Why Mindfulness Doesn’t Help My Bipolar Disorder
Mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder. I’m sorry; I know advocates aren’t supposed to say that kind of thing. I know we’re all supposed to get behind the new, fashionable therapies and tell everyone to do them (but heaven forbid we do the same with psychiatry) but this is one that I think has some major holes in it, particularly for people with serious mental illness. Please understand, mindfulness as a therapy might work for you but here’s why mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder at all.
What Is Mindfulness?
Essentially, mindfulness is sitting in the moment. That’s it. It’s about not worrying about the future or the past. It’s about allowing whatever emotions or thoughts that occur, simply happen, without judgement, and then allowing them to float away. The theory is, if we simply look at the here and now, all the pain of the future and the past won’t hurt us, for the time being, anyway.
And if we live mindfully, all the time, then this manner of thinking becomes natural. When you eat dinner you are in the moment, enjoying each mouthful and, perhaps, are thankful for the food. When you talk with a friend, you are really present and aren’t thinking about what you will say next but, rather, are truly listening, in the moment, to what the person is trying to tell you. And so on.
And I don’t have a problem with any of this, in theory.
It just so happens that all this mindfulness does not one whit for my bipolar.
Why Doesn’t Mindfulness Help My Bipolar?
It’s like this. If you’re being tortured by the past or are dreading the future, then this therapy might be very beneficial for you as it teaches you how to let that go (Mindfulness Can Calm Anxiety). If you judge your current thoughts and are troubled by them this may help as well. And while I am, as much as anyone, a victim of worrying about the past and future, this isn’t what causes the pain of my bipolar disorder.
The pain of my bipolar disorder is in the now. The pain cannot be reduced by sitting with my emotions and not judging them because that’s not where the pain is coming from. The pain is coming from bipolar disorder and not a psychological construct. Moreover, much of the bipolar pain is physical and simply sitting in the now of physical pain does nothing to reduce it (Treating Physical Pain in Bipolar: Neuropathic Pain).
It’s like this: if someone were hitting you over the head with a baseball bat, sitting mindfully, in the present moment, and letting your feelings and thoughts go without judgement doesn’t change the impact of the bat or the pain that it causes. My bipolar (bipolar depression, specifically) is like that baseball bat.
Stop Telling Me that Mindfulness Is the New Be-All and End-All of Therapies
A few years ago, and to some extent even today, the new, hot therapy for pretty much everything was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And I will, certainly, say that this is a very effective therapy for many people and I wholeheartedly recommend it. But just because it was in fashion, doesn’t mean that it could help everyone and just because mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is now in fashion doesn’t mean that it can help everyone, either.
In my experience from a group that taught mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, the people who this therapy helped the most were those with more minor cases of depression and those suffering with stress and anxiety. This does not surprise me in the least. If I had to pick people for mindfulness classes, those are the people I would pick.
And even if you have a very serious version of bipolar disorder, I can’t say that mindfulness will, or won’t, work for you. Only trying it will answer that question. As much as medications are mainly a process of guessing and checking so are therapies.
But my point is, mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder. And that’s okay.
Tracy, N. (2016, May 16). Why Mindfulness Doesn’t Help My Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2016/05/why-mindfulness-doesnt-help-my-bipolar-disorder
Author: Natasha Tracy
This article is beneficial to those who mindfulness is not helpful to. And may spark an interest in those who have never tried it. Its awesome that so many people have been helped by mindfulness and meditation. BUT it does not mean that you should come to an article about mental illness and an unsuccessful attempt at a type of therapy and BASH that person because they didn’t find it useful for themselves. Geez people. You are not going to change anyone’s mind by being forceful and rude.
There are many different types of meditation to develop peace, focus and self mind regulation, most people simple need to find the one that suits them and regularly-daily practice to develop brain chemical balance; to protect the brain from developing any chemical/hormone imbalance.
Types of mediation include:
Concentration techniques - focus etc.
Mindful meditation - observing and letting go
Mantra - positive self talk
These techniques can be practice sitting, laying down or walking; as in tai chi chuan (walking qigong).
This is the sadess and most negative blog for bi polar mental disorder I have ever read - do me a favour and close this site down as your negative insights do nothing for no one.
