“I’ve been avoiding you for the last few months,” she said after a long pause. She then continued, but my bipolar brain stopped listening. She had reaffirmed every bad thought in my head, and I knew our friendship was over.
For months, I’ve known something was wrong. I tried to deceive myself into believing it was just my bipolar brain, but in my heart, I knew it wasn’t. Our friendship meant much more to me than it ever did to her. That’s a sad reality I now have to live with.
In some ways, it’s a good thing. Now I know the truth and can live my life accordingly.
Or do I? Can I really trust that the conversation went down the way I remember it? Did you really say those words, or did my bipolar brain translate them into something much worse?
It’s the uncertainty and doubt caused by living with bipolar that’s the worst part of having bipolar disorder. Here are some examples.
What did they really say?
Bipolar disorder doesn’t just change the way you think and feel, it changes the way you perceive the world. On the worst days, it’s like using a camera filter that distorts every word and image. I’ve written about it before both in Revealing What Happens When Experiencing Bipolar Blur and in Speaking Bipolar — A Mental Illness Translator.
Even worse than changing how you feel, bipolar disorder robs you of the ability to trust what you hear. In the example above, I know she said those words, but there’s been many times mistook what others said.
Bipolar Disorder Symptom Checklist
My bipolar mind likes to distort the things I hear. You can tell me I look nice, and I’ll find some insult in your compliment. You might say you admire me, but my mind will immediately shout that you’re a liar.
It’s an incredible cruelty being unable to believe the things you hear. All relationships are strained as a result.
Even with my closest friends, I weigh their every word. Do they really mean what they’re saying? Can I really trust them?
Yet bipolar does more than distort what you hear. Believe it or not, it also affects what you see, but it’s only a piece of the worst part of having bipolar disorder
What did you see?
I’m at a party and see two friends across the room. One of them glances in my direction, and then they both laugh. Immediately, I know they’re talking about me. Even worse, I know they’re making fun of me.
I’m instantly filled with rage. How dare they disparage me? My mind races, searching for the quickest escape route.
In reality, my friend never saw me. They weren’t talking about me. Even though bipolar tells me otherwise, I’m not the center of the universe.
This distorted vision makes it excruciating to be in large groups of people. Every time someone laughs or whispers, panic rushes through me. I feel like I’m in one of those awful teen movies where everyone knows something scandalous about me, but no one cares enough to tell me.
There’s a part of my brain that knows that what I see is wrong. It knows there’s only a slim chance my friends are talking about me. The smile on your face isn’t hiding anything. Part of me knows reality, but my bipolar brain does its best to make me believe the delusion.
But wait, there’s more to the worst part of having bipolar disorder. Let’s get feelings involved.
What do you really feel?
Feeling the feels is also tricky when you have bipolar disorder. Mental illness can induce intense emotions even with someone you’ve just met. It can also turn off your feelings like the flip of a switch. All your love and adoration can disappear faster than you can blink.
I’ve been engaged twice. I wasn’t in love with either woman. In fact, the second one I didn’t even like. Why I ever dated her, I can’t be sure. I’d love to blame it on the friends who encouraged us to get together, but I know I have to take responsibility for my own actions. Part of my brain felt it was a good idea, and I ran with it.
I knew I didn’t like her. I liked nothing about her. We had no common interests, and our personality types were so vastly diverse that conversation was a constant struggle.
My bipolar brain refused to focus on the negative. Instead, insanity drove me to propose, and for some unknown reason, she said yes. I blame that failing on both of us.
Fortunately, about a month before we made it down the aisle, good friends took me to dinner to warn me about the colossal mistake. I knew I was making a mistake, but it wasn’t until somebody else said it that I felt like I could believe it.
I ended the relationship and never looked back. She wasn’t who I wanted, and I never missed her after she left.
Bipolar is like that. Either you feel things too deeply or feel nothing. There’s often no middle ground. Unable to trust what you feel, you lose the ability to make healthy decisions.
Overwhelmed yet? Let’s now throw memories into the worst part of having bipolar disorder mix.
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What really happened?
Bipolar disorder loves to play with memories. While it allows you to remember some things in vivid detail from decades ago, other things it chooses to distort or forget. It changes what you heard and the way you felt about it.
These distortions have made me more reserved. When I talk about a memory and a friend tells me it’s wrong, I stop talking. I know bipolar has distorted enough of my memories that I shouldn’t argue if someone points out inaccuracies in what I’m saying now. The possibility enrages me. If a memory is that vivid, how can it be wrong? Yet, sometimes it is.
There’s been times when it was possible to prove what happened, either through a recording or multiple witnesses. There are no words to describe how devastating it is to discover you have a false memory. This distorted thinking makes everything untrustworthy, even yourself.
Who can you trust?
I’m throwing a lot of bad out there today, but just wait, it gets worse. The worst thing bipolar disorder does is steal your ability to trust. You can’t trust others, and you can’t trust yourself.
We base most of the decisions we make in our lives on other factors. We judge what we see, what we hear, and what we feel based both on what’s happening in the moment and our past experiences. When you can’t trust your senses or memories, making new decisions is impossible. You struggle to develop new friendships and vacillate about whether to continue prior ones.
It’s uncertain whether my friend from the opening wants to end our friendship. We have decades of history. Maybe it holds value for her, but at this moment, I don’t believe it. The idea she could so easily toss me aside for months makes me feel worthless.
Tomorrow I may wake up and feel differently. Through different bipolar eyes, a new day might reveal a different picture. I don’t think that will happen, but it is possible. It’s happened before.
My friend might be able to deceive me into believing she said other words. But I wrote the words on paper when she said them, so I know they are correct. There’s no distortion in this memory. There’s a record. She’s been choosing to avoid me. For months. Now, it’s up to me to choose how I want to move forward.
Yes, I know this post is a lot of negativity. I did, however, promise you that this year I would share a more realistic and in-depth look into bipolar. This is what bipolar looks like. This is how it feels. To me, this is the worst part of having bipolar disorder.
Even the smallest words can be devastating. The tiniest acts can change everything. This reality inspired this week’s poem, Choose Kindness (video version above.)
I know I can’t trust everything I experience, but I have to continue living. Life must go on. I have to do my best to make the right decisions based on the information I have. That’s often a frustrating task for all the reasons listed above.
Instead, I choose to delay this decision. In a few days, I might have a new perspective or things may become clearer. In any case, this inability to trust anything is by far the worst part of having bipolar disorder.
Even so, we must never give up.
Until next time… Keep fighting.