Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Thoughts
Recently I wrote about the phenomenon of “earworms” which (if you ask me) is a type of obsessive thought. It’s when music gets stuck in your head. It’s something that everyone experiences, and it’s annoying but I suspect that earworms are a type of obsessive thought that occurs in those with bipolar disorder more than for other people. (There isn’t evidence of this, but there is evidence that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) get more earworms and bipolar disorder may be linked to OCD.)
But, of course, music isn’t the only thing that one’s brain can be obsessed with. In fact, I find that if music isn’t playing in my head like a broken record (ask your parents) there are thoughts obsessively circling that I can’t get rid of.
For example, if I have a particularly nasty encounter with someone I really care about, after, their words will echo and echo and echo on in my brain until I can’t hear my own thoughts at all, only their words. Once, someone called me “petulant” and that one word rattled around in my head for weeks. It’s not that I particularly believed the person or agreed, but that one encounter had a profound effect on my ability to think for ages thereafter.
Part of this feels like “sensitivity.” Like that I’m overly sensitive to other people’s reactions to me. Once I was called an out-of-control empath. But it’s really not that. It’s really obsession. It’s not that I can’t let it go; it’s that my brain can’t. It’s that the thought creates a groove in my brain that I can’t dig it out of. It’s that my brain artificially hangs onto the experience long after my mind has processed it.
And this obsession is a complete overreaction to the situation, I know, but I can’t control it. It’s an obsession, not merely a simple thought. And yes, hypomania sure make obsessions a lot worse. It’s like turning up the obsession. It’s like the obsession is yelling at you.
Bipolar and Obsessive Thoughts Can Drive You Mad
Well, to be fair, bipolar can drive you mad all on its own, but. I find obsessive thoughts unbelievably difficult to escape. I have to consciously switch my thoughts onto something else. But that’ doesn’t really work because as soon as I’m not paying attention, the obsession comes back. In order to avoid the obsessive thoughts I have to remain ultra-vigilant and control every synapse my brain fires. And quite frankly that just isn’t reasonable. One simply can’t live that way.
Combatting Obsessive Thoughts
The only thing I’ve ever found to be successful at combatting obsessive thoughts is quiet time. I think quiet time, resting time, works because there are no external stimuli to derail my thoughts and allow the obsessive thoughts back in. During quiet time I’m in complete control. I’ve designed a psychological routine for myself that I can swim in. In rare occasions the obsessions even break through that, but, in general, it does work. (Of course one cannot live in a vacuum. Occasionally one must get things done outside of lying on a couch with one’s eyes closed.)
Questions on Obsessive Thoughts
So, do you obsess? What do you obsess about? Any secret tips on dealing with obsessive thoughts?
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.