For many of us, we deal with bipolar disorder every day and it often feels like dealing with bipolar disorder takes up way too much time. I know I spend a significant amount of time thinking about how and doing things to mitigate bipolar’s effects. I have to. It’s how I function as well as I do (however moderate that may be). And when I look at what I get done in a day, it seems painfully clear that dealing with bipolar disorder takes up too much time.
What Does Dealing with Bipolar Mean?
When I say “dealing with bipolar” I mean anything I do because of the illness. For me, this includes things like:
Maintaining a bipolar routine which includes things like going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time every day
Forcing myself out of the apartment when I don’t want to go
Using many psychological coping skills to deal with the symptoms and side effects that present themselves
How Much Time Does Dealing with Bipolar Take?
While I know some of those sound like everyday concerns that anyone might have, these are far harder for me than they are for most people. Most of these things I struggle with every day. And something like coping skills for bipolar symptoms can be an every-minute-of-the-day thing. Trying to control my thoughts is an every-second-of-the-day thing. And I need to do these things. I need to do these things just to function on a basic level. These are the things I need to do to be able to work and support myself. These are very important things.
In other words, bipolar tends to be the first thing I think of in the morning (take pills) and the last thing I think of at night (take pills) and then many, many times in between.
Isn’t that A Bit Obsessive?
So yes, all these thoughts are a bit obsessive. But this is the obsession that is required for me to survive. I’ve learned that the second you stop watching and reacting to the alligator, that’s when he bites you.
Too Much Time Dealing with Bipolar
All of this amounts to far too much time. I hate it. I look at the chunks of time in my day and I realize how few of them are actually productive in a normal way. I realize how few I actually worked. I realize how few I actually did chores. I realize how few I actually just lived. I realize that most of my time, most of my day, is spent fighting with my brain. I hate it. It feels like wasted hours of life – hours of life that I will never get back.
But here’s the thing, these aren’t actually wasted hours. I know they feel that way and they might even seem that way to an onlooker.
But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that if you don’t spend time adequately dealing with bipolar disorder, you won’t be able to do anything else. It’s after the alligator bites you that you really lose your abilities and time.
Bipolar depression can last for years. Now, I know, bipolar disorder is a cyclical illness – i.e. you cycle through various states like hypomania, mania, depression and euthymia (no symptoms). This is true. But it is also true that a person can get trapped in one of the mood states. This isn’t necessarily the most common manifestation of bipolar disorder, but it does happen. And usually, if you’re trapped in a particular mood state, it’s bipolar depression that lasts for years.
Years of Bipolar Depression
Yes, I’m one of those people who has been in a bipolar depression for years (of various severities). Occasionally, it’s been interrupted by a mixed mood or a hypomania, but those tiny punctuations are dwarfed by the massive bipolar depressions that surround them.
And believe me, in those years of bipolar depression I have tried every medication cocktail known to man. We’ve tried everything there is so we’ve had no choice but to go back to previous medications (and, actually, we’re having some success with that).
Why Would Bipolar Depression Last for Years?
Of course, no one knows why a particular person experiences the exact symptom profile in bipolar disorder that he or she does. So if you’re stuck in years of bipolar depression, I certainly can’t say why you are when the person with bipolar disorder next to you isn’t.
That said, there are some things we do know:
The later you got treatment, the worse your prognosis
The earlier you got sick, the worse your prognosis
The more episodes you have, the more likely future episodes are
The more your bipolar disorder cycles the worse your prognosis
The more medications that fail, the more it indicates that future medications will fail (note that this does not mean all will, it likely just suggests a longer medical trial period)
Bipolar disorder moods feed on themselves by changing your brain physically, the more changes, the more depressed you are
External stressors/traumas worsen prognosis
Socioeconomic factors also affect prognosis
I think of it like this: When you’re in a depression, you’re in a ditch. It starts as a shallow ditch – one you could walk out of with the right directions. Then, over time, the ditch gets deeper. That’s when you start needing others to help get out of the ditch. And then the ditch gets so deep that you need a ladder to get out. And at some point, the ditch is so deep that it can be very difficult to find a ladder tall enough to bring you back up.
