Advice for my younger self ~ on BPD, PTSD and life

I have been through a series of ups and down lately (which felt like more downs than ups to me, really) and did a lot of talking with Mom because of it. Now that’s no real news, because we always do a lot of talking . . . but then it kinda felt significant when Mom reminded me of how in the beginning we did nearly no talking of this kind because I’d just scream that she hated me and that I hated her and threaten to do silly things whenever things worth talking about came up. Reminded me that I have come a long way already.

So given my past disinclination to talk about stuff – or listen to people talk about stuff – maybe this post doesn’t make any sense at all, because I probably would have just ignored my older self or told her to fuck off. But even so, here are some things I would tell my younger self if I got the chance:

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Hang in there. Life seems horrible right now and it will continue to feel that way longer than you deserve, but you are in for real good stuff later. You will meet real good people. Not the kind of ‘good’ you know, but a REAL kind of good. So hang in there and don’t give up hope. The good stuff is worth waiting for, even when it’s an excruciatingly long wait.

Do not take unhealthy pride in your diagnosis of BPD and do not feel like you are less than anyone else because of it either. It’s just a word. I know you feel like there’s nothing good about you, but even when you don’t know it yet, you are more than a single word or any label can ever convey and lots of who you are has nothing to do with messed up relationship patterns. Try to find the parts of you that are healthy and lovable and work on them.

Do not fuck that guy. Seriously. Just don’t do it. No matter who he is. No matter what reason you think you should do it for. Just don’t do it. It’s not going to accomplish a thing. But don’t hate yourself for doing it either. You have poor impulse control, so it’s not you being a failure if you do it anyway. Just try your best not to. That’s all. And when you fail, try again. You’ll manage, eventually.

Don’t go around hating everybody. I know there are lots of people in your life who don’t get what’s up with you, but they aren’t doing it because they’re malicious or indifferent or because they hate you. They don’t even know you. Not properly. And really, I don’t expect you to love or even just to like them. Just don’t go around hating them is all. The person your hatred is going to hurt the most is yourself. And really, you hurt enough as it is. Don’t add to it in this way. Just ignore them and focus on whatever good stuff here is instead, even when there is not much.

It was not about you. All the shit that went wrong while you grew up, it was NOT about you. It was never about you. You were born right into the middle of a fucked up mess, but that mess has nothing to do with you. Your parents were struggling with and failing at their own life and took it out on you because you were there and you couldn’t fight back. But that’s not your fault. Nothing you did made it happen. You could have been any other way and it would still have happened. It was never about you.

Try your best to see the middle. Whatever there is, things have a middle. I know you slide all the way to one side and all the way to the other side all the time like life were a playground seesaw, but that’s because you haven’t learned to hold your balance yet, not because there is no middle. Nearly nothing is as extreme as it looks and feels to you. You’re like a kid on roller skates on a seesaw, whose roller skates go whichever way the seesaw tips all at once and it will be a while until you learn how to put yourself sideways to avoid the instantaneous skidding, but take my word for it that the middle IS there. Always. Try your best to see it, even when you aren’t able to stay there yet.

People are not their actions. Others aren’t and you aren’t either. Yes, you have done awfully disgusting things, but you are not what you have done. It’s not you who IS disgusting. The disgust you feel belongs with the actions, not with you as a person. I wish there was a way to help you feel that.

Sing. You’re good at it.

When that family comes along who want you to live with them, don’t be so hard on them. That woman who you’ll start out calling Samantha, she is going to be your mom one day and she’ll be the best mom you could ever ask for. Cut the yelling a little when you can. And don’t throw those things at her. Just tell her you’re afraid. She’ll understand. She’ll help you make it better. Just don’t throw all those things. Or at least don’t throw the chair. It’s not going to drive her out of your room. All it will do is hit her and you’ll feel awful for years to come that you did that.

The good stuff is yet to come. Like I said in the beginning. Take my word for it. I promise. It will come with lots of hard work and it does also come with truly hard and painful moments, but it’s going to be worth it.

Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. Learn from your mistakes. Persevere. And don’t forget to laugh at the absurd stuff when it happens. You’ll be in for plenty. Laughing at the absurdities is often the best thing you can do. You’ll do better one of the next times around. Persevere.

With love,
the older Lola 

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Borderline and self-awareness, self-confidence and self-esteem

I grew up believing that there is nothing I can do well. The only thing I believed I was useful for was to give other people sexual pleasure. That’s sick, obviously, because I was a child.

Awareness of who we are grows through the kind of feedback we receive about ourselves. As a social species we use others as a mirror to see ourselves. By how they react to us, verbally and through behavior, we draw conclusions about ourselves.

My mother was unable to be a good mother. My needs usually went unmet. She was unpredictable, angry and often aggressive towards me. I concluded I was unimportant, unlovable, unable to do something right and that I deserve punishment just for being there.

My step-father’s interest in me centered solely around the sexual abuse. If I didn’t do what he wanted me to, he became violent. My mother often said that she only kept me around because I had made him “addicted” to me. I concluded that I had to earn my right to exist by making myself available for abuse.

At school I got held back because I did not learn. Teachers used to say that they are not sure that there’s anyone actually at home inside of my head. “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.” I concluded that I must be really dumb.

In the institutionalized years that followed people became annoyed with me very often after what had always looked like promising starts. I concluded that I may look worth saving on the outside, but that there was nothing inside of me that would keep anyone going.

As you may imagine, my self image was real bad. I didn’t like myself. Like, at all. The feedback I had received painted a very unlikable picture of me and I was convinced that it was true. Because as a social species we tend to take social feedback seriously.

Unfortunately we’re also not born with a way to tell whether the person who reflects an image of us back through feedback is a good mirror, or one right out of a fun house. Imagine you had looked into a distorting mirror all your life. How would you like the way you looked? And if you had grown used to always looking a certain, distorted way in the mirror because you never saw yourself in any other mirror, would you believe the reflection if it suddenly were different?

I went through a lot of unhappiness and trouble with the positive feedback I received after I met my family and came to live with them. Lots of fear that once they discover how terrible I really am, they will want to have nothing to do with me anymore. In lots of ways I have tried to force them to hate me and be repulsed by me. Sometimes I could not stand their presence. At the same time I am and always was mortally afraid of losing them. But I wanted to have it happen, because I was convinced that it was what I deserved and what was going to happen anyway. When things don’t match up, when everything is a mess, when you don’t know who or what you really are or are not, that’s what happens.

Lots of tears, tantrums, hugs, yelling, cuddling, passionate hating, ardent loving and most of all lots of patience later, I am pretty sure that my “self” I have been aware of, was really not very realistic but just the reflection of other people’s mental issues. I don’t feel horribly unlovable, useless and dumb anymore most of the time. I am starting to allow the thought that there are things I might be good at, that I can be a kind person who others like and some even love. That this is not just some con act, but actually part of who I am.

At the same time I do not have a lot of practice thinking those things and old habits die hard and I have moments where I get very confused and find it hard to assess who I am. What I am. What I can. That I am important to someone.

It helps that my family are aware. Sometimes my mom sings the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” chorus to me. You know, the “I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweet-heart” part. She does it just because. Just because she wants to. I really like that because it feels like she means what she sings and wants me to know.

What also helps is actually DOING something useful. I have started volunteering at my mom’s former psychiatric ward. She used to be the head psychiatrist there or something and it’s a kids ward. That they know my mom and trust her judgment is probably the only reason why they agreed to let me volunteer. Anyway, I am going there once a week to just be with a little girl they assigned me to and play. To just do normal stuff with her, so she gets to just play and relax and laugh. We’re friends. She loves my long blond hair and says that when she grows up she wants to be just like me. I always laugh and tell her to pick someone else to be like, not a girl who’s way too old to not have an education and stuff. But deep down I am starting to think that maybe it’s not the worst thing. Being me, I mean. Maybe not by everyone’s standards, but my own standards are modest. Or maybe not modest, but different. But my life is different from that of many other people, so what do I need their standards for, right? 😉

I think finding the right mirrors for myself and the right standards to assess my behavior and my “self” with is one of the keys for a better and more realistic awareness of myself and for becoming more confident and stuff. Also, it helps to actually DO things that I can then assess. After all, staying on the borderline isn’t much fun. Lines are narrow. Borders are boundaries. And while boundaries are not necessarily bad, I don’t want to live ON them, but within them. And maybe sometimes beyond. In a good way. And a feeling good about myself way.

