Loose current or what?
December 15, 2010 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Hey fellow MeFites! I have a question about nerve activity in the body. I'm 19 years old and I was watching a newer 2003 series The Twilight Zone episode where a guy got struck by lightning and had tons of excess electricity going through his body. The doctors were able to release some of the electricity from his body through some medical device.

This made me think. When I was little I used to have physical tics throughout my body: eyes blinking too much, coughing more than it seems I should (and no sickness behind it), as well as certain other compulsive behaviors (such as when I would get a package, I would check over and over to see if it came). And these behaviors or tics would switch from one thing to another. So they would jump and not be concurrent.

Now things are a bit different, but I notice some things as well. At times I have OCD-like behaviors or thoughts. And even so, the thoughts OR the behaviors never occur concurrently. At one time, I would get obsessive as to getting the correct earbud into the correct ear and checking over and over again. At another time, I would get obsessive over washing my hands. At another time it would be over taking tons of vitamins. At times I have a feeling of tightness in my neck as to which I have a compulsive urge to twist my neck around. So as far as I can see, it seems to travel from one spot to the other. At times especially when under a good amount of stress, I get face twitches around the lower part of my face, especially around the far left or far right sides. Even now on not so often occasions, I get weird hand muscle twitches that go away very shortly, but that feel really weird. And as for the thoughts, they could be related to anything, including fears and circling thoughts about anything that I worry about. What aggravates it the most is stress, but even without stress during the best of times, it still occurs which is what bothers me.

And I'm assuming that this is all connected, which I wouldn't be surprised if it is. Is this all due to some loose spark or something? Can the doctors like put a metal probe in me and get that stray electricity out of me or something like that?
posted by antgly to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Antgly - have you considered you might have a mild form of Tourette's? I believe it is on the OCD spectrum, and the symptoms are much as you describe. You could see a doctor, but I don't think there's a blood test type of verification - it's more like: do you consistently and reproducibly have these symptoms? Are they present on more than one type of expression (that is, do you have both head/hand tics and vocal tics like coughing or throat clearing)? If yes, there's a good chance you have Tourette's.

I have Tourette's, and for me it's not a big thing. I find my ticcing is sharply reduced when I'm in constrained circumstances (with people watching me), but when I'm comfortable, they express a lot more. I have head and hand tics, and sniffing/throat-clearing tics. They feel like a sense of discomfort building up (wherever - head, hands, throat) until I give in and perform the tic, then the feeling goes away. That's why Tourette's ticcing is described as "unvoluntary" - because you might can keep from doing it, but it feels weird until you do.

You probably don't have to take any drugs - most people don't. I don't. But see a doctor if this really bothers you. Here are some things to read that might shed some light one way or the other.

tourette wikipedia

NIH link

USA goalkeeper Tim Howard has it

The New Yorker piece on Howard is probably better but I think it's paywalled. Go to the library and look for the one that came out beginning of world cup this year.

Also see American humor/essayist David Sedaris on his OCD. (Scroll down for the David Sedaris link "A Plague of Tics")
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:27 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


a) The nervous system doesn't work like that at all.

b) Even if you were struck by lighting, the charge would travel through you to the ground and dissipate there.

In short, don't believe everything you see on campy sci-fi shows.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:31 PM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

All of the things you have listed ARE connected and DO add up to OCD-like behavior as you seem to already know. This is not due to a "loose spark" and the doctors cannot put a metal probe in you to get the "stray electricity" out of you. That is not how the nervous system works. The nervous system is incredibly complex. However, there may be suitable drug treatments or behavioral therapy to help you with this issue.

There may be some abnormalities in your neurological transmission but these subtle differences will be unable to be cured by brute electrical force. Work with a therapist and try some medications if these symptoms interfere with your life.

Electroconvulsive therapy is sometimes used (and has a long and controversial history of use in psychiatry) to treat depression. I am not aware of it being used to treat OCD. Electrical current is passed through the brain, causing seizures. This is not what you should be looking for, but it does exist.
posted by bobobox at 8:32 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can the doctors like put a metal probe in me and get that stray electricity out of me or something like that?

Umm, no.

If you apply current to a muscle, you can make it twitch. But your body can't really make that kind of current, except by stimulating your muscle via your nerves.

The fact that you notice your symptoms occurring at times of stress, and in conjunction with other behaviors, means that it's your brain causing the twitchiness. (It's possible for weird irritation around muscles to cause them to be twitchy, but not in any organized way-- not twitching your way to a sink and washing your hands.)

Inside of your brain, you've got a bunch of neurons (nerve cells) and some of them are very long. On one side of each cell you've got the body of it, and on the other side you've got the axon. The body has to let the axon to know to fire, and it does this through a small electrical current. But the electricity stops at the end of the axon, and neurotransmitters take over. Those neurotransmitters, prompted by the electric charge, hook up to other neurons, and then those neurons decide whether to make their axons fire or not-- on and on and on.

