I’ve been meaning to write this article for a long time. This is partly because I’ve been wanting to get round to sharing my experiences of mindfulness as a tool for bipolar self-management. It’s also because I quite regularly see people with mental health conditions tweeting about “mindfulness” techniques they have been taught, and what they describe bears no resemblance to mindfulness as I understand it or to how it is presented by key writers on the subject. I’d like to encourage people who have been put off mindfulness to think again, because I believe that it is much simpler, whilst being much more beneficial, than many people with mental health conditions have been led to believe.
I’ll start by saying that I’m not a meditation teacher. I probably won’t ever be, because my condition makes it hard for me to put in the number of meditation retreats that most teacher training courses require. But I have been a fan of mindfulness ever since I undertook an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course around five years ago. What I learned there felt like a genuine game-changer, so I have been practising mindfulness on and off ever since. MBCT has a good record of preventing relapse in people with recurrent depressive disorder, and that’s why I first signed up for the course. In the last year, however, I’ve really come to appreciate the additional value of mindfulness for self-management of bipolar.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness techniques are drawn from Buddhist insight meditation, but are usually taught in completely secular way so that they can be learned and practised by people of any faith or none. At the heart of mindfulness is one very simple idea: that of waking up and paying attention. Stepping out of our normal internal dialogue and just noticing whatever is going on, whether inside ourselves, or all around us.
It’s easy to get so caught up in our own thoughts and worries that we don’t give much attention to anything else. For example, I often used to find that I had walked to work with very little memory of completing the half hour journey. Locked into anxieties about the day ahead, I’d missed noticing the patterns of the clouds in the sky, the flowers in people’s gardens, the smell of cut grass, the way my body felt just to be walking outside. By the time I arrived at the office I couldn’t even tell you what I’d been thinking, because I had just been running through the same old thought patterns without even noticing what I was doing.
Mindfulness techniques help us to become more switched on to what we are actually thinking/feeling/experiencing by really tuning in or “listening” to:
– the content of our thoughts
– what we are really feeling
– things that are happening around us (sounds, temperature, smells)
– how our body feels, and how our thoughts and feelings influence that.
And that’s really all we are doing. Noticing. And that’s something quite radical in our task-oriented society. There is no goal. We have no aims. We’re not setting out to be or feel a certain way. Whatever we notice, that’s it. That’s how you practice mindfulness. This means you can’t be a “bad meditator” or do somehow do mindfulness “wrong”. There is no scope for self-blame.
We might find that we notice something uncomfortable or even painful going on inside our bodies or minds. Maybe we observe that we’re having the same scary thoughts about money over and over, or that sitting still makes our shoulders hurt. When we feel pain or discomfort, we’re conditioned to try and get rid of it as soon as possible – to wriggle our shoulders to take the pain away, or think about something soothing the moment we feel scared. But in mindfulness, we’re in the business of just listening, just observing, and accepting what we find. So there’s no need to immediately act to get rid of discomfort, unless it’s really unbearable (on which more below) – we can just notice what it’s like and how we react to it.
Some people like to tune in by engaging in a formal mindfulness meditation practice. This usually involves sitting on the floor, or on a chair or stool, with eyes closed. Many people use their breathing as a kind of anchor for their mind, starting off by watching – not changing, not labelling as good/bad or right/wrong, just watching – the way their breath comes in and goes out again, wherever they feel it most strongly, whether that’s the nose, throat, chest or abdomen. Not everyone is comfortable with formal meditation – it can make some people feel too vulnerable to sit with their eyes closed. But there are infinite ways to be mindful. You can be mindful eating your lunch, paying close attention to how it smells, looks, tastes, how it feels against the tongue, thinking as you eat about who produced it and transported it and packaged it. That’s a very different experience to shovelling lunch down so fast you barely taste, it in order to get back to your desk. You can be mindful as you knit or sew, trying to pay attention to how it feels to use the needles in rhythm and have the wool or thread move through your fingers. You can be mindful as you swim, noticing how your muscles feel as they pull you through the water, how it feels to have the cold air on your wet skin, the noises in the pool as children have their swimming lessons. Whatever you are doing, just the act of noticing what’s going on, noticing how you really feel, can make it a mindful experience.
