Thursday, January 19, 2006

Out Of The Past

"One need not a chamber to be haunted; one need not a house; the brain has corridors surpassing the material place."

-Emily Dickinson

I read an interesting article last week, about research that is currently being done on a new drug that may have the capability to ease the bad memories we store after we experience a traumatic event. Even in such extreme cases such as rape, other types of violent attacks and, maybe even after surviving a natural disaster. The pill, Propranolol, would be given to the sufferer in the weeks following the traumatic event to help block the naturally released hormones that help store the memories in the brain. During times of stress, the body produces adrenaline and other, "fight or flight" hormones which over time can produce panic attacks, and post traumatic stress disorder. Propranolol is from a class of drugs called beta blockers.In initial testing the new drug shows some promise in easing the traumatic experiences, according to a Canadian and Harvard research report. It is hoped that one day a cure may be found for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I personally, have suffered from panic attacks in the past, but I was able to successfully gain control of them after attending a 13 week stress management group therapy program that was offered by my HMO, Kiaser Permanente. The group was called, "MAP" (Managing Anxiety and Panic). One of the elements of the therapy was to learn to recognize the "triggers" of our panic and anxiety. With panic attacks, this can be difficult, because often, one is not aware of what the trigger might be. Sometimes a scent, a sound, a sight which may not register as an obvious trigger, may in fact have a stored memory attached with it of something traumatic. So, we students had to play detective, and find out what symptoms of the panic feelings bothered us the most, and in that more then likely lived our trigger. For me the sudden onset of a pounding heart and the almost out-of-body, surreal feeling was most troublesome. Even today however, I am not sure if it was one event stored which brought about the type of PTSD I was eventually diagnosed with, or if it had been a series of events.

When I think about what could have been the triggers, I think it would be a good thing to have a medication that could ease those memories. I don't tend to dwell on the painful times in life, if I can help it, but sometimes I wonder if I didn't make myself ill because I didn't face the hurtful memories head on before now. If there had been a magic pill offered to me when I was in deep excruciating pain, I would have more then likely taken it...who wouldn't welcome the relief? But the thing I am wondering about now is, could it be a bad thing to forget the initial psychological pain associated with, as an example, assault? Would it make one a less reliable witness if the psychological pain could be eased? Would it make someone less likely to report a crime? Or press charges? How could this drug be manipulated? Could someone request the medication to forget long term abuse, because the patient wants to remember why the care about their abuser?

Ok, I know, my questions are kind of in the abstract, but I do wonder about most psychological medications. I have gained greatly by them personally, and at the same time I have seen them mask some larger illnesses in my family. Like with everything, it is an individual choice and they must be monitored closely by the right physician or therapist. I am not sure today, as I sit here, that I would want to take a medication to lessen the degree of stress should an incident happen again like ones that have happened in my past. I think for me, at this point, I am personally better off facing the trauma as it occurs rather then suppressing it. How about you? Would you want to try this medication if you were in the position to need it, such as surviving a natural disaster? Tell me your thoughts.

Trauma Pill Could Make Memories Less Painful

January 18th, 2006
Berkeley, California


Karen Funk Blocher said...

When I saw that headline, my gut reaction was, "What a bad idea!" I don't think interfering with memory formation is the answer. That seems kind of monstrous to me, as though something is being stolen from the patient, something potntially valuable. There should be a way to ease the pain, the panic, the stress - and keep the memory.


Phinney said...

Carly, I read about this too. My initial thought was 'No way' and remains so. I think every experience is part of who we are and who we are to become, no matter the circumstances. Messing with memories just gives me a bad feeling. Like a medically induced amnesia of sorts? I don't know if the drug would take someone that far, but I sure would not be willing to risk it. Kind of like what Karen said, easing panic and anxiety, and yes, pain (well, physical pain or mental anguish, Karen?) is okay, but further than that, I wouldn't go there. Some things hit me where it counts, and this is one of them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love ya, Phin

DesLily said...

I don't think I'd want to take those meds.. but.. a thought popped into my mind as i read your entry.. that is: maybe it would be of help to our soldiers who return from war having had to kill other human beings?

But as always when anyone gets their hands on something that is intended for "good".. someone else always finds a way to use it for "bad"..

Anonymous said...

You're questions are absolutely NOT "abstract"--they are detrimental to keeping scientific research ethical.

Though these researchers probably mean well, I see this as a bad idea--and I do not say this casually. I was agoraphobic as a teen and was plagued with panic attacks through adulthood. I attempted suicide twice. I had to go through all the training and recognition you did (though never did it in a class like you describe). I eventually learned that some of my anxiety attacks were triggered by crashing blood sugar--I'm hypoglycemic. Learning to control my diet helped control the onset of attacks. Healthy breathing exercises help a lot--tai chi is great.

Your questions are central--would we avoid potentially dangerous situations if we did not fear them? I don't know. I have a cousin who is quadroplegic. He once gave himself third degree burns in his lap after taking a hot bowl of food from the microwave and balancing the bowl there. The burns weren't found til his caregiver undressed him that night--and they went immediately to the ER. Seems like a similar situation somehow...because he had no feeling, he didn't know he was hurt--and couldn't treat the actual injury.

Good stuff here--great musings.


Anonymous said...

...and isn't this concept eerily similar to the plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind???



DesLily said...

Hi again.. just wanted to say thanks for coming by my journal.. the dress was light yellow, and that man is my X husband .. but my brother made the dress.

Dave said...

My concern with psychotropic medications is that they tend to cover the symptoms so well that those taking them never actually attack the core of the problem. Medications are great for initial relief, but long term psychotherapeutic strategies, such as the class you took and techniques you learned, are typically the true answers to the issues (there are obvious exceptions of couse, like major psychotic disorders).

We live in a society that tends to want that magic fix...a pill to cure anything without any work on our part. I will say, however, that I have seen firsthand the havoc that a good case of PTSD will wreak on one's life. Something to dampen those symptoms would be advantageous. I think, as with any medication, my opinion would be that it's great, as long as it's not used outside of its limitations.

V said...

Carly, that was a beautiful description of the behavioral approach to PTSD.

......"One need not a chamber to be haunted; one need not a house; the brain has corridors surpassing the material place."

-Emily Dickinson......