When I'm manic, there isn't a chance in hel* that I could sit in meditate. That would be almost laughable. And when I'm really depressed it would be laughable, too. How do you get a manic woman who is racing at 500 mph, often thinking life is magically marvelous, feeling I was the greatest woman since the virgin Mary, OR, so super charged angry that I was like the spinning Tasmanian Devil from the Loony Toons cartoons. When depressed, I'm usually so unable to even do more than go to the bathroom, let alone concentrate on mindfulness. So yes, when I'm not manic or depressed, I can benefit from CBT.
I do get some mood lability from time to time, and have had a history of temporary anger outbursts, but they don't define the usual me. In general, I'm a very easy-going upbeat kind of gal. Some CBT suggestions have been helpful for curbing things like road rage when a person cuts me off in traffic, and that's good. But really, using DBT or CBT when in the midst of major bipolar episodes? At least not working for me.
I respect the fact that you have had a different experience. This is common as we're all different.
However, what I said is that mindfulness doesn't help _my_ bipolar disorder. I say right in the article that other people may differ. My experience is as real as yours.
- Natasha Tracy
While meditating can help me distance my self from it, it doesn't stop it.
I wouldn't discourage anyone from meditation / mindfulness, but I would discourage them from thinking it will help them go off their bipolar meds and destroy their life.
With that said, medical CBD does a better job for me than anything else. The fact people with BiPolar disorder are still expected to be on epileptic seizures medication while people with epileptic seizures are getting access to CBD is really unfair.
As far as meditation and psychotherapy fads go (e.g. CBT as you mentioned), I want to suggest that bi-polar disorder itself may be a fad, from a geneological standpoint. I don't mean to say you don't have bi-polar disease, but it's interesting that 10,000 and even 100,000 years ago bi-polar disorder was not as prevalent as it is now. Same goes for chronic diseases like diabetes. Seems the interaction between ourselves and the environment has opened a can of worms psychologically.
If that's the case, I'm very optimistic about treatment and preventive measures because we can begin identifying things that trigger these erratic emotions. Again, this is all speculative and I'd appreciate your thoughts on the matter. How have you managed since writing this article?
But in a euthymic moment, if you start a daily practice of 20 minutes per day in a group or with the Headspace app, you will start to notice a differenct.
Just like it took a bit to titrate on your meds so they (I hope for your sake) started doing what they were supposed to do, it takes a while for mindfulness meditation to do what it's supposed to do.
After all, according go this Harvard study, among others: https://hbr.org/2015/01/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brain mindfulness is actually working to change your brain, fix those connections, add to the volume of your grey matter, quiet the flight-or-fight response of the amygdala, and create a mind that works a lot better than one in the sickness of bipolar disorder.
It's not meant as a quick fix, or something to draw upon in the throes of an episode, but as a daily or consistent practice that begins to fix you.
Will it work 100% for everyone? No, but neither do meds and therapy.
For those committed to a more holistic view of wellness, it's worked miracles.
So as you say they work in certain circumstances & for some people.
I totally agree that there is no therapy that is going to work for everyone. I have bipolar II disorder with dysphoric mania. I take Lamotrigine ( brand name: Lamictal ) for it, and it does a great job of keeping my mood swings under control, but it's a gross control. I still cycle a little bit each way, about 3 weeks on each side.
For me, mindfulness meditation keeps my thoughts from running away and agitating me or depressing me ( depending on where I am in the cycle ) in an out-of-control fashion.
One thing that was holding me back the first few times I tried it: I simply need more. One ten minute meditation session a day, while that may work for someone without bipolar disorder, it doesn't for me. I have to do it three times a day because its effects just don't last as long for me as for others. Even with that, stress can take me into mania or depression, but a 3 minute meditation brings me back.
That's my experience, and that is why I do it. Nothing works for everyone. Lamotrigine won't work for everyone either.
If you are curious, this is where I learned:
Good luck in with your search for something that works for you!
P.S. I read your book a few years back. I can relate to every page.
I don't have bipolar disorder, but I practice mindfulness to detect my own mood swings.
What I think mindfulness is useful to in bipolar disorder is to detect the mood swings at the very begining and be able to warning your doctor earlier and to change the medication if necesary.
It's very painful for me but I'm leaving my wife who has bipolar type I because I don't see how we can manage her manic episodes if she is not able to detect them when they are appearing. When euthimic I invited her to practice mindfulness wishing she can be more aware of her mood swings, and her strange thoughts, more capable of questioning herself, but she didn't want to try.
Please, in your experience, do you think that mindfulness can help you at least to be more aware of the mood swings at the very begining? Do you think you can consider to try to practice it in that way?
Thanks a lot!