So that’s where I want to get. Slowly but surely.

To This Day ~ a beautiful, powerful video-poem

Just found this on youtube. Loved it and wanted to share.

On Being Adopted – Identity Issues

The other day I skyped with my sister. While we were talking, the topic of my being adopted came up and my sister asked if I ever felt weird about being adopted.

I have read a lot about issues adoptees usually struggle with, and in a way I can identify with those, but in another way their experience is different from mine. Not because of anything mental health related, just because of the fact that I was already (legally, not emotionally) an adult by the time I was adopted. So unlike people who were adopted when they were little, I had a choice about it. I wanted it, too.

What I can relate to, however, is the whole part that deals with loss, rejection, shame and identity. I only ever became an adoptee because I lost my family. Because my mother didn’t want me. Rejected me. As a person. As her daughter. Because she just didn’t care about me. That comes with an unspeakably overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and sense of being awfully undesirable.

Painful stuff, so I don’t want to go into much detail here and it’s not directly related to adoption for me either. Those feelings were there for a long time before I even met my family. But what has made an appearance after the adoption were identity issues.

Some are tricky.

I don’t share the same family history as everyone else. Everyone in my family knows each other for a long time already. They share memories and traditions and knowledge about a family history that goes at least three generations back and that they feel connected with, somehow. And it’s THEIR history, not mine, yet at the same time it is a little bit of mine, too, now. Feeling left out of something that ought to be mine, too, and having family memories that are different from theirs is difficult sometimes. It sometimes makes me feel like I’m not part of my own family. My first family didn’t want me and being with my real one, the one I have now, makes me feel left out.

Looks. I know it’s silly, but I find myself forever comparing how I look to how my family looks. I find myself being relieved that my oldest sister has blond hair, like I do, because it means that my mom and my dad can have blond children together. That’s important to me. My hair is blond. Everyone has blue eyes like I do, too. That’s another thing that’s reassuring. It means I don’t stand out as being obviously different. But they are all fairly tall and I’m short. I’m relieved that people mistakenly think it’s because I’m still a teenager and have yet to grow, but I figure they won’t keep on thinking that forever. I also have buck teeth (as you see in the picture I posted) and nobody else does. Those small things make me sad sometimes.

My name. I share my family’s last name. My mom gave me her middle name to be my middle name, too, because I didn’t have a middle name. My first name was chosen by my birth mother. I don’t miss the last name I grew up with, because it was the last name of my stepfather, who abused me. I wasn’t biologically related to him and I’m glad I don’t carry his name any longer. But even so I often feel like the same mix of things that my full name reflects. Complicated.

The contradiction that my adopted family feels like my real family and my birth family feels much less “real”, when the whole rest of the world thinks it might be the other way around. I’m always afraid that people will think that I am “only” adopted. That I’m not a REAL part of my family. When to me my family now feels like my real, true, actual family. I always feel like I need to make sure that everyone realized that I am REALLY my mom’s daughter. At the same time I’m afraid I might not be good enough to deserve to really be her daughter.

My social class identity. I’m from a working-class / underclass family. I grew up hearing that anyone who had a good job and money sucked, basically. That they were arrogant, self-righteous people, born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who have no idea of what life “really” is like and who look down on and don’t care about “people like us”. That’s what I believed for the longest time. And now my mom’s a shrink and my dad’s a lawyer, as white collar as it gets. They have a really neat house, can send all their kids to college, money is never an issue although my mom isn’t even working anymore, and I’m technically what my birth mother would have considered a “spoiled, arrogant rich kid”. Which adds so much guilt that I feel awful for even writing about it, much less identifying with it.

I suppose there are more issues, but those are the ones that came to my mind the easiest. So while I really, really like the fact that my family adopted me and that I belong with them properly and forever, it’s not always easy. It’s okay because my family knows and they help me and are understanding when I’m upset about stuff, but it can get complicated.

