I Don’t Trust Myself

One of the aspects of my bipolar that I find the most exhausting is the need to constantly monitor my own moods. Even though I am medicated to the hilt and haven’t had a manic episode in 5 years or so, I spend at least part of every day worrying that I am edging too far towards mania or depression.

Part of this is good – I’m attuned to my moods, I know if I’m experiencing a big swing, I can immediately address it with my psychiatrist and adjust my meds or go back into therapy or whatever needs to be done. That has served me very well in the past, allowing me to catch hold of a rope before I slide so deep into depression I can’t manage to do anything to help myself.

But it also means that I have what I think of as a dual consciousness. One part of me experiences things, reacts to them, has emotions. And the other part of me sits back and watches and worries. Is that a reasonable response to the external stimuli? Is that within the normal range of emotion? Am I just a touch too upset about something? Is that bouncy happy feeling I have because it’s a sunny day, or because I’m starting to verge into mania?

This means I’m not sure I fully experience any of my emotions, because a portion of me is always reserved for this meta-cognition, this constant monitoring and evaluation of how I feel. And ironically, it’s the strongest or deepest emotions that cause me the most concern and trigger that meta-cognition the most, meaning it’s those emotions I experience the least. I’m not sure I have any idea what it feels like to be happy without that edge of worry. I’m not sure I have any idea what it feels like to be sad without part of my brain running through my recent sleep schedule and medication dosages.

This is why I value so highly the experiences that force my meta-brain to shut the hell up. The most recent example was a Nine Inch Nails concert where I was pressed between the bodies of strangers, drenched in sweat, with aching feet and legs, but the music and the beat were so loud they filled all available space and my brain was thinking of nothing but screaming along with the lyrics I’ve heard so often they seem like a part of me. I couldn’t feel anything but music and the bass running through my body, couldn’t keep hold of any thought except the words of the song. They filled me up so much that my meta-brain had no room to be separate. And I got some time to simply experience things, to just feel, without that separate evaluation and judgment going on.

I don’t know how to create those experiences for myself – when I’m so overwhelmed by sensory input that the meta-brain that usually sits in the balcony and comments on everything going on gets forcibly dragged to the floor to experience things with the rest of me. But at the same time, I credit that meta-cognition with keeping me safe and protected and getting help when I desperately need it, so I don’t want to turn it off entirely.

I just wish the checks I put on myself to keep myself safe didn’t lead so directly to feeling dissociated from my own emotions and experiences.

By 5 December, 2009.    identity, introspective, mental health   



16 Comments

  1. One part of me experiences things, reacts to them, has emotions. And the other part of me sits back and watches and worries.

    My friend and I talk about our depressions as a broken tool to try to fix itself. I never feel like I’m just living my life, I’m always gauging whether or not I’m doing things to endanger myself, because clearly the part that just takes care of that for you automatically isn’t very strong in mt.
    .-= Gnatalby´s last blog ..Thanksgiving Leftovers: The Sopranos and Gossip Girl =-.

  2. I just said this to my therapist Tuesday. You are not alone.

  3. I have Asperger’s, OCD, and a psychotic disorder. I’ve been in various metacognitive therapies since I was nine. I have the same experience.

    It’s interesting, I suppose. It’s also frustrating as all get out. While I appreciate its usefulness, I find myself wishing that I could just feel sometimes, you know? That my brain could just shut up and let me be.

  4. I don’t know you at all, but I’m thrilled for you that you got to go to that concert and experience that freedom from your meta-brain. Music is a wonderful release, especially when it’s shared, and can lift you up to a place akin to meditation. I’m glad you got that break. I hope you cna figure out ways to get it more.

  5. I sympathize a lot with this. I find myself slipping into the meta-brain thing constantly, not just with emotion–I’ll analyze the things I’m saying, the things I’m doing, even the thoughts I’m thinking. And it gets really frustrating really fast.

    Like you mention, though, I find music really helpful in centering myself and just letting myself…exist. Which is why I listen to it as much as I do…

  6. i’ve said a lot that i’m just starting to deal with dissociation that i’ve had going on my entire adult life.

    i have been concentrating, lately, on falling back, and just feeling. not always thinking, filtering everything that comes through me, always having to examine it, make sure it’s ok, make sure i express the right way, make sure this and make sure that. just letting it come right through.

    leaning my head out the window to feel the warm sun and the wind blow by me as my husband drives us somewhere. that feeling when i finally lay down in bed at night and it’s like suddenly i connect with my body — suddenly i feel what’s there, all of it, even the bad. letting myself be affected by something emotionally without having to “be in control” i.e. crush it, never allow myself to feel anything at all…

    it’s hard lately because opening myself up to feeling means that i don’t only get sun on my face — or that beautiful fluttering snow outside today. it means i also get all the bad things, the scary things, the things that really do affect me deeply. so i feel incredibly vulnerable, i feel weak and wounded, susceptible… but i need it so much… i’ve been living my whole life “being in control” i.e. squashing all sense of feeling whatsoever, it’s hard to know what it really does feel like. just to be.

  7. I feel guilty for not feeling like everybody else does, or claims they do, or is able to show.

    When my uncle – who I never met, but my sister had – died this September, I shed more tears because I didn’t feel *enough* (whatever that is) and thus felt guilty and most of my sorrow was over the fact that my mom and sister were so upset.

