A Positive Psychiatrist Consultation
As I’ve recently moved to a new area I have just seen a psychiatrist here for the first time. I couldn’t believe it when he spent a whole hour and 40 minutes with me- way more time than I’ve ever spent with a mental healthcare professional before.
He was an extremely good listener and would ask my opinion about things regularly during the session, which was so refreshing. I felt like a human-being! It’s hard to believe I’ve not felt this way before with other psychiatrists. He pretty much re-diagnosed me and confirmed Bipolar II, but also threw Borderline Personality Disorder traits into the mix, which I’ve suspected for years.
For more on Borderline Personality Disorder click here.
Borderline Personality Disorder
The Borderline Personality trait aspect of the diagnosis has had a mixed effect on me. I feel a huge sense of relief in that there is a reason I struggle all the time with various aspects of life, not just during bipolar episodes. It explains so much and has helped my understanding of my behaviour and intense emotions.
On the other hand, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) has a stigma attached. My psychiatrist assured me that this is much more true of the past, and that views and opinions are changing. My own reading on the disorder has instilled in me a view that BPD patients are difficult to treat, manipulative, prone to attention seeking, rage and aggression. All sounds lovely! But like I said, the psychiatrist was quick to dispute this.
The parts of the Disorder which apply to me are (unfortunately) episodes of rage (a few in my lifetime), difficulty maintaining friendships (not so much with romantic relationships), emotional reactivity and hypersensitivity, dissociation, impulsivity, binge eating and compulsive spending to a smaller degree, and a difficult childhood.
Even when I don’t appear to be having a bipolar episode, I am prone to quicker changes in mood that only last an hour or two, maybe a day. For the psychiatrist to have picked up on this made me relieved. At last an explanation for why I just can’t hold down a job, and why I struggle being around people and with friendships in general.
The Positive Side of High Sensitivity
Last night I came upon a website- Eggshell Therapy– which painted a picture of emotional intensity and giftedness, and that when not handled well in early years by parents, or when the child is experiences trauma, can develop into BPD/Bipolar in later years.
It was refreshing to see that actually the problems I’ve been experiencing have a more positive side and that emotional intensity can be a gift. The website author points out many aspects of giftedness including high creativity, high intuition, high empathy, as well as a high capacity for spiritual experience and rapture- music, art, beauty can have a “profound emotional impact on you”. Also inter- and intra-personal giftedness: an ability to understand the emotions and motivations of the self and others.
I would highly recommend reading the website. It really gave me a lift to think that even though I find my high intensity challenging, it also has many gifts with it. All the articles on the site were very helpful and the following pages particularly so:
This is the best way I’ve found of receiving a diagnosis: it’s great to have acknowledgment that there is a genuine cause for difficulties experienced, but also to acknowledge anything positive that may come from being so sensitive.
My mind feels almost as slow as my body today, but I still managed to get some interesting reading done: Highly Intuitive People by Heidi Sawyer, which I feel I really relate to.
I think those of us who are highly intuitive-sensitive types are probably more prone to bipolar disorder symptoms. (Please see my guest post for Mental Health Talk: Bipolar Disorder and High Sensitivity for more on this topic).
The chapter “Cope With Others and Their Power Struggles” has some interesting thoughts about how we use our energy.
Sawyer talks about us having an aura, the energetic carrier of all that we are as a human soul- our Jiva (sanskrit word for the immortal essence of a living thing).
As our true essence, Jiva can be weak or strong depending on how much we are in connection to our true selves/our own identity. It builds confidence and self-esteem.
Building Jiva increases our emotional strength and healing capacity- surely a strong tool in coping with bipolar disorder or mental dis-ease of any kind.
We can strengthen Jiva by releasing negativity and anything else that drains us energetically. We can do the things we truly love, which light us up and connect us with who we truly are.
By strengthening our Jiva, we have a stronger sense of self, of our own identity, and need less the approval of others. We are less likely to take on others’ cares and worries on an energetic level to please them or make them ‘feel better’. We are also less likely to be rocked by criticism and disapproval in general. We approve of ourselves and that’s all we need.
The Need to Please Others- Narcissistic Families
Many of us may feel we have to please others (see People-Pleasing), and pressure ourselves into adjusting our behaviour to feel we are approved of by whoever we are with.
