Adderall · ADHD · Benzadrine · Evolution · Learning · Medicine · mental health · Nature · neuroscience · pomodoro · psychiatry · Psychosis · Ritalin · Science · Stimulants · the brain

Nature vs. New World: The Problem with Today’s Society

Being the go-getter that I am, I have been taking an online course through a fantastic online learning website by the name of Coursera. I hope one day to be involved in medical education and so I started with a course called Learning How to Learn. (Note: this is not a plug for the website – I just enjoy providing links to the things I discuss in my articles – Aside: I wish I was supported by ads, perhaps one day!!)

So, here I am, making my way through the course and learning both some valuable study techniques as well as the neuroscience behind how we learn. One of the learning techniques described is what is known as a pomodoro. In short, it is a way to break one’s learning into small, manageable chunks and then provide a small reward after each pomodoro. (I do enjoy this technique, it puts a damper on my tendency to reach for my cell phone or check that latest facebook post). Tonight, I happened to be pomodoro’ing my way through (I just made up a word there) the course whilst watching a Netflix documentary by the name of Take Your Pills

After each pomodoro, I allowed myself to watch a bit of the documentary as my reward. Well, how serendipitous indeed! Turns out my mind found a link between what I am learning on Coursera and what I am watching on television. (I love how the brain works so naturally when it comes to getting the creative juices flowing!)

Now, I am not here to write a review for either the course I am taking or the documentary I watched. Suffice it to say that they are things that I am both enjoying (I haven’t finished the course yet) and that I enjoyed (I did finish watching the documentary).

Humans have an innate ability to remember the details of say, a room we walk into, even days or weeks later. We built these natural spatial and visual memory abilities over eons of evolution. Quite rightly so, given that our day to day survival depended on remembering how to get back from a hunt, or where the best place to pick for berries was located.

The documentary Take Your Pills discusses pharmaceutical amphetamines (Adderall, Ritalin, dexedrine, Concerta and Vyvanse, to name most) and the increasing licit (and illicit) use by children and adults in Western society.

It gives an overview of the history of pharmaceutical amphetamines and states that the first article describing the abuse of benzadrine (a prescription drug otherwise known as amphetamine) amongst college students was in Time magazine in the 1930s.

It appears our society has had difficulty focusing on learning school subjects for a long time. Why might that be?

It’s simple. Our brains have been conditioned to learn spatially and visually through movement over hundreds of thousands of years – to survive for the short term, not the long term. 

Now stop and think about our children’s learning environments and subject matter. Math, science, english, social studies and more. And how are our children taught these subjects? By sitting in one desk, often in one classroom. Do these two environments and modes of learning jive? I think not.

And where is the short-term benefit? Do years of school provide any short-term benefit or reward? Well, yes, but only if you do well in school. What of the children who do not? Methinks some may end up requiring ADHD medications.

Now, I don’t want to vilify the use of these drugs in today’s world. I do believe they have a place, with judicious use.

We can draw the same analogies with the adult world and our working environments.

The question then becomes, is it us that suffers from a problem, or is it how our society is designed that causes our suffering? I’m betting on the 2nd option.

This is, no doubt, not a novel idea. But, it was a nice A-ha moment for me that I will take to the clinic, and perhaps beyond to the classroom. Our teaching and working conditions need to take advantage of that innate ability to function and learn based on our natural visual and spatial learning abilities. There are even parts of the brain dedicated to learning naturally and easily in this manner! How cool is that!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a thing or two about learning and working in today’s world!

~ ThePinkLady

Grief · Love of life · Medicine · poetry · Science · The Arts in Medicine

We Built Ourselves a Darkness Near

As a forward to this post, I`d like to say that, indeed, I have posted a lot of poetry as of late. I certainly do have many more doctor-patient stories to tell, and other nuanced (i.e. juicy and scandalous!) medical school details to post.

That said, I have found an outlet in poetry as an adult… it was something I dabbled in as a youth – but I`m afraid to say that much of it was very, VERY obviously written by a teenager. (I`m a sucker, at this age, for a little, and sometimes a lot of, self-deprecating humour).

I`ve always been fascinated by space and time – most especially since I first began to understand physics – and in part, the Twin Paradox.

Over the years, much of my poetry has focused on such topics, contrasting with the knowledge of life I’ve gained both through personal experience and in my training as a medical doctor.

I wrote, what I think was, the first (good) poem at the age of 17 – after my sister had lost her life in a brutal and tragic car accident at the tender age of 25. She was my best friend.

