I got a long way into my life before I realized that I think differently than most people I know.
Now, I don’t mean I think more or less logically, or on a deeper or shallower level, or more or less intently or anything like that. I guess I mean, I think more ‘bipolar’ than other people. Here is what I mean:
Bipolar people have different tendencies in their thoughts than other people.
Some of them are clearly defined: rapid thoughts where you can barely understand the thought before another thought is ramming its way in, extreme thoughts where any bad thing happening in your life leads to suicidal thoughts, and counter-positioned thoughts where one day you want to throw a party with every person you know and the next day you don’t want to ever see another person ever again.
On top of these things, bipolars tend to also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and ADHD. Almost every bipolar I know has obsessive thoughts. I have talked about a couple of my big time obsessions (of which I have four), but obsessive thinking is extremely common. And since our thoughts tend to be extreme, we obsess on extreme thoughts, like suicide. Rapid thinking is often a bi-product of mania for most bipolars. However, ADHD is extremely common amongst us as well. Even those without it tend to find it is difficult to focus on anything for even a short amount of time, especially when they are in a cycle. I don’t personally have OCD or ADHD, but I do have the obsessions and rapid thinking.
I like to sum it up like this: any of the big emotions that you have as a non-bipolar person, like love/passion, anger, depression, elation, bipolars experience a more intense version of it. How much more intense? Sometimes not more intense at all, but we often experience these emotions to a level that disrupts our lives. So that crushing sadness you experience after a rough breakup is probably not all that different than what a bipolar would experience in the same situation. Excepting that a bipolar would dwell there for weeks or months without resolve and at times move his/her thoughts to suicide as a way out.
Let me illustrate my point with an anecdote out of my own life from just a couple days ago. I texted a joke to a friend that I don’t talk to very often. The joke was adult in nature, and in the vein of a burn or something. I knew that if I had said this joke in person, she would’ve laughed her ass off and it would’ve been a great moment. But things over text can often be misconstrued. She didn’t respond right away. I know that probably everyone reading this has experienced text anxiety. I know this because it is a bit in some comedian’s act that I recently watched. So this situation probably sounds perfectly normal. But, this is where the bipolar part comes in: she finally responded about two and a half hours later, and she did find it very funny. However, in that time, I texted a couple people I thought maybe she talked to that day to see if she mentioned anything about me. I scoped out her facebook, twitter and instagram to see if she had any activity on her phone but was ignoring my text. I got so nervous about it that I decided to call her and apologize, but then decided that was crazy, three separate times. I had convinced myself that not only would she eventually tell me that she never wanted to talk to me again, but that she would tell my joke to our mutual friends and they would no longer speak to me because of it. I would eventually lose all of my meaningful friendships because of this joke, and I would eventually kill myself in order to escape the self-induced pain of a particularly ill-conceived joke. And I am not exaggerating that story at all. That is how quickly and how obtrusively my obsessions can take over my thoughts, and how poorly I deal with them.
I think you can see how maybe I handled that situation a little different than you would have.
A lot of how I learned the difference between me and the real world is through stand-up comedy. Anxiety is a common theme in routines, so it helps to see what people without bipolar say about things that bipolar people deal with. Of course, ‘bipolar thinking’ is a major theme, and primary subject, of cognitive behavioral therapy. What do you think? Why do you think you think that? How have you acted out these thoughts? What action can you take to not behave this way? What action can you take to not think this way? That is basically how things get broken down in therapy.
A question I get all the time, or an assumption I hear people make all the time, is about control of your thoughts. I think a lot of people think that I am never in control of my thoughts. The truth is, 98% of the time I am in complete control of my thoughts, just like you. When I am in a cycle, and it doesn’t matter where I am in the cycle, it can get difficult to control your thoughts. When I am depressed I am more obsessive and dramatic about my thoughts. When I am manic I have a hard time holding onto a thought. When I am mixed state I just want to kill myself in order to no longer have thoughts, no joke.
But, and this is a big one, bipolar people are not cycling all the time. A very common misconception, even amongst bipolars.
I haven’t cycled since I had my ECT, in May. Before that, I had had one cycle all year. And even that was only a depressed state, no manic. I haven’t been manic for a couple of years now, the summer of 2013. I have only had maybe 5 manic episodes in my life, and only 2 of those were dangerous. I generally have one or two depression spells a year, and they vary in length, but generally last longer than a month. At my worst points with my depression, bouts would last in excess of six months at a time, with maybe a month of normalcy, and back into a several month long cycle of depression. As I have gotten older, mania and anxiety have become larger issues for me than depression.
So, my disease is not constantly affecting me, at least not in a major way.
I still notice that I think oddly even when I’m not cycling. I tend to obsess all the time. I tend to be extreme all the time. I tend to worry about my life and my future all the time. I find that the way I think about things tends to be a major cause of depression for me. It is something I am constantly fighting against and trying to get a handle on.
Maybe one day I will better understand what generates my thoughts, or at least how to deal with them. But to be honest, from here, it doesn’t look hopeful.