But even so, I’m very, very happy that I’ve been adopted and it is infinitely better than not belonging with anyone. I love my family more than I can say.  🙂

10 Futile Tips to Increase Self-Esteem & ONE That Actually Works (for me)

Anyone struggling with mental health issues is quite likely to be struggling with a low self-esteem, too. Unless, maybe, you’re a narcissist, but trust me, then your true self-esteem is probably not so grand either. 😉 If you are struggling with self-esteem issues, you probably are not short on good advice on how to increase it that people have given you over the years. I sure am not short on this kind of advice.

The problem is, those tips never really worked for me. Not a single one of them. I wrote them down below along with the objections that I have. Then I’ll tell you the ONE thing that actually works to improve my self-esteem. But before that, here’s all the “good” advice:

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1. Don’t compare yourself to other people. I don’t really see this working, because isn’t it an inbuilt thing that humans compare themselves to other humans in order to relate and to survive? Isn’t it a way to develop positively, too? Imagine we didn’t have the ability to look at other people and see what they are doing and then compare it to what we are doing. . . we’d be unable to learn from others, if we weren’t able to compare people and behavior. So why should I stop comparing? For example I see that my mom manages emotions so much better than I do. I want to be able to do that, too. Shouldn’t I be looking and comparing what she does to what I do, in order to figure out what she does differently and why she manages and I don’t? I don’t see how my self-esteem would grow from stopping comparing. I mean I do want to know where I stand in relation to others, because I am a social being. Maybe the conclusions I draw are not the best, but really, that’s not the same as the thing itself being bad.

2. Don’t put yourself down. Okay. Good in theory. No putting myself down. But what shall I do instead? Pretend my lacking abilities aren’t there? Yay, I have awesome emotional coping skills. I rock. I’m awesome. – Unrealistic much? Hey, but at least I’m not putting myself down. So okay, maybe I’m gonna feel better about myself initially, but sooner or later I still don’t have any better emotional coping skills and run into a big mess because of them. I’ll still feel bad about myself in the long run. Also, there is a reason for which I put myself down. I can’t just resolve that by making a decision not to do it any longer. The reason needs figuring out and addressing, else I’m only gonna feel worse about myself because I don’t really manage to not put myself down.

3. Strengthen yourself with positive affirmations. Hmm… I have nothing against positive affirmations. I can write them on pieces of paper and stick them to the bathroom mirror and when I run out of toilet paper, I’ll even be grateful they’re there. But repeating something positive over and over again isn’t going to make it feel more true to me when I have an aversive reaction to what the affirmation says in the first place.

4. Accept compliments. I would. And I can pretend that I do. But in order to accept something, it needs to fit in with my belief system. Imagine someone told you the world is a flat disk that people fall off of once they come too close to the edge and expected you accept it. Everything you know tells you they are wrong, and you feel like there is plenty of proof that they are. But chuck that, accept it anyway. Would you?

5. Change your beliefs about yourself. Oh, I would. In a second. If this was a rational kind of belief system, I’d be changing it so much and so awesomely you’d stand in awe. Problem is, those beliefs aren’t rational. Rationally I do already know that I have no reason for my self-esteem to be so bad. But guess what, this isn’t a rational belief. It is tied deeply into my emotions and my experiences and my history and they just shrug logical reasoning off like a pesky insect and will rather go and get the fly swatter than accept it keeps on bothering them.

6. Find out what you’re good at. Good idea. If in order to believe I’m ‘good at’ something my bad self-esteem wouldn’t always interfere. My bad self-esteem tells me that even when I’m good at something, I’m not good enough by far, and the thing that I’m good at isn’t a very valuable thing anyway. So if I were just able to find out what I’m good at, I wouldn’t be struggling with such a lousy self-esteem in the first place.

7. Don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect. Define ‘lack of respect’ please. It is a highly subjective thing, what one considers as a ‘lack of respect’. If someone pushes me around I don’t recognize that as a lack of respect, because I feel they are right in doing that, and not lacking anything. I’d need to feel deserving of a certain level of respect first, in order to properly realize when someone is treating me with less than that.

