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MentalHealthError: an exception occurred (kennethreitz.org)
593 points by cool-RR on Feb 27, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 186 comments

This story struck a nerve because (in hindsight) I saw the same thing happening to my brother when he was about 19. He was suddenly interested in astrology, reiki, "tachyon energy disks", epiphanies, angels and demons, the vibrations of the universe.

At the time I thought it was a phase. My mother was always talking (tongue-in-cheek?) about her "parking angel" and burning incense, so I thought he had just picked up that part of her personality.

Turns out he had (and still has, many years later) schizophrenia so he was genuinely using his considerable intelligence to try and make sense of what he saw, heard and felt, drawing on any "truth" he could find.

It really put me off religion and spirituality for a very long time. If these concepts weren't out there and accepted by so many people, maybe he would have been diagnosed and treated sooner and be in a better place today. I don't know.

These days I do think some amount of religion/spirituality is positive, and I think in total it makes the world a better place, but if I ever felt that kind of epiphany personally I know I would head straight to the nearest mental hospital.

>It really put me off religion and spirituality for a very long time. If these concepts weren't out there and accepted by so many people, maybe he would have been diagnosed and treated sooner and be in a better place today. I don't know.

I'm a staunch skeptic, but I don't think there's a causal link. People suffering from psychosis invariably find something in their environment to create a contextual frame for their experiences.

For example, paranoia can manifest itself as a wide range of experiences. Someone living in rural Nigeria might describe being possessed by evil spirits, someone living in 1950s America might describe being followed by KGB agents, a European Muslim in the present day might describe being targeted by spy satellites and drones. After the release of the movie The Truman Show, psychiatrists saw a sudden emergence of patients who believed they were living in a reality TV show.

https://aeon.co/essays/a-culture-of-hyper-reality-made-paran... http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/09/16/unreality-star http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/july/voices-culture-luhrm... http://www.psychosocial.com/IJPR_10/Cultural_Demographic_Fac... http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/193/2/168

This is an interesting read on the difference of views between the Western and African views of 'mental illness' from an African (Witch) Doctor after visiting some western mental hospitals:

tl;dr: Most of what we view as mental illness they view as the birth or awakening of a 'healer' and should be treated that way for proper acceptance of the person into society and eventual recoverey.

Yeah, I read that article a lot.

And what was your conclusion on it, now that you had an experience and came out of it safe and sound? I don't have any serious mental issues, but the thought of having any and the stigma around them honestly terrifies me. (And reading stories like yours does the opposite) And so while I'm not behind the woo woo of the article, I do like the gentler approach to treating the ill.

If you're mentally ill, "oh weird, that's happening to me" seems like a better state of mind to be in than to be terrified, ashamed and dealing with the petty indignities of being a patient at a clinic. Though I guess modern mental health clinics are much more human than they used to be. Thoughts?

Interesting that a patient positively responded to the Shamanic approach. Anecdotal evidence, but it makes you wonder.

In Brasil (a group of) people believe in Candomblé. They accept others with mental illness as normal beings.

Many turn to the houses of Candomblé (terreiros) for healing from not only physical ailments but mental illnesses as well. Candomblé has been very effective in healing mental illnesses even when Western medicine has proved ineffective.


> ... if I ever felt that kind of epiphany personally I know I would head straight to the nearest mental hospital.

I can't say that you're wrong, but I would also ask you to consider that your sane and reasonable state of mind that's saying this now, is not the same state of mind that believes these delusions. What may seem right now to be a very clear and easy decision may be the last thing you would even consider in another mental state.

Oh absolutely. That's why I've tried to make that decision ahead of time and plan the details so that it's almost an automatic trigger, hopefully before all insight is lost.

It's hard because I'm a very independent, stubborn person who never takes anyone else's word for anything. I can't think of much worse than being locked up, forced drugs and being told what to think, like 1984. But losing touch with reality and effectively abandoning my family and friends would be worse.

EDIT: I'm not saying that drugs are a panacea, BUT.. I believe mental illness often has a chemical/biological origin, which over time accumulates into physical, psychological and social damage. I think appropriate low-dose treatment at an early stage has the potential to limit this damage while avoiding the worst side-effects of higher doses.

This article describes my brother (minus the programming experience). The hard thing is you can never make someone get help if they aren't a threat to themselves or others. Being an all around a-hole isn't sufficient to make someone admit themselves to a facility (no matter the run ins with police or the diagnosis). He's lucky he went to a facility and followed through. My brother ended up in one and I felt like I talked him into staying. Then he calls me to try and get me to lie to his social worker. Then the social worker calls me and I don't lie (he wasn't staying with me and he didn't have a job). Social worker listens but then a few days later he's out. My only hope is that now that he went out to California the system out there can make him get help.

I wouldn't hold up California as an exemplar of a mental health safety net, or expect too much from the services in place in this state. A significant population walking the streets loudly rambling nonsense is largely treated as a curiosity rather than in need of help. If anything, the culture embraces mental health issues.

A well written and brutally honest article - the author should be commended as this kind of honesty is what's needed in beginning to address mental health issues. I did feel the last throwaway point "don't date the crazy chick" let it down slightly - by his own hypothesis she too was suffering (bad) mental health issues and blithely shifting blame to her seems a little off.

I'm curious what kind of drugs were involved. Crazy chick, traveling the world, doing shamanistic rituals (which often use drugs), sleep depriving oneself until hallucinating, etc.

He doesn't say it outright but had he not taken part in these damaging things, he may not have had the psychotic episode and wouldn't know he was bipolar.



I thought this too, I won't deny it. I suppose two counterpoints would be:

1) If you really can work days and days on end without feeling tired or feeling the need for sleep (as someone who works very, very excessive hours, I can safely say I spend most of that time yearning for my bed), in all likelihood you are going to come crashing down at some point;

2) You can definitely start hallucinating purely from lack of sleep, after "only" a couple of days, without the assistance of any hallucinogenic drugs.

I've never done illegal drugs, but for years suffered with depression and occasional had "amazingly productive" periods.

After one particularly bad bout of depression, I decided to see a doctor. One of her questions was something to the effect, "Has anyone ever accused you of having been on drugs when you weren't?"

The funny thing is, during one of my previous "amazingly productive" periods, I had a coworker who -point blank- told me she was convinced that I was on drugs. I just felt high on life and told her as much.

The doctor ultimately diagnosed me as bi-polar, and we found a drug that would reduce the depression and not trigger hypermania or manic episodes (apparently a common problem with drugs that treat regular depression is that they can exacerbate bi-polar).

Fast forward a few years and I had to have knee surgery. Thankfully, my mother was taking care of me and knew I had been diagnosed bi-polar, but I'd never had a full blown manic, so she didn't know what that looked like. It took three days for her to realize what was wrong, but almost immediately after the surgery I had slipped into a full-blown manic. In the end, it turned out the pain medication and the bi-polar medication combined were triggering the manic episode.

I've since had to have several other surgeries and have learned that strong pain killers have a tendency to trigger manic episodes in me. In a way I'm lucky, because I've never gotten addicted to any pain killer, and I'm coherent enough to let my providers know whether I need manic-inducing pain killers (i.e. I rather be manic than in that much pain), whether I can take less effective pain killers that don't trigger manic episodes, and when I can just suck up the pain.

So, yes, drugs can trigger episodes, but it isn't necessarily illegal or 'bad' drugs that do so.

Shamanic rituals just screams "shrooms".

s/crazy chick/crazy dude/

Having a partner of either sex that also suffers mental illness (perhaps more severely than you do) can exacerbate un-healthy or unhelpful ways of thinking.

I don't think the writer was placing entire blame with the partner, but actually making a good point earlier about the psychological reinforcement from being around them

I also suspect that this is the same person mentioned here: http://www.kennethreitz.org/essays/purging-the-unexpected-ne...

For many guys, "crazy chick" is the only language they have to describe an abusive relationship. It's not the most helpful phrase, so it's best replaced with a clearer one.

I thought it was amazing that Reitz volunteered an article such as this.

I wish he would change the reference to "crazy chick". Cause maybe some "crazy chicks" out there would benefit from the article (my mom suffered from an episode like the one he described, down to the angels).

I think it's particularly bad because a lot of people, such as my mom and sister, make the association that crazy is "how they are" because they are "artsy". And so, this article is demolishing that notion, since Reitz is such a tech superstar... but then it ends like that. Reinforcing the gap.

It is the same person, but I wasn't referencing her in that manner here. Just saying "that loopy/nuts self-described yogini-shaman-spinner-of-bhakti here to raise the frequencies of the earth through x y z".

I am so sorry this happened to you. I have lived with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, or at least borderline narcissistic personality disorder and it almost destroyed the dynamics of our share house.

That person has since got help. I've also cut them off, though I still communicate with them. They've asked for forgiveness, which I've given. But I don't have the strength in my current situation to engage with them in more than superficial ways.

Just be thankful you didn't encounter a psychopath - I believe there is a big overlap I the two conditions, it a psychopath is far, far more frightening and even more destructive.

