Breaking the Brain

The brain needs to be treated like any other muscle. You hear that all the time growing up when your parents are trying to get you to do your homework. At least, I heard it all the time growing up, but maybe that is just me. And biologically I don’t know if there is truth to that, I don’t think there is, but I am not a neurologist. Yet even if it isn’t true, it is an apt analogy, because as I learn more about how the brain works, the more I think it is important to occasionally break the brain, especially if you struggle with mental illness. Let me explain.

If I go back to the muscle analogy, what I am talking about is muscle memory. After you perform a certain action enough times, whether it is throwing a football, or swinging a bat, you don’t need to think about it, your muscles just know the mechanics. Similarly, when you get into a routine, it reinforces those pathways in your brain, making them more and more automatic.

In psychology we have the term ‘ego,’ which is the sense of one’s self, their personality, their self-esteem, etc. It is a construct of our brain, formed in part based on those frequently used pathways. Yet when one struggles with mental illness, that might not be the best thing, as harmful thought patterns get reinforced, as do neurochemical imbalances. This isn’t ideal, as anyone who struggles with mental illness knows, and is why I am suggesting that breaking the brain, breaking those thought patterns might be so ideal.

I wrote a week and a half ago about the possible power of psychedelics in psychological treatment. Those who have had experiences with powerful psychedelics describe a dissolution of the ego. In biological terms, this is seen in functional MRI scans. New pathways in the brain light up, in some cases connecting sense that usually don’t connect. This is why people who are tripping often describe seeing sounds or hearing colors. Yet along with those sensations, tripping breaks people out of harmful thought patterns they have been stuck in. In other words, it breaks the brain, but in a good way.

But given that psychedelics are still illegal, that may not be the most ideal way to break an already broken brain, nor does it have to be. Evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation work and cognitive behavioral therapy can both have similar impacts, reinforcing new pathways while breaking an individual out of their harmful thought patterns.

However, you go about breaking the harmful thought patterns of mental illness, it is important to know that it can be done. That it does get better. You can get better. That is what I am working on every week in therapy and what I take medication for and practice mindfulness for, etc. Because I want to break my brain, break it out of the bad habits of mental illness. And if you are struggling, I hope you find a way to break away the bad parts too.

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