The Joys of Unexpected Events and Bipolar Disorder

The unexpected can easily threaten one’s stability and well-being when you are mentally ill. For the better part of January, I have been largely quiet on my blog. The reason is due to an unexpected circumstance that threatened an unwell cycle. Thanks to medication, practices I learned in therapy, and the knowledge I have built about how my mental illness affects me specifically, I was able to keep that stress from exploding into a full-blown unwell cycle.

The benefit of psych medication, for me, is that it prevents Bipolar Disorder from pulling my mind out into extremes. There are times when I feel like my brain is trying to escalate or crash into depression but it just hits a metaphorical wall and won’t go any further than that. But it does still like to hang out in those more troublesome areas where greater volatility can further threaten my stability.

And that’s where practices I learned in therapy and on my own come into play.

I think most people can agree that the more you dwell on a matter, the greater power you give it to affect you. In dealing with a mood disorder, dwelling on stresses, emotions, and other troubling circumstances not only fans the flames, but throws more fuel on them so they just burn brighter.

I strive to limit the amount of attention I give to circumstances that are beyond my control. In this case, I was unenrolled from a program that was paying my Medicare premiums about three months ago, but they did not actually adjust what I was receiving from Disability. I received no notification that this was happening, for whatever reason. I found this out when the government reclaimed those funds through a deduction that cut January’s payment by 2/3rds.

Shit situation? Absolutely. Anything I can do about it? Not according to Social Security.

It’s important to confront problems head on. The longer they fester, the worse off they will get. Ignoring them is the worst thing you can do. But, it’s really easy for anxiety, depression, or Bipolar Disorder to make everything feel overwhelming. We need to attempt to strike a middle ground. I do that by dedicating a certain amount of time to working on that problem and then forcing my brain onto different subject matter. This is not something that is easy to do initially! It’s a skill you need to work on. It does get easier with time and effort.

In this case, I allotted two hours to researching what happened and looking for a solution (not counting the time I spent on hold!) That culminated in a handful of phone calls to various offices and discovering there was nothing I could do to affect the situation. From there, any additional thoughts or energy dedicated to it would simply be wasted. It’s just potential fuel for the fires of unwellness to ignite and burn.

Whenever I find myself dwelling on what happened, I redirect my thoughts onto something else that requires greater focus. The more complex, the more I get immersed, the less energy I’m giving to thoughts that could spiral out of control.

This also works pretty well in trying to support a loved one who is being hit with unwell or anxiety-driven thoughts. If I know what the person’s interests are, I will ask them what their favorite thing about that interest is. As I get them talking about it, I’ll just keep asking questions about various details about the hobby or thing until I can tell they are calming down. If I don’t know, I’ll just ask them what their favorite thing is and start unwinding from there. It can take a few minutes, but it’s a really good way to derail anxiety or unwell thoughts.

I would like to close off this post by thanking the several people who sent me, “are you okay?” messages. I do appreciate them. I am okay, just dealing with my mental illness.


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11 Responses to The Joys of Unexpected Events and Bipolar Disorder

  1. Mike says:

    I think your approach is equally valid for those without serious mental health problems to deal with a stressful situation – it can be given a small amount of attention per day rather than endless days and nights of worrying. As you say, it’s also more productive.
    Wishing you well.

  2. Lou says:

    I agree with Mike. Equally valuable for non Bp’s.
    This is something I realised at about the age of 16. Not to follow all thoughts down the rabbit hole. I learned that I was most at peace and receptive to really absorbing and appreciating my surroundings in that precise moment, when I wasn’t following any train of thought. This brought me to a place of peace and contentment.
    As soon as I start to ruminate, churn, and get involved in the coulda, woulda, shouldas, i feel more detached from the world and and exist only in my head, far too much.
    I just basically stop thinking. As you said Dennis, change the subject. Even better, get into meander mode. No fixed subject at all.
    This is all much harder of course when in the midst of stressful situations. We then revert to old and bad habits. It’s almost as if you feel the need to grip onto everything extra tight. Even your thoughts. Its having faith that you won’t fall into an abyss if you let go a little. All this gripping doesn’t change any outcomes. It just creates stress and anxiety over things that are mostly out of our control. It’s a learned reaction.
    That said, analysing, reflection and self awareness can be very good, positive and useful things when they are harnessed appropriately. Thanks for a reminder of a skill i need to polish. Looking forward to the new book. 🙂

  3. Eleni says:

    Hi Dennis, I agree with your reflections. Bravo for being able to manage such thoughts but I find it so difficult at times when struggling with my anxiety…I’m glad to hear from you!

  4. Gwen says:

    Hi Dennis
    Switching your thoughts to a different topic sounds so great… I’ve never been good at it. At times, my brain gets pretty one-tracked. Maybe I’ll keep trying. I meditate and I know they say to let thoughts come (and go), again, at times, my thoughts seem sort of stuck. Anyway, glad you are feeling better. Best wishes.

    • Dennis says:

      It’s a skill you work at. I wasn’t very good at it at first either. The more you do it, the easier it gets. There are times when it’s still really hard to do, and it probably will be for people with anxiety. But honing it as a skill is very helpful. I meditate, too. I find it very helpful.

      Thank you for the well wishes!

      • G says:

        Meditating is so funny – it’s not difficult, doesn’t take long, and I feel better when I am doing it regularly, and yet, it’s a hard habit to keep (for me!). I’ll keep working on thought switching. Cheers.

  5. Jeff says:

    I am just messaging to say that I hope you are doing as well as can be hoped for!

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