> I don't think the writer was placing entire blame with the partner, but actually making a good point earlier about the psychological reinforcement from being around them

This. To badly reformulate a similar article found here (for which I can't recollect the author, sorry... maybe Glyph or Sivers?), "We are not islands, your close friends and loved ones kinda have root access to your brain. Given enough time / frequence, their own attitudes / biases / psychological problems become yours. And conversely, you'll inherit some of their strengths."

→ To come back to Kenneth's mention of the "crazy chick",

- It doesn't have to be framed negatively (interpreting it as Kenneth saying "damn crazy chick, she's the one to blame").

- Rather, maybe a more positive frame involving our own responsibility helps: "try as much as possible to surround yourself with sane, stable, caring people".

EDIT: hi downvoters, I'm surprised, care to elaborate?

That may have been me?


Why? Your peer group literally gets arbitrary code execution on your brain. (It's a flaw in MonkeyBrainOS 1.01 which we haven't patched yet.) You'll tend to find yourself valuing what they value. You will tend to find yourself achieving outcomes strikingly similar to their outcomes.

Given this, picking a peer group whose values are not your values and whose outcomes are terrible is a poor choice.

By the way, Patrick - that's a really great quote; you could turn it into a super helpful essay/blogpost. I occasionally think of it as I interact with people who are choosing peer groups with poor outcomes.

That is a remarkably pithy observation.

YES! Thanks :)

I read it as light humour. The tone of that line is very much in keeping with his humorous points in past writings (and code).

I don't know Kenneth but I've read enough of his writing to recognise his style.

I genuinely believe the grandparent is doing Kenneth a disservice here.

Many people read stuff that he advocates against, like "real hardcore engineers don't sleep", as "light humour".

It's cool that you recognize his voice, but if this article takes off because of its interdisciplinary nature, it is likely to get an audience that isn't composed exclusively of people who know his style.

Side note on the "mystic flavor" yoga (as oppose to plain "mindfullness meditation" and "yoga for back pains") and other "eastern" spirituality things: I think there's a reason why there are so many initiation ceremonies and tasks that one was/is traditionally put to do before going-off-the-deep-end, and why ancient hindus saw being a yogi as a path for one that was of a certain age and already had a family and proved itself capable of functioning in society - to weed out anyone with preexisting mental health conditions. You even see this pattern in the story of Buddha's life - he was a socially capable young prince born in a loving family and had no frustrations and most material needs fully satisfied. And also for the zen philosophy attitude of "but don't take these things too seriously" - to prevent people from actually "drowning" in these mystical visions and loosing any contact with reality.

Overall I think that a lot of people would benefit from the occasional mystical perspective on life. It's awesome for creative problem solving! And most people have become a bit too secular and boring. But if they go on and apply the "work hard on it and take it seriously" pattern to spirituality they'll just go and OD on it.

The "westernly refined eastern spirituality" seems as close to the original thing as purified cocaine is to chewed coca leaves: very different concentrations, very different use scenarios. How can it not go wrong for the more psychology sensitive individuals among us?

People should go and read/listen some of Allan Watts' book/recordings. You can try starting with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8130_-3d3PA . He had some good ideas on how to use an occasional mystical perspective to enrich one's life, without taking it too seriously and completely loosing it. Mind it, I don't agree with most of his ideas, but they are still better than what others are selling.

Upvote as well. My personal mystical experiences have been very positive in my life. My friends and I call it "cleaning out the cobwebs" and do it a couple times a year. And yes this stuff is not good for people with mental illness, but let's not throw it away all together. Psychedelics have an incredible promise to heal, and have helped me substantially with my own trauma. However they should be used in chorus with a certified therapist. Beyond that I get a little agitated when people feel that none of it is of any substance and we already "know" reality. I think we are actually very far from understanding the nature of reality and these experiences may hold legitimate truths in them. Let's not be reductionists and keep an open mind

These experiences might reveal something about consciousness and the human mind, but they do not tell you about the rest of the cosmos. The only way we can learn about that is through observation (astronomy) and experimentation (particle accelerators), not introspection. Heck, introspection can't even reveal to us that our minds are made of neurons.

What basis do you have for saying that? I'm willing to bet that more than a few scientific discoveries were made on, or inspired by, these "introspections". Thinking and perceiving reality differently seems like an excellent way to discover new observations about the world.

That's not what I or yahyaheee are talking about. Giving scientists ideas is not the same as figuring out how the cosmos works. Scientists are inspired from sources as varied as drugs, fever dreams, and even strokes. But they don't actually discover whether things are true until experiments are performed and observations are made. In other words: A scientist may have first conceived of benzene's correct structure in a dream, but other scientists conceived of many other likely structures. The answer wasn't known until x-ray diffraction was performed on the molecule.

Yahyaheee is saying that the last step isn't necessary for some facts. That is, he thinks some drugs, when combined with introspection, can reveal true facts about things outside of the mind. I disagree.

This was me, six months ago.

But unlike the parent commenter, didn't you have hypomanic episodes before going down that path? I think most who do that sort of thing don't end up in a hospital. At worst, they end up following Deepak Chopra.

Also, thank you for sharing your experience. It takes courage to talk about one's mental issues. And thank you for requests. It's crazy useful!

It was also me, 2-3 years ago.

Then, your manic episode was me, 20 months ago (the having a "Kundalini awakening" and believing I was raising the vibrational frequency of the universe part - not the hospital admission or lithium prescription part, I managed to chill out without much need for professional intervention).

Your point of view now was me, 18 months ago, believing all my problems had stemmed from purely materialist/biochemical causes, and rejecting all the spriritual stuff as dangerous woo.

Since then, I've found a balance that seems, as objectively as one can be about one's self, to have me in a much better place.

My quality of life, as reflected in my work/career, my friendships/relationships and my sense of contentment and happiness, is good and has been steadily improving for many months.

I take no psychiatric or any other medication (I had been on benzo's then SSRI's years ago). I eat healthily (not obsessively), drink only moderately and socially, I sleep well, and I do regular conventional exercise with increasing ease.

I also practice holotropic breathwork [1], occasional kundalini yoga, nutritional supplementation (mostly amino acids and minerals like calcium and magnesium), near infrared light therapy [2], kinesiology and self-muscle-testing [3].

I don't make any specific claims about the efficacy of any particular practice, but overall the system seems to be working.

I don't believe I have any magical powers or access to secret wisdom about the true nature of the universe.

I find merit and value in the philosophies of public figures across the spectrum of thought on these matters; Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Rupert Sheldrake, Bruce Lipton, Lissa Rankin, Bernardo Kastrup, Rudy Tanzi, Sir Roger Penrose, and the late Wayne Dyer.

I don't believe any of these people are 100% right, but neither do I think any is 100% wrong, and each has been very valuable to me and many others in developing an optimal approach to life.

And this is the most important point.

It's unhealthy to adopt either materialism or spirituality with extreme conviction, just as it's unhealthy to reject either of them with extreme prejudice.

Extreme anything is unhealthy.

Balance, restraint, modesty and tolerance is healthy.

I understand why you need to adopt a staunch anti-woo position right now given what you've been through.

Just be careful not to be too contemptuous and dogmatic against philosophies and practices that others find beneficial in more healthy and balanced ways than has so far been possible for you.

But thank you for sharing your journey and insights so candidly. More people need to be made to feel comfortable talking about this stuff, and it helps the world when you lead the way.

[1] http://www.holotropic.com/about.shtml

[2] http://nutritionalbalancing.org/center/htma/supportive/artic...

[3] http://www.livestrong.com/article/325815-techniques-for-self...

Upvote, and especially for the metaphor (cocaine versus coca) - it summarizes what I've seen in the New Age-ish subculture over the years.

I've had experiences with kundalini - quite definitely. And some woo-woo ness I can't possibly explain unless one is already familiar with the terminology and understandings. Ken Wilbur is a useful read - it's not all garbage.

But "I" was still "I" and understood what was going on and never forced it by heavy duty 100% immersion into the subculture (aka dating the crazy chick). No instances of mania, etc - always came down, after learning some inner stuff. The focus was always on the inner world and self-knowledge, not solving the problems of the universe. The universe can take care of itself.

It's when you go into "inflation" and think "you" are the embodiment of God and all that is where everything goes sideways (aka no sleep for 10 days). To think all the concepts are -literally- true is a sign of a less sophisticated understanding or of schizophrenia, etc - like not understanding the myth of the dead and reborn god is a metaphor, not an actual historical event (people...! really?) but once that metaphor becomes properly understood, then the universe becomes a little more interesting.

Someone with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder is pretty guaranteed problems eventually. I'm glad he's back to normal.

>The universe can take care of itself. It's when you go into "inflation" and think "you" are the embodiment of God and all that is where everything goes sideways.

This. I think people are too keen on trying to save the whales and save the world. The world is as such. Sure we can work on making it a better place, but to seek perfection is to be blind to the reality of it manifesting under your own feet.

