The hardest part about coming to terms with the bipolar diagnosis is trying to see it as something that doesn’t define me. In other words, understanding that the crazy shit that flies through my head isn’t who I am, and me as a person still exits in there somewhere.
Before, when I was operating under the assumption that I suffered from anxiety and depression without the crazy mood swings and side effects that bipolar brings on, I struggled to separate myself from the illness. I doubted myself every time my mood changed, and I took the mood swings personally. Somehow I thought I should have been able to control them, and saw what I now know as instability to be a personal failing.
No wonder I felt like shit. Seriously.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still feel like crap
some most days, but I’ve noticed a substantial shift in the way I think about myself, my brain, and bipolar. I’ve got me, the same me I’ve always had; my brain, which, while is something that I so desperately need to function, is not a personality generator (yes, I know, there is probably a flaw in that argument somewhere, humor me); and bipolar, the thing that fouls the whole system up.
Results? I talk about my brain like it was my foot. Statements that I have uttered in conversation:
My brain feels uncomfortable.
It feels like my brain has a wet blanket on it.
My brain isn’t cooperating with me right now.
And so on.
Because of all this mental gymnastics I’ve done to make peace with bipolar, I’ve got two categories of thoughts, one that belongs to me and one that belongs to my brain. And unless my mood has gone to far in any one direction (and I’m convinced at this point that there are more than two directions), I’m pretty damn good at identifying which is which.
The “me” thoughts are the ones that make me who I am, the good, bad, and ugly. They are the ones that tell me I’m safe, loved, and have a purpose. They are the ones that tell me I like dogs and books and music. They are the ones that make me a good friend and good at my job. They are the ones that let me be happy and sad and angry and anxious but still in control of myself. They are the ones that let me make a mistake without thinking the world is ending. They are the ones that give me patience for other people. They are the ones that tell me I am trying, and succeeding, to live productively with this.
The “brain” thoughts are the thoughts that have been screwed with because of the bipolar. They are the ones that tell me I’m going to get fired at work. They are the ones that tell me that everyone hates me. They are the ones that make me feel like I’m going to throw up for weeks at a time. They are the ones that make me impatient with anyone and everyone because they can’t keep up with how fast my brain is going. They are the ones that tell me I’m making up my struggles and I don’t really need to take medicine or see a therapist and those things are actually making me worse. They are the ones that make me stay up all night and trip over my own words.
Instead of saying “I don’t think there is actually anything wrong” I say “My brain is telling me I’m making crap up again”
Instead of saying “I’m worthless and sick and I’m calling in sick because I can’t handle this right so therefore I am a bad person.” I say “My brain isn’t cooperating again, I need help.”
See how that works for me? I distance myself enough that I can use what little logic I have left to grab hold of the situation and put the brakes on. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I distance myself too far and I start to dissociate a little bit. I’ll learn though. I’ll never be perfect but I’ll get better.