In looking at the above, it seems that depression breeds depression. It is a self-replicating state.
Dealing with Years of Bipolar Depression
I really hope that you’re not dealing with years of bipolar depression – but I know some of you are. Here’s what I think you need to know about years of depression in bipolar disorder:
Bipolar depressions can be treated and do end/lessen. I’m the first person to admit that I lost all hope that anything would ever touch my depression after years. But here’s the thing – a medication cocktail did. You don’t have to feel the hope of this (I know many can’t feel hope) but listen to my words because things do
All those scary assertions, above, are true, but they can be dealt with. I know if you’re a person who got treatment late and has experienced many failed treatments (like me) it feels like everything is stacked against you, but you can still get better. What I said about the brain is true. Bipolar depression does things like shrink parts of the brain; but, the good news is that treatment (both medication and appropriate therapy) can actually reverse And therapy can help you mitigate stressors. (Socioeconomic factors, though, are notably hard to address.)
Bipolar depression treatment takes time. I know you want to be well. I know you want to be well right now, or, you know, preferably yesterday, but bipolar depression treatment isn’t like that. Finding a cocktail that works after years of depression is a long and painful process but it is one that works, eventually, for most people.
I can’t tell you what treatment will work for you after years of bipolar depression, what I can tell you is that treatment is out there. I can tell you there is hope.
But I can also tell you that turning around years of bipolar depression is a hard thing to do. Long-term depression has got a lot of downward momentum and finding something to alter that is a tall order. I think it’s important to understand this. Not because it’s an easy thing to hear, but, rather, because it will set your expectations appropriately. It you expect to get better in the next month and don’t, you’ll be even more depressed. But if I set you up for a year or more of work (which is what might be needed), you’ll be prepared for some failure before success.
I’d admit all day that if you’re in a years-long bipolar depression, the numbers aren’t in your favor, but you know what is? You. Your tenacity. Your strength. Your desire to get better. That’s all stronger than numbers. So don’t give up. I know you might want to, but if I could find relief, then so can you.
Hope Even with Years of Bipolar Depression
Tune in to be offered hope even if you’re experiencing years of depression.
Hope If You've Been Experiencing Depression for Years - YouTube
Rumination in depression (both unipolar and bipolar depression) is common, and it is typically a negative thing. Doctors will ask about ruminations as will therapists; but what is rumination and how do you handle rumination in depression?
Definition of ‘Ruminate’
According to Dictionary.com, the verb “ruminate” has two meanings:
to chew the cud, as a ruminant.
to meditate or muse; ponder.
Now, I’m going to assume most people aren’t cud-chewing and I’ll focus on the second definition.
Musing or pondering doesn’t sound bad. In fact, people muse and ponder all the time and no harm comes of it; but, the ruminations in depression that people are concerned about are different and are harmful.
Rumination in Depression Is Harmful
The issue with ruminations in depression that people don’t ruminate on rainbows and unicorns when they’re depressed, they ruminate on very bleak, negative things.
The Association for Psychological Science (APS) explains rumination in depression in the following way:
One of the most difficult and paradoxical symptoms of depression is obsessive thinking about the disease itself. Many people suffering from depression describe not only an inability to banish sad memories, but also a preoccupation with the origins and nature of disabling melancholy.
I would add that people with depression ruminate not only on the origin, nature and causes of depression but also other depressing thoughts such as “No one will ever love me” or “I am a failure.”
And as the APS says, these are obsessive thoughts, not just singular ones. Anyone might think they are unlovable or that they are a failure but it’s the obsessing over these thoughts hour after hour, day after day that makes them harmful. One’s inability to “change the channel” to more positive thoughts is also what makes these ruminations harmful.
Personally, I have ruminated on all sorts of awful things when depressed. I’ve ruminated on everything from the content of a suicide note to the “fact” that no one loves me. Particularly the second is indicative of the skewed thinking that is so common and definitive of depression.
What to Know About Depression Ruminations
First off, it’s important to understand that the propensity to ruminate is a “cognitive style.” In other words, it’s just something that some brains are more likely to do; and if you take a brain like that and make it depressed, it’s naturally going to ruminate on negative things. This type of cognitive style is not your fault but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with it.