I've had a couple events of going out of my mind deliberately by ways of breathing exercises, extensive singing, yelling, laughing and such. I think that to stay sane, you sometimes have to visit the other side of the looking glass as well. It is much like using LSD, mushrooms, mescaline. Some people can get lost in such situations, and if you feel like such thing could happen, just find a trustworthy individual who has been through such experiences and can hold your hand as you go onto your journey. Andrew Feldmar MD and his books are something to look up if these things interest you.

As far as madness and medication goes, it seems that US citizens are eager to medicate anyone who does not conform the perceived "norm". Even the individual herself gets under the impression that it is her and not the system that is at fault. Meanwhile, the psychological pressure and deformities of consumer society, impulse control and acts of aggression/murder are on the rise, whereas people should be more open to express the absurdities that surround us, and to feel free not to stay in line of a fairly broken and decaying status quo.

From my experiences with youth mental hospitals in the Netherlands, they are dominated by the same "just medicate it away" line of reasoning. Therapy exists but is not taken very seriously, and the most important thing of all - listening to somebody's story - is ignored completely.

It's very rare to find anybody in these mental hospitals who isn't on medication, even those who are there through no fault or issue of their own (eg. because of problems with their parents). The only reason I didn't end up taking medication there, was because I categorically refused it.

> ancient hindus saw being a yogi as a path for one that was of a certain age and already had a family and proved itself capable of functioning in society

This was the case with the Western mystery traditions since the Greeks, but I wasn't aware of it in the East. Buddhist monks are often accepted at a very early age. In Tibet in particular they learn advanced yogic practices, although the more rigorous training does not start until the teenage years. Foyan, an 11th Century Chinese Zen monk, comments that there is no point studying past the age of 30 because you are too old!

I think the source of my infos for that particular affirmation is Alan Watts and a post from a Japanese buddhist monk. I really don't know about Tibetan monks, and A.W. is entertaining but far from trustworthy. So you should check this yourself if you want the truth. Maybe it really does apply only to western mystery traditions and some Japanese buddhists, and some pople over-generalized this, I don't know for sure.

TIL - I'd just never come across it before, and I've listened to a fair amount of Watts lectures over the years. Been a while since I read any books of his, I'll keep it in mind, he was very knowledgable about these kinds of things. The Japanese did make Buddhist practice much more a part of daily life.

:) Foyan also said:

"What do you people come to me for? Each individual should lead life autonomously—don’t listen to what other people say. An ancient declared, ‘I knew how to lead life by the time I was eighteen.’ You people must learn to live independently."

Almost the exact same thing happened to my wife recently. As somebody who experienced this from the "other side" it is truly frightening. It nearly tore my family apart.

Even now, months later, not everything is back to 100% normal. My wife still occasionally shows signs of her episode and is on medication (although we have transitioned to a low dosage of a more forgiving drug). The most obvious problem is a stubborn insistence that what is going on in her head right now is the only reasonable option and any discussion otherwise is an active attempt to undermine her (i.e. a conspiracy against her). This transcends normal disagreements. She also still has trouble sleeping.

At the time she had her breakdown she constructed an elaborate and paranoid fantasy inside her head that everybody was out to get her (including close family members and myself). This was tightly wound with inscrutable religious imagery and governmental conspiracy.

It was terrifying and I had her committed to the psychiatric unit (this is what nearly destroyed our relationship).

The most frightening aspect of the whole thing is that she was 100% convinced she was right at the time. Her logical reasoning facilities simply broke down. There was no reasoning with her. In fact, if anything, trying to talk to her using logic and reason aggravated the situation.

Even now, when she looks back, she can see how strange it must have been for everybody else, but she's still struggling because her brain is telling her she was "on the right side" of this problem the whole time.

This can happen to anybody, and it's nobody's fault. Sometimes, shit happens. Nobody should be ashamed of this. Take care of yourselves and others. Most of all, get a good night's sleep and eat well!

> Sleep is really important.

This cannot be overstated enough, I think, beyond just the effects of severe sleep deprivation. It's very true in my personal experience with major depression as well.

Also good to do: eat well, get exercise, get sunlight. Minds don't exist in isolation from the body, it's all the same sack of chemicals.

It's interesting to me it has to be stated at all to be honest. When I don't sleep my productivity plummets, and it's pretty easy for me to make the link. Even the difference between 7 hours and 8 hours makes a noticeable impact.

I sometimes wonder if these kind of first hand experiences are something that should be a part of the education system, such as depriving yourself of sleep and recording the results, or exercising on and off for several weeks and recording your mood, etc. I find this kind of self experimentation highly informative, and these days I can easily 'feel' the effects of drinking/smoking/dieting/exercising/etc on my well-being and mood, which in turn gives me a lot more willpower to see things through when I can logically infer the cause of bad feelings/moods and know they are temporary.

I wish we would stop praising or making light of sleep deprivation. We need to stop thinking that sleeping a lot is a sign of laziness.

Some universities (cough *MIT cough) have a habit of saying "sleep is for the weak" and that part of their culture needs to change.

Engineering schools still have the bones of being military academies. Selecting for people who don't need a lot of sleep is important to militaries.

MIT, unlike say, Texas A&M, was founded as a polytechnic and not as an explicit military academy but I'd bet there's still some of that orientation in its DNA.

It is easy to lie to oneself that sleeping less is great if the activities done throughout the day are interesting.

However, if all that added time is used for mind-numbing tasks, the true destructive nature (physically and mentally) of sleep deprivation becomes apparent, as many parents of small children can attest.

Totally agree, the best ideas of mine come after a good sleep

I agree completely.

After my last depressive episode, I have fallen into a fairly rigid sleeep-wake-rhythm, which has served me pretty well. When the depression rears its ugly head, irregularities/changes in my sleep cycle are usually the first observable symptom.

And I have not met a single person suffering from major depression who has not in some way had his/her sleep pattern affected by it.

I used to work shift work and thought it was great to wake up late and stay up late when working then go to bed even later after winding down when I got back home. The occasional overnight project that would span several nights (you waste two days as one day).

Then I went back to an 8am to 4pm schedule and wow what a difference I didn't realize I was a walking zombie all those years.

Yes sleep is important but consistent sleep is the key.

I think it depends on how you define 'consistent'. A schedule where I go to sleep at the same time every day doesn't work for me and never has - it's precisely that which turns me into a walking zombie, as I've been for most of my time in high school.

Instead, I generally just go to sleep when I'm tired and wake up naturally when I'm done sleeping. This automatically falls into a pattern where my bedtime shifts forward by 1-2 hours a day, in a cycle. Whenever I can follow that pattern, I sleep and perform extremely well.

Different people still do appear to have different optimal sleeping patterns.

I'm not a doctor, but I've come across a concept that says sleep deprivation is actually helpful, or at least it eases depression symptoms. Eg. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-sleep-deprivat... or http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/mind-read/an_unconventio...


Please, anybody with bipolar DO NOT DO THIS. It may work for depression, but for the same reason people with bipolar shouldn't take antidepressants (unless balanced with mood stabilisers) this can be really dangerous. It's very common that sleep deprivation can trigger a manic episode.

I never said this is sound advice for bipolar people as opposed to those suffering from depression. As a matter of fact, I never insisted this is good advice for anyone, I specifically stressed that I'm not a doctor. I merely pointed out that there's a certain point of view, quoted by reputable sources. Given the above, I don't really understand the downvotes

I didn't downvote you. I understand you weren't recommended it for people with bipolar. I just wanted to ensure there wasn't a confusion there, as it could be extremely dangerous.

Well, every course of action one takes when mental health is concerned should be consulted with a professionalist... that goes without saying... anyone indiscriminately taking advice from internet forums is playing with fire. It shouldn't discourage us from discussing and sharing whatever interesting we've read, heard etc.

I've looked into that line of research too. It's very interesting to me, I've also noticed that sleep deprivation eases my depression, even on top of what my antidepressant already does. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be many if any studies about it since the late 90s or early 2000s, and the mechanisms still aren't very well understood (like with the rest of depression).

My main scientific interest is in how much of this kind of mental problem is genetic, and how much is not. In particular, I have felt for quite some time now that those who are raised very religiously are much more likely to have mental issues and have problems thinking fully rationally/logically.

I am a combat vet with mild ptsd, but I was very religious before the war. I am now not just an athiest, but I am antithiest, and during what I call my "descartes reset" I had to relearn many things I thought I "knew". I eventually realized that while in general I was fairly smart, there were entire areas of life that being raised religious effectively neutered any logical thinking. As a result, I feel like I am intellectualy a teenager, because so much of my early years were wasted with this religious indoctrination, and to me the key is that in many/most cases, forcing children into religion is very mich indoctrination. I recognize some of the techniques the military uses in theirs!

Of course the genetic angle is an important one that I hope cheaper and more broadly available sequencing can help with, because some people arenpredisposed to these kinds of mental breaks and can be told they are at higher risk if they do drugs, dont sleep, etc.

That being said, living in the bible belt, the connection between religion and mental health interests me just as much.

> "descartes reset"

I love that word. Especially because studying Descartes in high school has also shaped my world view very strongly.

> Sleep is really important.

so true. remember it's cumulative, too, so you can't miss a bunch of sleep, sleep 8hrs one night and then be alright.

