Why my brain is different than yours, and why that's okay

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Of the many emotions I have since I am bipolar, this is the resounding one: confusion. I have no idea why you process information the way you do and you have no idea why I process things the way I do. I can't understand drawing conclusions in another way. Because the way I do things is often different, it can lead to tension. So I'm going to try and explain how my brain is a little weird.

There are lots of theories as to causes of bipolar disorder and our mood swings. The brain is a funky thing. Scientists aren't completely sure how all of a healthy brain works, and when you move into mental disorders, it gets strange. Neurotransmitters (control moods and emotions) also have a lot to do with our thoughts and actions, though it isn't exactly understood what it is in particular that changes things so much. Some ideas are that Bipolar people have too many or too little neurotransmitters, leading us to be overstimulated or underwhelmed with emotion. Some say that these are too sensitive, and we receive emotions more intensely.

That's a lot of "it might be"s, especially for people who don't live with Bipolar Disorder (I've gotten used to the what-ifs and the maybes). So what really happens to your brain? What most now agree on is that bipolar disorder has physiological roots. If you look at MRI scans of a bipolar person's brain versus a healthy brain, colors, size and shapes come out differently. This article from PsychCentral helps with the specifics. "Compared with controls, patients with Bipolar Disorder had decreased activity and/or reduction in gray matter volume in the right inferior frontal gyrus, the right superior frontal gyrus, the anterior singulate, and the precuneus. These areas are a cortical-cognitive brain network associated with the regulation of emotions, the researchers noted," (Pedersen). So, certain parts of our brain are shrinking and we have decreased activity in areas that usually regulate emotions.

It's weird to think about your shrinking brain at 24.

So with my shrunk-up brain, why am I thinking about all of this? Why care? Because, whatever the neurotransmitters are doing or the serotonin levels are, they factor in to how I live on a daily basis. Most of the time you'd meet me and never know that I have this whole different side of my life. But I live with this every day. I think about it, sometimes for a while, sometimes just in passing, probably 20 times daily. It's a huge part of me.

I really never thought that I'd find anything good about this. When I was diagnosed (4 years ago, almost to the day), I was sure it was one of the worst things ever. But, as much of a pain as it can be, I have learned to accept it. I've even learned that it makes me unique. (In a good way, not just a crazy way.)

I'm not sure how my brain works most of the time. I just know the effects. One of those effects is my commitment to understanding. I've become more patient with people who have extraordinary mental health issues. From autism to anxiety, I've become passionately curious about why people react differently to things, but mostly how they do. Autism, Aspergers, and the Autism Spectrum have been coming into public light more and more. When I stumbled upon this article about autism and selective eating, somehow, all of the gears starting clicking in my head. This is partially because this woman is a great writer, but also, my Bipolar brain has somehow enabled me to think outside of the box- to understand how other people have brains that work differently.

I was recently talking with someone else who also has BPD. It was so easy to focus on how we are different from other people, and how hard that is for us. I certainly don't mean to diminish that struggle- and it is a hard battle- but we also receive amazing gifts from it. I don't know if I would have kept up my writing if I didn't have it; probably not in this way. We have to work harder for understanding and a sense of normalcy- but that makes it so much sweeter.

Accepting differences, whether it be of religion, illness, or appearances, is rarely easy. It's even harder when the differences happen to you, later in life! But in reflecting upon those differences, we learn that differences don't mean weaknesses. We learn that "abnormalities" aren't truly that abnormal. We learn that perhaps there might be a bit of happy perfection in an imperfection.

And most of all:
Our humanity is more important than whatever names we give our differences.

Check out...

**The Obvious Stuff**
This is not a medical journal. I am just a person who has Bipolar Disorder who is trying to make sense of it all. Do not take any of this as gospel truth. Always consult your doctor before making any radical adjustments to your lifestyle. Get the facts.


  1. What a good and honest post Lauren. :) Did I ever tell you my ex-husband has Bipolar disorder? It's always been a fascinating subject to me since I learned that about him years ago. I love your blog posts and getting a little bit more of an inside perspective that I wouldn't have otherwise. Keep it up. :)

    1. Thanks, Kayla. I remember reading something you wrote that mentioned that. I hope the perspective helps and is a good thing! Thanks for reading.