This is how we’ve been taught to behave throughout our childhood, often within a narcissistic family. We learn to walk on eggshells and keep the peace- this became our identity, a strong part of which was to ignore and neglect our own needs. Survival of the family- which is inherently damaged through various traumas- becomes priority, even over being true to ourselves and our own identity.
Our Jiva has become weak through our developmental stages. We let people walk all over us, give too much energy to others, make others more important than ourselves- this is how we have learnt to survive. It is not our fault.
Creating a Happy Life
But we can change things. We can have a happier life where we feel in control of what is happening to us, of how our life pans out. We’ve been taught that we aren’t worthy of a happy life. But we are!
We can create our own life! We don’t need the approval of others’, it is safe for us now to be our true selves.
We lived in a family system where the only means of survival was to submit our identities to become what our parents’ wanted us to be. We could not have emotions or needs- because they were too inconvenient to our parents, or caused significant anxiety. We could be emotional caretakers and counsellors, best friends, even to some extent surrogate spouses. We gave up our energy, our true selves. We did it to survive. (Because as a small child, it really is about survival- who will take care of your needs if you are abandoned by your family?)
We don’t need to do this anymore.
The Terror of Being Our True Selves
You’d think it would be easy to overcome this- once we realise it is safe to live the life we want to create. But I’ve found many challenges already- mainly fears of stepping away from the safety of the identity I was given.
To me it feels terrifying to identify and take care of my needs- it goes against everything I was taught, everything that is my current identity, everything that has helped me to survive a narcissistic family system. It sounds silly, but I still feel extremely anxious if I sit down and draw- “I’m being too selfish”, “I should be spending my time helping other people”, “it’s a childish pastime”.
Releasing these beliefs that have kept me alive within my family is terrifying! We still have that belief deeply ingrained that we must be that which we’ve been moulded into, in order to survive.
But it’s worth it!
When we can do the things in life that light us up- for me drawing, writing, painting, walking in nature, taking care of myself nutritionally, being with my loved ones and my dog- we strengthen our jiva. We are doing things that make us happy!
Strong Jiva will keep us energised. We will not feel the need to give others our time and energy. We will not be manipulated by others. We can identify our own needs and put ourselves first. Our health will improve.
In relation to bipolar disorder.
So part of me wonders if my current downward swing into very low energy is because I’ve been giving too much energy to others, denying myself who I truly am, and denying my emotions. I haven’t been taking care of my needs. I think this is very likely the case and perhaps is the pattern of bipolar disorder as a set of symptoms?
We find our creativity, our true self, become highly energised by this- perhaps to a hypomanic/manic state. We enter a frenzy of creativity/spirituality/ideas, but deny anything that may be anxiety-provoking. We keep busy-busy-busy to push any fears that arise as far away as possible. The upward spiral continues. But this is exhausting and the inevitable energy slump hits hard. We then experience all the emotions we were denying- guilt, shame, fear, and become deeply depressed. We have betrayed our ‘false self’ which kept us alive. This feels devastating at a soul level.
It’s just a theory- but it makes some sense to me at the moment, and I think it could be a part of helping me to understand how I can improve things for myself.
Bipolar Disorder and Highly Sensitive People– Guest post on Mental Health Talk.
Visit the new sister site of Emotional Wellness, The Light Sanctuary– a website dedicated to spirituality.
Spirituality and working with energy have helped me so much to manage my Bipolar symptoms and high sensitivity that I wanted to dedicate a completely new blog to the topic.
I’ve recently made a big life decision which involves me facing up to some pretty intense fears, by going back to work. Throughout my life, starting at school, I’ve had fears of being trapped and not being able to get away from a situation if I need to. The underlying fear is of being consumed by some intense emotion and reacting in an uncontrollable way. It is a very child-born fear and, as with many anxiety states, is something which is extremely difficult to rationalise myself out of! Placing myself in a working environment, this fear is precipitated by the need to be in a certain situation/role/building for a fixed amount of time, during which I feel I must “hold it together”. By this I mean be able to show only those aspects of myself that are adult, professional and self-controlled.
The Shadow Side In my spiritual development classes, we talk about the shadow side of ourselves. The shadow is made up of those aspects of ourselves which we prefer not to look at- mainly our fears and past behaviours which we have judged ourselves negatively for. This fear of not being able to “escape” is part of my shadow. I unconsciously judge myself for this fear- that it is silly, childish, irrational. These judgements make me feel ashamed of it, of myself. This is part of me I prefer not to look at. This is only one aspect of my own shadow side.