However you choose to try and practice mindfulness, you are bound to find that even with the best of intentions, your mind wanders. Minds are very busy things, reluctant to keep still and always jumping about from place to place (hence often referred to in meditation circles as “monkey mind”). That’s just the way they are, even among people who are mentally well. So when you try to be mindful and your mind slides off elsewhere, that’s inevitable. It’s not bad, it’s not wrong, it’s not proof that you are terrible at mindfulness or an awful person. No self-blame. A wandering mind is normal. And when it happens, you just start again, back with your first intention to take a bit of time out from being caught up in your thoughts. Then you carry on walking mindfully through the autumn leaves, or listening to a guided meditation, or sitting in silence on the floor watching your breathing. And the next time your mind wanders, you just tell it again, “No, we’re doing this right now; we’re just watching the breath.” Be kind to your mind when you pull it back; it’s just a reminder. It’s not a telling off.
The great thing about mindfulness is that no matter what mistakes we have made, no matter how many times we recognise our mind has wandered, of that we have made bad choices for our mental health, it gives us infinite chances to wipe the slate clean and begin again. Every single time we gently remind ourselves that no, we’re not going to caught up in our own internal dialogue and we are going to just pay attention, we come back to this “beginner’s mind”.
Mindfulness and bipolar moods
I’ve said that it’s not necessary to do a formal “sitting practice” to be mindful, and in general that’s true. My strong feeling, however, is that for bipolars, sitting down and being still and quiet, even if only for five minutes a day, is very valuable. One of the key self-management skills for bipolar is learning to recognise changes in mood state. Unless we can notice when we are becoming low or high, it’s very difficult to implement any steps to try to keep us on a more even keel. Most psychiatrists and psychologists are therefore keen on their patients using bipolar mood scales. Some people find rating their depressive or (hypo)manic symptoms against a numeric scale helpful. I’ve tried quite a few, paper-based, online and as smartphone apps, but I struggle with using other people’s tools. While of course there is a common set of symptoms among people with a diagnosis of bipolar, not everyone will experience all of them. My bipolar is not the same as your bipolar. In any given tool, I tend to find questions which just don’t feel relevant to me, while other thoughts/feelings/behaviours that I know to be risky or significant just don’t get a look in. Also, quick daily or weekly “snapshots” of feelings don’t always give me the time to answer the question properly – there is too much temptation to say I’m “fine”, rather than giving the question proper consideration.
But when I sit on the floor, in silence, eyes closed, I am immediately confronted with what I am really thinking and how my body is really feeling. In simply being still and quiet, perhaps trying to turn my attention to the breath going in, coming out, I create a blank space in which I can watch my thoughts and feelings as they dance. And because I am simply watching them and not living them, I can notice, really notice, and pay attention to them. And once I’ve become fully aware of what I am thinking and what I am feeling, I can begin to categorise those internal cues to see where my mood might be heading. I’ll give you some examples:
Grandiosity: “I know they say there’s no right or wrong way to meditate, but I am simply better at it than the rest of this class.”
Task-driven: “What am I doing sitting here? I need to get up and get on with my project.”
Impatience: “This ten minutes’ sitting practice is taking forever!”
Ideas of reference: “That bird I can hear is singing a special message, telling me that everything is OK.”
Pressure of thought: “Oh and I could blog about this! And this, and this! I must write all of these down.”
Paranoia: “I can’t sit here with my eyes closed makes me vulnerable to attack from malign forces.”
Increased difficulty in sitting still
Urge to tap/bounce/wriggle
Sense of physical impatience – body starting to get up before I’ve even thought about moving
Internal “itchiness” and agitation
Pessimism and hopelessness: “I don’t even know why I’m bothering to meditate, nothing can help me anyway.”
Increased self-blame: “If I’d meditated more when I was well, then I wouldn’t have relapsed.”
Thoughts of death/suicide: “Sitting with my eyes close feels like I’m not really here. I wish it was like this forever.”
Thoughts of being alone/abandoned: “No-one cares about me, I’m all alone in the world.”
