behavioral patterns can promote or inhibit production of neurochemicals and hormones,
the human brain remains changeable even into adulthood
it is within human ability to affect deep change in habits of character through practice and exercise in self-control.
When I read Frank Herbert’s Dune in 2009, beginning on the day of my daughter Beatrice’s birth, I became intrigued by one of its fantasy plot points: that through breeding and conditioning a human could gain conscious control over all of his or her bodily functions, from breathing and heart rate to neurochemistry. This conscious control is one of several superhuman abilities possessed by the novel’s protagonist, Paul Atreides, taught him by his mother Lady Jessica, Bene Gesserit and concubine of his father, Duke Leto Atreides.
In the years hence, struggling with anxiety and depression, this once passing fancy in control over brain function renewed itself in my consciousness, and with therapy and a lot of reading I found that some degree of control over the chaos in my mind was possible.
The brain, remaining plastic throughout a human lifespan, can be changed. Neural pathways, like foot trails through forests, are grown over when not used. Similarly, new neural pathways may be trodden, replacing the old ones. In other words, you can change your mind by changing your habits.
Psychology and self-help books provided some insights, but what seems to be left out of them is the fact that this type of change is neither fast nor easy. Only through patient, perseverant work can we influence our behavior deliberately through hormones and neurochemicals.
Of particular interest in this age of the internet is the neurotransmitter dopamine. Social media use, i.e. posting and achieving likes and comments, triggers dopamine release, much like a drug, producing its addictive quality.
I found a way around this problem. In early 2016, as an experiment in active control of my neurochemistry, I cancelled my internet connection at home. This was only a temporary measure, as I moved in with my parents for a time later that year (where there was internet), and reinstated my own service when I moved into my current residence late last year.
But over the three months in which I deprived myself of internet service, I made several observations concerning my own behavior and mood.
I was unable to participate in social media or binge-watching (the two online activities which were the most significant drains on my time and mental resources) unless I was located elsewhere.
There was an initial withdrawal period, with increased anxiety, irritability, and depressive feelings. These feelings subsided after two days.
I began reading voraciously again, a habit which had dwindled significantly in the prior two years.
I wrote twenty four songs, and began to capture and edit photographs prolifically.
I blogged frequently, and wrote my fourth short story (it’s trash, don’t ask to read it).
I developed morning and evening routines, and corrected my sleep pattern to approximately 81.25% efficiency (an average of six and a half of the recommended eight hours of sleep each night).
My house became cleaner and more well-organized.
My moods were stabilized, with increased feelings of well-being and satisfaction in my work.
I saved $149.97.
Some of this progress was hindered with reintroduction of regular evening internet use, but my morning and evening routines, sleep pattern, and mood gains remained, although each underwent additional stress.
Now once more I find myself on the cusp of change, and once more I am driven to deprive myself of internet connectivity for the sake of mental health. it’s not that I’m feeling particularly bad. But I can, and have felt better, and I can and have done better.
For better or worse, my mind occupies the poles. There’s no middle ground for me; it’s all or nothing. That’s not a choice, but a signifier of how my brain works. At least, that’s what I believe at this point.
What I’m getting at is that even though I wish I could balance things like a neurotypical person and enjoy movies and social media* at home as well as a lot of reading, writing, and other creative work, I just can’t. It’s one or the other for me, at least for now.
To live my life to the fullest, to raise my children to the best of my ability, to develop healthy relationships with my loved ones as well as friends I have yet to meet, to be an involved citizen, to compose the music and poetry, the designs and artwork of my soul, to expand my mind through careful study, in short, to participate in all the activities to which I am capable of contributing, requires my home to be disconnected.
*I deleted my personal Facebook account a couple of months ago, and and have converted my Instagram accounts to business profiles for the sole purpose of promoting my art and music.