The Man Who Fell Out of the Bed

Video credits: Nathan Brown

Would you believe me if I told you there was once a case of a young man who was admitted to a hospital for some tests and at night suddenly fell out of his bed?

Of course you would.

What if, this time, I told you the young man refused to go back to his bed and told the doctor that he had a feeling of a “lazy left leg and also the leg wasn’t his but someone else’s?

Probably it would be hard for you to believe me this time. If not hard at least you’re confused.

The case is real and talked about by Dr Oliver Sacks in his famous book “The Man Who Mistook his wife for a Hat”. Dr Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and an author. He had spent almost 50 years working as a neurologist and wrote many books including The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, Awakenings and Hallucinations among many others. The New York Times referred to him as ‘the poet laureate of medicine’. He was well known for his series of non-fictional books on interesting cases in psychiatry and neurology.

The Case

As mentioned before, this interesting case is of a young man who came to a hospital for some tests. While asleep at night, he woke up all of a sudden. He had expressions of anger, alarm, bewilderment and amusement. Dr Sacks was still a medical student at that time and he was called in immediately. The patient complained that his left leg felt lazy and it wasn’t his leg at all. It belonged to someone else. He complained of his own leg as ‘a severed leg, a horrible thing!’ After some time he realized what had actually happened and said: it was all a joke!! He further said that it was a New Year’s Eve and half the staff was drunk. He was confident about one of the nurses stealing a leg and slipping it under his bedclothes while he was fast asleep. He got so angry that he started seizing it with both hands. He tried to tear it off his body but failed every time. He kept denying that it was his leg and when asked where would be his own leg be then, he said, “I don’t know. I have no idea. It’s disappeared. It’s gone. It’s nowhere to be found…”

What actually happened?

Recent research especially in neurology has a diagnosis of the case. It’s called “parietal ataxic hemiparesis”. It is believed this happens when there is damage to the right parietal lobe in the brain. The parietal lobes are located behind the frontal lobes and above the temporal lobes and are responsible for processing the sensory information, understanding spatial orientation and body awareness.

Parietal ataxic hemiparesis is considered to be a very rare condition. In some cases it has been seen that anti-epileptic drugs are effective in remedying the symptoms. Rehabilitation has also proven to be helpful in alleviating the symptoms where a combination of physical and mental exercises are used. 

Human brain is very complex. It is full of mysteries. There is a lot that gets governed by our brains that we don’t even know about. But after reading about such interesting cases I realize how far we have come with our understanding on human brain.

Humans inclination towards ‘novelty’

Picture credits: thesecretstories.com

There is a very popular saying that, most probably, we are all aware of. It is” Old is Gold.” I couldn’t agree more with these words. There is some beauty in what is antique and old. But as it turns out that we, as humans, don’t necessarily follow it. Actually, our brains don’t let us.

Does it ever happens with you that you have a phone that is capable of doing every work of yours yet you still crave for that new one whose advertisement you just saw? Or does it happens with you that you are reading a book and are bored of it too soon that you are already thinking of picking up a new one? Do you also keep checking your emails every 5 or 10 minutes even though you know there won’t be another email for the next half an hour or so? Human beings have always been attracted towards ‘what is new’ or ‘novel’. New things make us feel so good that we are always seeking them.

Now the question comes why does it happen? What’s the story behind it?

Novelty and The Human Brain

It is not entirely right blaming people when it comes to their tendency of checking phones quite frequently or buying new gadgets from time to time. Somewhere our brains are at fault. Human brain works in such a way that it ignores what is old and focuses the attention towards what’s new. From the evolutionary point of view it is quite plausible because our ancestors needed to pay more attention towards the ‘new dangers’ to survive and not towards what is already known or familiar.

Research especially in the field of neuroscience has shown that whenever we are exposed to new things (new hair color, new people, new shoes, new watch, new house, etc.) or novelty our meso-limbic dopamine system gets activated. When the dopamine system is activated a neurotransmitter called dopamine gets send across different brain regions. This gives us pleasure but at the same time our brain starts telling us to seek more of novelty. This is the reason why new stuff makes us feel good for the time being. This is the reason why a notification on social media makes us feel good. This is the reason why we are always refreshing our emails. Every new thing causes dopamine to get released and that pleasure is what we are after.

