Currently biking around the world

Posts will happen significantly less often for a while as I am currently focused on biking around the world.

It could be a few months between posts or it could be a few years. I will almost certainly return to this blog one day. In the meantime, enjoy what's already been posted, or read about my travels here.


Begin

Monday, April 18, 2016


My name is Kyle. I have been exhibiting intermittent symptoms of depression since I was about 13. At first I assumed most of these symptoms were normal: that I was experiencing life the way it was meant to be. I struggled with anger, tiredness, sadness, and more, but I was determined to live a genuine life. Convinced it would go away with time, I struggled on.


I am now 26, and there have been periods in my life when I would give anything to be happy -- if only I knew what to give. I have tried medication. I have seen therapists. There comes a point when one is tired of trying. When one is tired of being tired. When one feels he has nothing left to give.


While I still believe in living a genuine life, I also believe that a genuine life and a happy life can coexist. I know that happiness is not something we experience constantly. It is a fleeting state, just like any other emotion. But I want to feel it more often than I do now, and I want to feel, well, less depressed, less often.


The human brain filters out information we don’t need and puts in (often untrue) information it thinks we do need.1 This tool has allowed us to become by far the most dominant species on the planet, yet for the most part, we are still unaware of how it works. Our collective minds have created technology to synthesize new organs, robots to do our most dangerous jobs, and medicines to null many deadly diseases. But we have done this all with a tool whose methods remain largely a mystery.2


The relative size of our brains is the one of the largest on earth.3 In particular, humans have developed a massive frontal lobe to handle self-control, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. It is this part of the brain that is responsible for much of the aforementioned putting in and taking out of information, and it is this part of our brain that causes us to worry about the future. Our attempts to control it have been largely unsuccessful, except that in the 1930s a Portuguese physician named Antonio Egas Moniz used removal of the frontal lobe as a treatment for cases of anxiety and depression.4 Perhaps it is needless to say there were other, less desirable side effects to removing part of the brain,5 6 and we don’t do that anymore.


Yet anxiety, anger, and sadness are often harrowing emotions. After 13 years of exposure to them, I have often wondered if I could at least “turn off” that part of my brain. Maybe you have too. You wouldn't be alone: diagnoses of depression have increased dramatically in recent history, with ten times more cases in 1995 than in 1945.7 Yet there is still a social stigma around mental illness. It is not considered dinner table conversation. It does not receive the attention it needs. There are insufficient and often inadequate resources available to those in need.8


I recently learned about something called the Tetris Effect. The game Tetris involves fitting blocks together in an increasingly expedient manner, and the Tetris Effect refers to the tendency of the brain, after playing the game, to think about shapes in the real world like Tetris blocks.9 Additionally, playing Tetris can alter your dreams10 and curb cravings for food.11 This lends itself to wider theories about habit which I won’t get too far into -- not in this post, anyways. Suffice it to say, you can train your brain to think in certain ways (colloquially called “habit”),12 just as you can train to become better at a sport or hobby.


This began a search for ways to train myself to be happy. I found a number of books and suggested activities, but nothing was quite what I wanted -- a regular dose of information on mental illness, a regimen to make myself aware of what I was feeling and thinking, and encouragement to change myself for the better. As I often do when I don’t find that what I want is readily available, I set out to make it.


Hence what you are reading now. This is the start of my blog. This is the part of my life where I take control of my thoughts, where I figure out what’s going on with my brain, the way we handle mental illness in this country, and what to do about it. This is the start of the journey where I incite discussion on what it means to be happy and why it seems to be so hard for some of us. I am going to write approximately once every two weeks, with scientifically backed information whenever possible, on the causes and treatments of mental illness in as approachable a way as possible. I will invite guests to write for the blog and share their experiences. This blog will spread awareness of mental illness, explore ways to treat it, and hopefully, I will become a happier person, too.

Begin.


1 T.K. Das and Bing-Sheng Teng, “Cognitive Biases and Strategic Decision Processes: An Integrative Perspective,” in Journal of Management Studies, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1999, 757-78.
2 D. Eagleman, “10 Unsolved Mysteries Of The Brain,” Discovermagazine.com, 2007.
3 K. Semendeferi et al., “The evolution of frontal lobes: a volumetric analysis based on three-dimensional reconstructions of magnetic resonance scans of human and ape brains,” in Journal of Human Evolution, Academic Press, Volume 32, Issue 4, 1997, 375-88.
4 S.M. Weingarten, “Psychosurgery,” in Miller and Cummings, Human Frontal Lobes, 446-60.
5 D. R. Weinberger et al., “Neural Mechanisms of Future-Oriented Processes,” in Haith et al., Development of Future Oriented Processes, 221-42.
6 J. M. Fuster, The Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Physiology, and Neuropsychology of the Frontal Lobe. New York: Lippincott-Raven, 1997, 160-61.
7 M. E. P. Seligman, In J. Buie 'Me' decades generate depression: individualism erodes commitment to others. APA Monitor, 1998, 19, 18
8 R.J. Isaac et al., Madness in the streets: How psychiatry and the law abandoned the mentally ill, Free Press, New York, NY, 1990.
9 A. Earling, The Tetris Effect: Do computer games fry your brain? Philadelphia City Paper, March 21, 1996.
10 K. Leutwyler, “Tetris Dreams,” scientificamerican.com, October, 2000.
11 J. Shorka-Brown et al., “Playing ‘Tetris’ reduces the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings,” Appetite, Elsevier Ltd., Volume 76, May 2014, 161-65.
12 B.R. Andrews, “Habit,” The American Journal of Psychology, University of Illinois Press, 14 (2), 1903, 121-49.

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