8. Dress nicely, maintain good hygiene, work out, eat well, etc. I have nothing against those things, other than that if they don’t match how I feel, instead of making me feel better, I just feel an inner dissonance and like a fraud because the way I look and eat and stuff is not appropriate to the way I feel inside. Eating is a big one for me. I just CAN not eat when I feel like I’m not deserving of the food. I want to, my rational mind knows there is no reason why I would not, but I just CAN’T. Not until I feel better about myself. So dressing nicely, maintaining good hygiene etc. feels backwards to me. Like saddling a horse that isn’t yet even there.

9. Be helpful and kind to others. So good in theory, so hard when all those emotions get in the way. I try to, really. I try really, really hard, because it’s important to me. But the expectation makes me feel like a failure when I don’t manage, because I know it should be the least thing to be kind to others and to be helpful. And having such a bad self-esteem, I often don’t even feel like anyone would WANT the help I could offer, because it’s not good enough, and like nobody would even CARE for my being kind, because I am annoying them. So I end up feeling afraid of being kind, because I feel like they would misunderstand my attempt at kindness as an attempt to bother them and would turn away from me over it.

10. Don’t dwell on your past experiences. Uhm-kay?! They just contributed big time to who I am, so why would they be important, right? Cause as humans we tend to ignore past experiences, or what? Trust me, if I could just be a clean slate and start over, I’d totally do it! But… not working. Experiences shaped who I am. My experiences shaped my emotions. In order to understand myself, my emotional reactions, my automatic thoughts and beliefs, I actually NEED to take those experiences into account, so I can make sense of the mess I am. And hey, maybe even eventually move beyond it. Sorry if you consider my wanting to be more aware of how my past influenced to be ‘dwelling’ on my past experiences.

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Okay, so all those didn’t really work for me. Like, at all. But one thing IS working. And this one thing is:

ImproveSelfEsteem

That, and only that, is where the modest amount self-esteem that I have collected in the meantime comes from. That is what helps me with drawing better conclusion from comparisons with other people. That is what helps me with not putting myself down so much. That is what slowly replaces the negative beliefs I have about myself with better ones. That is where I get a healthy idea of how much respect I deserve from. That is what helps me make sense of and come to terms with my past experiences to then let go of them. And that is what makes me more sure that I can actually offer kindness and help that others would appreciate.

Only this one thing. Go figure.  I actually need to get a horse before I saddle it.

Not Even My Social Anxiety is Clear-Cut

One label among my mix of diagnoses is ‘Social Anxiety Disorder’, which is also called ‘Social Phobia’. It’s probably hard to differentiate it from the PTSD at the same time, but it’s got all the markers of a social phobia. For those who are not familiar with it, the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Social Phobia are (for adults, shortened):

A. A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.
B. Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety.
C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
D. The feared social or performance situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety or distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situations(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine or functioning.
F. In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.
G. The fear or avoidance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
H. If a general medical condition or another mental disorder is present, the fear in Criterion A is unrelated to it.

As far as I can remember back, I have always had a social phobia. My threshold for anxiety in unfamiliar situations in general is very low and if they are social situations, I often feel physically sick with all the anxiety. My heart rate accelerates, I get sweaty palms, I feel nauseous and like I’m frozen.

School was never fun for me. Interaction with others was the most awful thing. I was always a shy, lonely child. Some teachers were concerned about me and it was the most mortifying thing when they tried to talk to me about stuff. Tried, because I didn’t really talk. I’d nod or shake my head, but rarely talked, or at least no more than a soft ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Most teachers didn’t notice, though, because I was quiet and didn’t draw any attention in class and they probably were happy with that.

When I lived in group homes and attended therapy groups, it was pretty much a repeat of how it had been in school. Only there it started to cause problems, because I was expected to interact with the other girls, to talk in front of them and to share things about myself while other people were watching. That was horrific. I was nervous only being in the same room with them, forget talking. So I remained mute, avoided eye contact and they seemed to understand that as a sign of defiance more than anxiety. And I guess part of it was defiance, but it was protective defiance because I was afraid.

