Bipolar Disorder and the Destructive Trap of All-or-Nothing Thinking
You can avoid the all-or-nothing-thinking pitfall.
Things were going well. I was getting a newsletter out almost every week. I was posting new content regularly. Social media posts were being generated every day. Everything seemed to be okay.
Then it all stopped.
I can’t say exactly what happened. Suddenly one day I wasn’t able to do it anymore.
About this time I read an article about simplifying your life. I wish I had saved a link so I could share it with you now. It was an excellent article.
The post talked about how even good things can become causes of anxiety. While exercising is a good thing, trying to force ourselves to exercise two hours every day can become needlessly stressful. While eating right is beneficial, obsessing over everything we put into our mouths is not.Start Today!
The article recommended cutting out of your life things that were unnecessarily causing you stress.
There’s not a lot in my life these days, but in that moment, I felt like the blog was causing me too much stress. So, in true bipolar fashion, I shut it down. In the course of an hour, I deleted all of my social media accounts.
If you ever doubted whether I really have bipolar disorder, let this be your proof.
Not the results I was hoping for
Ah, sweet relief. It felt like I had dropped an immense burden off of my shoulders.
For a couple of weeks, I deceived myself into believing everything was better because I had gotten rid of that stress.
However, I was very wrong.
Sometimes I feel stressed about getting out of a newsletter or posting new content, but overall the Speaking Bipolar blog brings me much joy and happiness. Writing about my experiences helps me to cope with them and to see areas in my life where I need to make changes. It also helps me to see my progress so far.
Hearing from all of you and what you think about the things I write is also a source of happiness. I ended up hurting myself by getting rid of something I thought was causing me stress.
I knew I couldn’t go back to posting stories every day and probably couldn’t publish a newsletter every week. So in that moment, I felt trapped. To me, it was all or nothing.
This type of all-or-nothing thinking is common with bipolar disorder. A lot of times it goes hand-in-hand with manic or depressive episodes, but it’s also a general rule of life that we live by.
It’s even common in our relationships. Either we want to be with you every second of every day, or we want nothing to do with you. It’s a constant struggle to find middle ground. That’s just one item that makes having a bipolar relationship complicated.
Since I didn’t feel like I could give the blog the time and attention it deserved, I felt the best thing was to do nothing.
Let me warn you, this all-or-nothing thinking is dangerous. Not only can it hurt relationships or end careers, but it can also deprive you of good things in your life.
For me, those good things included the positives I was getting from writing a blog. Still, sometimes we feel we just have to do something.
But I have to do it
A friend and I were talking recently about some of her exceptionally poor decisions of late. She told me, “I knew it was wrong when I did it, but I couldn’t stop myself.”
As she told me about how she felt, she said, “Sometimes I feel this overpowering need to do something. It’s as if I don’t do it, the world will end. Even if I know it’s wrong, I can’t seem to stop myself. I have to do it.”
She then asked if I could understand.
Oh, honey, do I ever understand. Way more than you can imagine.
Overpowering emotions and desires are part of bipolar disorder. There have been many times I’ve done terrible things that I knew were wrong in the minute, but felt like I couldn’t stop myself. It seems as if some other driving force is pushing you forward, and you are helpless to sit and watch.
That’s what happened with my blog. I knew it was bringing me joy and happiness to my life, but in that moment I felt like I had to destroy it. I had to get rid of all my social media accounts and be completely free of everything.
Fortunately, I recovered many of my social media accounts. Sadly, my 10,000+ followers on Twitter disappeared forever. But that’s okay. It’s not my favorite social media platform, anyway.
The good news about handling all-or-nothing thinking
There are a few things you can do to lessen the chances of this all-or-nothing thinking causing havoc in your life. Here’s three of them.
1. Step back
The first thing you want to do is take a step back. There’s a lot of truth in the expression, “Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Perspective has a lot to do with what you see in the world. Taking a step back offers you a new perspective.
Had I taken a step back, I would have been able to see what was causing me stress. In reality, it wasn’t the blog; it was my mistaken belief that I had to follow a set schedule or routine with posting and producing content. Had I just stepped back, I would have seen the truth before I destroyed everything.
2. Take a minute
The second way to combat all-or-nothing thinking is to allow yourself some time to decide. What feels right in this instant might not feel right in five minutes or five days from now.
Bipolar emotions are overpowering. Their intensity can push you to make drastic decisions. Those decisions aren’t always the best ones.
Allow yourself the time you need to make a wise decision. Whether it takes a few days or even a few months, try not to decide in the moment, especially if your internal push is exceptionally strong. You may feel differently in a few days.
The third way to combat all-or-nothing thinking with bipolar disorder is to evaluate or test what you’re thinking about doing. For me, I use pro-con lists. I love being able to look at something tangible and see clearly what is the better option. If the pros are longer, then it’s something you want to do. If the cons are longer, then it’s something you shouldn’t do. Simple enough.
Yet, as much as I love pro-con lists, I didn’t take the time to do one. I knew in that second that the best thing I could do was to get rid of everything related to the blog. So, I made a decision and ran with it. It was only in the weeks that followed that I could see just how beneficial the blog was to me and to other people.
You will make mistakes
Even the best of us, whether you’re coping with a mental illness or not, make mistakes. You can do your best to do everything right, but there are still times you’re going to make the wrong choice. That’s okay. As they say, failure is usually not fatal. It’s okay to be a disaster now and then.
When you make a poor decision, like I did recently, then take some time to look back at that decision and where you went wrong. Look to see how things would have gone differently had you made better choices. Remember those lessons the next time you have a decision to make.
You don’t fail until you stop trying to be better. So keep trying.
All-or-nothing thinking is a daily reality when you have bipolar disorder. I doubt there’s anything you can do to remove this feeling fully, but with time and effort, you can minimize its consequences.
Until next time… Keep fighting.