I hear people regularly saying they are rubbish at mindfulness because 'their mind keeps wandering'....but if you notice that your mind is wandering then you are being mindfulness and the next step is to bring your mind back to the present moment. There are a lot of misunderstanding about what mindfulness is and it seems many of these courses aren't doing an adequate job in teaching the core principles. Simply focusing on a single instrument in a song is an example of mindfulness and this is an exercise that many people already do but don't know that it is a present moment exercise.
However, I personally think mindfulness (and all other third wave therapies, like ACT and DBT) can be highly confrontational for an individual ('you what? you want me to intentionally sit with my most distressing thoughts and emotions? are you kidding me?'), more so than something like CBT, and if anyone isn't ready to do that then doing mindfulness can be very damaging and counterproductive. Like with all therapies, you have to be ready for it.
My own personal view is that if someone wants to get rid of distressing thoughts or emotions then CBT may be a better option - because CBT is about changing how you think. If that isn't your thing, or you've tried that and it doesn't work, then maybe a third wave therapy might be better. I, personally, prefer ACT because it does a better job of combing present moment experience with living your life in service to your values and acceptance. However, I might agree with the philosophy, and understand it on an intellectual level, but still have difficulties working with specific exercises because of the extensive use of metaphors. But, like I said, that is my interpretation of the literature.
Lets suppose I never got diagnosed with diabetes for a moment.
Suppose I didnt know I had diabetes, but then went into sugar shock as it is called now. The symptoms are still there, call it diabetes, call it an eating disorder, etc, it does not change the symptoms. I get a kick out of the quacks that think it's just a mind over matter thing, some of them even get a paycheck for pushing this (Hypnotists are notorious for this). Sure, I could sit and ruminate on how miserable I could be when I look back at life choices I made and the abuses poured on me by others, but it is not helpful going forward. I could sit and read all of the horrible aspects of people diagnosed with it and make myself feel even worse about the future with this diagnosis, again, not helpful.
I could try to find what else helps me (700mg of Magnesium does wonders better than my meds by the way) and pro-actively observe conditions that set changes in motion (which is a lot easier when you are manic and notice a cricket a mile away.) In my opinion, everyone is bipolar to a certain extent, some more than others. It is defined by certain "Symptoms" that we all have at different levels. The key is to finding what works for you and what you and your circle of friends/family CAN live with.
The most depressing thing I have ever experienced in my life was attending a bipolar support group where everyone was moping about the life choices they had made and pretty much lost all hope at having any semblance of a happy life. There is a living hell on earth, they pretty well defined it. If sharing your pain and draining others makes you feel better, great. Stand on your head for an hour every day if it makes you feel better for goodness sakes, and while you are at it, try to make better life decisions because they will always come back to haunt you even subconsciously if you do not.
As for those dating/married to someone with the symptoms, do not feel guilty about leaving. I am bipolar and couldn't live with my ex wife who was later diagnosed with it, just move on about your life and find happiness where ever you can. This is the big show, make the most of it, even if you know in your heart that its not going to end well. When you are old, bedridden and close to death, you will get to run through the re-runs in your head. "Cheer up you old bugger!" - Monthy Python.
Can it work as a *therapy* for depression? Hell no. Can it help you *cope*? For many people depression begets a cycle of "I'm depressed -> hell, I shouldn't be depressed -> now I'm even more depressed". Mindfulness can break this cycle and help one avoid compounding negative feelings on top of depression. Also, by allowing one to "take note" in a non-judgemental manner of a depressive state, one can more rationally organize their lives around it.
What it *cannot* do, and that's where I agree with the article, is relieve the pain of depression (specially if it is physical!). But if you eliminate excessive expectations, it can be very beneficial. I think when you say "mindfulness doesn’t help my bipolar disorder. And that's ok" you ARE using mindfulness.
The best thing to do is identify stressors that trigger bipolar and try to avoid them, exercise and pace yourself.
When I tell this to my docs and therapists they are never pleased to hear it. They think I'm either not doing it or doing it wrong or I'm not trying hard enough. Like I already have to deal with everything myself; on top of having docs and therapists telling me I'm not trying hard enough. These are supposed to be professionals who lift me up, instead they make me feel like a weak failure for not having mindfulness work.
Thank you for the link.
I took a mindfulness meditation class and practiced for months and found it useless. But that's me. Other's may be different.
- Natasha Tracy
Someone needs to point out you're saying something else from what she's seeing. NATASHA, if you see this, read the sentence above. You didn't reply to what she said.
See that she's saying something different.