The Damaging Beliefs of Bipolar Disorder
When writer Elaina J. Martin was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she felt “less than.” “I felt like other people were better than me, less damaged than I was.”
In the first few years of her diagnosis, psychotherapist Colleen King, LMFT, worried she’d never be able to function at a higher level. “During those years of struggle, I saw myself deteriorate, become less capable, and felt like a failure in many ways.”
Bipolar disorder is a difficult illness that can shatter one’s self-worth and sense of self.
Beliefs tend to differ in different people, depending on the person’s circumstances. But largely, psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk sees two themes. One theme centers around “I’m not good enough”: “I can’t work, so I’m not good enough”; “I’m crazy”; “I should be able to manage emotions the way others do”; “I’m a burden to my family”; “I’m a bad partner”; “I don’t deserve my partner”; “I’ll never have a relationship”; “no one likes me”; “I’m a leach” (a client’s exact words).
The second theme is even more insidious: Individuals with bipolar disorder may internalize society’s disparaging beliefs about mental illness, Van Dijk said. They start believing: “I have to hide my bipolar disorder”; “if people knew I had bipolar disorder, they wouldn’t accept me, and they’d treat me differently.”
These self-judgments are especially prevalent during depressive episodes. This is when Martin has beliefs that she’s ugly and useless. “I feel like I don’t deserve anything good in my life, that I am not worthy of anything like love or friendship,” said Martin, who pens the blog Being Beautifully Bipolar and has written a memoir called There Comes a Light: A Memoir of Mental Illness, which comes out in late spring. Sometimes, she feels “soul-sucking emptiness.”
Self-judgments also are common in mixed episodes when “an individual is experiencing symptoms of both depression and hypomania or mania at the same time, so there’s lots of energy, but the person experiences depressed mood,” said Van Dijk, the author of several books, including the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder.
When the manic or hypomanic episode is over, people often crash. They bash themselves for their behavior during the episode, she said. For instance, maybe they went on a shopping spree. Maybe they went gambling. And they interpret this behavior as evidence of their awfulness.