Here is a summary of my 10 Downsides of Bipolar, which was published on celebrity Niall Breslin’s A Lust for Life website. I was also interviewed on Dublin City FM.
After the exploration of 10 upsides of Bipolar Disorder, I realised that I needed to examine the downsides too. However, this was not a dreary project as my main focus was to provide steps, hopes, and inspirations for the bipolar journey.
1) Depression: A lowness, a sadness, a lack of life crept in and I had to remind myself that this was not my fault. I cried out in depths of despair to dig a bit deeper, to hang on a bit longer and to just feel an ounce of life within me. After a week of raw pain, I felt an inner joy returning like the rising sun and my world became more external again. The late Carrie Fisher believed that soldiers of bipolar should have been issued with medals of bravery.
2) Mania: I chased my random thoughts around: “Go there, do this,” they said. I impulsively gave away my precious belongings and my mind was filled with sexual images. At times, my days consisted of a 10-mile walk; 10 activities; 10 pages of diary entries and more. Other times, I experienced a mixed mood of depression, racing thoughts and ‘voices’. I was treated at a psychiatric hospital with medication and I connected with my world through mindfulness. I have recovered so well and I am now living a very meaningful and fulfilled life. Continue reading
Dysphoria is a state of intense unease and agitation which can occur in different moods of bipolar. Here, I focus on a dysphoria of the healthy balanced mood.
“People with bipolar complain of a dysphoria,” says psychiatrist Bernard Murphy, “and they’re intolerant of this mundane dysphoric state. The barometer of normality is influenced by the memory of the manic or hypomanic episode. And they look on their own affect as being below par, and they want to tick over a little bit higher.”
Yes, the barometer of normality is influenced by my memory. When I listen to people, laughing excessively often comes to mind. I often see balanced mood as abnormal, totally boring and unexciting. And it is daunting because it takes effort to be present with people. On the other hand, when I meet others who are overly sarcastic and a bit dangerous, I try to calm down and turn away from their excessiveness. There is a struggle here between my inner and outer life. My memory of depression or low mood can influence the barometer too. Continue reading
Low mood takes me away from light and love. It makes me love the dark side of life. It makes me love distress and anxiety.
‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ – Socrates
Back in the days before I was diagnosed, I can recall periods of low mood where I would withdraw from social situations. I didn’t pick up on these early warning signs. Young people can also feel low and withdrawn, and they often miss out on the problem. Our powers of reflection can help us. Developed through journal writing, mindfulness, and honest conversations with friends, reflection gives us wisdom to detect a mental health breakdown. My identical twin, for example, has not developed bipolar which is arguably as a result of his reflective skills.
During my periods of low mood, there can be a creeping tendency to ruminate. It is a never-ending cycle of negative thinking that only leads to more problems. While on a trip abroad, I was in a bad head space. I was on my own and worrying about putting on weight. This thought filled my mind and took me away from living in the present moment. I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama: ‘If something can be done, there’s no need to worry. If it cannot be done, there’s no use worrying. Finished’. So simple and so true! Once I identified that I could go for runs and eat healthily, I started to stop worrying. Moreover, I started to let go of what could not be done in my life, which led to the realisation that most of my days were filled with the same unhelpful thoughts after the same unhelpful thoughts. And I eventually stopped the cycle! Continue reading
Social stressors and losses are commonly cited as a precipitating factor of mood instability (BPS, 2010). With regard social stressors, I can be extremely sensitive to minor disturbances in my relationship with others, which can lead to mental health problems. A disagreement, an uncomfortable silence, or a raw tension can tip me over the edge towards insomnia, anxiety, and extreme moods. My family have commented that I find it hard to live with others, but it would be more accurate to say that I am overly attached to maintaining peace, peace at all costs. I often find it most difficult when peace is disturbed. Although I am a peacemaker, I need to accept the reality of interpersonal frustrations. I need to accept that not everyone likes me. I need to smile like the Buddha. Continue reading
Hypomania takes you from off the ground! The British Psychological Society defines it as “elation and overactivity”, and this experience is common in our society (BPS, 2010). Hypomania can be particularly problematic for my life with bipolar. And, I argue, it can be troublesome for the general public too.
I met some people at an event one night and I felt attracted to a particular lady. I happened to feel quite low, a sadness closely related to depression. But when I spoke to this lady, I bounced from sadness to highness, all in a matter of seconds. And this bouncing can occur quite frequently in social situations. With a friend, my eyes can bounce to the right with one idea and bounce to the left with another, thereby not maintaining eye contact and not connecting. Behind my bouncing, there is a fear of intimacy: I often find it uncomfortable to be up close and personal with people. Intimacy is both my greatest wish and my greatest fear. Instead of trying to escape, I would do well to maintain eye contact with the person next to me. Continue reading
But for some reason, I didn’t know the difference between the image of myself and the image of others. They were both combined to form one blurry, bipolar image.
I felt pain this morning through these eyes: I passed by someone and said “Good morning”. She kept her head down, muttered my name, and didn’t look back. I felt small in the midst of my pain….so how healthy is my self-image if that is what I saw? Let me look to a client of depression named Sarah who said, ‘I have to listen to my pain and not just that of other people. And I have to struggle with the pain inside me to try to release some of it bit by bit’ (Coming through Depression).
I tried to please this person in many ways and she seemed to take advantage of my kindness. Perhaps that was because I had poor self-image…I want to look after my own needs too. If I am to be frank with this person, I would say, “I see you most days and I need peace here in this space, and I will no longer let you stamp on me like you are trampling on eggshells. I am not one of your eggs. I would appreciate it if you would respect my peace”. Continue reading
Psychiatrist Gerald May referred to addiction as repetitive willful behaviour. In this light, it is easy to imagine that we nearly all have addictions to some degree: towards food, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, exercise, worry…the list goes on.
Although my active imagination is an upside of bipolar, it can also contribute towards addiction. On those nights when I lie in bed and can’t go to sleep, my mind starts to bounce from one destructive image to another. My imagination attempts to draw me away from peace and contentment, so I need to be most vigilant.
In the field of spirituality, we are urged to be cautious when the devil comes cloaked as an angel of light (an old-fashioned term I know!). For instance, while I was working on a computer document, I was stirred to do some research on the internet. I was filled with apparent light, as this seemed like a good thing to do. Then I was coaxed into doing more research, and then more, and more. Before long, my mind became totally scrambled and I ended up turning to a repetitive willful behaviour. In the midst of my actions, it is wise to stop and examine where these thoughts are coming from. And if they are leading to a dead end, then I need to return to what I was doing before the temptations. I need to be mindful of this trickster! Continue reading