>This can happen to anyone, even you.

not as concerned a/b this, but i s'p so.

>Don't date the crazy [person]!

totally date the person you feel a connection with, and don't worry a/b labeling them, yourself, or anyone else w/ such a gross, pejorative label as "crazy". do remain true to yourself under any & all circumstances. travel, in particular, can be tricky, depending on the time of year, especially.

> That is unlikely to happen again

this is a catch-22: it's as unlikely to happen as one is convinced that it could happen and remains vigilant.

thanks for Requests and stay safe!

Calling sleep cumulative is slightly dangerous, you can't recover lost sleep or stock up on it. But Sleep deprivation and its adverse effects could be describe as cumulative, with a slow rebound.

I'm using the humorous/endearing form of crazy :)

i get that, and i'm probably oversensitive. there is some semi-açcurate analogy to be made w/ the use of racial epithets w/in and outside of racial groups here. playfulness can be fine (to a point) in polite company, but it's helpful to be a little more guarded w/ language in open forums.

idk, i just recently had an experience with overhearing a conversation that used not just "crazy" but specifically "bipolar" in a way that made me feel uncomfortable/marginalized. that's on me for being oversensitive, but it's totally on other ppl/society for not recognizing that "mentally ill" ppl do a lot of useful and producive things, that w/ proper care it's possible to do just a/b anything someone w/o a (diagnosed) condition can do, and for lumping an actually variegated an nonhomogeneous group of ppl together under a few easy labels.

uuugh, enough hn for a while, one way or another.

Im very happy to see this on the top of hn. I had a very similar experience but do not talk about it at all because the stigma is so strong.

A major problem with the conversation in mental health is that having thoughtful or well formed opinions about the subject can incriminate you. I have a tremendous respect for anyone that is willing to talk openly about it. I am no that brave.

Serious question: have you considered publishing it anonymously?

If you've run into issues with that idea (like being concerned about unintentionally revealing hints about your identity, or how/where to publish it, etc.), I'd happily try and help out - my e-mail is admin@cryto.net.

A courageous story. I felt the author captured the pace and psychotic features of a manic episode. Call me a terrible person, but I chuckled when I read about the "Dynamo algorithm to replicate life". I can imagine the author wandering around the hospital with the whitepaper in hand demanding that doctors read it.

Eerily similar to this recent story from This American Life, which unfortunately has a less happy ending:


TL;DL: Man goes into a manic state, checks himself into a hospital, and gets shot by police.

I was tased :(

Remember kids, paranoia on your part is a mental disorder, whereas paranoia on a cop's part is "reasonable use of force".

How did that happen? And what if anything do you now think about the permissive attitude of some people toward tazing? E.g. did you find any lasting effects?

By the way, hi. I enjoyed your talk at PyConSG a little before this all happened.

It was extremely traumatizing. I felt electric shocks and tingles in my body for a week afterwards (that may have been unrelated), and had massive anxiety around electric-sounding noises, like cicadas.

It would probably be less traumatizing to a person in a normal state of mind, but I'm not certain. It was absolutely terrifying.

This is terrible. I'm sorry.

I already hold Kenneth in great esteem because of his work on Requests and Clint, both of which I make use of and admire.

This post amplifies my respect for him as a human being.

I welcome posts like this (and there seem to have been quite a few recently) because I really want to be able to talk openly about mental health to gain clarity and understanding.

I am particularly interested in issues around arousal, focus and mania, since these affect our profession so profoundly. (I wonder how many of us in this forum owe our professional skill and aptitude to a predisposition towards hypomania and intense focus).

It feels like our society is moving in a positive direction here -- a move which I applaud and welcome.

The mind is powerful, wonderful and strange, and we need to treat it with respect and understanding -- something that can only come about by being open and honest.

This is an excellent article and I applaud Kenneth for writing it because it will help someone who reads it. Coincidentally, after reading this I came across another article about bipolar illness and how it has wrecked the life of a once famous woman:

The best African American figure skater in history is now bankrupt and living in a trailer (Debi Thomas) https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/the-myste...

I am oddly disappointed. I thought the article would be about more "relatable" mental problems like depression or low self-esteem, rather than a full on psychotic break. Sometimes I wonder if programmers are afflicted with the above plus anxiety more than the average. It certainly has affected me as someone who grew up nerdy and bullied, but most of my coworkers seem pretty happy.

You probably also look 'pretty happy' to your coworkers. They experience you as you experience them: without any knowledge of what goes on in their minds. Conversation is required to probe deeper. There may be many that have, or at least understand, your problems.

I would say that the description of the Psychotic episode helps to raise awareness of that mental problem

> It certainly has affected me as someone who grew up nerdy and bullied, but most of my coworkers seem pretty happy.

I can very much relate to this. But you grow out of it and I never really considered it a psychological problem. Everybody has his or her thing growing up and for me it was just lack of self-esteem and not fitting into the lifestyle of people around me. But growing up I learned to just ignore it and that made me happier and more confident in the process :)

I don't think it only affects programmers. But when I was at school it was just not particularly common to be interested in computers and that's certainly a factor. Group pressure is a big thing when you're young.

That's interesting. I also was nerdy and bullied a lot, but I consider myself a pretty happy person now. I've grown far more adept at handling social issues (more self confidence, better at taking social cues, etc), I've become fairly successful, and (ashamedly) I take joy in knowing the people who bullied me growing up are either the opposite of those things or dead (of their own consequence). Even if that wasn't the case though, I get the sense that the reason I have become successful socially and professionally is because of what happened to me growing up. You can't not be who you are, ya know?

Threee years ago I experienced a very similar manic episode with delusional thinking, but in my case, it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me. The creative energy and imaginative thought patterns I experienced then transformed my life in a positive way. I know this is an atypical experience and I was lucky to dodge many possible negative consequences of actions based on delusional belief systems. For me, the key was maintaining my social connections and using the perceptions and reactions of other people to keep myself connected to shared reality.

A lot of people think that believing you're Jesus is some kind of grandiose delusion, but in the case of manic psychosis, it's simply the logical conclusion of all the super intense messages from the universe you're receiving.

Enlightenment is hell.

Exactly! It is the inevitable truth you are being constantly presented with. You are forced to accept it.

I love this, well said

I knew a bipolar patient who believed he was a shaman. In his last manic episode he was found wandering outside naked in minus twenty temperatures. He said he had transcended to a higher consciousness where the cold no longer affected him.

I interviewed him a few months later to see if he was taking his medicine. He was, but said he didn't like the medicines because they took away his special powers.

He had frost bite on his hands and feet from the incident by the way.

Hah! I did exactly this, but far less extreme. I would walk barefoot on the street, where the sun had been painfully heating the pavement, and adjusting my psyche so I could not feel the pain.

According to the books, an excellent meditative practice.

my thoughts exactly, during a similar event. i was just trying to make sense of things, and due to the gravity of the unfolding events, being jesus or god was a possibility i just couldn't ignore, despite being in full possession of my mental faculties at the time.

We're all suffering from grandiose delusion all the time. Each one of us believes we are the most important thing in the universe - and we ARE, in our own solipsism. But this belief (the ego) is buried deep within us, and the constituent (spiritual, emotional) elements of our universe are built around it. Psychosis merely brings it to the front. Of COURSE you are Jesus, the most important thing in the universe. If not you, who is?

Are you sure about this? I don't have any illusions about my place in the universe. I'm a tiny speck of dust in the grand machine of reality, and I'm okay with this.

I personally found out that coding before sleep is a horrible thing for you - your mind keeps working on problems long after you close your IDE.

I agree your mind doesn't stop, but sometimes I solve my problems in that moment before sleep, I think because I can direct all my energy to it (even eyes are closed, so no visual processing needed).

Though the tired mind is often very keen to simply recurse over thoughts you've already had opposed to think of new ones. If you find you can't stop yourself going over the day though, then 10-15 mins of meditation, where you force yourself to concentrate on clearing your mind, can stop these thoughts so you can sleep. Do this every night for a few weeks and it becomes second nature.

I've found that reading sci-fi/fantasy before going to sleep helps me transition to sleep mode. I think it's because sci-fi problems are really somebody else's problem, so my brain can let them drop when I put the book down.

I really couldn't agree with this more. Reading before you sleep is so important to getting a good night's rest. Using a physical book or an e-ink screen, anything that doesn't emit light itself.

Seriously, invest $150 into getting a good e-reader, if you don't have one already. It's well worth the sleep benefits, potentially even more than a good mattress (for a programmer, anyway).

One thing I personally found useful was f.lux - an OS X app that changes the temperature of your screen when it gets dark outside. Sounds trivial but makes a huge difference.

I use red sunglasses for that (sometimes advertised as "UV protection"). The advantage is that it works on all devices, even analog ones. :)

I watch Netflix :)

I thing it's awesome instead. Just today the solution of a problem I was trying to solve for days came to me in a dream, in pseudocode.

He is lucky. All of you without mental problems are quite lucky.

Kenneth, if you are reading this: I feel you man.

