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.