Neuroscience Archives - Unhinged

Square Peg, Round Hole (or How Not to Have Friends and Alienate People)

Square Peg, Round Hole (or How Not to Have Friends and Alienate People)

Hi there! Let’s have a quick show of hands to indicate all the lost and lonely people out there. Don’t worry, this will stay just between us, okay?!? Anyway, one of my biggest personal obstacles is that I have a really hard time building fulfilling, long-lasting interpersonal relationships. At best I’ve only ever managed to sustain one friendship at a time, and that can lead to an excessive amount of introspection and self-condemnation. Having Asperger’s Syndrome has greatly hindered my ability to make these vital connections, in part because I’m not very good at successfully comprehending and interpreting non-verbal forms of communication, i.e., body language. So many of our daily interactions with other people are centred around these wordless transactions, and quite often I feel like a visitor from another world in this regard. Not for nothing, but Asperger’s is sometimes referred to as the “Oops, Wrong Planet Syndrome!!”

As a child I struggled endlessly to fit in and make friends with the other children, but usually this was to no avail. It didn’t help that I was at least 30 years away from a proper diagnosis at that point!! Healthy early socialization is very important in laying the groundwork for future success with one’s peers. As I did not enter the regular public school system until grade two, I was already at a most unfortunate disadvantage (one from which I’ve probably never fully recovered). What seemed to come so naturally to most of the other kids was an infinite crash course in humiliating futility for your not-so-humble author!! Endless social worker sessions, specialized play groups and the like only seemed to make matters worse. Looking back I guess it was a pretty good thing that I enjoyed reading in solitary so much, as I sure had a lot of spare time on my hands to freely indulge my unabashed bookworm ways!

I wish that I could inform you all that things took a turn for the better in my prime teenage/early adulthood years, but to do so would make me a bold-faced liar! The older I grew the more difficulties I had connecting with other people (and PLEASE, don’t get me started on my myriad of insecurities revolving around the FAIRER sex!) Not that I fared any better when it came to relating to everyone else!! The older you get the harder it is to meet new people, let alone to form long-lasting relationships with them as well. Plus, as a card-carrying, life-long social misfit living on the extreme outskirts of the downtrodden fringe, I don’t tend to find myself hobnobbing with the social elite!! All self-deprecating witticisms aside, due to a tragic series of unfortunate events largely beyond my control (yeah, fer sure, that’s what they all say!) I have never even come close to having a peer group of any sort. A lot of my so-called cohorts (in age, I mean) are simply too busy (and most rightfully so!!) pursuing their careers, raising families and enjoying a lot of the ‘normal’ activities’ that regular folks enjoy doing.

By the time I hit my mid-thirties, I decided to renew my previously feeble attempts at interacting with the hoi polloi (but hopefully with improved results!). So what did I do? I entered the conflicting/confusing world of group therapy. Ten years of on/off attendance later, I can’t honestly say that I’m any better for having done so! Yes, I did manage to meet the One True Love of My Life (Hi, Special K!!), and I have also become good friends with Doug (of Unhinged infamy, LOL!) but all other efforts to meet like-minded people have proven to be fruitless (to date, insert sigh here!!). Today I’m currently in the midst of a rather lengthy break from that whole scene, and trying to carefully figure out my next moves on the social scene front. Perhaps I will expand on this topic further in my as yet unwritten/unpublished door-stopper of a book entitled “Book Smart/People Stupid!!” (Trademark forthcoming, by the way. Not!)

P.S., I would strongly advise any lonely hearts from ever calling “867-5309”, no matter how disconnected you might find yourself. There’s not much chance that Jenny will answer, and even if she were to, she’d certainly be in late middle age by now (the song did originally come out way back in 1981, after all!!).

And now, here are five of my favourite songs based on the subject of friendship:

#1. “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” (War)
#2. “Bobby Jean” (Bruce Springsteen)
#3. “Whenever I Call You Friend” (Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks)
#4. “You’re My Best Friend” (Queen)
#5. “With A Little Help From My Friends” (Joe Cocker)

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Relational Memory and the Hippocampus

by Doug 0 Comments

Declarative memory – Memory for facts and events, to be contrasted with procedural memory, which supports the ability to acquire and express skills (or the difference between “knowing that” and “knowing how”). The nature of declarative representations, thought to be fundamentally relational and flexible, makes it possible for such memory to be consciously accessed and “declared”.

Explicit memory – A kind of memory based on explicit remembering or conscious recollection of some prior learning episode, or the kind of memory test that requires explicit remembering; usually defined in contrast to implicit memory, involving the ability of behavior to be influenced by previous experience without requiring the individual to consciously recollect the prior experience.

