Does It Ever Stop?
[Quick note: I love writing these blogs. It’s a challenge. It’s wonderful to hear from other people, what they think, their experiences that are similar or parallel. It makes me happy to spend time and focus on my experiences from a perspective others might understand.]
One of the most challenging things about being bipolar is the constant effort I make to prevent myself from listening to or believing negative self-talk. When you take thinking that’s not real, not proved, not in perspective and shove it into the spinning hamster wheel in your head, you’re allowing that negativity to go around and around without dealing with it.
I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: negativity breeds negativity, hope breeds hope. It’s the way you choose to feel that sets the precedent. But sometimes I just want a vacation from dealing with my negativity. That would be nice; impractical, yes, but nice. For most people, banishing all negative self-talk is not going to happen.
And This Is How It Goes …
You see, the job of resisting negative self-talk goes on twenty-four hours a day (if you don’t sleep). Every day, every week, every month there it is, inside of your head. That nasty, nagging, negative voice that reinforces all that garbage thinking. And with the correct therapy and medication (and a long-term commitment) I have managed to sort of get a rein on it. Well, to some limited degree. It never really goes away, but you can reduce its effects.
This isn’t hearing voices like the voices that sufferers of schizophrenia experience; this is self-talk. This is hearing your own voice as a constant negative narrative and in order to move beyond that peril, you have to work very hard at it. 24/7. But sometimes you want out because as a human, you can’t sustain that negative intensity. You need some quiet.
Turning Down the Narrative
It’s easy to let the constant self-talk mow you down. It’s overwhelming, huge and it’s so destructive in the long run that finding any help to stop it is of tremendous value. It’s not the dramatic screaming in your head that Hollywood has portrayed mentally ill people experiencing (like in The Snake Pit with Olivia de Havilland), with everyone writhing dramatically, eyes big black circles and grabbing their heads in unspeakable pain (in close-up).
No, this is different. It’s a running monologue that goes something like this:
You suck. What’s wrong with you, why can’t you do something about your life? Damn, you’re worthless and you know it. You’re nothing. You will never make it, you know, you’re going to die without any friends, with nothing. You think you’re going to win? You’re going to fail. You’re a pathetic loser. Why can’t you do something about it, anything at all? You can’t make a single positive thing happen in your life and you deserve what you get, you know.
Yes, everyone has thoughts like these at some time or another. But imagine that it happens with maddening regularity. Your energies are all spent in trying to stop the flow of this crap and when you can’t stop it the perceived failure becomes yet another chorus in the negative narrative.
There are ways to make it slow down and maybe even stop. But you can’t do it alone. And one of the nastiest elements of depression and bipolarity is that all you want to do is be alone. For example, I withdraw and close my doors to everyone. I spend my time agonizing over my problems, listening to that garbage spew in my head. I can’t stand being around people, I become angry, stressed out, incapable of making simple decisions. I am aggravated, ill-tempered and riddled with anxiety. I shun people that care about me because I don’t want them to see me in this condition. Most of all I don’t want to cause problems with those I love, like negative and irritating discussions, acting out of anger and making the mistake of further isolation as a result of these interactions.
Get Your Posse Together
When you don’t want to make the mistake I’ve just outlined, then you have to consider a Structured Time Out. What is that? It’s taking the time to calm down. To make things a little less stressed out. And then it’s okay to be alone, because you’re doing something that results in constructive mood that’s neither negative nor harmful.
Is that even possible when you have all this negative self-talk yakking in your ears?
Yes, it is. It takes a lot of practice for me to do it but yes, it can be done. I put up my guards. I know that I’m needing some down time to sort things out and change my attitude. But this down time isn’t really down time, it’s work. Hard work. It means spending time gaining perspective and in order to do that it means turning off or disproving that self-talk. And the most helpful member of the posse is your therapist, because they’re the ones with the big guns: information on how to change and methods to make things better.
