Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘brain’

I Love/Hate My Brain

My brain is special and magical. It makes me who I am and has often seemed to me to be the best part of who I am. I have always been intelligent and a quick learner. And I thank my brain for that.

On the other hand, my brain is deficient in some ways. It doesn’t have the correct balance of neurotransmitters (or has been adversely affected by trauma as I’ve lived my life or inherited from my parents). When it comes to bipolar disorder, I blame my brain. It’s glitchy, unpredictable, and guilty of making my life miserable at times.

So, I have cause to both love and hate my brain.

The thing is, I have no control over either of those perspectives. I didn’t make my brain smart and adaptable. I can’t take credit for that. I also didn’t make my brain misfire and become my biggest enemy. I can’t take the blame for that.

Much of what I am, my brain is responsible for. I am a moderately successful writer. That can be attributed to my brain as well. I’m creative, too, another quality that resides in my brain. But when I’m depressed, I lose the ability to write, and when I’m hypomanic, I lose the coherence I need to write well. It would be easy enough to say that I love my brain when it’s functioning well and hate it when it’s not. That’s not completely true, though. I’d have to say that my brain is my frenemy.

I am notoriously moody and difficult – hardly surprising since I have bipolar disorder. My intellect doesn’t go away when I’m depressed or hypomanic, but sometimes it goes into hibernation. It makes poorer decisions, it’s true. It’s led me astray many times, even to the edge of death. And I can’t always recognize when it does that. My brain is not the best gatekeeper of my behavior. But my brain does help me clean up the consequences when it does occur.

There is currently a great debate on whether bipolar disorder even comes from the brain. It may not be because of my neurotransmitters, though I still consider them complicit. It may be because of my childhood trauma (at the hands of children my age, not my parents). But again, trauma is said to make physical changes in the brain, so perhaps it is a brain-related reason as well. The other prevailing theory is that bipolar disorder has a genetic component. I don’t know if that means that my genetic heritage affected my brain development, though I suppose it could have. I just don’t know.

I do know that it feels like my brain is at fault. Bipolar is, after all, a mood disorder, and I don’t know where my moods reside, if not in the brain.

So, what can I do with my brain to increase the love and lessen the hate? First, I try to keep my brain fed. I read every day and play jigsaw sudoku to keep it lively and stave off dementia – and to stretch my brain because so much of what I do is word-related, not mathematical. My reading is varied, from novels to nonfiction. I revisit beloved novels from my past, which keeps me grounded in who I am, and explore new books and authors I find, which keeps me excited and open to the new. I try to lessen the opportunities for hate by keeping my brain stable with medication, therapy, and listening to my husband and my friends when they tell me I am loved.

On balance, I love my brain more than I hate it. But I have to keep an eye on it (as it were) to make sure that the hated half doesn’t take over.

Keep This Blog Alive!

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.


More “News” About Mental Health

Next in my ongoing series (see: of posts about news stories that bear on mental health, and what they may or may not mean:

Depression Damages Parts of the Brain, Research Concludes, July 2, 2015, by Sasha Petrova (

“Brain damage is caused by persistent depression rather than being a predisposing factor for it, researchers have finally concluded after decades of unconfirmed hypothesising,” the article begins.

“A study published in Molecular Psychiatry … has proved once and for all that recurrent depression shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain responsible for forming new memories – leading to a loss of emotional and behavioural function.”

The article also claims that “the effects of depression on the brain are reversible with the right treatment for the individual,” though what those treatments might be is not explained.

The take-away: Depression damages the brain, not the other way around. What this means for patients is not yet known.

Link Found Between Gut Bacteria and Depression, July 28, 2015, by Caroline Reid (

Well, if it’s not the hippocampus, it might be your guts. According to this article, “Scientists have shown for the first time that there is a way to model how the gut bacteria in a mouse can have an active role in causing anxiety and depressive-like behaviors….

“[T]he lead author of the study… concluded that stress shortly after birth in mice, alongside the microbiome associated with stress, can lead to depression later in life.”

The take-away: More help for depressed mice. As the study author says, “It would be interesting to see if this relationship also effects humans. ….We need to obtain some human data to be able to say with confidence that bacteria are really inducing anxiety or depression…. However, so far, the data is missing.” In other words, more theory, more mice, no help for patients.

Mad Cow Disease Protein May Play a Role in Depression, by Justine Alford


“In all likelihood, there is no single cause, but one of the leading ideas is that it results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, namely the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin and the ‘pleasure’ hormone dopamine.” Hard to argue with that. But here’s the meat of the article: “[S]cientists may have just discovered another contributing factor – abnormal bundles of proteins called prions.” Prions are also the culprit in mad cow disease. After some theorizing and mouse research, “the researchers propose a possible mechanism for the involvement of prion proteins in depression.”