    It’s even with positive emotions – I do like little things, like amandaw says. Just sitting there with the puppies, or I have a very positive memory that’s not too complicated (thinking of Harry Potter and patronuses for some reason) – it’s after we’ve been to the local national type park. I’m riding in the back of the truck with Dixie. It’s a nice day, not too cold, not too hot.

    Earlier this semester, I’d be doing things, and suddenly be hit by a wave of sadness/helplessness. Unfortunately, I’d never cry and release those feelings.

    Right now, I feel on the precipice of depression, and I know part of the reason why – I should be doing homework. Or that’s how I feel. And I made a decision not to push it today, if I can’t, I can’t.

    So I’m sad, but I’m like stop it! You’re wasting time!

    When I can’t muster up enough enthusiasm for something, I’m also aware. “Why don’t I feel this way?” My sister is a drama queen, though, so having her for comparison doesn’t help.

    I think a lot of people think like you do, abby jean. But it sounds too much like what we assume “madness” is, so we keep quiet about it.

  8. I try very very hard not to do this, but it still happens. It happened before my bipolar though. I always saw life as a running script in my head, like a movie with a narrator. I rarely just enjoy something, and I’m always watching myself a little from the outside.

    Adding in the bipolar disorder didn’t help. If I don’t sleep well and I’m in a good mood and I’m happy – I get nervous. Is the manic coming? It’s worse every time. After the last time I live constant vigilance of the next manic. But so far, I’ve been stuck in this depression for months…

    “I shed more tears because I didn’t feel *enough* (whatever that is) and thus felt guilty” – I admit to doing this. All the time. It’s like things that should hit me deep and hard just don’t. I rationalize them. But if there’s too much happening, I can break. And then it seems my reaction is too big for such small things going on… heh

  9. Thank you for putting words to this, which has been a miasmatic annoyance since the bipolar diagnosis.

    Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi conceptualizes that release from meta-cognition as “flow.” My reliable place for that is exercising in a swimming pool. Splashy white noise and continous contact from the water, all limbs moving at once plus rhythmic breathing: no cognition at all = bliss.

  10. Carly – when I was just starting down the road of chronic illness… no actually, right around the same time, it was September 2001.

    My memories of that day? What mattered most to me? Was that I got extra credit for the books I finished that day – and I still remember the titles.

    My lack of anything over Sept. 11th confuses me while I feel guilty.

    And this was all before the anti-depressants and klonopin and depression.

    Right now I’m tearing up because I’m afraid to admit this. I also feel, physically, like something the cat would refuse to drag in. But hey, no pain! That’s all that matters.

  11. Kaitlyn, I don’t know if I should say this because I don’t want to invalidate your experience. But I do want to say, that I think it’s very, very common to feel that way about the death of people you didn’t know well or weren’t close to, much less people you had never met at all. I know I’ve felt like a fraud when people have expressed sympathy over the death of a relative I wasn’t close to and I had to accept it and feel like it was undeserved or stammer out that I barely knew the person. But the fact is, we can feel terrible for our loved ones who did love someone without being affected ourselves, and I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of. And the same is true for broad tragedies like September 11. I did find that affecting, personally, but there have been other broad tragedies I haven’t and have felt very out of sync with the population on. I’ve talked to friends who have felt the same way about other tragedies. Sometimes we can conceptualize things outside our immediate sphere and sometimes we can’t, and that’s just part of life, I think.

  12. All sorts of TMI warnings all over this, apologizes if it’s not appropriate for this venue….

    I have depression, used to be highly medicated, off for the moment. But this meta-self thing really spoke to me here, because that’s exactly how I feel, over-anaylazing every thought and emotion in my head.

    What do I do for that? Sex. And not just any sex, full out BDSM tie me to the bed and paddle my ass sex. Although normally I’m dominant in bed, when my meta brain gets too much for me, I can turn it off for a few hours just by having a collar around my neck, because of the trust I have in my wife.

    Of course afterwards I always have to wonder how healthy it is to be using another person, even your spouse, as a cooping mechanism like that. ^_^

  13. Just word on this post. For me it doesn’t help that I have anxiety disorders as well, so I worry about over analyzing myself and then freak myself out.

  14. I do the same thing, for both my moods and my attention levels.
    The worst, really, is when I’m not sure if I’m causing my mood changes by observing them.
    Do I just notice when I’m getting depressed, or do I become depressed after wondering if I am and thinking about it frequently? I don’t really know.

  15. Thank you for writing this and letting me know I’m not the only one. I feel like a completely different person from the very emotional, put myself out there woman that i used to be pre-diagnosis/treatment. Treatment is a good thing as I don’t do anything constructive/can function in my daily life, but I feel like I’m to the point where I’m so busy in my own head, monitoring myself, that I don’t express much emotion one way or the other. I think it has made me a very flat, and frankly less likeable/interesting person.

  16. I feel like this. I am not bipolar or heavily depressed. I suffer from nothing I can tell other than mild depression. But for years, I haven’t felt anything strongly without the EGO running a detached commentary. I hate it because I always feel like I’m standing outside the window on Christmas Day, just like the little match girl. But I guess what I wonder is, do I feel guilty for not feeling what everyone else is feeling? Or do I feel lonely because I feel nothing? I’ve been craving solitude as a result, just to get away from the judgement, but it’s hard to leave yourself behind.