Thoughts of being a burden: “It’s too much for my family to look after me, they’d be better off without me.”
Feeling physically heavy
Finding it hard to maintain an upright posture on floor or chair
A sense of being crushed from within
Feeling that I am too tired to meditate
I am already in a full on depressed or manic state, I will already know it, and will probably already have sought help help. But mindfulness helps me see which way the wind is blowing when I am in those early stages of mood change – and that’s the point at which it’s not too late, when I can intervene myself and successfully utilise self-help techniques. In the quiet of a sitting practice I can notice, and perhaps admit for the first time, that there is a pattern of hopelessness to my thoughts that I’d been trying to ignore. Or I might have been telling myself that I am only slightly hypomanic, only to find that when I sit quietly, my mind is working far faster than I had realised.
It’s important to remember that being mindful is not going to make you feel or think anything. It’s simply that stopping and tuning in allows you to take note of feelings and thoughts that were already there, but you perhaps hadn’t noticed. I’ve already said that anyone can experience painful thoughts or sensations in sitting practice. But for those of us with serious mental health problems, being still and silent can sometimes lead to us noticing things that are very painful, or perhaps frightening (for example, at one time I had hallucinations of horrific self-harm when sitting with my eyes shut). If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I just stop the practice. There’s no rulebook out there that says I “must” sit for 10 minutes, or 20, or 30. Sometimes I’ll take a break from sitting practice all together, and do some mindful walking or yoga instead for the next few days or weeks. Really paying attention to scary sensations and ideas is hard work. If it feels safe enough, however, I’ll stay put and see what I can notice about them. What relationship is there between the strong emotions and how my body feels? Can I get some distance by mentally labelling my thoughts, rather than living them (for example, “Uh-huh, I notice I’m experiencing suicidal thoughts right now” rather than, “Oh my God, I’m suicidal again, and I can’t stand it”)? At the MBCT courses teaches, “thoughts are not facts.” It’s often helpful to get a sense of distance between my thoughts, and me, to remind myself that my thoughts aren’t reality – they are just something my mind is doing at the moment.
Mindfulness isn’t magic. It’s not a tool to make you feel better. It’s won’t fix you. But it might empower you by giving a better, more accurate, idea of your internal mood landscape. What, if anything, you choose to with that knowledge is entirely up to you. I have completed a Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), with a list of self-help measures to use when I know I am becoming low or high. I also use mindfulness to help me decide whether to implement the strategies in my plan. I know perfectly well that there I things I can do which are bad for my mental health (staying up all night, drinking caffeine, listening to the same songs over and over again, rushing from activity to activity). There are also things I can do which I know promote mental health (going for a walk, meditating, yoga, slowing things down, etc). Sometimes I still do things that are unhelpful, but at least if I am mindful of my choices, I know what I am choosing to do, rather than acting without thinking. And being conscious and aware allows me to look out for any ill-effects, or maybe do an extra thing from the good list to balance things out.
I think of it as being a bit like the Waitrose green token scheme. For those outside the UK, Waitrose is a (rather expensive) supermarket which gives each shopper a green plastic token at the point of payment. On the way out, the customer has pass by a container with three clear plastic compartments with slots in the top. Each compartment represents a local good cause, and shoppers “vote” with their token for how a £1000 donation from the store should be shared among the three nominated causes.
Being given three ways to vote makes me really stop and think about what I am doing, which worthy cause I am voting for, and why. Mindful decision-making has a similar quality. Each day I have a range of choices (or tokens, if you like) that I can choose to spend as I wish. I might still choose to squander some tokens on less helpful activities. But at least I am thinking about the choice, and giving myself the opportunity to consider whether it’s what I want to do. Do I really want that can of Coke? Well, yeah, I do. I know it’s bad for me, but I enjoy it enough to be worth it. And because I’ve given the matter thought, I’ll make sure that if I’m going to do it, I’ll do it earlier in the day, so it doesn’t affect my sleep pattern.