I had a similar experience to you. Similar fleeting views... without a crazy chick. I was the crazy one. What I did not say so far is that I too am lucky. My psychiatrist said that I was in the 1% of the 1% (I am not sure of the percentages). Those who recover among those who suffer from schizophrenia. Now, 4 years later, it seems that I made a full recovery. Yet I lost 2 years of my life to it. Two years of my life where I did not take medication. You are older than me, you accomplished so much more. I still have to get my C.S. degree. I am in my last semester. I now somewhat look up to you. Before reading this article, I had no idea of your existence. Now I found an inspiration I can relate to. Thank you for sharing.

>A breakthrough occurred when I slipped the doctor a piece of paper containing the URL to this website. This gave him a really good idea of who I actually was, and was a very useful tool in helping him diagnose me.

Is it expecting too much of our health care professionals to assume that they should be I don't know, spending five minutes on google looking for this information themselves? What about interviewing family and friends? How do you expect to treat a mental health patient without a baseline in the first place? This tidbit did not instill any confidence in me whatsoever.

Trust me, where I live, less that 0.1% of the population has any form of web presence, other than a Facebook profile.

I live in a rural town in the country of Virginia. Lots of confederate flags and rednecks around these parts :)

The doctor did spent much time on the phone with my parents, however, and was well aware of their claims. Having tangible proof of the things I've normally been able to accomplish, however, takes that to a whole other level.

I dunno why but I always had the idea you lived either on SFO or Seattle. Well at least you can ski a lot as you're probably close to WV!

On a more related note, thanks a lot for your great posts, and for the simplicity and clarity of your code :)

Thank you for the reply, and thank you for being willing to share your experience as well.

This brings to mind something I read by Ken Wilbur, about "Waking Up" vs. "Growing Up".

In a nutshell, as I understand it: Waking Up without Growing Up - like spiritual bypass - can lead to delusion, psychosis, inflicting unconscious wounds on ourselves and the world... Advancement in Waking Up, which I suppose we need for ultimate fulfilment, doesn't by itself cause progress in Growing Up, which we need to function as part of our world...

I've seen friends who started earnestly seeking spirituality around the same time as me go deep into madness (with spiritual names), for example dealing with 'entities' they claim to be real, yet are not part of shared reality, and I suppose failing to see that their experience is actually mirroring their inner state.

My own brief touches with psychosis triggered by intense - and arguably premature - spiritual work have emphasised for me the importance of remaining grounded in the daily life of being human, doing that basic work first to become emotionally literate, calm, healthy and self-nurturing.

What concerns me is that people throw the baby out with the bathwater when they stifle or medicate their spiritual longings due to fear of (or experience with) mental illness. Mental health seems like it could be a prerequisite for facing the challenges of sincere growth, but not a reason to avoid spirituality.

I believe Ram Dass said "You gotta be somebody before you can be nobody."

> Mental health seems like it could be a prerequisite for facing the challenges of sincere growth, but not a reason to avoid spirituality.

Going through a severe bipolar episode, basically forced me to rethink my entire life. I'm not saying it has been fun or easy, but I think when it is said and done, I will be stronger for it.

Could this have been prevented? Is there a reliable way to check on your mental health status?

Psychosis is pretty hard to hide I think. Basically any doctor should find out that "there's something going on" simply by having a conversation with you. The same is probably true with family (they may notice you're "acting weird/different" or something like that). If your friends are very spiritual they might think this is normal of course, so maybe stick with professionals/family.

I'm not sure about bipolar disorder and similar diseases, but I suspect they're much more difficult to diagnose (but also a lot less scary than psychosis).

I had psychosis several years ago and I was pretty good at hiding it until the point where I became hospitalized. The trick is you have to be acutely aware of whether you are sounding crazy to others, and how you're being perceived. You can think as many crazy thoughts as you want, as long as you don't express them.

I don't know much about psychosis other than what I've told you. I saw a therapist some time ago about anxiety/stress and that kind of thing and I mentioned that I've googled the hell out of it already (bad idea!) and a long list of really scary stuff came up (including psychosis). So I've mentioned that stuff starting the list with psychosis and he laughed and said he would have figured that out by now (and explained that I'd talk differently, etc.) I know that he also works with homeless people/drug addicts, so I assume he met 1 or 2 people who actually suffer from psychosis.

Having said that; if people manage to hide schizophrenia, hiding psychosis is probably also possible. But still, I think psychosis is not the kind of disease you should worry about having without realizing it (unlike e.g., depression or bipolar disorder).


BTW: You mention you were aware that your thoughts would seem crazy to others. Were you also aware that they are crazy (or did they seem perfectly reasonable to you at the time)?

> BTW: You mention you were aware that your thoughts would seem crazy to others. Were you also aware that they are crazy (or did they seem perfectly reasonable to you at the time)?

They always seemed as "reasonable" as they've always been. Ideas like solipsism, being God, free will, etc. And many more stupider and embarrassing ones. They are often philosophical in nature and you can argue them in many directions without reaching firm conclusions, whether you are having psychosis or not.

The difference is that when I started to become manic and have psychosis, they became about 100x more interesting and I had a very strong desire to share them with people, which made a fool out of myself by doing so. When you have psychosis you also misjudge social interactions a lot which makes it even worse.

In the hospital when the psychosis was getting really bad, it's like reality itself begins to break. For example I have very vivid memories of another patient reading my thoughts and then saying them out loud. I'm still not sure what happened there.

At work I was pretty good at keeping it under wraps, though.

Talk to friends about your feelings. Sometimes it can be hard to see how deep you've gone when it's just yourself.

Willoughby Britton has a good talk about treating psychotic breaks caused by meditation:


There's a lot of work happening around early diagnosis and early intervention for first episode of psychosis. We know that early intervention is important across a bunch of measures for psychosis (amount of medication; amount of hospitalisation; ability to stay in work; etc).

Interestingly the author states his symptoms started through a combination of lack of sleep and dating a disturbed individual [1].

Such a diagnosis is possibly offensive, ableist and unscientific, however there are many such anecdotal reports of people with (developing or fully developed) mental illness pairing up.

While there is little evidence of such pairing up being a cause (i.e. some sort of "contagiousness", as explored in [2]), there is some evidence that people suffering from mental illness (including personality disorders) can be attracted to one another [3].

[1] http://www.kennethreitz.org/essays/purging-the-unexpected-ne...

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/is-mental-illness-contagious...

[3] http://www.medicaldaily.com/law-attraction-mental-illness-ma...

I had a roommate who also had very serious mental health issues following a heavy investigation into meditation. I never could piece out if there was any causality - did the issues cause him to seek help from meditation, or did the meditation cause the issues, or was it spurious? In the end it's a lot of brain chemistry.

I appreciate courageous writers like the OP who help take the stigma away from mental illness with their writing.

Doing things that challenge your sense of reality can cause a lot of mental health disturbances, especially when your brain isn't fully matured. So there is a lot of correlation between the two.

This is quite interesting. Recently I was told by a friend about "Kundalini Crisis". Basically Mentally unstable people doing kundalini and intense meditation will lead them to a psychotic episode.

Yea kundalini is known for this. Other forms of yoga and meditation are very safe and healthy

Kudos to the author for this article; it takes real courage to write something like this, and it will undoubtedly help many in similar places.

I'm inclined towards Buddhism and other spiritual weirdness as well, but I recognize (and I hope that this article helps teach others) that this sort of fun wisdom often comes at the expense of groundedness. There is much to be said for being somewhat ungrounded- see every great leader and thinker that was criticized in his or her time for being an out-of-touch idealist, or their era's equivalent invective- but one can also find oneself losing many of the "common sense" reference points that are important for dealing with day-to-day existence. Human minds are messy things, and often generate absurd notions that we all, mostly subconsciously, squash simply because they violate our ideas about who we are and how the world works. Be "open" enough to take in radical new spiritual ideas, and you're also open enough to take in a great deal of fuzz.

This sort of openness doesn't need to take the form of metaphysical "woo" (see, for instance, conspiracy theorists), but the belief that we're animals living in a physical world is a useful one, since it lets us easily declare invalid a large range of potentially harmful beliefs. Perhaps its untrue, but while our human urge to take nothing for granted is noble, it can easily land us in trouble.

The "hacker" crowd is, stereotypically, full of bright individuals who like to take nothing for granted, so I wouldn't be surprised if Reitz's story represents a fairly common narrative. There's an interesting parallel; for spiritual seekers, just like startup founders, its crucial to learn how to balance oversized ambitions with the necessities of mere human existence- and to rein themselves in, or even to give up the chase, when the latter becomes seriously threatened.

Good sleep hygiene definitely contributes to better mental health. Not bi-polar, but struggle with depression. After my last crash a few years ago, I was left curled up on the floor just saying I wanted to die. It took me about a year to recover from that, and during most of that year I usually slept at least 10 hours a night. It was definitely part of my recovery.

These days I'm usually between 7.5 to 8.5 hours. Having had a history of insomnia I try and get on top of any sleeplessness issues pretty quickly. Usually just taking melatonin for a week if I have a couple of nights in a row with difficulty getting to sleep will fix it for me.

