Is reality really this malleable?
February 20, 2014 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Depression has lifted with magnesium supplements. I perceive what I would call reality differently on and off the supplements. This is very strange, yet it is pleasant when I take them religiously. What should I make of this?

There is a documented link between magnesium and depression. For the last few months I have been taking a magnesium supplement and it seems to work for me. It has been a very strange experience and I would like to understand it.

1) With the right dose of Mg, I find myself less driven to achieve outcomes yet more engaged in getting there. This makes me able to calm my co-workers down, which is nice - un-medicated I usually become very involved in pushing for outcomes and it pisses everyone off.

2) A co-worker who I'll call Agnes said "Jet, you're weird" and immediately I said "I am flawed, yet beautiful". Un-medicated this would be the last thing I would say. She laughed. This would be radically out of character for me in my un-medicated state. Agnes is who I would like to be in many ways - able to engage with just about anyone and get to the root of things without getting wound up.

3) When I miss a couple doses of the Mg supplement I revert to pre-medicated thinking; while I am there I wonder which experience is 'real'. There is a very odd flexibility in what I used to call reality - when I have the Mg on board "reality" seems quite pleasant; without it I go right back to thinking I have to fight and win all the time instead of (medicated) being with my friends and doing stuff that makes us happy.

4) On the Mg, the world seems less threatening and yet less involving. It's as though I'm sitting and watching the world do what it does, and maybe tweaking things a bit and seeing the effects ripple out of what I do. It makes me more careful but it is not a reticence - it's knowing that things I do have consequences, and therefore being more caring about the ripples.

5) I understand my cat's expressions and movements better when I take the Mg supplements.

So what is this, how can I learn about it? It's strange and pleasant, and it makes me feel as though I'm not so wrapped up in every little thing, yet what I do seems to -work- much better.
posted by jet_silver to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I think that you are confusing experience and reality, which is giving you un-needed metaphysical problems.
posted by thelonius at 9:43 PM on February 20, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I think some books on perception and how we process things would do you some good. I like Thinking Fast and Slow as a place to start. I'd also suggest Seligmann's book Learned Optimism, which is really about how optimists and pessimists see reality and while your experience isn't directly comparable, it has a lot of similarities.

One of the common theories of depression is that it's essentially an interpretation/perception disorder. For example, let's say I made a snarky comment in this post about you. A non-depressed person would probably shrug it off with a "Christ, what an asshole." A depressed person would take it as truth and it might set off a spiral of Ghostride doesn't like me->Just like everyone else hates me->Because I'm really awful->And he's right, isn't he? Of course he is, I'm awful.

What the Magnesium is apparently doing is shifting your "filters" on how you see the world so, for example, when you get called weird, you find a witty retort rather than going "She's right, I am weird, that's why nobody likes me" or "She's right, I am weird, well fuck her anyway."

This is what the cognitive behavioral therapy we often suggests on here actually tries to do, adjust the way you interpret events to not be so negative about yourself.

One of the lies depression tells you--I often say "Think of depression like a tapeworm that lives in your head and speaks to you in your own voice"--is that the depressed you is experiencing true reality and everyone else is just a delusional nitwit that doesn't see the world the way you do, but that is not true. The same events are happening, you are just interpreting them differently and, frankly, in a healthier way.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:47 PM on February 20, 2014 [23 favorites]

Best answer: To clarify my previous comment: my layperson's understanding is that magnesium is not a neurotransmitter, but it interacts with neurotransmitters in your brain.

Imagine looking around a dark room with a flashlight whose battery is almost dead. Now imagine looking around the same room with a flashlight with a fresh battery. The "reality" revealed by the light would look quite different, but the difference is not in the room, it's inside the flashlight.
posted by Orinda at 9:53 PM on February 20, 2014 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I've def read there is a link between Mg deficiency and feeling stressed, fatigued, and trouble sleeping.

In fact, Epsom Salt that you put in the bath is a form of Magnesium. You absorb it through the skin, which is why Epsom Salt Baths are recommended for relaxation!

Like Vit C, you know you've taken too much when you have loose stools after taking it.

Lastly, Magnesium Malate is the most bio-available form of Mg, or so my research tells me.

