Recently in class, we talked about sleep deprivation which is very interesting and familiar to me since I have recently been diagnosed with persistent insomnia. I have never scheduled a class earlier than 9 am, but it is the hardest thing in the world to wake up earlier than 10. Unless I take a sleep aid or prescription, I will lay in bed trying to fall asleep from 11 pm until 6 in the morning, Even if I am able to fall asleep, I cannot stay asleep for more than a few hours. It has a tremendous effect on my life. When someone is sleep deprived, they experience fatigue, impaired concentration, emotional irritability, a depressed immune system, and greater vulnerability. Experiencing all these symptoms makes it extremely hard to function and live a normal life especially with a college lifestyle.
Recently, I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication that will also help me fall asleep, and although my sleep schedule still isn’t perfect, it has gotten a lot better. I still wake up throughout the night, but it is much easier to fall back asleep now. My symptoms started to get better, and the next time I went back to the doctor, she said she could see an amazing change in my physical appearance. It’s amazing how powerful of an affect sleep deprivation can have on a person physically and mentally. From all my experience with the symptoms of sleep deprivation, I thought it was very interesting that someone cannot die from sleep deprivation unless they have something called fatal familial insomnia. A normal person’s body would shut down, and they would eventually fall asleep after getting tired enough, but not someone with FFI. Fatal familial insomnia is extremely rare, and someone with this disease could die within 6 months to a couple of years. I feel lucky to only have insomnia and not something as horrible as this.
For the past six or more years of my life, I have been living with something called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Everyone has a normal reaction to danger called a “flight-or-fight” reaction. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder where people feel fear or stress and have this “fight of flight” reaction even when they are not in danger. Some of the symptoms include haunting memories, nightmares, social withdraw, sleep problems, and jumpy anxiety.
I only started seeing a doctor about it a little more than a year ago. I always had problems with my parents because they never understood my disorder until recently when the doctor explained it to them. I have trouble sleeping every night, and even if I do happen to fall asleep, I’m woken every couple hours by nightmares. My mom always told me I was just being difficult, and if I just relaxed, I could fall asleep. She didn’t understand the emotional and physical toll it has on the body. Some days, I would feel so horrible that I couldn’t get out of bed to go to school in the morning, and she thought I was just faking it so I didn’t have to go to school or because I had a test or homework assignment I wasn’t prepared for. Now that she understands, she tries her best to be accommodating and sympathetic to my condition.
Most people don’t understand the negative effects that an anxiety disorder can have on your life or even consider it a disorder. My doctor told me although it is not a physical illness, it can have the same physical effects on the body as diabetes and could even lead to death. Sometimes, even just a song that reminds me of my traumatic event can set off one of my episodes or bring back vivid flashbacks. Recently, I have been put on some new medications and have been going to therapy, and it is finally starting to get better.
For most of my childhood, I was one of the few lucky people to still have my great grandma around. She lived in Buffalo, New York, and we would visit her two or three times a year for about four days. In my earliest memories of her, she was in a wheel chair and would occasionally use her walker to get around, and she could carry out a conversation and tell us stories of her childhood memories. Before she died, she couldn’t even remember who I was or hold memory of a conversation for more than 60 seconds. I cannot even remember when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but I remember coming back to visit her every year and seeing a noticeable difference in her memory and the amount of time it took her to forget something. In a time period of five minutes, she would ask me how the weather was at least 3 times. If I went out to the car to get something, she would greet me as if she had not seen me in years and had no recollection of me being there at all. It got to the point where she could not even remember my father’s name or her own age. She also got to the point where she could not get out of the wheelchair, and she would forget she couldn’t walk and fall over trying to get up.
One thing I found very interesting was that she could still recollect memories of when she use to have a farm, but she could not remember that she no longer had one. She would always ask me to go outside with her to see the cows, and we would have to convince her to stay inside so she wouldn’t get upset to see that they weren’t there. It wasn’t too hard to convince her because by the time you would be done telling her the weather is too bad to go outside, she would have completely forgotten about wanting to go. I didn’t get how she could remember something so long ago, but couldn’t even remember a conversation 60 seconds earlier. It all made sense after we discussed retrograde amnesia in class. When Alzheimer’s patient experience retrograde amnesia, they can remember events that happened to them before having the disease, but cannot make any new memories or remember things after getting the disease. The problem is the brain cannot encode new memories, and if we cannot encode them, we cannot remember them.
As her disease progressed, her retrograde amnesia became worse, and it was not possible for her to live on her own. My aunt had to take care of her and watch her at all times. Some days she would be better than others, but it was very sad to witness her mind slowly deteriorating. Although it is sad to see this happen to someone, it is very interesting to see how the brain works and the tremendous effect diseases like Alzheimer’s has on the mind and the body.
Psychology has always been a subject that sparked my interest and actually made me excited to learn about something. In high school, I was particularly interested in one debate: nature vs nurture. Nature versus nurture is the debate of whether our behavioral traits and attributes are influenced by our genetics or by our environments and relationships. It was a topic that always came up in class, and once I started to think about it, I started seeing it in everyday life.
My brother and I have always been complete opposites. He has always been very sensitive, dependent on others, and straight-edge. He rarely ever gets in trouble with my parents and would never do anything to intentionally disobey them. On the other hand, I have always been very tough, stubborn, and self-sufficient. I was always in trouble with my parents, never took ‘no’ for an answer, and was very rebellious. My brother and I obviously share the same genetics, but we were not exposed to the same environments.
Up until my junior year in high school, I had attended Catholic school all my life. I spent 11 years at Notre Dame elementary school, and the school and classes were very small. I spent 11 years of my life with the same 50 or 60 people, generally the same race with the same values. Even when I got to high school, I saw most of the same people, and the size of the school was not much bigger. My brother, on the other hand, spent most of his education in public school experiencing all types of people with various values and beliefs. We also had very different groups of friends. He had a lot of friends who were generally the same as my brother behavior wise. I had a few close friends with rebellious personalities like mine, and I spent much of my time away from home while my brother spent most of his time at home. This is most likely why I am more independent while he is very dependent on my parents and others. We were definitely influenced by our environments.
Although environment does have an influence on behavior, so does genetics. Sometimes it’s scary how alike my dad and brother are. They have the same behaviors and mannerisms, and they even think alike. They definitely were not raised the same way with the same values. My dad’s parents were not very involved in my dad’s life at all, but my parents are involved in basically every aspect of my brother’s life. My dad also grew up an atheist while my mom and grandmother took my brother to Church and put him in religious education classes outside of school. This shows that genetics also has a noticeable impact on a person’s behaviors.
It is not just nature that makes us behave as we do, it is also not just nurture; it is both. There are so many factors that influence the way a person behaves that we cannot just look to one for the answer.