Neuroplasticity: the good and the bad

neuroplasticity I’ve written on here before about neuroplasticity, and since it is kind of a massive deal in the world of neurology, mental health, etc., doubtlessly most of you have heard about it by now. Basically, everything we thought for a long time about the brain’s development – i.e., that you reach a certain level of cognitive development and then it’s set for life (or worse, inevitably eroding little by little) – is total bull. Neuroplasticity posits that as long as you’re alive, your brain is growing and changing. It’s like a forest, with neural pathways become clearer and more familiar every time they are used, or fainter and less reliable as they are left untaken.

As my therapist pointed out in my final session with her a couple months ago, I’ve actually physically altered my brain by actively fighting BPD through therapy, medication and DBT. She showed me some MRI scans she had of BPD brains versus “normal” brains. The differences were astounding. For the non-BPD brains, light/activity covered most of the brain, with information travelling smoothly from left to right and back again: constant communication. In the brains with BPD, whole sections were dark, void of any activity. This tied into what we had discussed regarding “part work” – wherein parts of the brain (such as painful memories or beliefs) are closed off from other parts (such as the adult brain which regulates emotions), thus leading to massive mental health issues as you literally fight with yourself for control. Accessing suppressed parts of ourselves isn’t just some airy-fairy imaginative exercise: it correlates to the physical and observable disassociation between the parts in your head. So yeah, pretty important stuff.

Anyway, suffice it to say, I was feeling pretty proud of myself as I wrapped up therapy – like that feeling you get when you’ve been working out consistently and you can actually start to see little muscles peeking through the chub (“mmmhm, check out THIS well-developed amygdala, everyone”). I’d physically changed my thinking! But as the months have gone by, I’ve noticed another way that neuroplasticity has affected me.

Despite my clear awareness of how much computer time/technology affects my mental health, I’m still just not able to put my money where my mouth is and DITCH THIS SHIT. I spend hours – I shudder to think just how many hours – staring into a computer screen and accomplishing NOTHING. I’ll open a word document to work/edit or write, and suddenly find myself on instagram or Facebook 45 minutes later, bewildered as to how much time has just passed. Or a poorly written piece of click bait catches my eye and I waste 4 minutes skimming it… and then another 4 minutes skimming the comments on it… and then another 4 minutes skimming the next article that it links to… and so on and so on. Far too many times a week, I’ll find myself heading to bed wondering where the hell the evening between work and sleep went: I literally just sat there on a couch for THAT long?!?!

It’s a disturbing trend that is affecting virtually everyone who uses the Internet, and the implications of it really only started to scare me after reading this awesome article (which won a Pulitzer btw, and is infinitely more compelling than this post itself so please read it instead if you’re strapped for time!). Is my computer usage actually making me “stupider”?

There’s no doubt that everything this author said hit home. Over the last few years – and the last few months, in particular – I notice alarming changes. I am less creative. I am less focused. I have far more difficulty immersing myself in a narrative and I barely read real books anymore (which is INSANE when I think of my past and how much I love to read). I also struggle on a daily basis with productivity and the ability to listen to my gut and make decisions. I often feel pulled in so many directions by so many bits of unsorted information that it’s no wonder my ability to really sink into deeper levels of contemplation has evaporated. I don’t know what the answer is though. I mean the benefits of computer/Internet use are obvious (this blog being one of them, for me!) and I’m not sure how I’d even function at my job(s) without them. But surely there must be some way to grow my creativity again, which is currently withered to nothingness by all my senseless surfing… any ideas?  :/

-Cat xxxxx

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