Navigating Bipolar Disorder Thought Processes

I’ve recently seen an uptick in questions about deciphering the decision making process of Bipolar people. Today, I thought I would elaborate on some of my perceptions on how the decision making process works from my own mind and what I’ve seen dealing with a lot of people.

There is a kernel of truth at the root of most, if not all, Bipolar responses. Much like a legend, there is a fragment of truth that has a lot of fantasy built around it. That fantasy is pieced together in a logical (for a Bipolar person) way that may or may not reflect the reality of the situation. Let me use a few examples from my own life.

1. I once had a three week suicidal flat-spin because of a TV commercial. The commercial was about a father and son spending time together. The kernel of truth at the root of that unwell cycle was my guilt at not being there for my own son for about the first decade of his life. So my brain decided- you can’t have that, you can’t fix that, you fucked it up all, killing yourself is the only solution.

2. Being a High-Functioning Autistic; several of my emotional and social processes function very differently. Combine that with Bipolar Disorder and you wind up with some weird combinations. As I was growing up, no one else in my immediate family was mentally ill so I always had this perception of being the odd man out. When I was 15, I was screaming through insanity but internalizing it all because I thought it was “just a phase” or something I’d “get over”.

At that time, I experienced my first real love. However, I was also a HFA; so my emotional processes just worked differently. I didn’t know how to approach or talk to this girl, I didn’t know how to build a friendship with the idea of working towards a relationship, I understood none of these things because I was 15 and do not have many of the same processes that non-autistics do. Her subsequent rejection in combination with the mental isolation and the emergence of the Disorder threw me into a suicidal depression that ended in my only active suicide attempt when I put my father’s 9mm to my head and pulled the trigger.

At the very core of the issue was my misunderstanding of people, how they interacted, how they functioned, and how to function in their world. My brain concluded that since I didn’t fit with my family, my friends, and this person I felt so purely for rejected me- then I didn’t belong here. To me, that is the very root of that explosion. Logical- but entirely irrational and warped by insanity.

When I get emails or people asking questions- I’m always looking for the absolute root of what caused the problem. Without understanding that how can anyone really expect to make meaningful gains? I defused the two examples I cited through educating myself and correcting them. My guilt is less in regards to my son because we interact and visit at least somewhat regularly now. As for relationships; well I’ve still bombed plenty of those but I studied how you HU-MANS conduct them, interact, and worked to remedy or adapt my own deficiencies in those areas.

Having identified those roots I am also able to tell when the Disorder is screwing with my perception of them. I know what the truth and reality is so if my thought processes depart too far from there then I know something is up.

As a supporter, it is so easy to take things personally and feel like you did something wrong when your friend or loved one inevitably implodes. They will. That’s life being Bipolar. The most important thing to keep in mind is rationality. Are the actions of your loved one rational? Do they make sense given the context of the situation? You have the benefit of having a clear mind so you must exercise it to ensure that you aren’t over-exerting yourself in the process. You have your own life, mind, and responsibilities to take care of. Your loved one may want all the best for you but not be able to provide it because yunno- insanity and all.

The key to getting through these periods is open communication and the truth. The truth doesn’t care about how you feel about it. It simply is. Diverting a person’s mind and keeping it focused on the truth and other avenues in a situation is the way to go. “Okay, you lost a job. Tomorrow, you can start looking for a new one. It’s not a reason to drink yourself into a coma or go “confront” your former boss. Let it go, find a new job.”

And in my experience, you usually have to just keep chipping away and refocusing the person’s thoughts towards what the reality is. If you find yourself stumbling through it; just get them through the moment. Tomorrow is another day. “If it’s such a great idea now, it still will be tomorrow or a week from now.” Many destructive decisions made while unwell are the result of a single impulse. You may not be able to knock them out of the unwell period but you can help them avoid making insane decisions in the moment that will fuck their life up.

What if they clam up and go completely silent on you? Well, you’re at a major disadvantage. If you confront, you’re probably not going to win an argument with the person because their brain will just be warping your motivation and words. So long as the person isn’t being threatening to himself or others; it is best to back off and let the person work through their cycle. If you’re the source of it, then your trying to contact or talk to that person is just fueling the fire. Sometimes you have to be able to take a step back and just wait.

Encourage the person to seek professional help or talk to their doctor as soon as possible. As always, anything extreme like suicidal or violent threats should be dealt with by emergency personnel.