So there you have it – my personal observations on mindfulness and its value for bipolar. I’m sure there are many things I’ve left out or haven’t explained properly, so here are a few useful resources.
http://www.mbct.co.uk An introduction to MBCT by its developers (with scope for downloading the guided meditations that form part of the 8 weeks course or purchasing them as a CD)
http://www.mindfulness-meditation-now.com/ 8 week MBCT courses in London
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8sCX2emO8c Short video by Prof Mark Williams on mindfulness meditation for relapse prevention in people with depression
I am a journalism student and I’m writing a feature about the stigma attached to mental health and how it’s still a big issue.I’ve read through your blog and although I don’t personally suffer from a mental illness, I used to know someone who had Bipolar Disorder and I really enjoyed reading it. I was wondering if there was any way I could interview you via email of course because thats much more easier and saves time. It wouldn’t take long and I would really appreciate it.
Is there any way to personally email you, I looked around your blog but couldn’t find any contact details.
Hi Mahum, I’ll drop you an email 🙂 Charlotte
Like the mindfulness article. Mahum congrats writing about stigma. What caught my attention was ” I don’t personally suffer from mental illness however I know some one who has…..”,Seems like an attempt to distance self from the issue identification therefore reinforcing stigma the very thing you are writing about why is it necessary? Just pointing it out…
Reblogged this on Bipoplar and commented:
Courteously forwarded to me by a former teacher, this blog on mindfulness practice and bipolar disorder is highly worthwhile.
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Thanks so much for this detailed analysis! I’m getting ready to start mindfulness training and I think reading this really prepared me for it. I’ll definitely be following your blog! Are you on FB too? My blog is listed below and my FB is Lithium Love Affair. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the informative blog. I am currently investigating Mindfulness Meditation and really think there are benifits to help with coping with bipolar – and the psychological side effects. MBCT and WRAP courses both look great but are beyond my current budget (it’s zero as I’ve been unemployed for one year now). Do you know if these courses are available through the NHS? Or if any of the mental health charities offer funding? I expect not because of the financial crisis, but any suggestions would be most gratefully received…..
Hi Wendy, I had to pay for them both…WRAP seems a big thing in Scotland but hasn’t taken off as much in England, although I really cannot fathom why. I would say that WRAP is the more affordable – just $10USD to complete it online at http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com which gives you the whole template and the kind of prompts you would get from a facilitator – examples, suggestions, things to think about. It also holds your WRAP on the website for you so you can stop and start and take as long as you need to complete it, and then it’s held on the site so you can never lose it (but you can email to anyone you choose – friends, family, clinicians). Probably one of the best £7 I ever spent.
hi Wendy, I am a psychologist in NHS mental health services in Camden offering mindfulness based stress reduction as part of our range of different therapy provisions. A number of suitably trained colleagues in different services both in Camden and many other parts of the NHS also provide both MBCT and MBSR. Do check with your GP if there’s anything available in your area. best wishes, Jennie
How do I get a copy of the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan? Thank You. By the way– I found your Blog to be very helpful and written in terms that made it easy to understand. I’m a bipolar sufferer, and just starting out in the self-management therapy process.
Hi Sheila, your best ways of getting a WRAP are to do a search online, or ask your mental heath team, whether you have a WRAP facilitator near you, or if not you can pay £10USD and create your own WRAP online at http://www.mentalhealthrecovery.com so that you end up with a document that can be given to carers, relative, friends or health professionals involved in your treatment. It took me a long time, but was worth every minute and every penny. I discuss self-management and WRAP in much more detail here: https://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/sharing-my-self-management-plan/
This is an amazing blog – thank you for sharing! I work on a Mindfulness & Yoga Therapy training (we teach yoga teachers and psychotherapists how to use yoga and mindfulness to help their clients). Would you be ok with me giving a written copy of your blog to our students as long as I make it clear that it is written by you and reference your blog webaddress on it?
Absolutely! Always happy to have my work shared as long as it’s properly attributed. It would be great if you could show the address for this blog, plus my business address (where there’s much more about me if people happen to be interested) http://insider-training.co.uk 🙂
Brilliant – thank you! I’ll make sure that both addresses are in the copy 🙂
This is Oney
I have been practicing mindfulness for some months now and I would like to know more about this techniques. How are the researches being conducted to reduce the stress.
