Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Relationships: How Does Bipolar Figure Into It?

I’ve spent the last few days working on a talk I will be giving here in San Diego to the International Bipolar Foundation on Thursday, Sept 8. My talk will be on relationships, which I am an expert in, having been in and out of two marriages. Let’s pick up on the action, two-thirds into my rough draft ...

Okay, let’s throw bipolar into the equation. Same stressful situation. Who is the one likely to freak out? The so-called normal one or the one with bipolar?

How many think the one with bipolar?

Okay, stress looms large in bipolar. We have genetically vulnerable brains. We are hardwired to over-react to what goes on around us. In times of stress, our limbic systems are over-activated. Our prefrontal cortex tends to go off-line.

Also, our brains have difficulty filtering out the world around us. We get overwhelmed very quickly.

Can anyone make a case for the so-called normal one freaking out?

Keep in mind, crazy people don’t have a monopoly on freaking out. Freaking out is a perfectly normal response to stress. So, can you imagine situations where the normal person is the one freaking out and the person with bipolar is as cool as a cucumber?

I can imagine a bunch of them. Keep in mind, crazy is normal to us. We’re used to disasters and to facing challenges. When our world comes crashing down on us, it’s often no big deal. Paradoxically, we are often in far better shape to deal with the situation.

This isn’t just some wacky idea of mine. Nassir Ghaemi in his new book, A First-Rate Madness, contends that a life-time without being tested leaves one ill-prepared to handle crisis. The great leaders have never had that problem. Think - Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King.

Also, a lot of us think and perceive differently. We connect dots in very unusual ways and come up with amazingly creative ways of looking at situations. Often, this means solutions present themselves in an instant - as events unfold - so there is no crisis to begin with. No reason to freak out for us.

But this ability to think and perceive differently also works the other way for us. We can sniff out bad stuff well before it happens. Contrary to what many may believe, we don’t simply get excited over nothing.   

Rather than look at people as normal vs crazy, I look at people as linear vs non-linear.

This is the way most people think most of the time:

This is the way a lot of people like me think a lot of the time:

So what’s four like? Depends. Everything may be okay. Or it could be a good reason to freak out.

What’s 28 like? Same thing. Depends. Could be okay. Perhaps reason to freak out.

So, here we are. Same situation. Two completely different brains.

We are never going to see eye to eye. You’re reacting to 4. I’m reacting to 28. How do you think that’s going to work?

So - third rule of relationships.

If you perceived the same stuff the other person did, you might be freaking out even worse.

Unfortunately for us non-linear people, the linear people are in the majority. We have to conform to their world. Their world is totally stupid and makes no sense to me, but there you go - I have no choice but to try to fit in.

As I like to joke: We're peanut butter people trying to fit into a tofu world governed by Vulcans.

International Bipolar Foundation
Lecture: Relationships and Coping with the Day-to-Day Stuff

5:30-6:00- SOCIAL
6:45-7:00- Q & A
Sanford Children's Research Center, Building 12
10905 Road to Cure, San Diego 92121


Myke said...

Love this. I'd love to see the whole piece once it comes together. Thanks for posting!

John McManamy said...

Hey, Myke. Glad you enjoyed this. I'd love to see the whole piece when it comes together, too! :)

Addy Bell said...

Sometimes I think it's a question of perspective. For instance, my husband is "normally brained". He starts to freak out if we need to take money out of savings to pay the bills, because it means we're spending too much money.

Me, well, I've been suicidal. I've been psychotic. I've been too poor to buy enough food to meet my daily caloric needs. Yeah, it's a good thing to have savings, but ... come on.

Lizabeth said...

Hey John--I'd love to see how the talk works out too. I have BP2, my husband has unipolar major depression so neither one of us fits the 'normal' mode. He is much more pessimistic about events than I am and gets upset when he can't do his job---Masters in Natural Resources Management--the way he thinks it should be done. And he is a Federal Employee so the past week--well stressful doesn't begin to describe it.
I, on the other hand, tend to be much more pessimistic about people and any organization labeled 'big' or anyone labeled 'rich'.
So, is it our mental health or our life experiences? I also tend to see some things people think of a real as symbols---like money. Maybe thats how I 48.

Martin said...

Hi John
I find this idea of Ghaemi and yours really encouraging. I've read something from you on it before.

I agree that your early sufferings can give you a valuable perspective and the ability to meet difficulties head on.

I had some tough teenage years and from then on I've always been a pessimist. It's a running joke amongst my family and friends.

So, it's no wonder that I suffer from depression - or so say all and sundry, including doctor, psychologist and so on. The answer is of course to change my thinking, apparently.

Well maybe so. Or just maybe I'm right when I take negative view of of a lot of things - because lots of things are just cr@p.

No doubt there is a balance to strike, but I simply can't buy in to the whole CBT idea that you have to temper your reaction to everything and always take a balanced view.

Sometimes you've got to recognize the cr@p for what it is and unbalanced is the right response.