Today I’m still wary of situations where people who I don’t know might talk to me and I’m extremely nervous about going to unfamiliar or busy places. It’s somewhat easier today because I don’t need to go places alone, though. I feel comfortable and unafraid at home, especially with mom, so having her with me helps because I feel like I’m safe in her presence and can “hide” with her. Not physically, but by knowing she can tell how much I can take and will take over when I can’t take any more. That’s fairly liberating, because I feel much better about new situations when I’m not facing them by myself. I feel like it’s safer to be a bit more courageous, too, because in case it gets bad or overwhelming, I’m not alone.

Strangely, at the same time, I also have this whole other, opposite side to me. (Like, because things being easy and unambiguous for once would be boring or something.) Sometimes I go into what’s like an entirely different personality mode, almost, for which social anxiety isn’t a problem at all. I think it’s a semi-dissociated state or something, and it kicks in when I go into a “fuck all the world, I don’t care, bring on the destruction” state. That was the mode that took over when I ran from the group homes, for example, or the mode that ended with me having sex with perfect strangers. I’m not shy at all about talking or being in social situations then, but it’s like I’m not even really being “me” in those situations.

And once more I’m left feeling like a fraud when I suffer from social anxiety symptoms, because I know that I’m also capable of being perfectly anxiety-free at other times. How can two so opposite sides be really there? That’s what I ask myself then and feel like I can’t even trust my own behavior or thoughts or feelings.

Lately those anxiety-free episodes have become far and few in between, though, and I think that’s even kind of a good sign, because those socially uninhibited person that I can turn into is a very unhealthy person for me to be. Kind of a protective, tough persona that I picked up as a means of coping along the way, not my true self.

But I feel like I’m starting to ramble. This post doesn’t really even have a point other than “it’s complicated” maybe. Ah well, I’ll post it anyway. Because it IS complicated and weird, being both extremely afraid socially, and able to just ditch all anxiety in other situations. Complicated. And social anxiety sucks.

Experiences and Gene Expression – the biological basis

After the point of near-despair because I didn’t seem to understand a thing, I have now gotten to a point where I think I got the gist of it. This is a post about how experiences shape the way our genes work, to underline that while our genetic makeup might be hardwired, which parts of it get activated is often due to what kind of experiences we make.

The premise of that is that as humans, at the moment we get conveived our genetic makeup is determinated by the individual mix of chromosomes from our mother’s and father’s DNA. This individual mix contains lots of possibilities there, laid out by what our genetic makeup contains, but by that point they are still possibilities. Plenty of them. With some genes there is little choice, such as what our hair or eye color will be. Others traits of ours, however, are the result of a mix of genes that are less predetermined. Which get realized and which don’t largely depends on what kind of experiences we make. Both inside the mother’s womb as we grow, as outside of it, during our childhood (as well as our adult life).

So much for the theory. Here is how it works on a biological basis (the way I came to understand it).

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The most important thing to know is that the brain, which is part of the nervous system, communicates internally with electric signals (inside of nerve cells) as well as chemical signals (to get information from one nerve cell to the next). So the brain’s language consists of those two parts.

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So far so good. What happens now when we experience things? The kind of experience that we have (like sensual experience, be it through touch, seeing things, hearing things, feeling things, anything) gets translated into electrical impulses. Those come in through lots of little “arms” that nerve cells have. Those incoming impulses stimulate the nerve cell.

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What happens when the nerve cell gets stimulated in a certain way? The stimulation releases messenger proteins. Messenger proteins are proteins that carry information to the nucleus of the cell. The nucleus is where our genetic makeup is. Every nerve cell (as well as most other cells in the body) is equipped with all of our genetic information, which consists of 46 chromosomes. The important part here is that, once stimulated, the activated messenger proteins in turn stimulate activator proteins inside the nucleus, where all of our genetic information is.

GeneExpression2

Now let’s look at the chromosomes, because that’s important to be able to understand what happens next.

