How to Change Your Brain By Accepting that it Can’t be Changed
It’s not easy for me to confess just how often I cried in the fall of 2009. I wish I didn’t care, but I’m still a slave to some old notions. All of which is to say that I cried quite a lot, and I’m ashamed to admit it.
If you found yourself in midtown Manhattan that autumn, around noon, you may have witnessed a 26-year-old man with his hands jammed in his pockets, marching across the city. He’d usually head south to the Village, but sometimes he’d go west to Hell’s Kitchen or east to the river. He’d be wearing an outfit that just barely met the standards of “business casual”—ink-stained khakis a size too big, untucked polo, brown sneakers doing a poor imitation of dress shoes. And if you committed the ultimate New York faux pas and actually looked him in the eyes, you’d see the tears.
The forgettable 26-year-old was me, and I was crying for joy—for the beauty of the world. Who knows what inspired these tears, exactly? Maybe I had watched an old woman teach a young blind girl how to use her cane to detect a sidewalk curb, and maybe I thought, this is someone with real problems, and look at her courage. Or maybe I had phoned my mother in a panic, and she had restored my self-belief with a convincing pep talk. In any case, the bracing truth reached me: “Yes, of course! Life is wonderful, and you never want to leave! You idiot!” So the tears flowed—tears of relief and salvation. more
Our thoughts and fears, movements and sensations all arise from the electrical blips of billions of neurons in our brain. Streams of electricity flow through neural circuits to govern these actions of the brain and body, and some scientists think that many neurological and psychiatric disorders may result from dysfunctional circuits.
As this understanding has grown, some scientists have asked whether we could locate these faulty circuits, reach deep into the brain and nudge the flow to a more functional state, treating the underlying neurobiological cause of ailments like tremors or depression. more
Mental illness is incredibly common: Nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). But in spite of its prevalence, there still exists a tremendous amount of stigma associated with mental health conditions. That stigma can have far-reaching consequences, from limiting our understanding of these conditions to interfering with a person’s willingness to seek treatment when they truly need it.
The good news is that, culturally, we’re making some headway on that stigma. I have written and edited health content for a little over a decade, and it’s been amazing to see how the conversation around mental health has evolved in that time. Many brave people have publicly shared stories about their experiences navigating mental health conditions. And as the wellness industry has exploded, so too has our cultural understanding that being well and taking care of yourself requires tending to your mental health, and that means seeking help if you need it. more
The current, criteria-based approach towards diagnosing psychiatric disorders evolved from research in the 1960s and early 1970s by faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. Those investigators analyzed data from clinical observations, longitudinal follow-up of patients, and family history information to define diagnostic criteria for a group of psychiatric illnesses that they believed were well validated based on several defined metrics.
Although this approach was not based on disease mechanisms, it did allow for reliable categorization of disorders—reliable meaning that different clinicians would likely agree on the same diagnosis for a given patient. Some of the illnesses included in the original 1972 publication from the Washington University group were schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, certain anxiety disorders, anorexia nervosa, and alcohol and drug dependence.
Catherine Benfield wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until she was was 31, after she had her first child, though it would appear she’s had it all her life. She recovered with the help of therapy – and by creating a character who personifies her obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
“She’s got the big ears, because she’s like a startled hare, she’s listening out.
“She’s bedraggled, because she’s been through a lot and she’s normally having some kind of panic.
The big eyes are about making sure she’s keeping an eye out for danger.
“The big legs – for running,” like a frightened hare, says Catherine Benfield.
You have now met Olivia.
She is a visualisation – a character created by Catherine to personify the condition she has lived with since she was a child.
The O in Olivia stands for OCD, an abbreviation for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People are often mistaken about OCD, Catherine says. So many people think it’s about being very fastidious and organising your pens very precisely on your desk but it’s actually a serious anxiety-related mental health condition, involving intrusive obsessive thoughts, images and fears.
In an effort to prevent one of her fears coming true, Catherine would feel compelled to carry out a repetitive physical or mental act – in technical terms the fear is the “obsession” and the repetitive act is the “compulsion”. This would provide temporary relief from the anxiety, but then it might return, compelling her to repeat the behaviour again and again.