Novelty and learning

While it is true that our tendency to seek novelty make us lives a little disruptive, it is not wrong to acknowledge that, nevertheless, novelty has many benefits especially in learning. Earlier it was believed that dopamine is merely a ‘reward chemical’ or ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. However, recent studies have shown that it is also related to our motivation to seek rewards. These result in brain reacting to novelty by releasing dopamine which further motivates us to explore more of that stuff.

Due to the influence of novelty, plasticity of the hippocampus (which is primarily associated with memory) gets increased while the brain is involved in exploring new things or stimuli in the environment. This causes new neural pathways to get formed, thereby increasing the chances of learning new concepts and ideas. Novelty has also been shown to improve our memory. That is why it is always a good idea to change our environment from time to time while we are working or studying. Working or studying at the same place all the time impedes our progress and by changing the location we improve our performance as brain responds differently (and in a good way in this case) in new settings.

Managing the inclination towards novelty

When novelty isn’t for our benefit it becomes very important that we take control of ourselves and our actions. Whenever we are distracted by new stuff like media notifications, devices and many other things we should be mindful of their usage. We should put a hold for some time and let those cravings and urges pass away. It is quite understandable that it is not easy in any way but with constant practice we can surely get better.

Writing Gratitude Diary for 30 days as a challenge

Picture credits: Bustle

Gratitude and well-being

‘Gratitude’ has become a very common word these days. I see everybody writing or talking about it. In a way it makes me feel good because gratitude has many benefits and seeing people taking it seriously gives me a relief that they will be all right. However, it becomes bothersome when people merely talk about it but never act upon it. Probably it is because they don’t understand it well enough– they think they do but actually they don’t. I just hope I am wrong.

I can speak for myself when it comes to not fully understanding what gratitude is all about. Thankfully life found numerous ways to make me wise. Martin Seligman, a leading psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania is a pioneer in the field of positive psychology. Before the emergence of positive psychology, psychology was all about mental illnesses, flaws and shortcomings in people’s personalities. And Professor Seligman changed it. He wanted to promote the idea that we all have strengths within us and to live a happy, satisfied life filled with meaning it is very important that we focus on our strengths and not just weaknesses.

There are many studies on gratitude & well-being. One of the interesting ones is when researchers asked respondents or participants to do one of the three exercises. One group of participants was asked to write down 5 things they were grateful for each week for around 10 weeks. The other group was asked to write things that were negative and they weren’t grateful for (for 10 weeks). The last of the three groups was made to write about neutral events (neither positive nor negative) taking place in their lives for 10 weeks. It was found at the end of 10 weeks that people who took out some time to write gratitude diary continuously recorded being 25% happier than the ones who didn’t.

Sounds interesting, right? Well, it would be better if you also take out some time every day to just reflect upon the things that made you happy and write them down.

Gratitude diary and me

My experience with writing a gratitude diary consecutively for 30 days was a different experience altogether.

  1. Honestly, I dreaded writing gratitude diary. But my commitment surpassed it.

The challenge I undertook to write 3 things I was grateful for during my day wasn’t easy. It was because I didn’t feel writing it at all. Sometimes I was feeling very sleepy that I just wanted to sleep on it. Sometimes my hands couldn’t manage to write properly and I just wanted to write a single word and get done with it. I literally dreaded it. In spite of all the laziness I did it. And I am glad that I did because I was committed to it. When I decided to undertake the challenge I was very much sure that I would not be able to it. But I proved myself wrong. My unwillingness to write few good words that made my day felt short in front of my commitment to stay stick to a 30 day challenge.

2. I was seeking pearls within an ocean of sorrows, sadness and disappointments.

There were days when I was sitting on my chair thinking very hard about 3 good things that I was grateful for. All I could think of was negative chain of events, boredom, frustration, helplessness, etc. Such moments made me realize that happiness isn’t always readily available. Many times we have to take some extra efforts to find or create it. Our days get so bad that all we think of is negativity. And that is okay. But not always. A single cup of coffee or tea with your loved ones or even all by yourself is enough to bring a smile on your face. Like I said, you can find pearls deep within an ocean of sorrows, sadness and disappointments; if you try hard enough.

Even though writing gratitude diary some days didn’t feel very appealing and I felt very lazy, I know very well (through empirical studies as mentioned above) that it is very crucial. I am not saying that by writing down 3 or 5 things that made you happy before going to bed is going to make you the happiest person on this earth. Trust me, that’s not what I am suggesting. There is no causation but co-relation. What I am saying is that human brain responds to gratitude and by practicing it regularly we can teach ourselves to be more optimistic and thus at least a little bit happier than before.