To come to terms with the up-and-down mood swings of bipolar disorder and better manage the symptoms of mania and depression, I’ve harnessed the power of metaphors and creative thinking.
I’d like to share a couple of concepts that help me stay connected to my best path. For the record: my thought processes are heavily influenced by literature, philosophy, science, and, of course—anxious overthinking. Here’s how I use some of that anxious overthinking for good instead of evil, applying it to metaphors that help me better understand and manage my bipolar symptoms.
Go with the Flow
Bipolar-based ups and downs will be with us for the rest of our lives. We can manage our episodes, and we can look out for signs of oncoming mood swings, we can even run interference—but we can’t edit our brain chemistry or our innate cognitive processes. Acknowledging and respecting the science of neurochemistry is a crucial step in our journeys with this condition; I’d even say it’s the first and most important step.
“Bipolar brain chemistry” ebbs and flows perpetually, just like the ocean’s tide—and framing my episodes in this way helps me understand them more clearly. I realize that in both cases, scientists make predictions—but Mother Nature runs the show. And she hasn’t promised anyone anything.
Q&A about Ocean Tides … with Myself
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll walk you through the internal dialogue that I had with myself about this concept (am I the only one who does that…?)
Q: Does the tide sometimes come in and cause destruction? A: Yes. There are tsunami and floods.
Q: Are the tides intentionally destructive? A: Of course not—they are simply subject to gravitational pull and atmospheric conditions governed by Mother Nature.
Q: Does the tide sometimes fall back and bring life? A: Yes. Low tide reveals typically hidden things on the shore; it is the best time to search for seashells and shellfish.
Q: Is this fall-back process important? A: Yes, without it there wouldn’t be many seashells or shellfish at all. …Or beaches, for that matter.
“Ride the Wave You’ve Got”
Anyone can tread water, but surfing is much more fun—and that’s what we’ve got to do with (hypo)mania: train ourselves to maintain balance, strength, and focus while we’re riding the high tide. And just like with surfing, nobody gets it right every time. I don’t think any of us should hope for perfection in managing their bipolar. (Spoiler alert: there is no perfect way!)
Low tide can be an appropriate time to float on your back, gaze at the sky, and be mindful of your experience. It might feel stagnant and motionless, but the low tide is an important part of the circle of life; when tide pools are formed, filled, and emptied on a regular cycle, a sustainable living environment for thousands of organisms is created.
It makes me wonder if low mood (or a depressive cycle) could serve a purpose, too. Being totally drained due to depression feels miserable. But it can provide space for the mind, body, and spirit to rest, recuperate, and reflect.
Managing bipolar episodes is like surfing through uncharted territory. It can be exciting at times, and it can be scary at times. The best we can do is ride the wave we’ve got.
In my experience with bipolar episodes, I’ve noticed that I get a surge of restless, unwieldy, and directionless energy. I feel desperate for something that I don’t have—but I don’t even know what it is that I want. This is true for both (hypo)mania and depression; they are just different flavors of the same weird energy. With one you seek way too much life, and with the other you seek way too much death.
Once I became cognizant of that, I began to think of that weird energy as a monkey.
Sometimes it’s jubilant, precocious, and friendly, like Curious George. Other times it’s mean, ugly, and hateful like the winged monkeys that protect the Wicked Witch of the West.
“Keep Your Monkey Busy”
Regardless of which persona my “weird monkey energy” takes on, the fact remains that it’s always there. Sometimes its antics are low-key; for example, getting super engrossed in an artistic or creative activity. And sometimes it creates a ruckus by getting super engrossed in high-end retail shopping.
Since I know that my weird little monkey is sneaky and quiet, I try to make sure that it always has something safe to get into when it raises its head. Here are a few of the processes I’ve put in place to keep my monkey busy:
I keep different art projects, creative projects, and writing projects going 24/7.
I made an agreement with myself that any shopping cart I build will have to sit through a 24-hour wait period and a conversation with my partner.
As often as possible, I immerse myself in the unbridled joy of—and fun with—my children. I imagine that I am their generous grandma who lets go of rules and discipline in order to focus on enjoying and encouraging their jubilant energy.
I allow myself to play as much mahjong, scrabble, and (online, free) poker as I want.
I allow myself to ignore calls, email, and messages when I am in a moment of productive focus.
Waves and Surfing and Monkeys—Oh, My!
I’m not sure whether these particular concepts will resonate with others’ experiences, as my imagination is quite active and thorough (read: “extremely turbulent and ruminative”); but I do hope you can seek out concepts and metaphors that suit your experience—and use them to manage your version of bipolar.
For me, “Riding the Wave I’ve Got” and “Keeping My Monkey Busy” give me a bit more control over my “weird” energy. We may not be able to control everything about our bipolar, but we can get involved in the unfolding process. What sorts of metaphors do you find helpful?
*I often get mentally bombarded with a certain song or musical style when I’m writing, and I’ve come to embrace it—so these are my musical muses for the post. Please note, I’m sharing links to the songs for convenience of listening—it’s not about the video element at all.
Brooke Baron has a BA in English, a minor in philosophy, and a lifelong obsession with language. She is the author of A Beginner's Guide to Being Bipolar.
Although born and raised in Alabama, she has been a proud California resident for 10+ years. During a professional stint in Silicon Valley—in both the corporate and private business sectors—she handled internal and external communications, office design and construction, photography and graphic design, executive assistance, and functioning on very little sleep.
Brooke now specializes in "New Human Orientation" from her home in the suburbs. She has a young, loving, growing family of five and is fueled by that love and coffee.
In addition to caring for the rest of Team Baron, she enjoys writing, reading, researching miscellaneous topics, and funneling manic energy into creative projects. With so many balls in the air—including bipolar II disorder—balancing her life is like balancing two kangaroos on a see-saw. She offers consulting services for the bipolar community at Better Bipolar Balance.
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