When Bipolar Creates Thinking Difficulties

I don’t think very clearly since bipolar has messed with my mind. There I said it.

It embarrasses me when I have difficulty remembering  conversations a few minutes ago. Some wonderful moments with my family get garbled even though my bipolar is being managed. I used to learn things quickly, not so much now.

My speech is slow and my thinking is not quick as it once was. As a pastor slowed speech and on the spot clarity of thinking is part of public speaking. Fortunately I am retired now and that stress not as frequent as when I was actively pastoring.

But I am not alone. About 40% of those diagnosed and successfully treated with bipolar have thinking difficulties.

For some it is immediate short term memory and difficulty following a conversation. Remembering grocery lists and promises or intentions said one day may have slipped away the next.

For others thinking difficulties can be severe such as not being able to follow the plot of a television show. Safe driving can be a problem when thinking difficulties are severe. Once before I found a treatment that worked I became lost driving in a parking lot. Fortunately that symptom is gone.

Doing routine tasks can be a problem. Having a list of steps taped by your desk or cash register can be helpful with a checklist is helpful.

Cognition difficulties are part of being bipolar, it is part of the disease. Sometime side effects of medication can also slow thinking processes down.

What are some tricks that have helped others successfully cope?

Having a regular place to keep keys, pens, and other things in your work station. Developing these habits can save frustration in trying to remember small things.

Others use work calendars broken into 15 or 30 minute segments. This helps to write specific things down.

One person uses sticky notes placed in door ways or walls they frequently walk by.

The use of smart phones can be a memory saver. Notes you want to remember can be emailed to yourself. Reminders and calendar functions can be a blessing.

When you have trouble looking for your car in a parking lot, taking a cell phone picture of its location can help you to later find your car.

Minimizing daily stressors, regular exercise, and good nutrition, basic aspects of self care are important on a daily basis.

Most of us have heard or tried these things but they don’t go to core issues.

Julia Fast, one of my favorite authors, suggests three things that I have found important for me. Remember cognitive difficulties are part of the disease. We shouldn’t be surprised when we have difficulties. Seeking to accept these difficulties helps reduce the frustration.

The second recommendation is to have a plan for those times that are especially difficult. When plans are written ahead of time down management of these difficult days is much easier. These days are inevitable. Prepare ahead of time for how to handle these moments.

Thirdly, know when you need a break. It may seem like monkeys are chattering in your head. Sometimes they just have to chatter for a while. You rest.

This is the most helpful for me. I once had pneumonia and in the recovery process there were days when I needed extra rest. Bipolar is a disease, too. Sometimes we need to take a break for extra strength.

Finally, I have been confronted with an unpleasant reality about my life. For most of my life my self-esteem came from my ability to concentrate on difficult subjects for long periods of time. It was a mark of unhealthy pride.

Bipolar has been teaching me that my self esteem must come from the fact that I’m a person made in the image of God. I am not a “human doing” I am a “human being”. We find our worth and self esteem in being created and loved by God.

The Psalmist writes, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Let me know of ways you manage bipolar symptoms.

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