Have you ever been driving and then pulled over because you completely forgot where you were? How about staying in a hotel and wandering around because you can’t find the pool? Or looking for your eyeglasses that you’re already wearing?
Everyone experiences situations like these. Brain farts. Temporary loss of long- or short-term memory. Dependence on information that you believed you knew but alas, you didn’t It can be a frustrating experience when you believe something and the facts don’t support that belief. And wow, buddy, you can’t find a hotel pool? Really, it’s not like it’s gone missing. Lame.
But this is exactly how I feel on a regular basis. Before I became bipolar, I thought I knew where I was going. I believed I was traveling in one direction but it turned out to be another. I had a plan, a map, step-by-step directions and they were all contained in the one place I thought I’d never lose them.
What was I thinking? Didn’t I realize that I could not ultimately depend on memory? It had always served me well. I can contain in that blob of grey matter quite a bit of information. It contains everything I know, everything I knew, all my good and bad memories.
And it also is full of misconceptions, errors in translation, incorrect sequences of events or worse, events that were never really there to begin with. Now that I’ve been diagnosed as bipolar and am headed down the path toward facing a future of promise once again, the idea that my thinking is flawed is quite unpleasant to accept.
It isn’t so much the flaws I possess – everyone has them – it’s that they’re a sign of illness, aging and disorder. The aging I can handle a little better but the idea of disorder and illness is terribly daunting. Which problems are due to disorder? Which are caused by my illness? Are my thinking processes improving now that I am getting therapy and medication? How can I trust what comes out of my brain? Am I being too critical of myself for having this distrust? How do I reorder my thinking? Am I ever going to find the hotel pool? And where the hell are my car keys?
I like to think of my brain as just as shiny and new as when I was a youngster and in fact I sometimes feel as if I were one. Queen Elizabeth the First famously said that there was “no contentment to have a young mind in an old body” and I quite agree with that sentiment but the fact is I’ve got both a rusty brain and an old body. But what’s happened to me? How long have I had bipolar disorder? When did it begin to manifest itself? Why wasn’t it recognized earlier?
My, the questions are piling up. Any answers?
For every question there are an infinite number of possible answers. And when you’re unable to choose an answer that’s reasonable, rational, factual and based in reality, you can choose anything at all. That’s a very unstable situation. For example, the answer to the question What is today’s date? turns out to be The restroom is down the hall on your left. It simply doesn’t connect. It isn’t related. It’s total chaos.
It’s important once you have things moving to keep them moving. And moving in the right direction is where we need to be. But what is the right direction? What choices do we make in order to find and keep ourselves on the ‘straight and narrow’?
Well, my first choice is to discuss my problems in finding direction with my psychiatrist. It’s a matter of learning yet another tool in order to make the correct choice to answer the questions. What do you think the answer is? Does that answer ‘ring true’ to you? What facts have you that support and define your problem? Do you have an experience with or can you illustrate a previous and similar problem?
Those pesky unending questions!
If you have doubts, if you’re unsure where you are, then you need a map. If you can’t navigate the problem then you have to let someone else hand you the map and point out the key to that map. How many miles is it to your destination? How fast should I be going? Do I need a car or some other conveyance? What route is best? Is there construction or another kind of hazard of which I need to be aware? Should I pull over somewhere to rest?
These questions just never end.
It’s then that I come to the realization that I have forgotten how to drive my car.
How does someone forget how to drive? It’s like riding a bike: once you learn how, you’re never supposed to forget. It should come back to you naturally. But what if you really do forget? I tell you, that’s what happened with my thinking processes. I forgot how to think rationally and effectively. I saw everything around me in this confused state of agitation, as if I were lost in a strange city at rush hour and had to pee very badly. Anxious, frustrated, unhappy, frantic, doing U-turns trying to find the right path and then doing more U-turns because I didn’t want to admit that I did not know the way. I was lost.
When you’re bipolar, you’re forced to examine your thinking in ways that most other people don’t. You have to consider so many possibilities – most of them negative! – and then find and reinforce the positive thoughts. It is so hard to do that this activity may well be my most important job.
It’s easy to spend time making yourself miserable over not paying attention to your life. It’s natural to you if you’re bipolar to seek the negatives first. Self-incrimination. Self-doubt. Hating yourself for doing all the wrong things to get to where you’re going. And telling yourself how bad you are or how terrible you are just balloons into self-hatred, self-loathing and that, my friends, leads down the spiral into depression and worse, much worse. You need some centering, some quiet, some constructive and positive self-evaluation. And I need to remind myself to do this all the time.
Maybe it’s time to get out of the car. Perhaps get into a rowboat and spend time on a peaceful lake. Search for a little optimism and get off the highway. Stop, review your goals, trust your work with your mental health care folks and just cruise for a while. Hand over the wheel to someone else for a bit.
It’s the teamwork you’re doing that is your map so, when you’re a bit rested, pick up that map and follow the directions. Drive when you’re rested and refreshed. Learn to relax a little bit but make sure that you’re moving in the right direction at the best speed you can manage and if you do that, you’ll be where you need to be in no time flat.