This first appeared as a guest post on Insights From a Bipolar Bear (http://www.insightsbipolarbear.com/). Bradley Shreve’s blog is great, insightful, and awesome (and not just because he featured my writing). Go check out his blog. After you read this post.
Having bipolar disorder is like having cognitive dissonance all the time.
What is cognitive dissonance? When people ask, I usually describe it as when the two halves of your brain slam forcefully into each other and give you a brain-ache. It’s also known as “brain go ‘splodey.”
Take, for instance, the time when I saw excerpts from the musical Cabaret – performed by women, the very youngest of whom was at least 65. As I reeled out of the theater, my mother saw the dazed look on my face and said, “Don’t you like Cabaret?”
“I love Cabaret!” I replied. Meanwhile, the other side of my brain was saying, ”Oh my God, if they had tried to do the Bob Fosse choreography, someone would have broken a hip for sure!” Slam! Pow! ‘Splodey! Cognitive dissonance.
You can probably see how this relates to bipolar. One half of your brain says, “If you just take a shower, you can go out to lunch.” The other half says, “A shower?!? First I have to find a clean towel and a bar of soap, get undressed without seeing myself in the mirror, fiddle with the water temperature, wash and shampoo, dry off, find clean underwear, and that’s not even thinking about drying my hair and figuring out what I can wear! Oh, my God, I’ve used up all my spoons just thinking about it! I should just eat Cocoa Puffs and go back to bed.”
Instant cognitive dissonance.
Or try this scenario: You see on your newsfeed that the government is considering a new law with a feel-good title regarding mental health issues. “Hooray!” you think. “At last! Everyone should support this fabulous bill!” Then you look at the whole article and find that one provision in the bill allows violating the privacy protections of HIPAA, as an example.
“Oh no!” the other half of your brain says. “Any person, even one who’s mentally ill, has the right to medical privacy. What if an abuser gets information about his victim? I’ve got to write a letter protesting this bill. Where are my spoons? Did someone steal my spoons?”
There are lots of these situations, hence the near-permanent state of cognitive dissonance.
I want to be around people but I don’t want to talk to anyone.
I want to be left alone but then I’m lonely.
I really want to make love to my partner but I can’t get aroused.
I want to be cured but I hate the idea of being “normal.”
That degree of cognitive dissonance is positively exhausting. No wonder we never want to do anything but lie in bed, not read, not interact, not reach out, not try to do anything but survive another day.
If we think too hard about anything, our brains may go ‘splodey.