Secondly, it’s important to recognize what depressed ruminations are and catch yourself when you’re doing it. I’m very aware of my tendency to ruminate and I can almost feel myself falling down a steep spiral as the ruminations become stronger and stronger.
3 Steps for Dealing with Harmful Ruminations in Depression
It’s simple: stop thinking about these negative things.
Okay, it’s not simple. If we could control our thoughts, we certainly wouldn’t be depressed, now would we?
What I can say is it’s possible to deal with negative, depressed ruminations and lessen their impact.
When I detect my own ruminations, I use the three esses:
See. I need to recognize my ruminations as those of depression and not truly of me. I need to step back from those ruminative thoughts.
Stop. I physically, say the word “stop” out loud. Force yourself to say it and hear it.
Switch. I move my brain very pointedly onto one of a few predetermined, pleasant thoughts. (Plan ahead as to what you want this thought to be.)
The three esses will not stop you from ruminating per se, but what they will do is try to nip the ruminations in the bud and transfer your thoughts to something that won’t hurt you.
Keep in mind that these three steps may have to be done over and over. You may slip back into rumination mere moments after you stopped. That’s okay. It will get easier to switch thoughts as you practice.
And, of course, if your depressed ruminations are too severe and/or are causing you distress and/or can’t be altered, you should definitely seek out the help of a professional. Appropriate depression treatment can help ruminations in depression go away more permanently.
Dictionary.com, Ruminate. Accessed April 17, 2018.
Unfortunately, it is the case that bipolar coping skills can sometimes stop working. This echoes the unpleasant experience of many with medications that can stop working due to tolerance. One doesn’t develop a physical tolerance to a coping skill, but sometimes changes in life or treatment can cause a bipolar coping skill to stop working. Here’s how to handle it when you rely on a bipolar coping skill that just stops working.
My Bipolar Coping Skill that Stopped Working
I used to rely on a bipolar coping skill somewhat like meditation pretty much every day. Every day in the afternoon, I would spend time being quiet, with my eyes closed, focusing my thoughts. When I did this, the unwanted thoughts of bipolar disorder would lessen. My brain would be more under my control. It was like a mini bipolar vacation that I needed to make it through the day.
Unfortunately for me, this bipolar coping skill stopped working a few months ago. I, literally, just can’t do it anymore.
Why Might a Bipolar Coping Skill Stop Working?
Bipolar coping skills are great but they sometimes are time-dependent. Sometimes they work in one situation but the identical skill won’t work in another.
Additionally, bipolar coping skills often work depending on your level of illness. For example, if you’re experiencing moderate depression, a coping skill is much more likely to be effective than if your depression is severe and life-threatening.
Also, medications can change your brain to the point where bipolar coping skills stop working. Such is the case for me. I’m on a medication cocktail right now that is highly problematic because of its induction of severe agitation.
What to Do When a Bipolar Coping Skill Stops Working
Unfortunately, it’s really hard when a bipolar coping skill that you rely on stops working. I really relied on this one and now it’s no longer in my toolbox. I’m not happy.
But, it is a toolbox. More than one thing fits in that toolbox. And if something has changed in my life to the point where a specific bipolar coping skill stops working, it stands to reason that a different skill might take its place. This is what I’m looking for now. To some extent, moving around (one might call it “exercising”) seems to help at times but I’m still looking for something better. I will say that exercise would have never worked before because of the severe depression, so things have definitely changed.
I think the important part is to be open to new techniques and even try old techniques that didn’t work the last time. Because I do believe there are effective bipolar coping skills out there for everyone, but we have to do the work to find them.
Attempting to accomplish big goals when you have bipolar disorder can end very badly. I know this; it has happened to me. But some big tasks must get done. Sometimes we have to move halfway across the country. Sometimes we have a six-month-long project for work. Sometimes we have to raise a child. Big goals don’t go away just because a person has bipolar disorder. So here are some tips I’ve learned on how to accomplish big goals with bipolar disorder.
Accomplishing My Next Big Goal with Bipolar Disorder
My next big goal in spite of bipolar disorder is to write my next book. And writing a book is a big goal with a capital oh-my-gosh. People take years to write some books. Those are mighty big goals.
