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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Exploring the Mind: Finding Method in the Madness

As much as I find therapy taxing at the best of times, I do appreciate that I now have a pretty good therapist. For example, she’s the first person out of half a dozen mental health professionals to:

a) Actually recognize the problems, rather than the symptoms, defining my BPD;

b) Actually attempt to treat/resolve said problems rather than simply experience them;

c) Realize the importance – the paramount importance – of constancy in any BPD-related treatment program (abandonment is pretty much THE recipe for disaster).

She also has a fairly mind-blowing treatment approach which I’ve described before called “part work.” The idea is that the damaged mind/psyche is fragmented, and the fragments (i.e. experiences/memories/feelings too intolerable to be properly processed) need to be reintegrated (pulled forward to the frontal lobe of the brain, to be exact) in order to rebuild a whole and complete mind.

Kind of actually makes sense, right?

As a result, we spend a lot of time doing some very weird mental exercises that involve communicating with inner parts. It feels like schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder treatment (and maybe it is, I’m not sure) and can be quite terrifying to even acknowledge that there really are parts of yourself you might not have much control over.

As an example of how incredible the human mind is, I thought I’d share the following journey that mine took me on.

After pulling up my “safe room” with all my inner parts around a table, I asked (mentally) if any of them had anything to tell me. After waiting a few minutes and after a few dozen invalidating, automatic reactions from my conscious mind (“This is stupid; I’m crazy; Why am I doing this; This lady thinks I’m nuts” etc.), one of my parts came up to me.

I call this part “Love Slave.” She is me a few years ago and she will do literally anything to be accepted and loved. She lives for romantic attachment and the lure of unrealistic, all-encompassing, perfect love. But she knows it will never happen so she throws herself into a kind of tragic acceptance of love that hurts and turns her into a slave – hence the name.

Anyway, this Love Slave led me out of the room and up a rocky path to the edge of the waterfall. I looked down and realized I had a wooden bucket I was supposed to fill (I don’t know how I knew this – it was kind of like a dream, with its own logic, by this point). I realized I was thirsty and the water looked glacially cold, clean and beautiful. I kept holding my bucket under the water but every time I brought it back to drink from it, it was empty. Soon I discovered why: there was a roughly hacked hole in the bottom. Looking from the waterfall to the bucket to the Love Slave, who was watching all of this, something in my mind clicked suddenly.

The waterfall was love. The bucket was me. Until I fix myself, all the love in the world isn’t going to fix me. It’s just going to drain through me and leave me emptier than ever.

Did I mention I was in no way on drugs during this episode? Wow.

Of course I knew that someone else was never going to fix these problems – but I didn’t really know it deep down. Now I know and accept that no amount of “outside” love is going to fix me.

These are the kinds of things that your own mind knows. These are the kinds of things that heal you from the inside out.

This is the first therapy I’ve encountered that really delves deep enough to let you be the healing force – not the therapist, not the therapy itself, not the meds. The real healing in this method comes from coming to realizations that shift your entire perspective in a way that puts you more in touch with who you really are and what you really need.

Pretty cool, huh?