Bipolar ThoughtsPersonal HistoryTherapy

Puzzles

There is a really fascinating phenomenon with the brain where once you understand how to solve a problem, the solution is inherently visible to you when faced with the same problem again.

This is applicable in a myriad of things. This is how we go from seeing the silhouetted faces to the wine glass or the bird and the old lady back and forth once we are aware of the optical illusion, despite only being able to see one or the other upon the first viewing. This is how we can “learn” to increase our IQ or our SAT scores by repeated test taking. This is how we become more adept at puzzles and games, and why you’re no longer play Sudoku.

There is an evil twin sibling of this phenomenon called confirmation bias. And this means that when we believe we are solving a problem we have already learned to solve, we will find clues that helped us solve previous puzzles that might no longer be applicable. This is why you never finished the “expert” level Sudoku book.

The problem with confirmation bias is that it is difficult to know when you are adeptly applying problem solving skills, and when the skills you’ve applied are making a bigger problem.

It is hard to get out of our own way sometimes. Maybe even most of the time.

Personally, I find the worse confirmation bias results when I apply logic from something that I know well to something I don’t know so well. There really is no reason to do this but we are inundated with this logic. Sometimes we mean it metaphorically; humans tend to speak in metaphor very often. Sometimes we do it for simplicity; humans tend to shed nuance for a quick grasp of understanding. Sometimes we do it because we don’t know why we shouldn’t apply logic this way, like when people tell me the government should be run like a business.

Mental health is maybe the worst instance I can think of where this type of illogic runs amok.

There are a lot of reasons. Limited ways to confirm a diagnosis scientifically is one. Lack of understanding on how to treat it is another. Foggy reality about what is really causing and what is really caused by is a whole slew more. There are more theories than facts in mental health, and this tends to be fertile ground for outside theories to creep in and confirmation bias to start laying some of these theories down as fact, even incorrectly.

I love to solve puzzles. I am good at problem solving. I love logic games, word puzzles, space puzzles, games. I also was maybe the only person I knew that enjoyed geometric proofs and logical argumentative proofs in school. I have always loved to dive into something and play around and tinker until I find the answer.

This is may be the single most driving trait of my personality.

And my mental health is no stranger to my applications of problem solving. I will say this, however, it hasn’t gone so well so far.

Bipolar disorder just isn’t something that I can ‘solve’, especially not in this manner. It isn’t a puzzle and once I refine all the parts, the solution will become clear to me. It is just something to endlessly tinker in.

And confirmation bias doesn’t even need to come from outside to be wrong when it comes to bipolar. The things I thought I knew about how my mind worked just a couple years ago have already proven to no longer be true. Each of my three major incidents have been shockingly dissimilar. The only thing I’ve learned that has proven to be always true is that I need to approach every situation with fresh eyes, being mindful of patterns I’m seeing but being able to accept new information as truth, even if it doesn’t make sense that way.

It is impossibly difficult at times. There isn’t really a way to sugarcoat that.

Hopefully, in time I can learn to be better at reacting and faster at processing new information. That way I can reduce the wrong paths my bias my lead me down. Until then, I’ll just try to understand how to get out of my own way.