2 Hell and Back

A look at quinism, living with brain damage, PTSD, and depression through the lens of Shaun Arntsen.

Shaun has an amazing brain. It’s damaged, but amazing nevertheless.

As both artist and subject, Shaun is a brilliant talent. He is able to express and capture raw emotion in a way few artists can.

Shaun’s brain stem and vestibular system were permanently damaged by mefloquine hydrochloride, or mefloquine. Like untold thousands of others, Shaun suffers from a number of symptoms that at their very best are a persistent annoyance, and at their very worst have driven many to take their own lives.

Emerging through the storm in Shaun’s brain, his talent shines through in the pictures and words he shares with the world. He will never be defined by the brain injury, that 17 years ago forever stole away the man that he was.

Shaun also suffers from PTSD. The symptoms of mefloquine toxicity can mimic those of PTSD, and so it is often misdiagnosed.

Like a lot of infantry soldiers though, he has also experienced the realities that come with his chosen profession. Warfare isn’t pretty. There are moments when a lot of soldiers will have to see things that no human being was ever meant to see.

When you’re going through hell, keep going.

Winston Churchill

In one sense, Shaun truly has walked through hell, witnessing the horrors that can come with war.

He was only feet away when four of his friends were killed when they were bombed by a U.S. plane. He had to walk past the remains of someone with whom he had been playing a game of crib moments earlier.

In yet another sense, he is still traversing through hell, this one created in his brain by a neurotoxic drug. Some days it is a leisurely stroll, while other days are an unending marathon.

There are things that we all take for granted, such as the ability to walk into a grocery store. For someone with quinism, like Shaun, there is something about being in a grocery store that creates a great deal of stress for them. One theory is that it is due to the damage mefloquine can cause to one’s vestibular system.

The vestibular system is a sensory system that is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation; it also is involved with motor functions that allow us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, and maintain posture. Thus, the vestibular system is essential for normal movement and equilibrium.

The vestibular system is comprised of several structures and tracts, but the main components of the system are found in the inner ear in a system of interconnected compartments called the vestibular labyrinth. The vestibular labyrinth is made up of the semicircular canals and the otolith organs (all discussed below), and contains receptors for vestibular sensations. These receptors send vestibular information via the vestibulocochlear nerve to the cerebellum and to nuclei in the brainstem called the vestibular nuclei. The vestibular nuclei then pass the information on to a variety of targets, ranging from the muscles of the eye to the cerebral cortex.


It has been found that mefloquine causes damage to the brainstem, which is where the vestibular nuclei are located. Because of this damage, signals from the inner ear are unable to reach the brain to be processed. As a result, dizziness and vertigo are a regular and miserable part of life for those with quinism.

Depression, anxiety, seizures, and a host of other symptoms have plagued Shaun Arntsen for years, at times bringing him to the precupice. But he has been able to hold on, take a step back, and keep on moving through hell.

Click on the link below to start following Shaun on Instagram.


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