Also, if you suspect you might suffer from sleep apnoea then get it checked out. The quality as well as quantity of your sleep is important.

I added a new paragraph to describe the type of hallucinations I was experiencing (since that's such an ambiguous word):

> The first time she left my apartment, I watched as a red/glowing infinitely-detailed sacred geometry adorned my plain white door. These are the types of hallucinations I would see upon occasion, especially after prolonged periods of meditation or excitement. These experiences were interpreted to be of deep spiritual significance. Most hallucinations were non-visual, however, and involved subtle sensations best described in yogic terms as "feeling the flow of pranic energy". The rest could be described as an explosion of mental imagery with remarkable resolution/clarity.

This guy had a similar episode and wrote a book about it:


A very excellent read, thank you for sharing. I've experienced a very similar thing about a year and a half ago, so it's always comforting to read about someone else's experience!

I still remember it vividly now, I took exhausting notes during the process - notes that I thought were full of pure spiritual brilliance - and which turned out to be mostly mad gibberish in the end.

Among other things there were a few days that I spent convinced that I was a character in a video game and I had to make sure that the game was "entertaining" or else the "player" would "switch it off".

Some things were downright Lovecraftian in nature. Reading his stuff now, I'm pretty sure that a lot of his stories were inspired by his own mental trips. ie, one of my favorites: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/hy.aspx

But mostly it was full of that exhilarating rush of being connected to some hidden truth that no one else has access to. I can see why it's hard for people to just walk away from that when those visions feel so meaningful at the time.

Anyway, well done for recovering! I guess a lot of people don't, which is quite a disturbing thought - being stuck in that mental state forever - so that makes us quite lucky.

You're not alone: http://baus.net/im-bipolar

It is interesting that meditation was one of your triggers. Meditation and mindful awareness is something I'm personally spending a lot of time on to reverse the effects of bipolar -- specifically to slow racing thoughts and dislocation from the moment. For me, I feel like it helps. Many things that cause me anxiety I'm able to work out through meditation. For me, one of the hard parts is just letting go.

I am saddened that after reading stories like this one, people remain skeptical of fortifying water with Lithium. A study from the 90s [1] found that rates of violent crime and suicide was much lower in Texas counties with naturally occuring Lithium in their water, as opposed to demographically identical ones with less. Lithium is an element that is implicated in Bipolar Disorder and appears to affect critical brain functions. The public's experience with Flouride makes people deeply skeptical, despite the obvious objective proof [2] that it too contributes to superior quality of life. Fortifying water with Lithium would have an immense effect on the wellbeing of entire cities and cost relatively little. Huge impact potential.

[1]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1699579 [2]: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/tooth-decay-calgary-fl...

> I am saddened that after reading stories like this one, people remain skeptical of fortifying water with Lithium.

You start with that, next thing you know you're crop-dusting Miranda with G-23 (and we all know how that went).

More seriously, lithium has significant side-effects, lithium toxicity can occur both acutely and chronically, and lithium toxicity isn't always much higher than therapeutic doses (especially as it's compounded by sodium depletion). And there's a significant risk of fetal toxicity.

Normalising medical lithium use sounds like a great idea (especially as part of a wider normalisation of treatment of mental distress and illness), but it doesn't sound like the best substance to spike water with.

I spent 20 minutes trying to find this reference and could not find anything convincingly close enough. It is a sci-fi reference or something that happened in our world? The only thing I could find was FireFly related. My concern in this case would be chronic toxicity, which does as you say occur in some cases at lower than pharmaceutical dosage levels. I would only be campaigning for raising Lithium in towns <25% percentile to a level found in towns in the 75% percentile. This would be relatively simple to communicate to people, and you could point to a road down the street from which people's Grandparents grew up and demonstrate that you would simply be replicating amounts found in that town naturally. I think what is more disturbing is the concept that most people have no idea what is in their water, not that we could arbitrage minerals between different towns and try to come to some kind of optimal mineral content. In the study I reference, the spread between "highest" and "lowest" Lithium content is between ~2000x and ~1000x less than is currently used in the pharmaceutical. So if <10% of Lithium patients have any signs of toxicity (real number, around 10%) and 1% have life threatening toxicity, we could (perhaps not perfect math) assume that only 0.001% of people would experience a similar issue in dosages of 1000x less. My thought is that dosages at that level are akin to living in an area with high Lithium naturally, or eating lots of seafood, and that people would at least consider it, if you could reduce the rate of suicide by 50%. I could be wrong though, lots of opposition to this thesis, including here, including among people who no doubt know far more science than I do.

> I spent 20 minutes trying to find this reference and could not find anything convincingly close enough. It is a sci-fi reference or something that happened in our world? The only thing I could find was FireFly related.

It is a scifi/firefly reference. Spoilers ahead for the Serenity movie.

Miranda is a planet on a far far "edge" of the Verse (the "known universe" in Firefly) and considered fictional before the events of Serenity as the Alliance had basically struck it from records (and it was deep in "Reaver space" where people of the Verse don't go without a serious death wish). An Alliance research program was tried there: G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate ("Pax") had been found to reduce aggression, and on Miranda it was tried on a large scale, spread throughout the planet via the air processors system.

The compound pacified 99.9% of the population so much they basically stopped all drive. They stopped working, talking, feeding, moving and ultimately leaving.

The remaining 0.1% blew a gasket and went the exact opposite becoming ultra-violent self-mutilating merciless and fearless animalistic — but not stupid — monsters: the reavers, which have plagued the Verse since.

Disturbingly relevant. It would be too easy to think we could just change the water and solve Bipolar, but the concept that a small percentage of people would rise up against it violently is not hard to imagine either.

The spiritual community believes that fluorinated water is toxic and damaging to the brain, causing calcification to the pineal gland (the third eye, source of DMT, the spirit molecule), suppressing the innate psychic abilities and spiritual advancement of the masses.

Believe it or not, this is a tremendously large portion of the population.

I find it fascinating how many medical "problems" we (Western medicine) have that are perceived differently by other cultures and faiths. I do believe what you say. Presumably Lithium deficiency is something which does not serve ones ability to contribute to our modern economy as much and therefore is seen as being a negative.

The reason is that those other cultures seem to have lots less of these illnesses. For schizophrenia, I can give some explanations. I believe that it's less common around the equator. Some link that to vitamin D levels, which are way too low in Europe and the US, even if you live in Florida. There may be other reasons, but it's worth noting.

Another big problem is stress, caused by competitiveness in the western world. When you have a mental illness, you can't compete, and that alone is another stress factor. (Some people will perform better, but by far the most will not.) In a low stress low competitive environment, if you can't deliver, don't have a high performance job, it's not that bad. You're one of the many, just one with a few quirks. You hear voices, so what. I guess if it's not that strange to hear voices, you don't have to hide it, and stress goes down, resulting in less voices, etc.

I upvoted your post not because I agree with it --- I think lithum in particular is a terrible idea and will reduce human potential --- but because large-scale societal engineering efforts in general are interesting, and we're too reluctant to even entertain the idea of using them due to the concomitant "ick factor" involved.

Thanks. I have read a great deal about human biology and come to understand that there are systems that reliably stop working across such a material percentage of the populationt that something like water fortification of the elements in question could have immense, permanent, positive impact on the residents. And we could likely find a city in the world with concentrations at that level to regress the data and find any lurking downsides. Since Lithium is already in so many water and food sources, and can be clinically significant at dosages of <1000x the pharmaceutical drug, it seemed like a good place to start!

This is such a bad idea.

Lithium has horrible side effects. It's mechanism is to dampen transmission throughout your entire nervous system. We don't know how it works exactly but we think it occupies some of the bandwidth through sodium ion transport channels (Li and Na are similar ions).

Anyway. We don't want an entire population on this.

I think you perceived this in the context of the medication Lithium, of which I am familiar and have close friends who take it, as opposed to the element. My understanding is that in the Texas study, quantities <1000x those used in the medication in the existing natural source of drinking water still demostrate statistically significant improvements in the mental health of the local residents. Lithium the pharmaceutical is about as high a dose as you can reasonably give people where Lithium the element is effective (seemingly) at <1000x that level. The only other water study was done in Japan and replicated the results but only specifically with respect to suicide [1]. I agree that Lithium in large quantities could be profoundly negative for all those exposed, but that there is probably a poorly understood but clinically viable amount that would improve quality of life without risking toxicity. Various parts of the world including Japan and Bolivia are working on further research to find a more conclusive answer. [1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19407280

This story is so raw and real that you'd naturally expect it to be anonymous. Pretty incredible that it is not, and you've just got to respect that. I think this is something many people can relate to, if not in their own lives, at least in others around them. The whole torrid affair sounds like a bit like a never-ending ketamine and LSD fueled-bender. Yikes...

I wonder if a "sudden" interest in eastern religions/philosophy is a precursor to bi-polar diagnoses often. My aunt went through something very similar where she was just my normal aunt, then started going deep into buddhism, then had a bad mental break, wound up in the hospital, and was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Thanks to Kenneth for sharing, and good to hear he's back.

