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Coping With Bipolar

November 18, 2011

So far as I have observed, there are three different means of coping with Bipolar disorder: mania, depression, and sublimation. “But wait!”, you interject. Mania and Depression aren’t coping mechanisms, they’re mood swings. I’m not disagreeing with the latter– yes they are mood swings– believe me, I know. But they are indeed mood swings intended to cope with real conflicts.

The reason why you think there are no conflicts, and that the “mood swings” are in fact irrational phases caused by chemical imbalances, is that you misunderstand the nature of Bipolar, and do so by misunderstanding the nature of the chemical imbalance. The mind does not randomly manipulate endorphin levels because of some incurable mental disease infecting your neuro-system; to begin with, bipolar is not a disease at all, it is a condition.

In reality, bipolar is actually a deficiency– that is, a lacking in the mental capacity to protect against over-compensation. Because of a lack of proper emotional inhibitory system in the brain, people with bipolar are vulnerable to “melodramatization”– that is, we take even the smallest of environmental changes, whether positive or negative, and blow them completely out of proportion. So when good stuff happens, it’s really good, and when bad stuff happens, it’s really bad.

As a result, even the most trivial of positive circumstances cause a person with bipolar to become irrationally ecstatic, the smallest bit of exciting news will make a them manic, the tiniest paranoia will give them a panic attack, and the more trivial of let-downs will thrust them into depression. Basically, people with bipolar actually deal with emotions much the same way that mentally healthy people do, only without all the mental shock absorbers and failsafes, resulting in melodrama.

So then, how does a person with Bipolar disorder deal with these unreasonably intense emotions? As stated in the first paragraph, there are three main types of defense mechanisms they use to deal with such overwhelming emotions: Positive projection “Mania” (symptoms include excitement, ecstasy, anger, anxiety), Negative projection “Depression” (symptoms include sadness, antisocial behavior, lethargy, escapism, procrastination), and Sublimation (the productive release of positive or negative energy). This final response, which manifests through the successful conversion of excess energy into a productive means (such as reading writing, art, self-improvement, physical/mental exercise, and innovation), is the key to conquering Bipolar.

I remember when I discovered how to conquer my bipolar through sublimation, and I was so excited and optimistic about the future, and all of the amazing things that I could do by leveraging these new-found insights. I endeavored to eliminate all of my other mental illnesses in the same manner, thus freeing myself of these life-stunting issues. But then I found out there was a catch: Just like with normal people’s emotions, there is a breaking point where the emotions become so intense that we can no longer control them. The reason why Bipolar disorder manifests is after all because that breaking point occurs far more often with overly-intense emotions, resulting in a life literally controlled by one’s fleeting emotional mind-state. Once emotions have become too intense, there is nothing you can do to stop your actions– the emotions are just too overwhelming for any amount of willpower to stop.

I have developed a number of way to cope with this problem, the most interesting of which is the artificial creation of multiple personalities (i.e. if I lose control of my emotions, I can regain control by changing to another, more emotionally-withdrawn personality). I have also developed mindsets that eliminate emotional relevance, become detached so as to prevent destabilizing social feedback, and made a habit of analyzing any emotionally-charged phenomena so as to isolate any detrimental emotional energy from my environment.

But while such methods have proved quite interesting and entertaining, and provide satisfactory temporary fixes to these vulnerabilities of mine, there is a means of more completely solving all emotional woes, and it’s not something you need to have mental illness or an eccentric nature to apply: in a word, Habits. As I will go on to explain in further detail in my post “Building Discipline“, habits are the means by which we are able to live for the future, instead of merely living in the moment or building upon the past. Habits, an ability unique to humans, is (together with planning) is the foundation upon which self-improvement is built, and also the only means by which emotions can be reliably controlled

Trying to control emotions through sheer willpower, which effective in mild circumstance, will almost certainly fail in circumstances that cross your emotional threshold. Everyone has a different threshold, which is equivalent to one’s individual willpower, so you could say that one’s “breaking point” is equivalent to the limits of an individual’s willpower; if this mental limit is exceeded, there is nothing you can do to control anything you do, simply because you lack the willpower to. In addition, due to a phenomena known as “Ego Depletion“, excessive use of willpower will eventually drain your ability to control your emotions, even if the circumstances you encounter are mild in nature.

So if lack of self-control results in emotional instability, and controlling one’s emotions results in the depletion of one’s willpower, how can I, or anyone for that matter, successfully control my emotions over long periods of time? This is where habits come in: whereas willpower is conscious, habits are for the most part unconscious. This is the human mind’s most powerful ability: When you register in your mind that a particular activity, thought pattern, perspective, or routine as essential to life, you can consciously forget it (what is colloquially known as “taking for granted”), and automatically do and think these things without so much as thinking about it.

As a result, you don’t have to worry about making any decisions, because you already have– in forming that habit, you tell your mind, “if this idea/situation/phenomena comes up, automatically do ‘this’ in response”. Because emotions can only control your life to the extent they are involved in the decision-making process, any decisions that you make through habits are immune to emotional feedback.

Now when I have developed habits to deal with my bipolar, I will never cross that emotional threshold again. I have developed habits to ensure my emotional and mental stability, fail-safes to ensure I never get out of control, and lifestyle choices that promote optimum mental health. The most of the fundamental of these habits are found in my blog Ego Engineering, with the emotional and mental habits proving to be the most fundamental. Because the majority of the decisions I make in my life are made through habits, I never have to worry about running out of willpower, because living life no longer requires much. Finally, habits free up the necessary mental energy to continue to improve my life.

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