I am not a religious person. I do not believe in God, at least not as has been written in so many religious texts… Given that acknowledgment, I did experience something after she died. Something that I cannot explain. I felt her sit next to me as I was sitting on my bed, blow-drying my hair, much the same way as I’d done time and time again in those years.

It gave me comfort. And although it may have just been a psychological expression of my grief and fatigue following the mind-bending news of her death – I felt inspired to write as though she still existed.

The poem I wrote for her came naturally – it poured out of my fingertips as easily as the ink flowed from the pen I held. It became a thing of beauty; rich with imagery of the night sky and a wish for her to let go – and to be one with the stars. It was my way of saying goodbye and my way to wish her well. Ultimately, it was a way to let her know I would be OK without her. A benevolent wish for her to let me go and to go forth into that peaceful abyss that is the night sky. Of course, it was incredibly cathartic.

That poem now exists only on the 1999 printer paper connected to the 1999 computer on which I used (what I think may have been the original MS Office Word software application?) to transcribe the poem I had handwritten. (I like to remind myself of how far technology has come, in my very short life.  Remember the old school and finicky to print perforated printer paper?? I’m quite sure that was the paper I used…)

Then, as any typical girlish teenager would do – I burnt the edges and then glued that paper to a construction paper booklet, along with one of a kind pictures of my family and I. I wanted to send her off with a unique gift that did not exist any other place in the world.

It was a beautiful poem. I was asked to read it at her wake, but I was too full of tears to do so. A close and very well-spoken family friend did so on my behalf. Everyone was moved to tears. I was too sad to feel proud, at that moment.

Now, selfishly, today, I do at times wish I could read that poem again. But then I remind myself steadfastly that I wrote that poem and placed it with her so that it would be hers, and only hers, forever.

~~~

After that (huge!!) tangent, allow me to get to my point. Today, the world lost a great mind. As I said, I’ve always been by fascinated space and time – owing to my rather simple and brief introduction to the ideas of general relativity and quantum physics. Of course, Einstein was what caught my attention – followed (very, very closely) by the other fathers of astrophysics  – Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton. Now, Stephen Hawking certainly continued on with the groundwork laid by those giants of science. I suppose those gents have been so greatly admired and revered that they have attained somewhat of a mythical-like status, much the same as the great Hercules or Achilles…

That man will attain the same status in the future – and there will be another curious young mind, just like me, along with many others, who will ponder in awe about just what it was like to be alive and to share an era with such a great thinker. And we will have ceased to exist at that point.

I am happy to die just knowing that there will be another like me, one day, who will ponder and wonder and live and breath and enjoy all of life’s mysteries and never stop thinking and never stop learning and never stop feeling until that very last breath.

And so, I wholeheartedly support Stephen Hawking’s endeavour to explain the importance of the continuation of the human race. Without the knowledge of a continued future of our species… I am nothing. There is no hope to be had. I would fully give into stardust at death – only, if only, our species continues to learn and grow and adapt and advance and evolve.

~~~

Last, I would like to share a poem. I wrote this the Christmas after my father passed away after a short and heartbreaking battle with lung cancer. I had nearly forgotten about it and decided to read it today, on the day of the death of the most important figure in modern day cosmology. It’s rife with the imagery and metaphors of the big bang and particle physics… and of course, with life too. Very fitting, and I am glad I was drawn to revisit that writing. Comforting, once again, just like the poem I wrote for the sister I once cherished and lost.

We Built Ourselves a Darkness Near

Darkness did exist sincerely.
Then, eons ago a blast
A brilliant light shone briefly
From whence a bazillion particles sprung fast.

They floated eons more,
Slipping past one another so briefly,
And continued on their lonely quest,
Not knowing their purpose so easily.

Alas, one moment a change.
They did not slide past so freely,
As though one called out to another,
And the other responded so keenly.

Two bodies came together,
Their bodies ever so slight,
So slight in stature and form,
They clung to each other so tight.

They moved through space together,
Others joining as they passed,
Soon they were not alone,
And together a shadow they cast.

They cast a shadow so large,
They began to forget their past.
Shadows became the norms of our cities,
And we could not remember how things were once so vast.

The shadows joined one another,
the shadows they did coalesce,
A new type of darkness unfolded,
But this time with much less zest.

Our history did not repeat.
How we travelled backward with such ease!
Flowed seamlessly against time
And again, the darkness we did meet.

Our shadows formed an abyss,
In a prison we now exist.
This hole we did create
We have no light with which to escape.

~~~

The Pink Lady