Recollection – A process that results in the retrieval of additional information about a particular item from memory beyond its oldness; this information could be some detail of the study experience such as the color of the font of the item or its location on the screen, or some internal state at study time, such as what the item reminded you of.

Relational memory – Memory for relations among the constituent elements of experience, providing the ability to remember names with faces, the locations of various objects or people, or the order in which various events occurred. Can be contrasted to item memory, i.e., of the individual elements themselves. The hippocampus is required for memory for arbitrary or accidentally occurring relations.

Place cells – When an animal is exploring its environment, principal neurons of the hippocampus fire preferentially in particular regions of the environment corresponding to the neurons’ “place fields”; in this way, a set of such neurons can represent the entire environment. The “places” are represented relationally, in terms of the relations among elements in the environment.

Source memory – Memory for information about an item beyond the item itself; i.e., its various relations to other elements of the event. In laboratory experiments, this usually refers to the particular location of an item on the computer screen, the color of the font or format in which the item is displayed, or the voice or identity associated with some piece of presented information.

Unitization – The fusing, blending, or configuring of multiple aspects of a sensory array into a single-item representation; thought to be accomplished by cortical regions outside of the hippocampus [such as in the fusiform face area (FFA) for faces, and the perirhinal cortex for some complex objects], and less flexible and less relational than hippocampal representations of multiple objects.

*NCBI -National Center for Biotechnology Information

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This is My Brain on Music – ‘Broken Record Machine!’

This is My Brain on Music – ‘Broken Record Machine!’

For as long as I can remember music has been my most constant companion. In fact, several weeks before I was born, my parents went to see a horrible musical adaptation of the 1933 book “Lost Horizon.” Apparently I might have been the only one to enjoy this dog’s breakfast of a flick (whilst still in utero, LOL!!) Not that I can actually remember any of this from nearly 45 years ago, but my mother told me many times throughout her life that ‘I was really kicking up a storm on that fateful evening!’ Both of my parents were immense music lovers, although my father’s musical tastes oddly lent themselves more to his parents’ generation. As my mother’s musical leanings were slightly more hip, as a toddler we spent countless hours together listening to her records. We also spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting our very anachronistic versions of Elaine Benes’ classic dry heave-inducing dance moves!!

As I grew older and my various issues moved to the foreground, music quickly became the one thing that I could truly rely on. I received a transistor radio for my seventh birthday, and this is when I first began to build my unbreakable bond with Rock and Roll. Artists such as Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, Queen and Elton John were some of my early favourites. As the years passed i gradually moved on to tape recorders, ghetto blasters, Walkmans, and Discmans; as the technology steadily evolved, so too did my musical evolution. As a teenager I became fascinated with Jazz-Fusion, Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal, all vastly UNDERRATED genres as far as I’m concerned!!! I think that I gravitated towards these genres the most because of their complexity and often interesting time signatures. Return To Forever, Jean-Luc Ponty, Allan Holdsworth and Herbie Hancock are among my preferences in this heady musical realm.

Throughout my twenties and thirties life presented me with a relentless series of difficult challenges (sick parents, stressful living conditions, unfulfilled self-expectations and an overall sense of general malaise.) During these emotionally-stressful times, building my musical collection became my primary goal/coping mechanism. While this might seem petty and pointless to many, FOR ME, it provided an essential reason to carry on living. To date my musical archive probably numbers close to 10,000 pieces, likely split evenly between cassettes and compact discs. As much as I enjoyed seeking out and collecting this TREASURE TROVE, the downside is the amount of physical space it takes up and the exorbitant storage fees which occur as a result!! Yes, I could perhaps make the switch to streaming and the like, but I am far too attached to the tactile physicality of my collection to ever even surrender an inch!! I guess we all have our own particular version of a sin tax! Mine won’t kill me, but I just might eventually be found one day under a towering pile of musty ‘n’ mouldy CD booklets!!!

It’s often said that people on the Spectrum can develop a very strong bond with music. I shudder to even think what my life would have been like if I had not gone down this melodic path. Sadly we seem to be living in a time in which popular music has basically been reduced to an endless AUTO-TUNED parade of Ikea-approved, FACELESS zeroes and ones!! Hopefully I will live long enough to see a return to a greater appreciation of/for legitimate musical talent, and that REAL/TRUE ARTISTS will receive both their Artistic and Commercial Due(s).