Each of the 46 chromosomes consists of a double helix of so-called nucleotides, little thingies that basically work like a zipper. Each nucleotide has a counterpart that it can lock with, which is why it ends up being a double helix. The double helix is curled up really tightly into the shape of an X, which is why Chromosomes are X-shaped. (Except for the one male Y chromosome. That one mises a leg. But all the other chromosomes are X shaped.)

Anyway, on this double helix – if we unspiraled it to look – we’d be able to see one gene sequence after the other. Really, really, really many of them on each single chromosome. And each of those gene sequences starts with a promotor. Keep that in mind, because it’s important.

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Okay, so you kept in mind that each of the many genes on the looooooooong DNA helix starts with a promotor. That’s important because depending on what kind of activator protein has been released by the incoming information, this protein matches with a specific promotor.

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Once the activator protein has successfully matched with a promotor, the promotor triggers a slicing protein that temporarily slices (unzips) the double helix that makes up this gene sequence. That is important  because messenger RNA pieces can match with the now-open strand of DNA. By matching up to the DNA they make a copy of the information that this gene carries. Once they are done matching, they have joined to a little string of messenger RNA and let go of the DNA to float off. The job is done and the double-helix zips close again.

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So now there is a messenger RNA copy of what the gene says. This copy is able to pass from the nucleus into the cell body where it seeks out the so-called ribosome. The ribosome is like a building site for proteins, which reads the info of the messenger RNA. Depending on the information that the messenger RNA carries, the ribosome joins together the building parts that for example neurotransmitter proteins consist of. Which proteins get built therefore depends on which gene was activated and what information was on that gene.

GeneExpression6

Everyone familiar with mental health issues will surely know how valuable neurotransmitters are. A lack of neurotransmitters like serotonine, for example, can cause stuff like depression. Which is why psych drugs come and add artificial neurotransmitters (or agents that inhibit the ability of the neurotransmitters to get resorbed into the nerve cells after they have been released to communicate information to the next nerve cell).

BUT, and that’s the real big thing all this is about – while our genes determine which neurotransmitters are built, for example, it is our experiences that determine which genes get activated. So the way I understand it, it is kind of impossible to keep nature and nurture apart, because one influences the other. Especially during pregnancy, infancy and childhood, there are apparently many windows of opportunity during which the kind of experiences that a person makes determine WHICH of the many possible genes that are there will be the ones that get activated.

Now this may sound like a small thing, but it’s actually a big one. Everything we are is ultimately a result of which genes get or got activated when. But this is not entirely predetermined. Experiences have a large influence on which of the many possible genes get activated. Also, there is a thing called neuroplasticity, which basically means that throughout life the brain is able to change and develop. Only because one thing is activated (or inactive) right now, it doesn’t mean it has to be forever. If there are enough experiences, our brain can change with those experiences and genes that were activated can get deactivated and vice versa. It probably takes longer for experiences to achieve that later in life than it took during the window of opportunity, but the way I understand it, the basic fact that what part of our genetic makeup is activated is open to influence by what kind of experiences we make remains.

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So what does that mean?  To me it means a lot of things.

It means that only because my brain is working in a certain way now, it can change the way it works if enough experiences that are different to the ones that caused it to work that way come in.

It means that statements such as “you will have to take that psych drug for the rest of your life” are highly questionable to my mind, because there actually IS the possibility that given we make enough suitable experiences, our brain can learn to activate different genes again that will be able to bring the brain back into its neurochemical balance, for example.

And it means that what happens to children during the pregnancy, infancy and childhood is SO, SO, SO VERY IMPORTANT, because that’s when the windows of opportunity regarding which parts of their genetic makeup will become active are open. I really believe that THIS is where successful mental health care should start. Making sure that children don’t experience stuff that turns all the wrong genes on to mess up their lives later!

But this last implication will be part two of what I want to post about “Experiences and Gene Expression”. For today, this is all. The next post will specifically be about “Childhood Experiences and Gene Expression”. Stay tuned. 🙂

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Where the information comes from:

BEAR, M.; PARADISO, M.; CONNORS, B.W. (2006): Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

PERRY, B.D. (2002): Childhood Experiences and the Expression of Genetic Potential. in: Brain and Mind 3: 79-100. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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