Sunday, October 26, 2008

The empathy factor

Empathy - the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

If you've been diagnosed bipolar, or even if you are but haven't been officially diagnosed as such, it may be tough for those around you to distinguish between irrational behavior and statements and just you being your normal, somewhat eccentric self.

Behavior or expressions that you recognize yourself as a bit goofy or off the wall, but harmless, may be perceived by others as scary. Those who care the most about you are the ones who will be dealing with you should you have a full blown episode. This can make them very, very anxious if you start showing signs that you're not completely in touch with reality. Fear is a dangerous thing, whether you're experiencing it, or causing it.

It's important to be aware, not only of your own emotional state, but of those around you. You don't have to comment on it, or call them on it, just be aware of it. If you're making people uncomfortable, check yourself. Don't explain yourself, or justify yourself, just stop doing whatever it is that's causing the anxiety. If you have some off the wall train of thought you want to follow, do it later.

This was a tough one for me. I'm an outside the box thinker whether I'm manic, depressed or on an even keel. I had to learn to stop insisting that my wife and others learn to distinguish between my potentially irrational thought and my normal random musings. When I sense anxiety, I go to humor or quickly wrap up what I was talking about or doing and move on to something much more familiar.

Remember most everyone's behavior is largely guided by emotion. Most "normal" people are at least as unconscious of the chemical stimulus that's leading them around by the nose as those with chemical imbalance issues. The emotions you help create within your environment impact your freedom, your safety, your overall quality of life. Again, don't dwell on it, just be aware of it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Functioning with the malfunction

So you've been told you're bi-polar. Now what?

Well, if you need to take drugs to pick you up or bring you down, take them. However, at the same time you need a long term, personal solution. You don't just want to survive. You want to thrive and there's no reason you can't get back on that road.

First you need to recognize that your feelings, your emotions, your state of mind, and by extension your thought processes are all chemically generated. When the system is working perfectly, chemicals are released that make you "feel" a particular way that can subconsciously alert you to circumstances and conditions you may not yet be consciously aware of.

The "chemical imbalance" you have been experiencing is the consequence of a malfunctioning emotional system. Since each person's emotions and reactions to them have been personally developed and customized from birth, there is no drug that will enter your system and suddenly put everything back where it should be. There is however, a work-around.

The most powerful counter-measure: Objective logic and reason. You are not your emotions, or even your brain. You are the self. You are the driver of this vehicle. You are not the vehicle. If the vehicle pulls to the left, over-steer to the right. In other words, recognize the malfunctions and adjust to them. Do not respond immediately to your emotions, feelings or even thoughts. Take the time to objectively evaluate your situation and determine if what you're feeling and thinking is in sync with what's actually going on around you or in your life. When you have an idea you believe is brilliant, don't immediately act on or share it. If it's truly a great idea, it will still be great tomorrow, next week and next month. Time test it. Write it down. Let is simmer. Come back to it later and see if it still has the same appeal it did originally.

This may slow you down at first, but with constant self-training you will wind up with a new way of processing both internally and externally generated data that is just as quick and effective, if not more so, than what you had before. It will force you to think and act deliberately instead of just automatically responding to chemical stimulus. It will make you more aware, alert and prudent than the average "normal" person.

In martial arts one is taught to use the weight of one's adversary against them. Dealing with bi-polar disorder is no different. Become intimately familiar with it. Bend it to your will. Never let your body, your brain, your emotions forget who's in charge.