I wish more people were like you. There are a lot of pharmaceuticals out there that should really only come into play once vitamin deficiencies have been ruled out.

Likewise, regular docs don't always know how to read blood tests or what to look for.


Case in point : My husband was taking a Men's Multi regularly. He works in seafood and was eating oysters. A LOT.

The Men's Multi Vit had 200% the daily dose of Zinc, Oysters are super high in Zinc. Fast Forward a year and he was a grumpy and over-sensitive prick. This was TOTALLY out of character for him.

Blood tests with his regular doc missed it, but a specialist noted his Zinc was too high. Within 4 months of cutting out the supplements and the daily oyster consumption, he was back to normal.

I'm prone to iron deficiency. I take a perscription form when I have bruising (and hopefully before I reach the state of fatigue and anxiety) and I stop taking it when I stop the symptoms. It's just my body chemistry. The first time I was diagnosed anemic via blood test was at 16 years old. Every once in a while it comes back.

Do what's right for you. Get blood tests and learn how to read them via the internet. Find a doctor who isn't totally ignorant and (a) will discuss your results with you, and (b) doesn't just rely on the lab's notation (or like in my husband's case, ignores the lab's notation!)

You're doing fine. Good for you.

I'll be back in a second with a link. Some person just came out with a book titled, "Magnesium Miracle!" and while I did not read it, and take those perspectives with a grain of salt (no "cure" can possibly be anyone's "cure all") you might be keen to skim a summary of the book or find some podcast interviews with the author.
posted by jbenben at 10:07 PM on February 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

The author is Carolyn Dean, the book is here.

It came out in 2006. I have not read it.

Just to add, taking the full dose of Magnesium Malate when I have trouble falling asleep (vs a sleeping agent) puts me to sleep easily without feeling "weird" the next day, or knocked out.

YMMV, obviously.

Also, yes reality is this malleable. Meditation, yoga, and exercise all help you relax and focus, altering reality, making it easier to cope moment to moment, too.
posted by jbenben at 10:14 PM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Perception is incredibly malleable. Close your eyes, and it's different. Plug your ears. Dip underwater for a moment. Have a couple drinks. Look at one of those optical illusions where you stare at a colored shape for awhile and look away and it's burned into your vision in reverse for a moment. Compare being well rested to staying up all night. Compare how you feel when you're starving to when you've just eaten a great meal. If you can do things that bend your perception so that reality and you get along better, rather than worse, I think that's generally for the good.
posted by Sequence at 11:38 PM on February 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's strange and pleasant, and it makes me feel as though I'm not so wrapped up in every little thing, yet what I do seems to -work- much better.

Honestly, that sounds pretty much like the difference between having uncontrolled major depression and...not. I'm not sure there's a deeper significance associated with the magnesium itself.
posted by kagredon at 11:45 PM on February 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Is reality really this malleable?

Magnesium didn't work for me - I needed much stronger stuff to get 'me' back - but yeah, depression screws with your brain in really odd ways. It's not just your perception of the world, it's your emotional state, your actions and reactions to events, how well you sleep, how much you ruminate on things, where your thoughts wander to on their own, creativity, personality, interests, even food likes and dislikes. It's not that reality is malleable as such, but the big collection of cells we think of as us is definitely so.

I am literally quite a different person when I'm medicated vs insufficiently medicated, and I really don't want to go back to the brain state I was when I was untreated, and I was probably not a fun person to be around either.

when I have the Mg on board "reality" seems quite pleasant; without it I go right back to thinking I have to fight and win all the time instead of (medicated) being with my friends and doing stuff that makes us happy.

The brain is a very, very complex soup of neurotransmitter chemicals. Small imbalances can have quite a big impact on how we perceive and feel, and so can the function of the receptors. We don't fully understand many mental illnesses yet (dissecting living human brains being frowned upon), we just know some big chemical levers to pull. The standard approach for depression is tackling serotonin, as it acts on a number of brain receptors. It's overly simplistic to call it the 'happy chemical', but by either stimulating production of it, or slowing down its re-absorption in the brain it does seem to help; it did for me, though it does take a while to take effect. There's a growing interest in cortisol too - the 'stress hormone', with the theory that continuous stress, and thus continuous high cortisol damages the hippocampus - brain damage - that takes time to repair, which the serotonin boosters help with, by giving your brain time, time freer of stress chemicals continuously doing damage. Which them hopefully gives you the space to work out what's causing you that stress, and the mental strength to tackle that.