The title seems to be funny because it highlights that mental health mostly isn't about discrete erroneous events, but about the ability for a mind to cope within a world...

I was in love with a bipolar woman. We shared an apartment for a few months, not too long after she had emerged from a manic period.

Her mania came on when she was alone in a new foreign city, used psychedelics, and became close friends with several people who were... firmly distanced from the reality-based community, let's say. She slept little, hallucinated, had strong ideas that all kinds of random events were connected, centered around her own destiny, and all that stuff.

I'm also pretty weird. Like Kenneth, I could attribute much of my erratic productivity to periods of hypomania. Never had any real mania. I'm very interested in semi-esoteric stuff like Buddhist philosophy, Zen Masters, insight meditation, and other things you might guess at.

I had a period when I was trying to read kind of arcane philosophy like Deleuze & Guattari's Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus... I remember being in my dorm room drinking too much coffee, reading that book or David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, or some pirate PDF about Spinoza, or whatever I could find...

The D&G books are subtitled "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" and one thing they do is kind of hijack the term "schizophrenia" and use it to designate something like the subconscious creative processes of the mind that seek to connect things, create these proliferating conceptual networks, build ideas atop ideas, change things, experiment, become different, etc...

I'm reminded of this because I'm thinking of the way hypomania can be a "positive" and "productive" state as long as you can maintain your health and groundedness... it seems related to how I sometimes feel like I need a slight bit of some kind of insanity or delusions of importance in order to have novel ideas.

Like, I'm thinking about a new kind of database, that I imagine is going to be really useful, beautiful, and novel. Sometimes I get what I jokingly call "too much coffee syndrome" and my rather simple idea starts to branch out into some impossibly grand project... like, I don't know, maybe to implement stored procedures, I need to make a new stack-based language with type inference... and content-addressed values... with a new kind of source control system... and a new kind of IDE that will be usable on mobile devices... and so on until I haven't eaten all day...

So in that whole sphere of my life, the idea-generating, novelty-demanding me who wants to reformulate basic parameters, invent totally new things, revolutionize everything, explain to everyone the new better way... etc... that's something I have to manage. My ideas aren't insane, I could explain them patiently, and I realize I don't have time to implement them... but the restlessness of my thoughts can be painful.

So anyway, partly because of this restlessness and tendencies toward some mild mania, I've taken an interest in mind pacification, especially through meditation.

Meditation is attractive because it also comes with connections to all kinds of fascinating theories about the mind, reality, and who knows what, and cultural treasures like Buddhist sutras, Tibetan art, and all kinds of stuff...

Here's a pretty plausible scenario:

1. You feel restless and anxious.

2. You get into meditation.

3. You hear about "Zen" and start studying.

4. You learn that its founder taught the Lankavatara Sutra.

5. You pick up Red Pine's translation from a local hippie store.

6. You sit and read Mahamati's praise to the Buddha:

> Like a flower in the sky / the world neither ceases nor arises / in the light of your wisdom and compassion / it neither is nor isn't

> Transcending mind and consciousness / all things are like illusions / in the light of your wisdom and compassion / they neither are nor aren't

> The world is but a dream / neither permanent nor transient / in the light of your wisdom and compassion / it neither is nor isn't

> There is no self in being or things / no barriers of passion or knowledge / in the light of your wisdom and compassion / it neither is nor isn't

That's fascinating stuff! What does it mean? Clearly it is deeply important, since people say it's the whole basis for Zen, and Zen meditation is obviously deep and profound, since the whole industry of mindfulness tacitly reveres all of Buddhism...

This comment is probably a good demonstration of my mind when it's bordering on "too much coffee." I kind of forgot how I was going to tie all this stuff together, and now I'm really hungry.

In the relationship I mentioned, I took on a role of helping, which worked fairly well. We made sure to get enough sleep, to get out and be kind of healthy, to just ground ourselves in different ways. It was an educational period of my life, because it helped me realize I need to take care of myself, too.

I wonder if I'm going through a bit of a manic state right now. I've just had surgery, had to take a relatively large amount of of oxycontene to deal with the severe pain, I may consider that I can change things in an organization going through turmoil (though I really can't), I'm trying to fix heaps of bugs in an important code base, but sleeping and having weird dreams like believing that Rolf Harris is my relative (bloody disturbing) and waking up feeling disturbed, but in pain.

Whatever it is, it's horrible. I'm sorry the author went through worse than this!

Wait, I've never heard of hallucinations from bipolar disorder and these sounded super heavy duty? Was this something more?

But I am really glad they got help, even responsible enough to get help.

Uncontrolled mania brought on by sustained stress or lack of sleep can most definitely lead to psychotic episodes that include hallucinations. Not fun.

Source: diagnosed in 1987 as a type II.

Well he also said he basically didn't sleep for 10 days. I think that would contribute a lot.

Again I'm confused because I've not heard of bipolar disorder allowing people to go weeks without sleep.

Just a wild guess but this sounds like something more and bipolar was an effect not the cause.

There's different severities of bipolar disorder and manic episodes can worsen to the point of hallucinations and psychosis when left untreated. I've read quite a few books on bipolar and lack of sleep for many days and hallucinations are more common than many people realize. Myself included until I read books on the subject.

Interesting, thanks for the enlightenment.

No problem, if you're interested in reading about this I highly recommend the book An Unquiet Mind. It's a true story about a psychologist who finds out later in life she is bipolar. It's interesting and goes in depth into her manic episodes. I strongly recommend it.

A websearch for [NHS Choices bipolar psychosis] returns this page: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Psychosis/Pages/Introduction.as...

Which also links to this page: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Bipolar-disorder/Pages/Introduc...

Hallucinations from mania are probably caused by sleep deprivation. Even if you're not consciously tired, your mind and body are.

No. Mania by definition includes psychosis (otherwise it's hypomania). Psychosis is roughly defined as "loss of contact with reality", and delusions and hallucinations are the main symptoms. Sleep deprivation can certainly trigger mania though.

Hypomania -> sleep deprivation -> mania -> psychosis

Sleep deprivation can trigger hypomania or mania. The one you get really depends on the person (type 1 or type 2 bipolar disorder).

Scrutinizing deductive and inductive logic can induce manic states too - look at Cantor, Godel, and Boltzmann.

Hi everyone, One of my friends in college was recently diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I don’t personally know any other people with the disorder, but I wanted to learn more about it directly from the people (patients, friends, family, healthcare providers) who have experienced the gaps in treatment/management for the disorder. Hoping some of you out there might be willing to participate in this anonymous questionnaire. Thanks.


Awake for 12+ days? Doesn't that mean he's broken the world record?

I don't know where I stand on his conclusions but I went through a manic/psychotic episode once too and yes, it's really an impacting experience to think "I went literally crazy". So, in my case, before having a psychotic event I had already seen it before because my mother is diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder too(not that this means I knew what was going on, just that I already had seen mental health issues), I was in my later adolescent years smoking lots of cannabis, had experimented LSD and Cocaine, too, besides the drinking. When I was high sometimes I'd had this very weird sensation of my mind going in loops sometimes which now I see as slowly getting more and more detached/unstable.. So I lived like this and I was also into Nietzsche and of course over time I was getting more into exoteric stuff etc and eventually I went crazy, I was never the best sleeper but never did streaks of being waken up like he mentioned, so, not really sleeping is really red alert and I'd say that the first time he was awaken for days he was probably already going down the cliff.

The thing with me that I'd like to express tho, and one that I'm skeptical is some of the conclusions, backfits and categorizations made. After going through that I was diagnosed as bipolar too and was prescribed Zyprexa and Trileptal... So, I took then but then eventually I stopped, I tried to be careful with it my way, like paying extra-atention to my thoughts and being rigorous in logic and rationality, my mother, of course would freak out about this, specially since she lives with it and takes heavy medications that from time to time need adjustments, I also offered to go to a psychologist regularly so my state would be checked. It's been about 9 years and I'm fine, I took this decision maybe out of skepticism that the event meant my brain was 'deffective'("Bipolar Disorder is something I've had for a while, and will have for the rest of my life"), that the event couldn't simply be a result of the drugs and the psychiatrist would dismiss that, and also because I was pretty sure some convulsions I had after the fact were linked to the medicine and the psychiatrist would dismiss that too, even though that could mean a life hazzard for me(I still have scars of convulsing in the middle of the street on my way back from work, gladly I didn't have a car then). So, yeah, I have a little bit of mistrust of pure psychiatry even though my mother lives with it and I have lived through this, and I think of myself as completely normal, I just think the brain isn't such a fragile software that's easily corrupted and then it's just glitched, this stuff evolved over millenia, right? It could be that I'm setting myself for tragedy... But I don't know, at least for the moment I still think the old ways of dealing with mental distress and how people used to think about it apply... e.g.: A person can be made to go crazy if you trap his mind/body, or that someone can make himself go crazy if he isn't able to handle stuff and this doesn't necessarily mean this is a chronic case(although, sure, if it's going out of control or if it won't be contained by other means, medicate it), that would be psychology, reflecting, thinking and also spirituality(maybe not the wacko one tho). I'm still into philosophy, "eastness", understanding religious/spiritual matters etc(definitely not in a mystic/supernatural way nowadays, though), and I still have my drinks and so on... I have a friend who's a psychologist and also takes this view of psyche(which I just checked that means "spirit") over medicine, and we joke that "well, at least you found the meaning of life once and that was it, if you're getting that every other month that's probably an issue"

So anyway, maybe it's irresponsible to talk about this at this stage(e.g.: 6 months after), but I think it should be said, maybe you're fine and the drugs and bad decisions(yeah, DO sleep and if you can't go check yourself) and a fragile/immature mind sent you there. Maybe I'm wrong and I'm a ticking bomb for a manic episode and it's gonna be a hard lesson.. But I do feel like I have a very strong mind now and I really like it. So, yeah, that's my experience :)

I recommend getting a sauna, definitely helps if used before bed-time. I love sleep.

