One of the worst things about living with bipolar disorder is figuring out which thoughts are worthy of my attention. Just because I think it doesn’t make it true. That bit of truth is relevant for everyone, bipolar or not.
When it comes to bipolar disorder, there are many thoughts that are worthy of ignoring, all for different reasons. As an example, I am prone to grandiose thoughts. If I wake up one morning and believe that I can fly, I need to rein that in before climbing up to the roof of a tall building.
The same holds true for depressing thoughts, anxious thoughts, and even happy thoughts. I can’t control whether or not I think it, but I do have some control about whether or not I act on it or how I feel about it in its entirety. Coping skills really help in situations like these.
As the year comes to a close, I am given many opportunities to practice these skills. Like most people, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the past year. This was a year in the life of Gabe that saw the purchase of a new house, major career success, the winning of a few awards, and even a trip to Disney World. Woven in there is a great relationship with my wife and many friends, and more happy memories than I can count.
So – you guessed it – I’m a miserable failure, at least in my own mind.
How Bipolar Disorder Colors My Thoughts
Bipolar disorder has a way of taking something that is good and coloring it in such a way that I believe it to be bad. I’m sure there is a fancy medical term for this, but I call it “stinking thinking.” Essentially, I take facts and add garbage to them until the truth is covered to the point of “smelling” horrible.
Let’s take my new house as an example. The facts are pretty straightforward. My wife and I both have jobs. We worked hard, created a budget and a savings plan, and eventually were able to purchase a new home. It should be a proud moment and one that could not possibly get twisted around to depress me.
Enter stinking thinking:
See, my wife makes more money than I and doesn’t have bipolar disorder. So, she is the stable one and her income allowed us to purchase a house. Without her, I couldn’t afford that house. Stinking thinking makes me consider this proof that I am a failure and just riding the coattails of a woman I no doubt tricked into marrying me.
In order to complete the tarnishing of my success, I’ll ignore the fact that she couldn’t afford the house without me. I’ll “forget” that I do the cooking, cleaning, and home organizing. I’ll just delete all the value I bring to her life and focus solely on one narrative: I’m a mooch who doesn’t contribute and without her I’m nothing.
Just like that, my beautiful new home is now a source of sadness, frustration, and failure. My wife is downgraded to a fool who married someone who is dragging her down and making her life worse. She is just too stupid to notice – yet.
I am really good at stinking thinking, too. My writing award? I owe that to my proofreader and editor. The massive career success? I owe that to my amazing coworkers and the incredible team of people who are carrying me. Thankfully, none of those people seem to notice I’m holding them back – although they will, any day now, and it’ll all come crashing down around me.
Bipolar Disorder Doesn’t Give Me the Right to Insult Others
Stinking thinking relies on three elements to thrive:
- Another person to give the credit for my success
- Thinking that person is stupid for keeping me around
- Assuming that person is lying when they tell me I’m responsible for my own success
Bipolar disorder doesn’t give me the right to insult other people and none of this works without the base assumption that the people around me are stupid, foolish, and/or liars. If I take them at their word and respect them enough to accept that they are intelligent enough to work with a component person (or marry one), then the delusion quickly falls apart.
Once I have a little faith in the people around me, the narrative quickly shifts from “they are carrying me” to “we are all working together.” The focus shifts from “I’m a failure” to “I’m a success with great people around me who are as invested in my success as I am invested in theirs.”
Bipolar disorder loves to drag me down and there are people in the world right now who echo those same sentiments. Their own biases won’t allow them to see past my illness to my accomplishments. The stigma of bipolar disorder consumes their thought processes and they rely on stereotypes that tell them someone elsemust be responsible for my success.
I work every day of my life to show those people they are wrong, to demonstrate that someone with bipolar disorder can lead a great, productive, and accomplished life. Becoming what I’m fighting against will only undo much of the good I’ve done.
In order to effect real change, we all must work together to fight the stigma of bipolar disorder wherever we encounter it – especially when we stigmatize ourselves. If we don’t believe someone with bipolar disorder can lead a good life, then we can’t expect anyone else to believe it, either.