Another way to do that is CBT or talk therapy that helps you work through the causes of your stress and gives you mental tools to reframe how you think, which then helps you from going too far down the stressful rabbit hole (circular negative thinking) when stressful things happen. For mild depression, it's as or more effective than anti-depressants; for severe chronic depression, a combination of approaches is needed.

Another course of action is tackling diet; we need a lot of trace elements and vitamins to properly produce the neurotransmitters we need. Some, like magnesium, act as receptor guards, and modulate other neurotransmitter action. There's also some evidence that magnesium helps in a number of ways to modulate our stress response (producing cortisol) and its effect once produced.

The best way to get sufficient magnesium, and a bunch of other beneficial things, is to eat enough leafy greens, nuts and beans. If that's not enough, or not doable, then magnesium supplements are tolerated well, and again, there's growing evidence that most of us are mildly magnesium deficient due to diet. If it works, it works, and by the sounds of it, you prefer the 'you' that results when getting enough magnesium, so stick with that!

As jbenben says though, be wary of overdoing it with multi-vitamin supplements. If you end up with too much of some, it can cause other symptoms and affect your health. And with a sufficiently healthy diet, you're largely just producing expensive urine...
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:28 AM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about magnesium, but this is more or less consistent with my experience with depression.

There have been times it has been an issue for me because I actually work very well with the intensity that depression brings to everything. My personal life doesn't fair as well to say the least, but I do feel I've done some of my best work and am even feel smarter and more articulate in the throws of depression. I'm definitely less focused and purposeful when I'm not depressed, but as you've experienced one can be too focused and results driven despite those being considered generally positive traits.

When I was depressed for a long time I would get caught up in this idea of the "authentic self" and "truth" as if those are objective, tangible things. It took me a long time to realize I am a different person when I'm not depressed, but that is no less the authentic me than depressed me and I do perceive the world differently, but that doesn't mean I'm deluding myself with rose colored glasses. I'm definitely more able to tolerate uncertainty and shades of grey than when I'm depressed.

What I'm saying is that the unexpected changes that can happen when the cloud of depression lifts can be confusing and jarring, but try not too overthink it. One day you'll be able to see the big picture and make more sense of it all, but that took me years to get to that point.
posted by whoaali at 4:09 AM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're talking about going from suffering from major depression, to remission. The fact that the fix for you was magnesium instead of Prozac is why I think you're overthinking this, and missing resources. You'd see these kinds of "before and after" issues discussed in just this way if you pick up any of the recent books--especially since the advent of SSRIs--on exactly this topic. I'm not up on the genre, but titles (I haven't read) that come to mind are "Talking to Prozac," "Darkness Visible," the "Noonday Demon," and even a recent TED talk (that I did see a transcript for) by Sherwin Nuland on the before and after (and during) of his ECT treatments after he became profoundly disabled by depression, mid career.

I know what a mindfuck it is when it's a vitamin/mineral, and not a major psychotropic intervention, because I've had the exact same experience on B12 with what I thought was major depression (for an interesting narrative account of another "night and day" experience on B12 right here on the green you can see this). Ways of thinking, and being in and perceiving the world that I thought were an intrinsic, unmalleable part of who I was for the last 20 years (onset of symptoms) were gone/resolved in 10 days. It's been noticible by people I don't even know well. It could not have been more dramatic if it was in fact ECT, and it was not the effect that most get from simple vitamin supplementation.

Way back when, schizophrenia and autism were caused by seductive or "refrigerator" mothers, respectively. Thyroid disorders are still routinely misdiagnosed as primary mood disorder, especially in women, before any advanced bloodwork is even/ever tried. We create such a false dichotomy between the physical/neurological and the psychiatric/existential (partly because the psychiatric is so stigmatized, and so less understood) that we miss this basic sometimes: the brain is an organ which will process differently depending on its level of functioning--and for some of us, you actually are what you eat.
posted by blue suede stockings at 4:39 AM on February 21, 2014 [17 favorites]

Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium - one-quarter cup (a small handful) has about 48% RDA of magnesium. They're also rich in zinc, protein, iron and "good" fats." And they are delicious!