The take-away: Interesting to scientists, but no help yet for depression sufferers. Plus, the article is a bit too technical for the lay audience – and all theory, except perhaps for the mice.

Picky Eaters May Be More Likely to Develop Anxiety and Depression, by Hannah Keyser (

This sums it up nicely: “The study... found that picky eaters are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and ADHD in later years….While moderate cases were associated with symptoms of separation anxiety and ADHD, severe picky eaters were more likely to have an actual diagnosis of depression or social anxiety in later years. But the scientists stressed that this is a case of correlation, not causation.”
The take-away: So, no news here. Correlation does not equal causation means this may be a coincidence, or anxiety and depression may cause picky eating, or some other factor may cause them both. Note the “May Be” in the article title – it often signals a result of little or no value.

A Urine Test Could Distinguish Between Bipolar Disorder and Depression, August 8, 2015, by Stephen Luntz (

“An easy and reliable method of distinguishing bipolar disorder from major depressive disorder could save tens of thousands of lives, and transform millions more. Now researchers at Chongqing Medical University, China, claim to have found just that in a study based on biomarkers in urine.” According to the study, the presence of six metabolites in urine was 90 percent reliable in diagnosing the two conditions, which are notoriously difficult to tell apart. “Studies have found that as many as 39% of patients diagnosed with MDD have unrecognized bipolar.”

The take-away: More research needed, but this could be big. Pee on a stick and find out whether you’re bipolar, instead of relying on the DSM. (Full disclosure: I was diagnosed with major depression for decades before my bipolar 2 diagnosis.)

The Startup That Wants to Cure Social Anxiety, by Robinson Meyer (

This is, if not new, at least a little different: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) delivered on the web. The article claims that “[R]esearch conducted over the past half-decade shows that CBT delivered via a website can be just as effective as CBT delivered through an in-person therapist.” The service, called “Joyable,” can be accessed for $99 per month or $239 for three months, which includes a coach. The company says that the online treatment “reduces the stigma around seeking out therapy.”

The take-away: Yeah. We’ll see. And lose the name “Joyable,” for heaven’s sake. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of CBT.)

An infographic with references and everything.
The take-away: The infographic talks about physical ailments, but many of us can testify that a purring cat on one’s lap, or even by one’s side, can calm the distressed mind as well. Completely scientific, if you count anecdotal evidence.
Cats and Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation

Seriously, though, survey says, “Half of those people [more than 600 individuals surveyed in 2011] described themselves as having a mental health problem. The results highlighted some of the benefits of feline ownership:

  • 87% of cat owners feel that the animals have a positive impact on their wellbeing
  • 76% find that coping with everyday life is easier thanks to the animals
  • Stroking a cat is a calming and helpful activity.”

The article also refutes the myth about “crazy cat ladies” and self-harm.

My take-away: Pet therapy is a recognized technique that provides benefits to shut-ins, geriatric and psychiatric patients, those with ADD and autism, and even prisoners. My four cats increase the effects of Zoloft, Ativan, Lamictal, and Abilify. Be sure to have your pet spayed or neutered.



Me and My Brain: A Story of Love and Dysfunction

As they say, of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most. Or anyway, a properly functioning brain.

I love my brain, despite all the trouble it’s given me. For many years I thought it was the only measure of my worth, the only thing about me that made me special, the only thing that I could truly rely on.

I reveled in learning, in thinking, in reading, in questioning, in contemplating, in discovering. My body was not dependable; my brain was.

Little did I know the biochemical pitfalls that were waiting for me. Little did I know that my brain was ill. Disordered. Unbalanced. At the very least, uncooperative.

For instance, my brain decided other people were always pointing and laughing at me. Sometimes they were, of course, but that paranoia became my baseline assumption. (Shrinks call that “ideas of reference.” I just called it life.)

My brain played back for me every socially awkward or embarrassing thing I ever did, either randomly or at the worst possible moments.

My brain made me cry at the stupidest times – at an upbeat sitcom theme song, when someone mentioned foreign travel, when opening boxes from the garage, when thinking about my college years or birthday parties. Whenever I was confronted with how damaged I am.

My brain had irrational thoughts. Bad thoughts. Cutting. Worse. You know what I mean.

Eventually my brain refused to let me live any kind of a normal life – go out, talk to people, care for my house or my pets or myself, or even read, once the greatest joy of my life, the thing my brain and I best liked to do together.

But my brain also worked just well enough to send me looking for the help I needed. I’ve gotten back parts of who I was and what my mind was. And for that, I’m grateful. Even with it disorderly and uncooperative, it’s still the best part of me.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: