29 January 2010

Third Post I've Written This Week But The First Time I've Published Instead of Deleting

It is almost undoubtedly a wanton display of hubris to say this but I think I am getting better at having bipolar disorder. And what do I mean by that? I'm not quite sure.

I think a large part of what I mean is that I don't experience so much conflict about it anymore. Instead of forcing other people or my own actions or external circumstances into awkward positions in order to have an explanation for feeling a certain way. Instead, I'm now able to say to myself that while it is true that I don't like X (and Y and Z), X (even combined with Y and Z) is probably not sufficient cause to make me feel this bad for this long; that it's probably a mood that has descended. It doesn't mean that X or Y or Z isn't actually bothering me - it's a recognition that X and Y and Z are not sufficient.* If I can tell the difference (and I seem to be getting better at it) then I save a lot of energy and a lot of time and a lot of discouragement.

It drives me absolutely up the wall when I feel miserable and the poor people who are kind enough to undertake to talk to me about it shower me with platitudes about tomorrow being another day and that everything will be okay and that this too shall pass and that I'll feel better soon. For a little while this became a bad problem when I would talk to my mother. She wants me to feel better and she says these things in order to be soothing and in order to make me feel better and she needs to be able to say something encouraging. I understand all this but (and again I'm going to blame philosophy) because neither she nor anyone else on earth has any strong or valid knowledge that I (or anyone else) will be all right in the future or feel better at any point (whatever 'better' is supposed to mean in that context), it only makes me more upset when people say these things to me because they aren't grounded in any kind of logic and if I feel that bad, any optimism I might have had has disappeared anyway. My reaction to such statements had, though, gotten to the point of being unfair to my mother, whose intent was certainly never to upset me, so I sat down and tried to think of something to be substituted that would allow her to express her wish to comfort me and would not offend my (overly honed for ordinary conversation) sense of logic. In the end, I came up with 'it won't always feel exactly like this'.

This alternative platitude has worked out well, largely because I can believe it. I might not feel better next week or next month (and I might not feel worse) but I know and can believe that I will not feel exactly the same. The intensity of whatever I'm feeling will alter, its emphasis will shift, my intrusive thoughts will develop variations. I will experience these changes as being better or worse and it is extraordinarily unlikely that I will not experience variation. Internalising this has actually helped. On the nights when it's 3.00am and I haven't been able to sleep and I'm lying in bed feeling horrendously guilty all out of proportion to anything I might have done or failed to do and everything seems completely hopeless and on the verge of falling apart I can tell myself that I'm not going to feel exactly as horribly suffocated by all the wrongness in myself and in the world forever. That perspective is not the new reality of life.

Hopefully that all makes some sort of sense. It's the way I have found out of the totalising meta-narrative that a depressed mood (or a manic mood) imposes. It's a way out that doesn't invalidate the emotional content of my moods - instead of saying that I don't really feel that way, it's a disease, I can say I do really feel that way, it's just not the way I am always going to feel nor is the totality of what I feel.

Anyhow, it has gotten me through the past six weeks, much of which I have spent fairly depressed, relatively unscathed. It helped stop me freaking out and flailing in all directions. It stopped me taking things out unfairly on others and stopped me chucking away things that I value in the long term but temporarily didn't know what to do with. I woke up this morning feel better with my life still intact and I'm happy about that and now I've written a post that I'm not going to immediately delete and I'm reasonably confident that I'll be asleep before three - hurray.

*I apologise: I go to a university where they make us read analytic philosophy all the time and then I talk to my fellow students who also read analytic philosophy all the time and at this point, we seem all to have started talking as though we were dictating analytic philosophy. My mind attempts metaphor but all that comes out are more variables.

This is what analytic philosophy looks like:

My writing style isn't quite as bad as all that yet but I imagine it's only a matter of time.


  1. I know what you mean about people giving pat answers. My least favorite is when I'm talking to a freind from when I was a conservative Christian and they say "God never gives us more than we can handle." Well intentioned, but total bullhonkey.

  2. Interesting - I wrote a proto-post with very simular content this week. The gist went something like - I can console myself with the thought that if I am to have a 'disorder' then at least I have one that offers variation. I can be almost entirely sure that each mood-phase will be succeeded by a different one and that there will be level times inbetween - unlike, for example, someone who has a more total illnes such as major depression. I probably won't write that post now since you have explained it far better, and with more logic than I could.
    I'm sorry you've had to endure a prolongued downer, but glad you are feeling a bit brighter now.

  3. I am totally 100% in agreement with you about the platitudes people offer. I hate them and I actually find them hurtful and sometimes cruel. I hate that people make promises they can't keep, and I especially hate when they insist that they can keep those promises despite reality. I know people mean well when they do it, but it is hard on me. I know it helps some people, and I don't think that platitudes should be stopped altogether, I want them to continue helping whoever they can, but I wish people would respect it when I ask them not to say those things to me.

  4. Thanks everyone for the comments and please pardon my sluggardliness in replying to them - it was quite the week this last week, culminating in another 'philosophy students figure out how to save the world and put paid to traditional conceptions of physics in pub discussion' evening. The pub that played host has its own cat, which was the highlight for me.

    Kate - don't let me put you off writing anything ever please! Two voices on any given topic are better than one.

    Jessa and Matthew - I do sometimes wonder who the people are whom platitudes help. Various people have given me to understand that my objections to them are unreasonable and I'm glad to find that I'm not the only conscientious (logical?) objector.

  5. I've also had the feeling that philosophy training makes it harder to sustain useful-but-not-quite-true attitudes towards one's own psych issues (not bipolar for me, just depression and general existential angst). Well put!