And the last time I accomplished this particular big goal, I was sent into a devastating bipolar mixed mood for months and months. It was life-threatening. The last thing I want to do is let this big goal take me with my bipolar down again.
10 Tips on Having Bipolar and How to Accomplish Big Goals
So I have a plan. I plan on using these bipolar goal-accomplishing tips:
Setting reasonable deadlines – One of the problems with my last book is that I gave myself unrealistic deadlines. I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was, and when I figured that out, I did not adjust things accordingly.
Setting a reasonable pace – Again, I thought my last book would, reasonably, be a sprint and I should have treated it more like a marathon. It’s no good burning yourself out on mile six when you still have 20.2 miles more to go.
Breaking things into manageable chunks – I talk about “chunking” tasks and time a lot. All it means is breaking down the big goal into a million little goals that are much more reasonable. No one sits down and writes a book from page one to page done in one sitting. That’s not how it works. You write a bit here and a bit there. You write part of chapter one and then part of chapter six. You delete all of chapter four and then merge together seven and 10 – you get the idea. And each of these steps is a goal in and of its own right. And each of those goals should be broken down further.
Setting daily, weekly and monthly goals – Like I said, writing a book is a big goal and I need to find the motivation to keep working on it (particularly seeing as bipolar depression sucks the motivation right out of me). Setting time-related goals sometimes helps me to do that. If you’re stuck working on chapter two for weeks, it might feel like you’re not getting anything done. But if you set a goal every day of getting down one idea, or writing X number of words, or some other daily goal, you can see really you are making progress even if it is (painfully) slow. Those daily goals add up to weekly goals which add up to monthly goals which, eventually, will take me to my end goal. By seeing the progress this way, I’m more likely to feel successful and more likely to keep going.
Not beating myself up for slippage – I know that deadlines and goals sometimes slip. Things come up, you aren’t well, people drop in from out-of-town, etc. This is okay. The secret is not to let these slips make me feel bad or defeated. After all, I set my own goals and I can adjust them to fit the circumstances in which I find myself at any time.
Not letting myself off the hook – I know this sounds like the opposite of number five, but really these two go hand in hand. I have to not beat myself up when something immovable, well, can’t be moved, but I also have to hold myself accountable to keep moving forward even if it is just by inches a day. I will accept tiny progress but I don’t want zero progress in a week at all.
Rewarding myself – Carrots are vastly preferable to sticks. Instead of focusing on what isn’t going well with the book, I can celebrate what is going well. This is a mindset that’s hard to achieve when you’re depressed, but it’s a psychological exercise you need to do anyway in order to achieve that big goal when you have bipolar disorder.
Getting more help – Last time I wrote a book I did almost every single thing myself, right down to deciding on the font, layout and copyright verbiage. There are reasons why I did this, but what I learned is that I need more help and I need more help earlier.
Taking breaks – Goals are great and working towards them matters, but so does taking breaks. I can’t think about a book every minute of every day. That’s not going to be good for my brain and it’s going to make doing everything else in my life harder. Breaks from the book to do other work, spend time with loved ones and so on are really important.
Caring for myself – Self-care is important for everyone but it’s particularly important if you’re in the middle of a marathon. Marathon runners know what they need – good shoes, water along the way and so on. I need to know what this is for me, too.
And those are just the top 10 tips. In short, I’m facing accomplishing a big goal with bipolar disorder with some gravitas and respect this time. I’m not winging it. I’m putting my health first. Because if I don’t survive writing book two, there will be no book three.
It can be challenging to be a friend of a person with bipolar disorder. I freely admit this. I know that my life is difficult for me to deal with and, certainly, it can be difficult for anyone else. Nevertheless, friendship with a person who has bipolar disorder can be just as rewarding as any other friendship.
I Have Bipolar Disorder — I Love and Appreciate My Friends
There is a myth people with bipolar disorder use and abuse their friends. While I have no doubt that there are people out there who fall into that group, certainly, that isn’t all of us and I know it isn’t me. I love and appreciate my friends and I am cognizant of the fact that dealing with my bipolar has challenges for them, too.
And I work as hard at being a good friend to them as I hope they will be to me. I don’t believe in one-way friendships.
