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Why ‘Neuroplasticity’ Means We Can Heal From BPD and Other Disorders

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I felt doomed and as if I had been given a death sentence. Though I felt relieved because I was able to put a label to what had tormented me most of my life, I was also embarrassed. After spending any time on the internet, one can see there are several hate-filled comments with others calling people with BPD “evil” and “toxic.” This is why I normally do not address or discuss my diagnoses with many. Many people with BPD already have a deep sense of shame and a shaky sense of identity. They struggle with self-love and self-hate, so these kinds of reactions only further perpetuate the deep cycle of shame and self-hatred.

To me, people who live with BPD are not evil. They are simply neurodivergent individuals with stunted and underdeveloped psyches and egos. This explains why you see people with BPD lose their shit in reactivity. They explode like a toddler over simple things. They go into overdrive when overwhelmed by stress or triggers. They have difficulty handling their emotions and life’s pain because somewhere along the line, their growth was stunted and so they picked up maladaptive coping skills for comfort.

Though I felt I had been given a death sentence, in the back of my mind was the idea of plasticity and the human brain. Some view mental illness as spiritual illness, while others do not. You get a cut, you bleed, you scab you heal. If the human body has the ability to heal itself, why would its own mindset or spirit be incapable of healing itself?

Biologically speaking, plasticity is simply the adaptability of an organism to changes in its environment. When you look at neuroplasticity, the brain has the ability to change itself throughout life. The human brain has the ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells. Understanding this is a huge step for those who live with mental illness because it means there is a possible way out of our own ill mindset. For those of us with BPD, depression or anxiety, this is a message of hope as it means we can change.

Along my quest to heal myself, I met a performance artist who lived with similar issues. He performed at side shows doing extreme body manipulation, torture and boxing. He made a comment about how feeling the physical pain was so much easier during his shows than feeling his emotional pain. This really got the wheels turning in my mind because for many of us who have BPD, pain feels essential. We often harm ourselves physically or put ourselves in harmful situations, to try and ease the pain of life. This is our never-ending battle with self-destruction which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), addiction, jail and premature death. Pain in life might be inevitable… but so is growth and change.

I shifted my viewpoint into finding a healthier way of “abusing” and “punishing” myself. I decided to focus on weight lifting and pole dancing. Both come with intense amounts of physical pain. In terms of muscle growth, one has to push the muscle outside of its capacity to make progress and this process is painful. I am able to feel the pain in the gym, so I linked this pain to my spirit and mindset. The same goes with pole dancing. Anyone who has tried pole fitness knows it is ridiculously hard to support your own body weight and that it comes with sprains, sore muscles, scrapes, burns, blisters and bruises. Yes, it hurts — a lot — but the pain started to change for me as I merged my practice with the painful experiences in my life. I definitely felt a release.

By making my pain tangible, watching and feeling the injuries heal, I felt some comfort. My weekly practices have allowed me to accept nothing is permanent and, no matter how painful it can be, it will stop and it will heal. In the process of this, yes, I do get stronger. We all have different lives, paths, traumas and needs, but there is hope. We are capable of healing ourselves emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We can learn to manage our disorder and we can change!

Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

Originally published: January 10, 2019
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