You Are Not Your Bipolar Thoughts
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
Recently, a commenter was here and she was frustrated because her doctor told her to separate herself from her bipolar thoughts. And the commenter remarked,
How am I supposed to separate myself from my thoughts? I AM MY THOUGHTS. Everything I do, everything I say, everything I am, started with a thought.
This is true and it isn’t. I understand this commenter’s frustration and I understand how illogical it seems to suggest that you can separate yourself from your thoughts. After all, don’t you have to think about the separation? And how does that work, exactly?
What this commenter’s doctor failed to mention is probably the most confusing part of any mental illness. The mentally ill thoughts come from the brain while the ability to separate from those bipolar thoughts come from your mind. And you brain and your mind are not the same thing.
What is the Brain?
I’ve talked about this before in The Mind-Brain Split and Enlightenment in Mental Illness. But basically it comes down to this: your brain is an organ. It’s part of your body. It functions much like a pancreas or a heart. It does its job and its job is to think and make sense of the world. The brain is the most complex organ in the body and we clearly don’t understand it. The brain can be thought of as a black box – signals (the stimulus in the outside world) go into it and thoughts come out of it and it’s not at all clear what happens in between.
What is the Mind?
The mind is more of who you are and not what you are. It’s a concept and not a physical thing. It’s what makes sense of the thoughts that are trying to make sense of the world. If you didn’t have a mind you’d simply act on every thought you had. And remember when you wanted to kill your 11th grade math teacher for giving you a C-? You didn’t do that, now did you?
Let’s take an example.
Say you’re walking down the street and you see two people holding hands and smiling at each other. Your brain can take in that stimulus and draw the reasonable conclusion that those two people are in love. You may then find yourself thinking: “Why aren’t I in love? Everyone else is.” And then you’ll likely find yourself feeling bad about this.
You’ve jumped from what you’ve seen of the world (two people in love) to a logical fallacy that everyone is in love and that is making you feel bad.
Now, if you’re paying attention and you watch that thought cross your consciousness, you might use self-talk to battle it. You might say back to yourself: “That is silly. Not everyone is in love. I will find love in my own time.” This may cease the emotion that made you feel bad about yourself.
That was your mind talking back to your brain. Essentially your brain sent out a faulty, illogical signal that, if you let it, would make you feel bad about yourself. But you don’t have to let it. You can battle back with your mind.
The mind, when it’s trained, can watch the thoughts of the brain and make assessments about them. (Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches about this and if you haven’t had experience with this therapy I highly suggest you make it a priority.)
Because what it comes down to, especially for people with mental illnesses, is that you can’t believe everything you think. Sometimes, what you think is wrong. Sometimes, what you think is just the bipolar that’s overtaken your brain to the point where all sorts of faulty signals are coming out.
I don’t know. It just can. In the example above it’s clearly wrong and in the example we can clearly correct it. Of course, things with bipolar disorder are rarely that simple. The problem with bipolar disorder is the sheer volume of illogical thoughts and the power that those thoughts have.
For example, for people who have bipolar depression, they are often suicidal and a fallacious thought I often hear is, “people would be better off without me.” This is universally untrue. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, no matter what you think, there are people who would be hurt by your death. You may not be consciously aware of this, but it’s true. Someone, somewhere, is positively affected by you. Your bipolar is just obscuring that fact and making everything seem hopeless. That’s a bad, untrue, messed up bipolar thought coming from your brain.
A Bipolar Brain Can Overwhelm the Mind
The trouble, of course, for people with bipolar disorder is that the mind is not always enough to battle the bipolar brain – if it were, we could think our way out of the illness and we clearly can’t. Unlike most people, who may have faulty thoughts sometimes, people with bipolar disorder tend to have faulty thoughts almost constantly when ill. And this is a physical problem with the organ called the brain and that’s why people with bipolar disorder need medication. They need to fix their brains to the point where their minds can handle it. Because we all have faulty thoughts sometimes, but there is a finite limit to what we can deal with.
You Are Not Your Bipolar Thoughts – You Are You
So, in short, those faulty bipolar thoughts are not you and you have to learn to separate yourself from them or they will eat you alive. All those bipolar thoughts that say, “You’re unlovable; kill yourself,” or, “It’s imperative to buy a $10,000 handbag,” or, “I want sex so I need to cheat on my partner,” can’t be believed. You can’t let them control you or your life will be destroyed. You simply cannot believe everything you think.