May 17, 2015
If you believe in Darwin, then, you should understand that our parts are not different from theirs.
After all, flesh is flesh, spark is spark, and thought is thought.
It should become readily apparent that Evolutionarily, meat pieces have been selected by survival, and mathematically cobbled to bone, in order to make homo sapiens.
There is a butcher’s menu of biologic history inside each one of us, representing our parent species’ fight to survive.
We are fortunate, as humans, that there is a master in our brain to command these ancient and primitive animals in us. This leader, of time’s genetic menagerie, is a very important slice of cortex named PREFRONTAL.
Think of this decisive portion as being Generally ahead of the curve, and the Captain of your ship.
And, for most of us, things row merrily along, as we drift, swimmingly, down the stream of time, in our Noah’s arc of sparking neurons. As long as the whisperers stay healthy at the helm, our destination stays in scope.
But, we must always be wary, that the beasts below do not become too wild.
Oh, I should mention that I’m sorry I left you alone, at the haunted house, for a few days.
Turns out we are okay for now. The next stop, of course, is to learn about how the zoo of our brain develops, and what goes amiss in psychosis and Schizophrenia.
Land Ho! Let’s go a bit back in time.
You are 19, almost a teenager, at the zoo. And your parents have left you alone to wander past the evolutionary cages, housed in cells, in separate divisions in your brain.
These living fossils, behind the fence of unconsciousness, are saddled with the survival plans that have lead to our species. DNA puppet pets direct protein growth in different ways, developing systems in the brain that exchange electricity and chemicals for thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
And we stay grounded in reality by maintaining our distance from the bars of these prisons, buffered by the security of organized consciousness.
Yet, we all have times, when we are momentarily overtaken by animal instincts, such as fight or flight responses.
For those with Schizophrenia, there are times when the physical barriers that hold the sense of self itself break down, and the animals charge forth.
We are just the newest page, in the epigenome of earth’s survival catalogue. We have acquired traits from past species, which are also represented in the animal kingdom around us.
It starts with our snouts rooting for milk, and applying octopus suction when we find the tap. Our eyes track threats like a deer looking for predators, or like a wolf searching for prey.
The cobra recoil of our arm from the pain of a burn, or when our hand is caught in the cookie jar. The loyalty we feel, like a joey in the palm of the pouch, to both nurturing and parasitic relationships.
We have all been the sneaky rodent of snoopy surveillance, or tried to steal a secret. And we have all charged like elephants, hoping our opponent would back down.
But, even though we borrow their memories to help us live our lives, deep down we somehow know, it might be dangerous to ever become trapped, in one of these cages.
Or, perhaps worse yet, for the animals inside of us to ever escape.
For, if that were to happen, we risk the primordial urges completely overtaking us.
For the person who goes on to develop Schizophrenia, a few of these ancient messengers carry the DNA seed for a human’s mutation. Schizophrenia starts from the time of conception and peaks after puberty.
It is hard to imagine, with so many possibilities, that Tim may have been doomed since Li’s womb.
Yet, we now know that aberrant genes, at the start of life, distort the very roots of your brain, and many branches can be affected.
In Schizophrenia, these software errors become primarily twisted DOPAMINE pathways. And during construction, contractors failed to communicate, and many neural roads don’t connect.
Others, fashioned bodies in shoddy cages, with membranes that began to crumble, soon after puberty.
And at age 19, walking through this zoo inside, within the jungle outside, it must seem surreal to experience the start of the breakdown. To witness this accumulation of developmental abnormalities, that starts to unravel so soon after puberty.
Like some sort of evolutionary virus, triggering a fever throughout the continent of your brain, leading to a chaotic circus of sensations and thoughts in your mind.
The average age of onset in Schizophrenia is 18-23 for males and 24-29 for females.
It is at this productive time in a person’s life when the pruning of neurons runs amok, and cells die. The animals start to stampede and overrun the brain’s faculties, while the prefrontal cortex tries to hide.
Eventually, the beasts notice, and the animal tamer feels fear, when new rulers of the swamp stop listening.
Invisible bats circle, and objects around you screech their sonar demands.
The sinister pitter-patter of rat’s feet on your limbs is unsettling, but you can’t brush away formication.
You see the eyes of the jungle cats, red snipers lasers, following you. Those are the hallucinations.
Panic flocks to you, as a black murder of shadow buzzards gathers. And then you become paranoid.
The sloths and hippos lean on you, with more weight than you handle. You can feel the flattening negative symptoms.
The spiders crawl so close, you see too many realities in their kaleidoscope eyes, and then you are disorganized.
All the while cells burst and chemicals escape, while spaghetti snakes of long nerves shed their skins out of season.
And there are your own immune Guerillas in their midst, coordinating attacks: Jihad sermons to splintering cells.
During all of this, a young person tries to live their life, hopeful that their dreams will be fulfilled like everyone else. But such is not the case, for many who go on to develop Schizophrenia.
And just imagine, if this process of brain abnormalities went on for many years, untreated.
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. He was not referring to coffee that tastes like an Italian person.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at