In closing, here are my 5 favorite songs about music:

  1. “I Love Music” by the O’Jays
  2. “Let There Be Rock” by AC/DC
  3. “Long Live Rock” by The Who
  4. “Magic Power” by Triumph
  5. “Keep Playin’ that Rock & Roll” by Edgar Winter’s White Trash

 

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Unhinged Episode #048: Sweet Dreams

by Ed 3 Comments
Unhinged Episode #048: Sweet Dreams

In this episode, we discuss dreams and dreaming. What are dreams? Can they give us insights into our subconscious? Doug’s recent nightmare ultimately had a cathartic effect for him, bringing him closer to family. It was immediately followed by a very positive dream where his mother was a focal point. Each dream had a profound effect on his mood, but are these dreams just thoughts being processed randomly by the sleeping brain with no set intention?

We also touch on lucid dreaming and binaural beats. Being able to control your dreams is an often sought after experience, and some binaural recordings are meant to help your brain reach that state. But can this be dangerous? Anecdotal evidence shows that some of these recordings can trigger intense nightmares in some people, which can lead to psychological trauma. One has to wonder if “brainwave entrainment” is worth it.

Lastly, we discuss recurring dreams and Ed talks about one recurring dream he had as a child and what it might mean.

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Attention UH Listeners:

by Doug 0 Comments

Please note: There will be no podcast this week, as I am celebrating a birthday on Tuesday, Ed is still settling into his new Colorado spread, and most importantly, we need the week to work on some technical issues, to get back to the level of production quality that we’re used to and insist on. Thank you for your support & patience.

The next show, show #43, will be released on Tuesday, March 29th.

Cheers,

Doug Warren

Unhinged Podcast -Talking Mental

 

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Current State of the UHN Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) Clinical Trial

by Doug 0 Comments

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is currently the most powerful known treatment for major depression.  The technique itself was developed at the Toronto Western Hospital nearly 10 years ago.  It was based on research findings by neurologist Dr. Helen Mayberg, working with a multi-disciplinary team that included world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Andres Lozano, our own Clinic’s Co-Director, Dr. Peter Giacobbe, as well as UHN’s Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Dr. Sidney Kennedy.  Because DBS can often achieve remission where all other measures fail, the tecnhique is now being used to treat severe depression in advanced medical centres across Canada and around the world.

With DBS, a neurosurgeon implants a pair of electrodes into a small brain structure that is overactive in depression, called Area 25, or the subgenual cingulate.  The electrodes stimulate at a high frequency that effectively jams the signals passing through the neural connections in the region.  Once the electrodes are activated, many patients experience a rapid and dramatic improvement in symptoms — even patients who have not responded to any other treatment, including ECT.  However, DBS remains an experimental technique, available only to small numbers of patients, in medical centres with expert teams of neurosurgeons.  It also requires the electrodes to be permanently implanted in the brain and connected to a battery implanted under the collarbone — quite an invasive procedure compared to other treatments for depression.  For these reasons, DBS is usually reserved for cases where all other options have failed.

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Unhinged Podcast is Back!

by Doug 2 Comments

Show #42 will be available everywhere, including at UnhingedPodcast.com, August 15th!

We’ve been on hiatus since March, as Doug has gone through a nasty & long relapse. With the help of the UHN Neuroscience & Neuropsychiatry team, it looks like there has been some signs of improvement, and we’re hoping that Doug will get back to that very good quality remission he’d experienced several months ago. Until the neuromodulator battery died and surgery was performed…and once again leading to a complete relapse.

We’ll get more in detail on his current status with show 42, as well as a couple of hot topics due for discussion, and more. We’re very excited to get things going again full-throttle. We want to thank you, our loyal listeners, fellow advocates and dear friends for being so patient and understanding during the ups & downs. Please know that we’re dedicated & passionate about what we’re doing, and we want to be with you every Tuesday, as we’d done for so long.

So, mark your calendars and don’t miss Show #42, it will be a real occasion for us, and we can’t wait to get back to doing what we do. “See” You Then!

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Today’s Post-Surgery f/u with Dr. Peter Giacobbe

by Doug 0 Comments

Today I’ll be meeting with Dr. Peter Giacobbe, of the Neuroscience clinic at Toronto Western Hospital, for my post-surgery check-in and possible adjustments​ to the neuromodulator.

I’m hoping with everything I’ve got that the DBS, with the current settings, will resume working as it had done for over 3 months prior to the battery running low. It was by far the best quality remission (out of 3 total) that I’ve had to date.

#Hope is what I’m riding on…

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr 

~Doug

Unhinged Podcast -Talking Mental

Hope for Remission Continued…

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