As a teenager she was terrified to be the last one to leave the house, because of the fear that it would burn down once she had gone – she would compulsively check the cooker was switched off and switches unplugged. And to ensure everyone was safe she would compulsively lock all doors and windows, and remove all trip hazards. These routines could take hours to perform, and if one thing disturbed the process she would start all over again. MORE
Nothing kills new relationships more quickly than relationship anxiety and obsessively wondering, “Does he like me?”
Let’s say you’ve started dating someone, and you like them a lot. After a few great dates, they said they’d call you on Saturday … but they haven’t yet. At first, you didn’t mind. But, then, it starts to preoccupy your mind and you start feeling anxious and wonder if he still likes you.
Does this sound familiar? One minute, you’re a 30-year-old in the bar with your friends and the next, you’re reacting like you’re a 3-year-old.
Your anxiety worsens and you start getting paranoid. Ultimately, you end up driving your new man away and you’re left alone … again. It becomes a becomes a self-fulfilling, self-sabotaging prophecy.
However, the real problem might not be your new partner. It might be your emotional baggage from past traumas that’s holding you back from falling in love, and it’s time for you to clean it up. more
Being a third-world country, mental health is not one of our top priority problems, but it is a rising one and a serious one.
I want to share my experience of the journey battling depression and OCD, and shed some light on the problems I faced, which no one else should.
The first time, at the age of 20, when I talked to my parents about my depression and OCD, and about wanting to visit a psychiatrist, their reaction was not at all what I had expected. Belonging to a Jaat family from Rajasthan, I was the first person to raise such an issue in my not-so-open family. Besides they didn’t want anyone to know that their elder son has ‘gone crazy’. After five years of suffering, visits to psychiatrists, and almost a year of medication, I am back to therapy. Now I’m even more scared to tell my parents or friends about it.
That was probably the worst time of my life.
Suffering from depression is difficult. I lost my friends when I confessed to them about my condition. And suddenly, I was socially outcasted. This was the time when I needed emotional support, but all I got was cold looks.
Being over 6 feet tall and having a good physique also proved to be a problem causing peer pressure of presenting myself to the world as a strong and manly, while I was all broken inside. Honestly, being manly was the least of my problems.
Being a social outcast with no one to support you can be a pretty saddening.
Every time I hear someone say they are “so OCD” because they frantically cleaned their kitchen that morning, I feel a surge of disappointment in my stomach.
Over the years, we have become conditioned to believe that obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is nothing more than liking your shoes lined up, having to count to a certain number or organising your cupboards with labels.
Not only has this become a misconception due to people using the condition as a description for their personality quirks, but even TV shows have added to the stigma – such as Channel 4’sObsessive Compulsive Cleaners, which added to the belief that having OCD is all about getting down on your hands and knees to scrub a toilet over and over again.
While people often use the term lightheartedly, they don’t realise the damage they’re doing. But this isn’t exactly their fault. It’s a frequent misunderstanding. It’s a misunderstanding that has gone on for too long, and is demoralising to those seriously suffering with the disorder. more
Soon I concluded that for me to get better, my friends and teachers needed to know what I was going through. Fortunately I was on good terms with my form tutor who appeared sensitive and understanding. Indeed, this proved to be the case when one day I stayed behind to discuss the problems that I had been having. (Matt) Depression: “I am a stronger person… because I talked about it”
How can I help?
The aim of the Time to Change campaign is to encourage us all to be more open about our mental health, and to start conversations with those who might need our support.
While I think we’ve come a long way in terms of the stigma attached to brain disorders, we still have so far to go. Case in point: How many of us would actually admit to hearing voices? My guess is not too many. What would others think?
The truth, however, is that it is not uncommon for people to have this experience at one time or another. Heard someone call your name, but nobody is around? Maybe you’ve heard the voice of a loved one who has died? There have certainly been a few times in my life where I’ve heard voices that aren’t there and have attributed it to my mind “playing tricks on me” (whatever that actually means). more