Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dealing with Bipolar Disorder: Why You Shouldn't Let Anyone Tell You "You're Not Trying Hard Enough!"

If you have Bipolar Disorder, then you've probably heard someone say before: "You know what your problem is? You're not trying hard enough to control your emotions!" And yes, it's a painful statement to hear. Basically, what your friend, parent, or just the armchair expert next door is saying, is that you don't have mental illness. As far as they're concerned, what you suffer from is good old-fashioned laziness and bad attitude.

But if you've done your research, you know that managing the extreme high and low moods that come with Bipolar Disorder is not as easy as "snapping out of it." The intense emotions don't just vaporize with pilates, a feel good movie, and some hard-core videoke-ing (though they can help!). Being biochemical in nature, bipolar mood swings can be stronger than one's resources to cope. Certainly, they can take longer to control.

I've decided to browse through more academic writings on Bipolar Disorder, and I found something that I think others with the illness would find comforting. According to this research, contrary to popular belief (or at least the authors' initial hypothesis which equates to popular belief in the scientific community), people with BD actually do report great use of adaptive coping strategies. In fact, people with BD actually try harder than people without the condition to cope with their happy and sad feelings. The only problem is: persons with BD experience less success in regulating emotions despite intense effort.

What could this mean?

It means: that instead of feeling bad because you can't seem to manage your emotions as well as other people, you should be at peace with the certainty that you are actually trying harder than most! True, this knowledge wouldn't make the extreme moods any more tolerable, but it can stop you from bouts of hating yourself for not being "normal" or at least as good as the next guy or gal. And when you consider that you have a steeper mountain to climb everyday (you have more intense emotions than other people), then you should be more proud of yourself for every milestone you achieve.

But less I be accused of hijacking a scientific study to flatter persons with BD, myself included, it's important to note that the study also stated that compared to other people, those with BD also employ way more maladaptive coping strategies than people without BD. These poor coping strategies include expressive suppression--- that is, keeping one's emotions to one's self. Expressive suppression can actually account for the feeling of increase effort in managing one's emotions, intense effort that creates little or no result. Suppression after all is very tiring. It is important then that persons with BD train themselves in using the right kind of coping methodology for the right kind of intended result. More so, it's important for persons with BD to beef up their armory of effective and positive coping styles. For example, cognitive reappraisal, or changing the way we think about a situation, is a good strategy for managing low moods and depression.

There is also a need to sustain every effort to manage emotion, even if they are not showing immediate results.When you are in an emotional high or an emotional low, it's easy to overestimate the amount of effort you've invested in managing your emotions --- five minutes of stopping yourself from crying hysterically in a corner or going out on an impulsive shopping spree can feel like five hours. Hang tough. Persistence, while a difficult muscle to train, can get you through the worst of times.

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