I've been trying to eat pumpkin seeds every day, because I sleep so much better if I am getting enough magnesium. I find that it really is making a difference in my health and mental state. I sleep better, and I'm not getting the jaw clenches from Wellbutrin anymore.

So - if you want to get your magnesium from food, look no further than pumpkin seeds. I go to Sprouts and scoop mine in bulk from the bin. Sprouts' pumpkin seeds are fresh, but I've found that the bins at the "regular" grocery store (Safeway or Raley's) have stale pumpkin seeds. In that case, the packaged kind are fine. Or you can roast them yourself with some sea salt and vegetable oil.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:09 AM on February 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Based on your description, I experience a similar thing, though it is not noticeable for me. From inside my own head, I just wonder why the rest of the world is so unreasonable when I have PMS. I take magnesium, along with a vitamin B complex and another pill 7 days a month for PMS. There is a distinct difference when it comes to with/without the magnesium.

Placebo for me? Maybe. But my dog avoids me and/or walks verrrrry slowly (a calming signal) when I don't take these things.

I don't think it's reality that is changing. I think, as someone mentioned above, it's your perception of your world that is different.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 7:48 AM on February 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I recently read this book about different vitamins & minerals, what they do in the body, how much we need to consume and which foods contain them. It is an excellent resource and I can't recommend it enough.

After reading it and making up a spreadsheet :P I realized I was deficient in magnesium and tweaked my diet to eat more mg-rich foods. Yup I feel better! Like, more relaxed, rested, and less of a bitchy Eyore. I also drank one of those mg-heavy drinks and it was also relaxing to me.

Magnesium is used in energy processing (energy conversion). It is best to eat it throughout the day rather than in one big dose, since your body converts energy all day long.

What to make of it? You're seeing how we are greater artists than we realize, for every day we paint our experience. Our external experience of the world is a direct reflection (projection) of what is going on inside. If we are angry suspicious people, we will see nothing but people willfully trying to thwart our plans. If we feel loving, we will see well-intentioned people, even if their actions are misguided. And so on, and so forth.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:11 AM on February 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

"We see the world as we are, then blame the world" - Tagore

An individual has no objective experience, only subjective. We like to pretend otherwise, as it is somewhat of a disconcerting notion for some.
posted by jcworth at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Magnesium helps me stay awake. When I take it, I don't feel nearly as tired during the day, and it is such a dramatic difference that I am continually surprised.

I haven't noticed any ill or positive effects on my thinking or actions, other than the fact that I do things less sleepily and I don't complain about how exhausted I am.
posted by tckma at 10:57 AM on February 21, 2014

With prozac, the running commentary in my mind gets muted. I literally have the ability to comprehend different choices than I do when the commentary is on full-blast. It makes me a much nicer person and gives me a sense that I am actively choosing my own reactions to things that bother me.

It's not magnesium, but it's similar. I know how you feel.
posted by tacodave at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks.

This has been weird because on consideration I've been depressed since I was twelve - now I am in my mid-fifties. Therefore it is a new experience, and one I am glad to be having. The liberty to play with a sensation that's entirely new, without it getting me to bitch or mourn, is delightful. Being new at this is fun and fine, it's just kicked off curiosity.

For those focussed on the Mg++: I was taking a Ca-Mg-K supplement because of muscle cramping, and only after a time did I realize it made me feel better emotionally as well.

There's reading for weeks in your answers, and my thanks are heartfelt.
posted by jet_silver at 9:15 PM on February 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's pretty amazing how nutrient deficiencies can play a major roll on things we, or at least *I*, never considered or thought were connected.
I'm also a huge fan of magnesium. I sleep much better, I let things roll of my shoulders which would have otherwise bothered me for hours if not days, I'm less anxious, more chill. If you google magnesium deficiency, you'll find a ton of bloggers with similar experiences.
Right now, I'm taking magnesium glycinate, but I might give malate a try.
Glad you found what works for you!
posted by Neekee at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2014

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