So, the complicated answer is, yes, electricity is involved in these impulses, but electricity isn't the only thing involved, and electricity is involved in everything your brain does. If you grounded out a neuron, it'd probably have a small effect on your thoughts or behaviors, because one neuron isn't very many. If you put a little pulsating battery in your brain, it'd have a small effect on your thoughts or behaviors.

Neurons don't just tell other neurons to fire; they also tell other neurons NOT to fire. I'm mentioning that because if you want to think about things in terms of electricity, your behaviors could be caused by either the presence or the absence of electricity.

One day, it may be possible for doctors to stick in grounds and batteries and alter behaviors. The problem is the complexity of the task. Who's to say that the same pathways lead to a certain behavior in you as in another person? Who's to say that those pathways don't change, or that those pathways aren't involved in other, more important behaviors, that you don't want changed? But they're already playing with this stuff. Some people stimulate their nerves electrically in order to relieve chronic pain-- check out the TENS page at wikipedia.
posted by nathan v at 8:39 PM on December 15, 2010

No, the question depends on a simple misunderstanding of physics and biology.

But on that topic of things having to do with brains and electromagnetism, there's a thing called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS, demo). Essentially, it involves selective activation or inhibition of parts of the brain using powerful magnetic fields. It's the cool new toy in cognitive neuroscience labs. Fascinatingly, there's also an open-source project devoted to this technology (but please don't try this at home).
posted by Nomyte at 8:58 PM on December 15, 2010

It sounds to me like you might have something on the OCD / anxiety spectrum. To the extent you have any over-activity in (a part of) your brain, it isn't due to general "electrical" issues. but could be an interaction between neurotransmitter systems and your thought patterns.

If you or those close to you are concerned about these symptoms, you should go and talk with a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.
posted by parudox at 9:22 PM on December 15, 2010

Response by poster: And also when I get tired at the end of the day, I get hyper.
posted by antgly at 9:34 PM on December 15, 2010

IANAD. Stop watching The Twilight Zone before bed.
posted by thejoshu at 10:04 PM on December 15, 2010

A creative idea! Not something you need to worry about, though.
posted by foursentences at 10:17 PM on December 15, 2010

If you're charged, then you'll discharge as soon as you touch something earthed and go 'ow' - static is a buildup of charge on you, which demonstrates that humans are quite good at naturally earthing themselves.

I'd agree with everyone upthread that you should talk to someone about the possibility of OCD, Tourettes or something like that.
posted by Coobeastie at 5:38 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Antgly, this is part of your pattern of assuming and worryism.

You should talk to your counselor or therapist about this. It sounds exactly like OCD, and the Twilight Zone thing is bizarrely irrelevant.
posted by General Tonic at 8:55 AM on December 16, 2010

Response by poster: The Twilight Zone just made me think about it. I know that it is just a show. I've watched whole seasons of the new one and old one. That episode just made me think about electrical charges in general, which made me think about whether I have nerve issues in my body, which could be what toodleydoodley said Tourettes or OCD. I'm just to see if there is a root cause. In other words, if tics and OCD related in any way. And one thing that sets this apart is that my OCD behaviors stop occurring whenever I start having a tic or compulsion and vice versa. And even so, they can shift within the same day many times to different thoughts or behaviors. So it's not constant. I'm sure that if you'd have to treat it, you'd have to treat every little thing. But then by that point, it would go away on its own. And yes, I've stopped drinking coffee and it doesn't change a thing like I thought it would.
posted by antgly at 10:06 AM on December 16, 2010

Response by poster: Not specifically. I've mentioned OCD though to a psych. Medication was offered, but that's it. I never accepted meds.
posted by antgly at 11:14 AM on December 16, 2010

I'm training as a psychologist, and my first thought was potentially Tourette's, too. I'd see a neurologist or a neuropsychologist.
posted by namesarehard at 12:54 PM on December 16, 2010

Response by poster: Is there anything that can be done other than medication? I generally don't trust those kinds of meds.
posted by antgly at 1:35 PM on December 16, 2010

Response by poster: It's out there, you've been pointed to it, and you need to make that connection.

No pun intended.
posted by antgly at 4:03 PM on December 16, 2010

Response by poster: I never said that I believed fiction. I was just trying to say that it led me to wonder about what I go through. It doesn't bother me so seriously; I was just wondering as to a connection between the symptoms I face. And I know that it doesn't work that way (how liketitanic says). The show I mentioned at the beginning is not something I believe to be true at all. It just led me to wonder what it is that is happening when my symptoms jump from one to the other leaving no trace. And I know that the body is way more complex than just a simple neuron circuit, for all you messaging me and claiming I have delusions and believe fictional TV shows. I don't. I watch sci-fi shows just for fun. I know it's all actors in a written storyline. toodleydoodley and parudox have the answer I was looking for.
posted by antgly at 8:36 AM on December 17, 2010

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