ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Brain Overload Should be Avoided

Jack Bragen
Sunday July 01, 2018 - 04:16:00 PM

It seems to me that my brain has various ways of signaling me ("me" in this case means my consciousness) when I am pushing it too hard. In some instances, I might have an inexplicable cough unrelated to either congestion or postnasal drip. In other instances, I might have coordination problems. There are also some other physical cues that my brain gives me, to tell me it has had enough, and it is time to rest. There have been a couple of instances in which I've fallen asleep while in the middle of writing. 

Effort is analogous to a muscle; the more you are accustomed to using effort, the more ability you develop to create more effort. However, too much effort directed at brain-intensive tasks can cause problems. 

People who've succeeded in their careers tend to err on the side of working excessively rather than not hard enough. However, this leaves them vulnerable to stress-related illnesses and injuries. Perhaps it is better to ease up a bit, and preserve the body's nervous system, rather than going full throttle all of the time, and causing repeated overload of the brain. 

An episode of severe mental illness overloads the brain to an extent far beyond mere mental strain. A full-blown psychotic episode, which can occur in some cases due to going off psych medications, overloads the brain to such an extent that we may have an impairment afterward. This impairment may be evident when we are back on medication and stabilized. It can take, not just years, but actually decades, to get back to square one; or we could be looking at some amount of permanent damage. 

A psychotic episode causes an entirely different type of overload compared to staying up until 2 a.m. reading a college textbook. In the case of a psychotic episode, the neurons are firing without any type of control, like a runaway train. The mind loses organization, and it becomes jumbled. It can be very hard to recover from this. The longer such an episode lasts, the worse the long-term damage may be.  

Once back in recovery mode, assuming that happens, the brain is like a sprained ankle. I have no idea if inflammation of the brain tissue occurs, but something analogous to that seems to happen. Then, as soon as things seem healed up, exercising the mind's capacities is usually a good thing. However, you shouldn't do this to extremes. 

Medications to treat psychosis have a tendency to shut down or slow down mental activity. The good news is that exercise of the mind's capacities is still possible, and can counteract the shutting down effect of the medication--in the area of the effort. (The medication will continue to be effective at treating the psychiatric illness, assuming that it was effective beforehand.) 

If you take antipsychotics, it may help your overall mental condition to perform brain-intensive, organized, constructive activities. Doing this, especially among other people who are doing the same, can do a lot for morale. I know that when I've worked or have been in school, this has done a lot to relieve depression that I've had in the past. 

For example, in my twenties, I went into electronics training, and this was about a year after my second psychotic episode. I excelled in the electronics class--among very bright students who did not have disabilities. The training was only four months, and it was intended to prepare students for entry-level electronic positions. The regimen of the class was demanding. Classroom time was six hours a day, and homework was another two hours. Before I took the class, I was depressed and had poor self-esteem. 

When I reached the point of completing the electronics class, my depression was gone, and I felt very good about myself. I even gained a bit of weight, which, at the time, was a good thing. 

Most of the time, academic effort won't hurt you unless taken to ridiculous extremes. However, the brain overload of a psychotic break or manic episode can do neurological harm. It is a great idea to be through with psychotic or other episodes of mental illness when young. When older, the brain isn't as resilient.