Accepting Our Shadow. Making peace with these shadow aspects of ourselves frees us from the shame we ultimately condemn ourselves to from harsh self- judgements. We’re aiming towards accepting that this fear exists by feeling the fear (physical sensations, emotions, thoughts), acknowledging it from a perspective of non-judgement and compassion, and then gently encouraging ourselves into situations which may trigger the fear- if this is something which needs to be done: I need to be able to make a living and fulfil some kind of useful purpose in my life, therefore I am choosing to face this fear in order to grow and become stronger as a human being. (Of course, being terrified of snakes is probably a fear we can live with- it affects us on a very small scale, unless you happen to work in a reptile house: pretty unlikely, given the fear!)
Compassion for Ourselves Accepting and making peace with this particular aspect of my shadow can look like a conversation between the Shadow Self (which in this case is the frightened, traumatised child) and the Adult self, who is rational, experienced, capable, strong, comforting and soothing:
Shadow Self: “What if I cry or react in some other uncontrollable way at work? I’m terrified I won’t be able to escape or leave when I need to!”
Adult Self (rational, comforting soothing- coming from our higher selves): “Why do you think that might happen?”
Shadow Self: “Because it’s happened before with really bad consequences”. “I don’t feel safe with people in authority, particularly men”.
Adult Self: “This is completely understandable given the experiences you have lived through during childhood and as an adult. You are doing whatever you can to protect yourself. This is a normal reaction to past events. It comes from that part of you which is still a frightened child and that is ok! I, the adult, am here now, and I can take care of you. I am capable and strong and will not leave you in danger. You are safe. It is absolutely ok to feel scared, but know that you are safe now.”
Shadow Side: “But what if it does happen? I will feel so ashamed.”
Adult Side: “What is so shameful about letting out emotion and expressing our truth?”
Shadow Side: “It’s embarrassing and not accepted socially. I’ll be ridiculed and isolated socially”.
Adult Side: “What if I told you that other people’s reactions have nothing to do with you?! They are as important as the speck of dust on your windowsill. The way other people react is their karma and nothing for you to worry about. You are not responsible for any reaction on their part. How they feel about you need not be a significant part of your life. Free yourself from the belief that it is up to you to keep everything and everyone happy and stable. Is isn’t! If you need to express emotion- then that is what is most appropriate for your healing at that moment. It is safe for you to express yourself”.
By this point my Shadow Side (or fearful inner child in this case) is feeling soothed, comforted, accepted for who she is, and supported in moving forwards in facing these fears. Once the judgement has been removed from the fear of crying uncontrollably with no escape, space has opened up for me to do it again if I need to- I’ve given myself permission to express myself. I am safe. If I ban myself from doing such a “terrible” thing, I automatically tense up and restrict my true self- I squash myself into a rigid box, compounding the feeling of being trapped. I feel suffocated.
The freedom I have given myself may be completely invisible to other people, but to me it is a precious gift.
Working through these thoughts as I have done above, forms a script, and one that will need to be repeated on numerous occasions until I have trained my mind to be loving and kind to myself! This is a much better platform from which to go out int othe world and face my fear!
In the spirit of contributing to mental health awareness and lessening stigma, I would like to take part in this year’s Blog For Mental Health campaign as initiated by A Canvas of The Mind.
“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Panic Disorder in 1998 at the age of 18, when I left home for university. Since then I’ve been through many ups and horrendous downs, but I am less inclined to call myself Bipolar, as I believe the symptoms I’ve experienced have been, in part due to my innate extreme sensitivity, as well as a reaction to life events, beliefs, and choices I’ve made which have taken me away from being my true self. I also believe that I am getting more and more healthy and that a diagnosis is NOT a life sentence.
Through learning to love and accept myself increasingly for who I am, and putting my own needs first, I am moving forward in life. The aim of my blog is to share insights and wellness tools which work for me, in the hopes that they will help others. Many of these tools are of a spiritual and energetic basis through meditation and the consistent use of Bach Flower Remedies (in addition to my medication), as well as through personal development which is ongoing and includes reframing beliefs, thoughts and perception of life.
For more information please see my posts:
For more information about , please see my blog posts:
More posts are accessible by using the search facility and entering “High Sensitivity” or through the “High Sensitivity” category.
Do you ever feel extremely sensitive to the energy of everybody around you?
This superb video offers great advice as to how to keep other people’s energy separate to your own.
I highly recommend that you take the time out to listen! I found it really helpful!