Why Friendship with a Person Who Has Bipolar Disorder Can Be Hard
I know the bipolar disorder is my problem and not that of my friends. However, something that affects me so profoundly naturally seeps into close relationships. I know that my friends “feel” my bipolar disorder in ways because of how much I am affected.
May cry and express very sad and negative emotions
May need help with everyday chores more than other people
And, of course, as we’re all different, bipolar disorder can affect our friendships in different ways. The point is this: my bipolar disorder affects my friendships, period. I get that.
The Good Parts of Friendship with a Person Who Has Bipolar Disorder
And while I absolutely admit we can be challenging at times, there are also good bits about us that are bipolar-related too.
Friendship with a person who has bipolar disorder can often be affected by the individual’s increased creativity. That can be great and inspiring. Also, many with bipolar disorder are empathetic thanks to their bipolar experiences, making them great listeners.
And again, because we’re all different, there are always wonderful and unique characteristics that make us who we are (just like everyone else).
Can Just Anyone Be a Friend to a Person with Bipolar Disorder?
In recognizing there is both good and bad in a friendship that includes bipolar disorder, and knowing there is good and bad in every relationship, can anyway enjoy a friendship with a person who has bipolar disorder?
Watch this video where I discuss how different friends deal with bipolar disorder differently.
Can All Friends Handle Your Bipolar Disorder? - YouTube
My answer is, unfortunately, no, not everyone can handle a friendship with a person who has bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is tough, emotional stuff and not everyone can handle that.
But in the end, that’s okay. No matter who we are, not all friendships would fit. So sometimes bipolar stands in the way of a friendship — that could happen to anyone for a myriad of reasons.
So this means two things:
Friendships may not always work and it isn’t necessarily our fault. Sometimes bipolar disorder is a roadblock that people can’t overcome.
I likely don’t need to tell you bipolar depression is hard, and I probably don’t need to tell you concerted effort – trying hard – is difficult, too. But the thing is, bipolar depression management (or bipolar management in general) requires trying hard all the time. The effort of this is not something to be underestimated. This is a tall order. Trying hard with bipolar depression requires such energy and focus it feels impossible to do it all right all the time in spite of the need to do it constantly.
Have you ever made a big lifestyle change? Have you ever been on a diet? Have you ever tried to work out a certain number of times per week? Have you ever tried to become vegetarian? Have you ever tried to become a better person in some way? Have you ever made any major change that requires constant effort on your part? Can you remember how hard doing this is?
If so, then you have a sprinkling of understanding of what I go through every day.
Why Do You Have to Try Hard with Bipolar Depression?
This means I have to fight against the bipolar depression’s effects. I have to not let it kill me. Sounds easy, right? Just don’t die.
Not dying with bipolar depression requires trying very, very hard. When something in your very brain is trying to kill you it is not easy to fight against. Think about fighting against your pancreas. Well, it’s like that, only more so.
What I Try Hard at for Bipolar Depression
So, I try hard to do a lot of things because of bipolar depression. I try hard to:
And so on and so on and so on. Some of these things are things every person does and some of these things are things that specifically sick people do. The things is, they all require really, really huge effort from me. It is a thousand times harder for me to do anything on that list as it is for your normal, neurotypical person.
Bipolar depression means I have to try very hard to accomplish anything on that list and it also means knowing I will always get less done on that list than non-sick people.
The Problem with Always Trying Hard for Bipolar Depression
As I said earlier, if you’ve ever tried to make a major lifestyle change, you know constant effort is a very, very difficult thing to maintain. That is why people often can’t make lifestyle changes. People fail at going to the gym. People fail at diets. And so on.
But “trying” for bipolar depression carries much higher penalties. Don’t make it to the gym? Maybe your abs don’t look as good. Sneak a treat on your diet? Maybe you don’t lose as much weight. These things suck and will make people get down on themselves but they are hardly life-threatening. Most lifestyle changes are to make our lives better, not to fight for our very existence.
And if I don’t do the lifestyle management things on my list I get down on myself, too. And, yes, my life could be at stake if I stray too far from the path of doing all the things I need to go.
