I have no training in neuroscience from my undergraduate degree, so it was probably a little ambitious and maybe also a little stupid of me to add a neuroscience component to my PhD dissertation. Luckily, my supervisor is a superstar and I have excellent mentors (psychologist and neuroscientist) on my supervisory committee. The only reason why I’m surviving at all is because I have a personal interest in my topic. I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and depression, and it’s made my life pretty difficult at times, so I’m trying to understand it and tackle it from within.
I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it a million times: the best weapon against stigma is education. I really believe that studying the development of and the internal workings of mental illnesses and certain behaviors can be that weapon. Individuals suffering from mental illnesses hear it all the time from people who are healthy. Just get over it! It’s all in your head! Everyone else goes through tough times, just suck it up! I personally think these people need to learn a lesson or two in empathy and respect, but if we can’t convince them otherwise, maybe hard, scientific evidence can.
Now that I have a bit of a better understanding of the brain and processes of behavior, I’m a lot more forgiving towards myself. After an emotional outburst or a depressive episode, instead telling myself I’m weak, stupid, or crazy, I’m a lot more understanding. While understanding the chemical and biological processes behind the mental illness is important, this does not mean you surrender all responsibility for your behaviors and actions. Oh no, I think this gives you even more responsibility. I like to think of myself as an exasperated mother or an owner to a bunch of particularly rowdy dogs. Like, ‘well crap, my amygdala is acting up again so I’ve gotta go take care of myself until it calms down’. Or, ‘my medial temporal lobe is being a little brat and refusing to make neurotransmitters, so I’m gonna go refill my prescriptions’.
Other sciencey ways I use to validate myself that amuses me include:
- My limbic system is outta control
- The amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines and cortisol pumping through my blood is unreal
- The cognitive distortion is real af today (credit this one to my sis)
- My mind is ruminating itself dizzy right now, be right back as I try to calm it down
- Hang on, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying but anxiety is being a little shit and screaming at me, so why don’t we talk later
- Yes, yes, depression I know you think I have no friends and I’m worthless, you tell me only all the time but can you just sit down it’s getting old
- Oh come on, we’ve been through this! I’m counting to 3 and you’d better come back here. *indistinct grumbling* (as I watch my mind jump to conclusions)
I’m not saying you should always just downplay your pain and brush it off. I still experience the extreme emotions/pain and suffer, but this just helps me get through it a little more. Keep pushing and fighting back, everyone!
Related reading: The Neurobiology of Borderline Personality Disorder