Experience has shown me that mania compels rash decision-making and bipolar depression can cloud my perspective. Knowing when to trust myself has been an up-and-down undertaking.
The Skewed Perspective of Depression
Susan impresses me right away with her enveloping bear hug and easy manner. Too nice to diagnose me with depression, she tells me I have “adjustment disorder” and bills insurance under that code.
In our first session, Susan tells me that most people see life through clear or even rose-colored glasses, while I see life through gray-colored glasses. In other words, I see everything through a negative lens and my perception discolors reality for the worse.
So, when I tell Susan that I will never have a career that I love or find the right guy, she reminds me that my gray-colored glasses are projecting a sour future, regardless of the actual facts.
Our therapeutic relationship only lasted a few months before I decided to seek treatment with someone a little less chummy, but I never forgot Susan’s glasses metaphor.
Thought Work in Therapy
Fast-forward six years, and I’m listening to a lecture in a run-down building that, between the bleach smell and avocado-green vinyl flooring, reminds me of attending preschool in the 1980s.
Newly diagnosed with bipolar II, I’m in an intensive outpatient program to learn to cope with life through healthier means than unleashing my explosive anger on my husband or on myself.
A therapist intern runs through a scenario on a whiteboard: Just because a figurative coworker doesn’t greet us in the hallway doesn’t mean he’s mad at us. Maybe he didn’t see us. Maybe he’s having a bad day….
(I don’t bring up that this example is not terribly relevant to me. I’m barely self-employed because I spend most of my time lying on the couch with my dog while staring at the ceiling.)
Months go by, and, as it turns out, CBT kind of works!
I significantly reduce the amount of time I spend “shoulding,” overgeneralizing, labeling, and catastrophizing. (All of the “cognitive distortions” or negative thought patterns that we are likely to fall into when depressed.)
But I also lose all confidence in my own perception of reality.
When a new client approaches me, I accept the work on a flat-fee basis, even though something feels off. My intuition says this project could be more hassle than it’s worth. I ignore my instincts because, hey, I have gray-colored glasses, right?
Sure enough, the project is so time-consuming that, in the end, I’m making about $5 per hour. And it’s so stressful interpersonally that I find myself back on the couch with my dog—for months.
Second-Guessing & Overspending
My tendency to second-guess myself is fueled by the very nature of bipolar, which makes me do things that seem like a great idea in the moment but that I later regret.
One night, feeling restless and unable to sleep, I decide that I need to start a weight-loss program. And it needs to happen now.
I buy $500 in fitness gear online with money we don’t have (remember, I’m barely self-employed).
At 3:00 a.m., still unable to sleep, I dial my brother in a panic. My husband is in another state, so I beg my brother to come over and take my bank cards so I can’t spend any more money.
He goes back to sleep instead.
As a last resort, I shred my cards. This means I don’t have any money for groceries or gas until my husband gets home, but at least the manic spending stops!
Examining Where Credit Is Due
I think now about all the bad decisions I’ve made—dropping $5,000 in attorney’s fees to set up a corporation for an international business deal that was obviously doomed; buying 20 heads of cabbage because I read that juicing two a day would cure my digestive disorder—and it makes sense that I mistrust myself.
But, as I would learn in 2020, I need to give my intuition more credit….
Good Instincts or Paranoia?
Back in January 2020, two months before society shut down, I warned friends and family about the impending world health crisis. Everyone thought I was worked up over nothing. Nothing, that is, until California issued its stay-at-home order, and I was the only one with a full freezer and a six-month supply of toilet paper. (I shared, of course.)
2020 was also the year I took on gaslighting. On more than one occasion, loved ones told me narratives that directly contradicted my own experience. At last, I stood my ground; and, each time, my perspective turned out to be right.
Sticking to the truth, I discovered, ultimately smooths out these kinds of conflicts and helps our relationships to grow in healthier directions.
Complex Questions vs. Clouded Glasses
Later that year, a new family moved into our apartment complex. I didn’t know why, but I immediately felt that something questionable was going on behind the scenes. But, thinking about those clouded gray glasses, I kept telling myself to let my suspicions go, that my anxiety was just on overdrive.
After a few weeks, I ran into the wife while taking my dogs out. Immediately, both dogs started barking and growling at her to stay back.
This wasn’t too surprising from my new shepherd puppy, but even my little Cavalier wanted this woman to leave us alone. My Cav adores people, and I’ve never seen her approach our neighbors with anything less than enthusiasm in the 10 years we’ve had her.
Apparently, the dogs trust their own instincts more than I do.
Weeks passed, then more information about this family came out within our community. Suddenly, I understood why the new neighbors made me feel so uncomfortable. My intuition had called it!
Balancing Self-Awareness & Self-Trust
If there is a lesson to be learned from these experiences, it’s that those of us with bipolar disorder need to maintain a balance between critically examining our thoughts—especially when manic—and trusting ourselves.
I have a team of people around me that includes my husband, my therapist, my psychiatrist, my mom, and my best friend. If I’m not sure whether I’m seeing something clearly, I know that I can go to my team for input.
Most often, I find that my perception is spot-on. But, sometimes, they are able to help me see something I’m missing or even spot early signs of a mood episode.
Of course, all of us—with or without bipolar—could probably benefit from running our ideas by a trusted person once in a while.
We just need to make sure that, in the process, we give our intuition proper credit.
Christine Anderson is a freelance writer and an aspiring dog trainer with two pups of her own. She received a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder in 2013, after years of living with its symptoms. Christine is also the captain of Still I Run San Diego, a local chapter of the nonprofit dedicated to running for mental health. Known for her fearlessness, Christine is passionate about normalizing conversations around mental health conditions by sharing her personal highs and lows. You can contact her through Instagram.
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