And the “trying hard” part of bipolar depression management is unending. I have to make this insane amount of effort every day to try and maintain or obtain any level of wellness – wellness that will always be much less than your person without mental illness. I never get a break from the “trying.” I never get a break from the bipolar disorder and what it requires.
What I’ve Learned About Bipolar Depression and Trying Hard
But what I’ve learned is that I just don’t have it in me to do all the things I need to do no matter how hard I try. I do have to try hard to deal with bipolar depression, it’s true, but I’ll never be perfect and I’ll never do everything on my list no matter how hard I try. This leads to constant feelings of failure as I never live up to a person without mental illness.
Saying that I have to recognize two things:
Trying all day every day because of bipolar depression is very hard and I pretty much deserve a medal for doing something so superhuman. (People who primarily deal with mania/hypomania, of course, can say the same.)
I’m going fail to do everything I need to do pretty much every day no matter how hard I try.
And I can’t afford to get down on myself. Getting down on myself decreases my functionality further and actually adds items to my list of things to do.
I also need to give myself a break from time to time. I need days where I’m not working on my list. I need days where I just rest. And I need to take those days without feeling bad about them. Because the endless “trying hard” – for any reason, is just too much for any human to manage.
The opposite rule is a rule some people with bipolar disorder or another mental illness use to help deal with the unhealthy parts of a mental illness. It’s actually a really useful rule and I use it a lot as a bipolar coping skill. Here I tell you how and why to use the opposite rule if you have bipolar disorder or another mental illness.
The Opposite Rule Pertains to Bipolar ‘Wants’
Have you noticed that bipolar disorder “wants” things? This also might be thought of as bipolar driving you to do and feel things. Bipolar depression, for example, wants you to stay depressed and will try to make you do things that will keep you depressed. The depression will keep you from seeing your friends or exercising or practicing other self-care methods. These are things the bipolar disorder/depression “wants.”
Similarly, if you’re experiencing bipolar mania or hypomania, bipolar will “want” things there, too. Bipolar mania/hypomania wants to perpetuate itself just like the depression does so it will try to convince you to do things to keep the mania/hypomania going. The mania or hypomania may convince you not to sleep or eat. It may convince you to take actions that will further rev you up. It may even convince you to take dangerous actions. These are things the bipolar disorder “wants.”
And it’s important to realize that these are bipolar wants and not our own wants. It’s important to realize that we don’t want to stay depressed and we don’t want the devastating actions that can be induced by mania or hypomania. It’s important to realize that these wants are coming from an illness and nor ourselves.
The Opposite Rule for Bipolar Wants
So, if we understand that bipolar disorder has its own wants and these are contrary to our own, personal wants, then it makes sense that we would fight them. This is where the opposite rule for bipolar disorder or other mental illness comes in.
Simply put: when bipolar wants something – you work to do the opposite.
Please watch this video below where I talk about the opposite rule and its benefits.
The Opposite Rule for Bipolar Disorder and Other Mental Illnesses - YouTube
The Usefulness of the Opposite Rule for Bipolar Disorder
I find this rule really useful because it takes away the need to think through every decision to the minutest detail. I have said before how bipolar disorder (mostly depression) makes making decisions almost impossible for me, and this rule really helps. If I can just “do the opposite” of what bipolar wants, then I have a direction – and a healthy direction at that. And this is extremely beneficial to a person who is sick and wants to get better. Sure, the opposite rule won’t defeat bipolar disorder, but it’s another coping skill to keep in your toolbox and it’s surprisingly easy once you get the hang of it.
Have you tried the opposite rule for bipolar disorder? Do you want to? Do you find that the opposite rule works? Tell me more below.
I am a person with extreme willpower and this helps my mental illness. I know this. It’s obvious. Willpower affects every aspect of my life, of course. But people may think I have no willpower because of my mental illness. This is because people overestimate how much willpower can help a mental illness.
I Have Willpower and a Mental Illness
I have willpower. Seriously, not everyone could will themselves to do the things that I have done throughout my life. I used willpower to get myself through university, with a mental illness. I used willpower to become a skydiver, with a mental illness. And I willed myself to survive at a cutthroat, major software company, with a mental illness. These are things people usually respect. These are major accomplishments that my mental illness would have thwarted if it weren’t for my willpower.