I’m going to make this blanket statement to everyone that does their best to love or care about a mentally ill person; and the people that have been burned by we, the nutcases. You’re good people for actually giving a shit. Regardless of whether you think you fucked up or caused an unwell cycle or whatever; you actually care. A lot of people couldn’t give less of a shit if we were alive, dead, or locked away in some asylum of yesteryear chained to a sink.

So don’t be too down on yourself or feel guilty if things don’t go perfectly. You’re not perfect and neither are we. All we can do is the best that we can.

And to those that had to walk away- it’s alright and I can’t say I blame you. Doing what I do here, there are people I’ve had to distance myself from because they were toxic and perfectly content to wallow in their own misery. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.


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11 Responses to Navigating Bipolar Disorder Thought Processes

  1. susan says:

    interesting perspective I found it a superb way to rid myself of unnecessary guilt ty for all your help

  2. Kim says:

    Thank you for this. It has answered some questions for me.

  3. Marianne says:

    Thank you again, Dennis.

  4. Lisa says:

    This has been extremely helpful. My bipolar husband is in the middle of an episode. This has lasted almost 2 years. I feel like he is so far in over his head that he doesn’t have any idea how to get out of it. As far as I knew we were very happy together. One day we were on a 2nd honeymoon and the next and I mean next he was having an affair. He had some very strenuous triggers happen at this time. He was always very diligent with his medications. He was a mr mom with our two boys. His mother fell ill with lung cancer and it was a very difficult time for him. She was his world. She died the April before our trip in October and by that time he had quit taking his meds and started drinking heavily. From that point on he became very distant and continued on with an affair with someone that he had dated a few times in highschool. Over the rest of the year he quit an executive job that he had for 10 years. We had just purchased a new home and he had a gastric bypass which messed up his med absorption rate. Also with alcohol it changes it to 2 to 1. He was drinking a case of beer per night. Over the past year he has lost 5 jobs, got 3 contempt of courts. He has abandoned us and will not communicate with the boys although he told me he talks to them everyday. He refuses to talk to me or take my texts. He filed for divorce 2 years ago but wouldn’t leave the house. I think that he is just so involved in this new life and doesn’t know how to get out. I could use some suggestions.

    • Dennis says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Lisa. The situation you’re describing is heart-breaking. As far as I know, there really are no solutions to that kind of situation that do not involve your husband acknowledging and confronting the problem. Not only does gastric bypass affect the person’s ability to absorb meds, but surgeries can have an affect on a person’s internal chemical balance. So old medications can simply not work the way they used to.

      I don’t think that it’s that he’s involved in his new life. It sounds more like he is extremely depressed and regularly feeding that with alcohol and the affair. The only real thing I can think of to try and do is hammer through to him that he needs to get back to the doctor and confronting the actual problem. Given that he won’t talk to you or listen to you, then there really isn’t a whole lot you can do there unless you enlist the help of his friends or family to try and convince him that drinking isn’t going to fix the problems he’s dealing with.

      But, if he’s an alcoholic as well, that’s going to throw another significant wrench into the overall scheme of things because that’s another mental illness he’ll have to find a way to deal with.

      The lynchpin of all of it is your husband. Getting him to see how bad things are and getting him to take action would be the angle I would focus on, because it’s the only one that is going to succeed long-term. Is anyone that is close to him, that he will listen to, that would be willing to try to help you push towards that goal?

  5. Lisa says:

    Unfortunately no. He has no friends left. The girlfriend enables him because she pays for everything. And I believe she has a drinking problem too. He has no job anymore. 6 in a year. So many other bad things he has done to put us in a very poor position. It’s funny but the affair is not the worst thing he has done to us. There is not anyone that can get thru to him but maybe jail will do it. I hate to say it but I don’t see any hope for him at this point. I just wish he would see what he is doing to our children.
    Thanks for answering me. I just feel kind of lost right now. And sad that he has done all he has.

    • Dennis says:

      You’re welcome for the reply. It’s an unfortunate reality that there aren’t always good, accessible answers. It’s probably going to devastate him once he’s sane enough to understand everything that he’s done. Do what you can to minimize the damage to the kids. I would also suggest you may want to look into a support group in the area. Most mental health support groups will accept friends and family members of mentally ill folks to help provide support and guidance in what they are dealing with. Be sure to take care of your own mental and emotional health as well. I know it takes an incredible toll on loved ones in your position.