I was serious. Not getting enough sleep is a precursor for many ills. A sauna will definitely help.


What the hell is wrong with you ?

Don't feed the trolls!

Pyschosis is not an accident, and it is not caused by kundalini yoga (although in this case indirectly).

It is my belief that psychosis is the product of spiritual crisis. Humans are, fundamentally, mythological creatures - we have deeply-held beliefs and myths that guide our basic thinking, and we hold onto these firmly. When something challenges these fundamentals (usually some horrible trauma), we slip into spiritual crisis, our root becomes undone, and the mind attempts to reorganize.

During this period, the mythological root comes to the surface, is exposed, and explored and acted out through psychosis. This seems dangerous and alarming if we treat it as hallucination or nonsense, but is actually the mind seeking a healthier organization. A lot of the features of the psyche can be seen in the patterns of psychosis (the ego showing up as seeing yourself as Jesus/Metatron, etc.), which are quite regular if you read different people's experiences.

I don't know Kenneth, but I'll speculate on what happened here. Kenneth took a yoga class, met an amazing woman who took him on a magical journey of yoga, drugs and great sex. Poor robot Kenneth, who had been so sure he was a hard-edged science man, could not deal with this. My god, was there really something to the world of "woo-woo spirituality" that he had so derided? Could it really be a source of happiness and fulfillment?

This upended his belief system. Psychosis proceeded - the mind moved towards this new possibility, then away from it back to the familiar. No; Kenneth likes programming, and hates yoga, all is well.

Perhaps it had actually resolved by the time Kenneth started taking drugs; perhaps he has not resolved anything (I think neuroleptics prolong and interrupt this process, they certainly don't cure you).

This is an unconventional understanding of psychosis, but I believe this to be a better and more likely avenue for resolving crises than the "just shut up and take your pills" approach.

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (the main causes of psychosis) are genetic, not caused by "spiritual crisis". The spiritual stuff is a symptom of psychosis, not a cause. "Heritability for schizophrenia was 64% and for bipolar disorder 59%."


To clarify, I'm obviously not saying all spiritual stuff is psychosis! I'm saying that it's very common for the hallucinations and delusions in a psychotic episode to have a spiritual or religious element, such as believing that you are a messenger from God, or that you're having visions.

You don't know that.

The paper that I cited is just one of dozens if not hundreds of studies on the heritability of the diseases. The evidence is overwhelming. Anecdotally, almost everyone I know with serious mental illness has at least one family member who does too.

The statement that 'Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (the main causes of psychosis) are genetic, not caused by "spiritual crisis"' is not backed by the results of the paper.

Yes it is. That's what heritable means. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability

There are many things you don't know and don't know you don't know, that is complicated to explain. I, for sure, am ignorant of a lot too, but at least I know that estimating heritability on the occurrence of bipolar disorder doesn't prove that these disorders are "caused" (you used this word, while the article doesn't) by genetic factors.

They don't use that word because that's what heritability implies. The fact it has a genetic cause doesn't mean that everyone with those genes will have bipolar disorder.

Of course I don't know everything. I am however more inclined to believe things with a lot of evidence (such as the genetic basis for schizophrenia and bipolar) rather than those without evidence (that it's caused by spiritual crisis).

For 59%. Did you read that?

Read the "common misunderstandings" section in the Wikipedia article.

Given that link, you now both know it. You, however, choose not to believe it.

I do believe in the facts reported by that link (although I don't blame people who don't, scientists in general are not trustworthy). I didn't say that.

> scientists in general are not trustworthy

You don't know that.

"scientists in general are not trustworthy"

That's quite a claim.

Best year of my life. Will not repeat.

Your ideas are very unhelpful, and should be considered as downright harmful as people who deny that depression exists because "I was sad one time, but then I pulled myself up by the bootstraps."

The idea that using medication to handle these things is the "shut up and take your pills" approach and that the "real" way to deal with this is to just leave people in a state of psychosis until they "magically" snap out of it is ridiculous. How long would you prescribe that Kenneth should have been left in this state? What if he stayed in it indefinitely? We just let him ride out the rest of his life like that?

I did not say, nor do I believe, that people should be left untreated to "snap out of it". These are vulnerable distressed people and their crisis can be terrifying and damaging. They need help and support to get through it. However, neuroleptics are NOT the right help, they are basically chemical lobotomies that suppress the brain (you can read about their history for yourself, this is what they are designed to do), and they do not cure psychosis, they merely shut the brain down so it'd symptoms are hidden.

I believe we need new models for how to treat psychosis, and an important first step is realizing that delusional states are revealing. That is all. I am not saying anyone should go off meds and wander the streets.

I find the conclusion of 'this can happen to anyone' to be so delusional, bordering on sad.

A guy believes in a bunch of non-sense, spends a year reading up on it and taking it seriously, dates a quack with whom he screws with his mind by taking dangerous substances and doing 'spiritual practices' and finally goes off the rails...

His conclusion? Coulda happened to anyone! No Kenneth, it usually happens to people who lack self-awareness and believe in healing crystals.

This post mentions nothing of any substances.

And yes, it could happen to anyone. My solipsist philosophical interests were intellectually sound, and far from non-sense. Mania, however, started to slowly but drastically modify my mental model of the world, and a snowball effect occurred.

You're right, there was no direct mention of substances.

Can you with complete honesty say you did not engage in any substance use? The fact that you went with 'post did not mention' as opposed to 'I did not use substances' says it all doesn't it?


"Around the same time, right after having gone to my first Kundalini Yoga class, I ended up meeting (and falling in love with) a mesmerizing crazy chick that guided me off-the-deep-end with this type of thinking: numerology, synchronicity, manifestation, the mayan calendar, tarot, crystals, &c."

Tarot and crystals. Intellectually sound?

Ok then...

I don't mean to be on the offensive but you don't seem to wish to be honest about the entire picture and end up concluding 'coulda been anyone', which's simply not true.

Claims about the nature of losing your grasp of reality to the extent that you have need to have some serious backing. You seem to be engaging in self-rationalization rather than owning up to having made some mistakes and being lucky for regaining your faculties.

This should be a cautionary tale - not a 'hey, cool story bro', I sincerely hope you can see that.

> don't mean to be on the offensive

You might want to try a bit harder.

Mental illness is not the result of dabbling in tarot or crystals. The causalilty probably runs the other way. There's not much correlation between tarot and mental illness.

There are people who are mentally ill through no fault of there own.

There are people out there who at the very least significantly exacerbated their condition via 'shamanic rituals' and 'kundalini practices' and then some.

Kenneth has chosen to remain quiet when asked about his substance use. I rest my case.

Feel free to try to provide any kind of citation for this.


Why are you conflating the culture here with "hipster" culture?

Your not thinking us hipsters is actually not good evidence for us not being hipsters.

As Wikipedia notes: "Members of the subculture typically do not self-identify as hipsters, and the word hipster is often used as a pejorative to describe someone who is pretentious, overly trendy or effete."

Which "people who are ostensibly fitting the hipster stereotype profusely deny [because, the] hipster mythology devalues their tastes and interests and thus they have to socially distinguish themselves from this cultural category"

The most notable hipster subculture among HN readers is Normcore. From wikipedia -- "Normcore wearers are people who do not wish to distinguish themselves from others by their clothing."

"Normcore clothes include everyday items of casual wear such as t-shirts, hoodies, short-sleeved shirts, jeans and chino pants, but not items such as neckties or blouses. These clothes are worn by men and women alike, making normcore a unisex style."

"The characters featured on the television series Seinfeld are frequently cited as exemplifying the aesthetics and ethos of normcore fashion."

That is to say, wearing unfashionable clothes, when you know of more fashionable clothes, and could afford them, is itself a fashion decision in line with hipster-dom's refusal to fit into the mainstream.

"Everything about [hipsters] is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don't care."

"The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream. "

You're a hipster. Sorry homie.

I appreciated the story, but I do think "crazy chick" is a poor choice of words...

I also think it's pretty stupid to insinuate that having an opinion about a phrase that both subtly stigmatizes mental illness and reinforces gendered stereotypes has anything to do with being a "hipster."

Take that stuff to reddit or something, please.

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