So just because I have a mental illness, doesn’t mean I don’t have willpower. I’m overflowing with the stuff.
Willpower Helps Mental Illness
And, of course, willpower is critical in living with a mental illness.
My willpower also affects my mental illness when I get out of bed in the morning, choose to eat healthy food or take a shower.
These are accomplishments people without mental illness usually don’t respect. It’s only people who are sick that understand the accomplishment that is completing a day.
Clearly, if I didn’t have willpower, living with this mental illness, holding down a job with this mental illness, living on my own with my mental illness, wouldn’t be possible.
There Is Only So Much Help Willpower Can Offer a Mental Illness
But here’s the thing, no matter how much willpower I possess, I cannot will the bipolar disorder away. People think I can. People think if I were just stronger, I wouldn’t be sick. People think if I just had more willpower, I wouldn’t need to rest in the afternoons. People think that more willpower would cure mental illness.
This is the “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” fallacy at work. It’s people blaming patients. It’s people not believing mental illness. It’s people not understanding that what we have are diseases of the brain. And no, no amount of willpower can just magically change a brain willy-nilly. There are absolute limits as to what willpower can do, and they differ for everyone.
Why Do People Overestimate Willpower’s Place in Mental Illness?
This is actually quite simple. People like to think they have control. People like to think they have control over their mental health. People like to think their will is keeping them free from illness. People like to feel like mental illness can’t touch them because of their “superior” willpower.
It’s like people who think that a paleo diet will save them from getting cancer. Is a paleo diet healthy? I have no idea, I’m not a dietician, but I do know that strict eating of any type will not save you from possibly getting cancer. Things can raise and lower your risk of cancer, but, still, anyone can get it. Cancer does not discriminate.
And just like a certain diet doesn’t prevent, or cure for that matter, cancer, nor does willpower prevent or cure mental illness. Yes, I know you would like to believe that if you had a mental illness it would be different because you’re so much stronger than everyone else. But it wouldn’t be, you would be as powerless as the rest of us hit with a brain illness we didn’t ask for.
I’m not saying willpower isn’t important – of course it is. But we need to remind ourselves, and sometimes others, that it doesn’t solve all problems. A strong will might keep some people from eating a bag of chips, but thinking it can cure your brain or overcome mental illness symptoms is nonsense.
I’m sorry to say I have found bipolar disorder requires a fake smile pretty much on demand, every day. We all have fake smiles for different situations but mine need to be at the ready, at all times, because I use them more than others. Fake smiles with bipolar disorder suck, but what can I say, I need them.
Fake Smiles and Genuine Smiles
I know that we all have fake smiles. Someone asks you how your day is and you likely smile and say, “Fine.” That’s just a social norm.
But I suspect that your average, non-mentally ill person brings out his or her fake smile considerably less than I do. For example, during the day, many things will elicit a genuine smile from people. This is normal and this is so often not the case with me.
Fake Smiles with Bipolar Disorder
I know that during the day, I’m unlikely to truly feel happy. This is because I experience anhedonia – an inability to experience pleasure. And those with other symptoms of depression may feel similarly. Depression feels like the weight of the world is constantly on your shoulders. It feels like a film exists between you and the world and stimuli from the world is just blasé and doesn’t seem real to you – it doesn’t reach you in any real way.
And so I need my fake smile. When there are things that “should” make me smile, I need to follow through with an actual smile. People really don’t like it if you never smile. It just doesn’t work on a social level.
Video About Bipolar Disorder and Fake Smiles
Learn more about what I call a “manufactured” smile and what it means for a person with bipolar disorder and those around him or her.
My Manufactured Smile with Bipolar Disorder - YouTube
I think people need to know that if bipolar disorder induces fake smiles, it’s not something to be judged. You shouldn’t feel bad about the fake smiles that are needed for socializing. Those around you should not judge you either.
People sometimes know when I’m fake-smiling due to bipolar disorder and I’ve been known to feel bad about it. But I try not to. And I should say that smiling, even when you don’t want to, is the better option for you mental health anyway.
I know what I need to do to make social interactions work, and part of that is fake smiles. I’m sorry, but it is.
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