Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.
I understand that it isn’t exactly great form to start a feature by cheating and having two words – but this is a good starting point with plenty of mileage for us to share and discuss our experiences of it.
Cognitive Dissonance as defined by Wikipedia:
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who (1) holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time or (2) is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. This stress and discomfort may also arise within an individual who holds a belief and performs a contradictory action or reaction.
Leon Festinger‘s theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals largely become psychologically distressed. His basic hypotheses are listed below:
- “The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance”
- “When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance”
Have you ever been proud? I really enjoy helping people. Offering aid is the best incentive I have for keeping to this blog. I am proud that I behave in a way that is good for others, if not always myself. I often do things for others without expecting anything in return. Helping often is its own reward. I worship my family and would do anything for them. I make them laugh and help them with whatever they need from me. We are close and love each other dearly. I’m a good brother and son to have and my family long for the day when I see them again. Often I will come to the defence of my friends and in the past I have shown exceptional courage when faced with confrontation as a result of doing so. If my friends needed money or support – it’s theirs, in a moment’s notice. I trust people. I have hope in people. I see the good in them.
Who among us hasn’t felt guilt? Crippling guilt is one of the primary feature’s of my illness(es?). Guilt is my worst adversary and against it I am defenceless. This comes from the knowledge that I am, or rather have been and could continue to be, an immoral person. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen and betrayed confidences. I periodically have ‘attacks’ of guilty memories. I physically shudder and cringe and for those moments I feel as though someone’s nails are scraping down the chalk board of my mind. There are things that I cannot fix or make amends for, there are people out there to whom I am nothing but a vile person. I have done a disservice to the memory of my father, wasted every opportunity I’ve been given and aged my mother. My brother and sister grew up without the protection that an elder brother should have afforded them. I am a terrible boyfriend and cannot offer a lasting commitment. I poison all tenderness with the promise of regret and future pain, in an effort to “Hedge my bets” and avoid guilt much later. I am prone to this kind of cowardice.
In an effort to avoid future guilt, I often cause it by behaving in a brutal or needlessly cutting way.
I’m proud for being a good person and I feel guilty for being a bad guy. I BELIEVE that I’m essentially good, yet I behave often in a way that fits my definition of bad, I also know that I am a very flawed human being and that I hurt as much as help those I love because I can be abusive and manipulative. I believe that Bipolarity allows such incongruences to germinate into much stronger, load-bearing beliefs than is possible in the healthy mind. Both of these ‘versions’ of myself have existed and I have switched between them very quickly. There have been times that I have been a bit of both all at once.
Being unaware of Hypomania for what it is has allowed belief in my talent, intellect and strength of character to become entrenched. When Hypomanic in the past I have strived to achieve, achieved and built a temple of ego from the fruits of my labours.The depressions that follow Hypomanic episodes immediately and violently come up to co-exist with these beliefs before assimilating them.
Unlike a thought being challenged by new evidence or logic, and gradually dismantled as a healthy brain would do – When I have cycled in the past I have gone from KNOWING that I was beautiful, intelligent and destined for greatness to KNOWING that I was a weak, pretentious failure who thinks he is a lot smarter than is the case and behaves in a reprehensible way to those around him. Someone who doesn’t deserve love. Logically I can argue against either case and when I am at my healthiest I can occasionally enjoy the view that I’m somewhere between these two extremes. When I’m not at my healthiest – I am manufacturing bombs for cognitive dissonance to drop on me later.
With Bipolar Disorder we create memories whilst particularly ill that we shudder (literally in my case) to take ownership of. We think, say and do things that “just aren’t us”. We cannot believe the way we behaved, yet we know that it definitely happened and it was definitely us in the driver’s seat. We remember the thought processes that led to our actions, this isn’t split personalities – it’s always us. Someone with Bipolar Disorder who doesn’t know it can think that they’re the greatest hero and the most wicked villain in the world at the same time and be right. The constant war being waged in my head before my diagnosis was partly because I couldn’t clearly identify who I was. I didn’t behave like one person. I behaved like two or three at various intervals.
Dealing with the aftermath of this and trying to unpick the illogical stitching resulting from years of ignorance about my illness is where I often find myself now. I am largely asymptomatic but I have accrued a lifetime of jarring beliefs and opinions about life, love, morality but especially of myself. I still believe that I have the capacity to do significant and fulfilling work but I also suspect that, given my track record – I’ll never achieve or feel like I’ve achieved anything for very long.
This is the macro-example in my case – some micro examples could be, in my case : Knowing what to eat and not eat to maintain healthy prospects for the future and eating shit, regardless. or Having a job to do, knowing I need to do it and procrastinating until the time for doing the job has been and gone. or Being hypocritical by giving advice on WordPress and not following my own directions.
As my optimism about life cycles to pessimism and my confidence turns to lethargic nervousness I feel confused by my own world view. It is this dissonance that prevents me from making what I would consider to be lasting progress or FEELING as though I’ve made any progress. Logically I can look at myself and see the progress of diagnosis and medication, of my understanding of WHY my brain does the things it does – logic rarely trumps emotions for me, I’m not Spock. Combating the FEELING that I never make lasting progress is taking some time to do. When depressed it is the cause of much of the hopelessness that prompts suicidal ideation.
So how about you? When do you feel most guilty – is it cognitive dissonance that prompts this? You know what ‘good’ is, you strive to be good and yet you do things which are definitely bad. Do you struggle with feelings that you (sometimes) KNOW have little to no basis in your present reality. How have you moved on from the broken beliefs of your life pre-diagnosis? Has all of this post been nonsense – if so, come and take me to pieces. I want to hear from you. We’ve got a good basis of followers now – it’s time to start thrashing out these ideas and making progress.
All the best,