  6. joyce says:

    Your article was very educating , hearing your point of view. My 30 year old son , is Bipolar. We have the diagnosis for 4years now. Since he was young he was shy,and some what introverted. At 20 he began sleeping very long and during the day , for weeks, around 14 hours a day . That was pre meds . In the last 4years , he says he tried every Bipolar med there is. He gives the meds 10 days at the most, and if he has the slightest negative reaction , he stops taking it. He’s on a mood stabilizer depakote, but needs another med for sure ., Electro magnetic therapy, is not covered by our insurance. i spoke to his Psychiatrist, and he thinks my son is not giving meds a long enough chance, he thinks he should be able to take a part time job. Were thinking ,part of his issue is plain old LAZY!! He NEVER had a job . In the past he made money on closeouts, he once took an office once and sold some old inventory, sold some merchandise on ebay. Like 3 years ago he stopped his meds and went on many vitamins. he actually had a good run, about 6 weeks . No mania involved . In the last 2 years , we have supported him, and always lived home. There are his good (partial) days and days he does nothing but sleep, wake and eat at 12am, and he’s up till 6am watching tv, computer etc. . Thank goodness NO trouble with the law, Alcohol, drugs, . Is the Bipolar mania classified by his Crazy huge eating bouts, and times he goes out all night after sleeping for 16hours? His good days / nights ,Mean , coming upstairs at 7pm, smiling, nice conversation,talking about his future, as if it was 8 am. When he is like this, I feel like I’m talking to my real son, he’s so with it ! I forget he’s Bipolar . . He also tells me it takes every ounce of energy he has to go to at a family function,or interview, and then he needs to recover the next day. He has only a few friends which still reach out to him . He sees them when he is having a good night to go out. Its like when he falls asleep , he becomes a zombie all over again . Do you remember the movie 50 first dates? with Drew Barrymore. She had a memory problem , and every night she went to bed, she forgot everything from the days before, and began every day all over again . My son told me, that is how he feels . I try to remind him, what a good day he had the night before thru his locked door in the morning and he sometimes answers, but doesn’t come out till 4 pm most days. Then usually, I yell, and get upset , because I guess i really don’t understand , and I shouldn’t judge, but ITS SO FRUSTRATING !! He is looking for a special housing to live. The family dynamic is very stressed as well.
    Is it possible to get him checked in a hospital, and get watched for like a week, to just see his behaviors.? He says NEVER. Im also thinking, they won’t accept him insurance wise, unless he is a threat to himself. He says he thought about it a few times, which of course is so scary to me, but he also says that after we had an argument he is thinking about outpatient therapy, but the better ones are not covered by insurance, and theres a long waiting list . I don’t see how he will even get there on time anyway with his sleep schedule.. He is sometimes just lying in bed,in his room. He says , “its painful for him to leave, he has no energy,he has anxiety, he’s scared. He has the smallest ,tiny bedroom in our house. He calls it a closet. It worked out that way, I have younger girls.. We live in Nyc. Sometimes i feel he has another ailment instead or with Bipolar. My husband has bipolar too, he was diagnosed around the same time, but he thankfully is doing and functioning very well on his meds. Any advice on which direction we should go next. thanks .

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Joyce. It would be a waste of money and time for him to go in-patient, it sounds like. His doctor is right, none of the medication he’s “tried” that he’s only been on for a week or two mean anything. He hasn’t taken them long enough to see if they would actually do anything or not. In most cases, the way medicating works is the doctor gives an introductory dose to slowly build it up in the person’s system until they are in a therapeutic range. That can take several weeks to months per medication. His belief that he’s “tried” them is just incorrect. He’s going to need to learn that side effects are a reality he will have to deal with if he wants his mental illness under control. The key is to find a medication with manageable side effects that helps control the life-impacting negatives of the medication.

      If he is sleeping that often, it sounds more like severe depression than laziness. Anything and everything is a chore when a person is severely depressed. The brain produces mood balancing chemicals during the deep stages of sleep. So, it’s pretty normal stuff for a person to be doing better or in a good mood after they’ve slept an appropriate amount.

      Given that depression is such a major issue for him, I would very much suggest that you talk to a counselor about establishing and enforcing boundaries for him to encourage him to help himself. I really don’t recommend that you do this on your own volition, because if he is on the severely depressed end of the Disorder, it’s hard telling what other dark thoughts may be going through his head that he’s not telling anyone else. You don’t want to accidentally tip him into a darker place than he’s already in.

      Therapy can do a lot of good for someone, but with as severe as it sounds like his depression is, he’s very likely going to need to make some major lifestyle changes or take and be on his meds consistently to get any kind of meaningful gain. Mood stabilizers don’t typically contribute to alleviating depression, so that most likely isn’t going to be enough.

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