I posted a recent blogpost about this very subject. Why repeat it? When I suffer from this blaring negativity it is so painful that I have no choice but to call in my protection squad.
Hey, believe it or not, pets are a great protection squad. They distract you and give you love and attention that at that particular moment you need in abundance. They don’t care that you’re a mess. They just want to love you. And love is a powerful form of protection, even from yourself.
Even if you don’t have a throng of armed pets, the ‘posse’ that you create around you can be strong and helpful; your family, friends, therapist, anyone that is in your life that can make a difference.
Having an armed poodle, a gun-toting cat or a ninja kitten is — well, it’s funny. But it’s actually true that a pet can be a really good friend in times when you’re upset. A pet can be your first line of protection, but you need a lot more than that. You need to defuse your thinking, to step back for some perspective. You have to try to disprove it and make your brain change your thinking to positive, concrete thoughts. In other words, embracing reality. Medication and a good therapist really move you in that direction.
Don’t Listen to Uninformed or Negative Suggestions of Others
Other people don’t really understand what’s wrong unless they themselves have some experience with negative self-talk or have supported a family member that suffers with this problem. It’s a frustration to them. They want us to stop the downward spiral of such thinking. But you know it’s not so easy as ‘just go for a walk’ or you should get out of the house’. Being pushed, being told that you need to ‘snap out of it’ or just ‘stop thinking that way’ will never work.
What’s wrong with those admonitions is that they’re misguided. For example, when this happens to me and someone uses those words I am actually hurt by them. I know what’s wrong with me and when others insist that a ‘simple’ approach is what you need, they’re only partially right. Sure, going on a walk is distraction, and that’s a good tool. But if you can’t get out in the first place what’s the point?
Sadly, your negative-thinking brain might consider their suggestion to be implied criticism.
Most people don’t see the problem, but there’s a big one: impatience. Don’t they believe that I would do just about anything to make it stop, to change my negative thinking? Destructive self-talk is something from which we as bipolar people suffer; we suffer from pain, shame and guilt over this problem. Would someone come up to a wheelchair-bound paraplegic and scream get up and walk? Of course not! That’s uninformed and negative suggestion.
It’s a good idea to try to understand people who have issues with self-talk rather than tossing off harmful language or lame suggestions. And it’s important for those of us that suffer from self-talk not to be too judgmental or upset about others’ uninformed suggestions. You don’t need to pile on their bad ideas over your negative self-talk. Just inform them gently that their suggestions don’t help, and why they make you feel badly.
Making Choices and Being All Right With That
If I want some time alone in order to better improve my attitude, then that decision must be respected. When it isn’t respected, that lack of respect causes damage. Most people don’t consider it in that way. Many people would be dismissive. My cat, however, understands it and respects the fact that I need someone there, someone that is respectful of keeping a little distance. Someone that will support me and let me get through it.
Learning to Be The Lion
If you have an issue with negative self-talk, learn how to be a lion. Lions do something remarkable: they know they’re strong, that their family support is strong, yet they know when to lie down in the heat and just be.
They know when to have some quality down time.
I’m grateful for my support team of family, friends, therapists. And I want them to know when to silently sit back and support me by watching from a distance or stepping in when that’s absolutely required. I want them to know that if I can get a handle on negative self-talk and change it, turn it around, then they’re going to see how much better the world will be for me. Sometimes it is a strong act of love to stand back and let someone you love make their own choices, yet to be there for them if they can’t seem to find success that day.
And each day brings us toward healing and understanding if we keep the path.
There Is Always Hope
If you have issues with negative, damaging self-talk and you’re not sure what to do, get thee to a therapist right away. The longer you listen to destructive self-talk the harder it becomes to prevent it and the longer it takes to learn to overcome it. You need to work with someone that understand and knows how to make a difference and you need the love and trust of family, friends and even pets. And you’re going to be extremely pleased when you win those victories against negativity. Sure, it goes on forever, but with these steps perhaps you can make headway against self-talk.