areas?

Because other areas of the world don’t have the resources to eat takeout and convenience foods, perhaps. Other areas of the world know what medical science can fix, and what it can’t. Other parts of the world don’t have access to medical care in the same ways we do.

But somehow, before everything was medicalized, human beings knew, instinctively, how to heal, or prevent, certain ailments. No, I’m not waxing poetic or looking back on the halcyon days of polio and blood-letting.

I’m suggesting that throwing the baby out with the bathwater, specifically in American medical practice, was cutting off patients’ noses, not to spite their faces, but to make pharmaceutical peddlers a lot of money.

Akathisia and Survival

I wonder what the copays are for wounded Matabele ants?

We’re so invested in how the natural world, and its inhabitants, can “fix” us, how we can benefit from them, we lose sight of what our very existence and arrogance does to threaten the natural world. We don’t stop to ask what we can do for it. Didn’t we all see The Lion King? The circle of life applies to us, too.

We know for a fact that deep breathing sends signals to our brain to relax, and instead, we pop pills to do that for us. We know for a fact that meditation can help regenerate and grow gray matter in the human brain, but who has time for all that when we have a movie to catch?

I have come to believe that drug-induced akathisia has a pathogenesis, and that pathogenesis is damage to certain parts of the brain, damage that leads to malfunction, specifically in the brain’s ANS, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, along with the multilevel cascading functions of these vital systems via medications or other brain damage. If you doubt me, feel free to look up every, single side effect of medications that cause akathisia, and connect them to the parts of the brain.

Here’s an example. Dry eyes and mouth? How innocuous. Except for the fact that using medications long-term that cause dry eyes and mouth mean that drug is impacting the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for digestion, tears, saliva, and oh, yes, REST. So…restless, anyone?

As for a pathophysiology of akathisia? How absurd.

What’s the pathophysiology of cancer? Sure, cancer cells, genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors, but knowing the pathophysiology doesn’t explain why some people die of cancer or develop cancer, not completely. It certainly hasn’t led to a cure or prevention.

What about the pathophysiology of COVID? Yes, a virus. But once contracted by a human being, it hardly behaves the same in people, even those who have breakthrough infections after being vaccinated. It’s not much more predictable in the unvaccinated, because too many factors weigh-in on why someone survives, why someone does not, and so on.

What’s the pathophysiology of depression? I think looking at the pathogenesis of depression is more accurate. While there are measurable changes in the brain when depressed, the answer doesn’t lie in a pill.

Becoming clinically depressed doesn’t happen overnight, kids. Further, there’s likely a ton of real-world reasons why someone becomes depressed, even if those factors happened a long time ago. Taking medications might give us a sense that we’re doing the right thing, but deep down inside, there’s a part of us that knows we’re cheating. I knew it, I felt it, and I quickly justified it before it could become a critical thought or question.

The thing is, the price we pay for buying time is usually higher than we’ll ever be able to repay — and buying time, in the end, is an illusion to its core.

So while akathisia “presents” with some undeniable markers both physically and psychologically, neurologically we can’t possibly know how it will present for everyone, only that the likelihood of someone developing akathisia is astronomically higher in those taking medications that cause it.

Popping a pill was convenient. Or, for some of you, like me, you weren’t given much of a choice.

But we have more choices now than ever before.

Don’t give up hope. Begin learning how the brain heals and repairs itself. Learn how your brain functions and what foods encourage a healthy, quality life.

I know your brain feels like an enemy when you’re suffering with akathisia, but we know that thoughts can affect our physical beings. That said, start seeing your brain as an injured friend rather than an enemy. Understand, its job is to protect you and maintain homeostasis. And if “homeostasis” is akathisia, then that’s information that can lead you toward a way out, not by compounding the damage using other drugs, because you can’t keep doing the tradeoffs without the bill coming due, unless there are medications that are temporary and do what your brain and body cannot help you do just yet, which is survive.

We know that neurons that fire together wire together. That means you have more power than you know in helping your brain heal from the effects of medications. Not by reading PubMed studies or learning about cell mitochondria. Sadly, not by spending a ton of time online, in groups that reinforce feelings of victimhood and blame. Blame can only fire one way, and self-blame is a myopic, unnecessary thought pattern. But focus on blaming the medical establishment will eat you alive.

You don’t need a medical degree to know what feels good and right and what doesn’t. So first, figure out what it is you’re living for, and who. And if that “who” is you, then that’s the perfect person to care about.

I care about myself, friends, so I need to be honest. This work demands things from me that are hindering my ability to heal. However, I’m not abandoning you — never. I will be a bit scarce, though, especially here as I continue my way toward healing the damage done to me by the long-term use of akathisia-causing medications. My focus must be recovery.

My hope is to continue the good work in creating awareness for black box warnings on medications, calling for the removal of television ads advertising medications (please, please sign the petition), and hopefully finishing up a song, two films, and the book, in-her-rest-less-ness, which chronicles over two decades of drug-induced, tardive, and chronic akathisia.

Through short poems and prose, my greatest hope for this book/work is to help victims find their voices and solidarity, a will to heal and thrive, to educate mental health professionals, and to inspire families to rally, not abandon their loved ones, after they’ve been harmed by medications. Are we really less evolved than ants?

(Really? asks Hemingway, my cat.)

The goal is simple. To survive, heal, then help others so a new generation of human being has the ability and instincts, the knowledge and wherewithal, to learn how to live in a more harmonious state within themselves and the world around them.

Peace out, keep the faith, and heal on —

JA

From in-her-rest-less-ness: poetry & prose

contrast

the dawn left its
imprint on me today —
then the birds

took my insides
and fashioned their
songs to my heartbeat.

glorious!

alive! glorious!

alive!

yet, i am only
gloriously
alive today

because of yesterday’s
death throes — just as
the bird-songs are only

heavenly because of
their long,
wintry silence.

-2017

--

--

--

Drug side effect of antidepressants, atypcial antipsychotics, & more, that causes feelings of restless agitation, panic, unbearable feelings of “jumping out of your skin,” driving many to suicide. Akathisia is often misdiagnosed. For more information, go to: www.akathisia.life

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J.A. Carter-Winward

J.A. Carter-Winward

J.A. Carter-Winward, an award-winning poet & novelist. Author site, https://www.jacarterwinward.com/ , blog: https://writeinblood.com/ Facebook and Youtube

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