A Damaged Brain and a Mind Trying to Deal with It
My Twitter bio says I have, “a damaged brain and a mind trying to deal with it.” This confuses a lot of people. It’s OK. I get it. Most people don’t differentiate between the mind and the brain. But I do. In fact, I consider it a critical distinction for people with a mental illness.
Your mind is who you are; your brain is just what you are.
Bipolar Disorder Attacks the Brain
People don’t like that I say I am bipolar. People argue this suggests that all I am is bipolar. Well, it doesn’t. What it suggests is a grammatically correct English sentence that expresses exactly what it needs to – I am a person who has bipolar disorder. Much as diabetics aren’t just diabetic alone, being bipolar doesn’t make you bipolar alone either.
But again, I understand their point. I am more than bipolar. Of course I am. I’ve spoken of it many times. But I make that distinction without difficulty or without the need for wordplay. I understand innately that bipolar disorder has attacked my brain and I yet I am still as me as I ever was.
You Brain is a Computer
An overused metaphor, to be sure, but you brain is a computer. Information in, information out. Input and output. That’s all it’s good for. It sees a stone and tells your body to step around it. Extremely important, yes, but not the essence of who you are. Your brain functions on memories, instinct, learning, logic and judgement calls. But it makes the simple calls such as red means stop and green means go. You don’t need a personality to make that decision, but you do need a functioning brain.
Your Mind is You
Mind, on the other hand, is a much less tangible concept. Mind is defined, in part, as,
1. The element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.
2. The totality of conscious and unconscious mental processes and activities.
Which is fine, I guess, as far as it goes but the human mind is more complex than that. Yes, the human mind tells you that you’re sad when you watch a tear-jerker, but it also tells you why you’re sad. Being sad isn’t merely a logical decision or a rational judgement call; being sad is part of who you are. It reflects your personality on a deep level.
Natasha lives in my mind, or, more precisely, my mind is Natasha. My actual me-ness is held in this very ethereal concept that can neither be fully described nor explained by the greatest scholars or philosophers. We’re like that. Human beings. We’re slippery little suckers.
My Brain has been Attacked by Bipolar Disorder
As I’ve said before, my brain has been attacked by bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder has come in and changed structures and chemistry and hormones to the point where my brain no longer functions normally. The output from the computer is suspect.
This is unfortunate because the mind uses the output to make decisions. The output is how we perceive the world and what our mind has to go on. If the color is red, but the brain perceives green (as in colorblindness) then the mind has no choice but to see it as green.
In other words, the brain now functions as an anchor to the mind. The mind is the same as it ever was, collecting information and becoming you all the more, but now it’s hampered by broken bits.
Why Does the Brain / Mind Differentiation Matter?
The differentiation between the brain and mind matters because it affects our sense of self. We are not our illness but this isn’t true because we say it is and it isn’t true because of wordplay it is true because it is true. And the only way to understand this truth is to comprehend the difference between the brain and self. The body and self.
And this understanding goes a long way to making one feel better about having an illness. People tell me they feel alone and like “freaks.” I understand this. It seems like we are. But our consciousness, our unconsciousness, our subconsciousness that runs beyond the brain is the same as everyone else’s. Our links and our similarity are undeniable when we understand who we are – in our totality – rather than simply what we are – a collection of body parts.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.