With bipolar paranoia, it is easy to create our very own horror stories. But when we want to shut our eyes, we need to look.
By Carin Meyer
We are all storytellers. We forge Stories in our imaginations. And it is in fear that we create our most elaborate tales.
When it is dark in grizzly country, and I hear a noise outside my tent, it is easy to imagine a bear prowling its perimeter. In my mind, I make a story based on the clues I have before me: a rustling sound in the grass, the crack of a breaking twig, the knowledge that I have left a tube of toothpaste in my backpack, the image of the cooler stocked with food far too close to the tent. As I lie on my back, vigilant, with my ears tuned to pick up any noise, the story of the bear becomes real until I am consumed by fear.
The truth is that the sounds are probably from the wind, or even a small animal moving through the area. Of course, it is plausible that there is a bear outside my tent. But it is unlikely. Like so many nights before, when I am finally brave enough to look outside the tent’s door, there is nothing there.
For some reason, individuals who experience Bipolar paranoia are often quite skilled at concocting stories of fear. At some point along the spectrum of mania, depression, and mixed episodes, paranoia creeps in. In my life, it can happen at all points of that spectrum, but it is most common when I am already anxious and agitated and in the midst of a mixed episode. Because something is wrong in the chemical functioning of my brain, I have to find a way to make sense of the pain and anxiety in my body—and so I match that internal tumult with the scariest story I can create. I do not feel good, so something must be wrong in my life.
While some create stories of widespread persecution that can reach the level of delusion, my stories are almost always about deceit and betrayal by those I love. For me, losing those who are closest to me is my greatest fear. And so my stories often follow that plotline, and I too am quite skilled at finding the evidence I need to support my stories.
After all, a conspiracy theory is a fictional story based on potentially believable clues from real life. If I think hard enough, I can find facts to form the basis of almost any story. It is a life-sized game of connect-the-dots, but in reality the only line that connects those dots is my own suspicion.
When I am struggling with my bipolar cycles, I can be suspicious of anything and everything: an object out of place, whether somebody answered my phone call or not, a pain somewhere in my body, an innocent phrase, or even a glance from someone I care about. My cognitive response to one of these events, even as minor as the sight of one of my children’s toys in an unusual spot, is an instantaneous reactive thought that mushrooms into a series of questions and then, if uncontrollable, becomes a fixation. The questions invade my mind almost as quickly as my actual sensory perception of the object.
“How did that get there?” I ask myself. And then I move the story forward. “Was there a stranger in my house?”
At times, these fixations have grown into full-blown delusions. And the principal character in my story becomes the conspirator. As the conspirator, the more that person tries to convince me that my suspicions are untrue, the more I do not believe him or her. Needless to say, when I am paranoid, it is nearly impossible for me to trust anybody or anything. And when I am unable to trust my own reality, or the people that I love, the resulting confusion and pain can be agonizing. The story takes over my mind, and at that point, the paranoid chatter is all I know. Sometimes the effort I put into appearing “normal”, despite the paranoia, is so exhausting that by evening, I simply want to curl up in a corner of my bed, in a dark room where I cannot see all the objects and people that seem to trigger it. If I shut my eyes, I will not see them.
But I have learned that shutting my eyes is not the way to combat my bipolar paranoia. Instead, I sometimes try focusing on the conspiracy, and I add elements to the story until it becomes absolutely and recognizably ridiculous. I carry it to a level where it is obviously unbelievable and somehow it makes me realize that my train of thought is not logical.
Sometimes I also tell myself: “The only connection between the memories, events, and thoughts in my mind is my own suspicion. And my suspicion is the result of a biological problem in my brain.”
We create stories in a valiant effort to know the unknown, to make sense out of the chaos of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. When I am laying in my tent and I hear noises outside, the thoughts about what might be out there are usually far worse than what is really there. If I shut my eyes and try to simply ignore it, the fear only increases as my mind continues to embellish the story I am creating. Instead, I actually have to stare into the unknown, like when I finally gain the courage to look out into the dark night outside my tent’s door, and although there is a risk that there may be a bear, all I do see is the wind blowing in the trees.