Now there is a good hope for the research because of the highly disordered lifestyles of youngsters. This idea can surely help them for the stress reduction
Thanks for sharing your experiences with mindfulness. You have provided a really good framework for how mindfulness can help someone with bipolar disorder.
I feel like i have a chance at survival. Your mention of the WRAP plan is a huge breakthrough for me. I’ve just looked it up, and it is what i need. Thank you so much for what you wrote on this subject.
My pleasure! I found the WRAP so helpful. If you have a smartphone, there is now a WRAP app as well as the online version if you feel like giving it a try,
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Thank you for your post. I really appreciated it, especially the part where you detailed the different responses we have to Mindfulness practice in our elevated and depressed states. I plan on reading more of your posts and look forward to them!
That’s really nice of you, Becky, thanks!
Thank you for this article, I found it really useful and insightful, particularly the mood checklist and the ideas about developing an ability to distance yourself from your thoughts.
I have a question though. Do you think that mindfulness could sometimes work negatively in bipolar? For example, you describe walking to work without noticing anything except your own thoughts. By contrast I tend to notice absolutely everything – the appearance of the pavement, bits of conversations, the colour of the sky, advertisements, smells, shop window displays, dogs, every tree, every plant, every sound, every person, every piece of litter. It is a deluge of sensation that I can’t screen out, and each thing I notice will reinforce whatever mood I am in – if I’m depressed, I’ll focus on the traffic noise, a dead tree, or compare myself negatively to everything and everybody I see; if I’m high, everything seems beautiful and extraordinary and feeds into the sense of power and exhilaration. Occasionally, something I notice seems to trigger a change in mood, or accelerate it.
I’m not quite sure what the answer to this is. Maybe to be aware of the effects of the ‘noticing’, rather than simply noticing?
Thank you for this brilliantly written article. I teach Mindfulness courses (MBSR) and often get requests from people who want to come on the courses but are unsure and I was wondering if you would mind me reblogging your article – of course I’d be referencing and linking to you and your website http://insider-training.co.uk. Veronika
Hi Veronika, always happy for things to be shared as long as accredited. Don’t use Insider Training yet though – it’s not up and running (although we hope it will be soon!), just signpost people here to purplepersuasion, please 🙂
Will do. Thank you!
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One of my close friends suffer from bipolar disorder, and almost had 4 to 5 episodes. Whenever there is a relapse her family suffers a lot. I read about ur article and even about mindfulness. I need certain tips from you
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Oh goodness this made me laugh, such a great article I loved your description on highs and lows in relation to mindfulness as this is me on any given day, dependant on hypermanic or flat. I can’t believe how well you have described it. I’ve just done a course in mindfulness and actually thought the clarity in which I was seeing things was my mindfulness. Nope just an extra high “high” nevermind, it’s still going to help me I just know it!
A very comprehensive blog. pleased to read an actual application of mindfulness to mental health – keep up the good work in getting the message out there.
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Hey! I read your story and I find it very recognisable. I share a lot of the ‘findings’, ideas and experiences you describe. There is only one thing: for me the ‘insight of relativity’ which I sometimes experience (relativity of feelings, thought and even of language as a whole) while meditating have become part of my normal away of thinking/how I perceive the world. Especially the feeling of non-duality that I get and the relativeness of language. These concepts are great in a way but however can also be really scary and confusing sometimes. Because I already have these high and low emotions and then in addition these relative(!) feeling of reality how we understand it have lead me to a nihilistic state in the past. Could you maybe reflect on this? This combination has really become a problem for me during the years (which I want to solve 🙂 ).. Thank you in advance. 🙂
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Charlotte, I love you! My MH team have been teaching me mindfulness which has been wonderful and made such a difference to how I’ve approached everything else I’ve been doing. But as over the last few weeks, I’ve been creeping into a hypomanic state I’ve been really struggling with the mindfulness and not knowing how to deal with my inability to stick to my 10min sessions, or even to just keep my mind focused on breathing exercises. This blog post has really enlightened me and made me feel much more at ease with what I am doing. Thank you so much 🙂
Soooooo glad you found it useful! I deffo find it more useful for hypo than for depression though. RN IDK where to start… 😦
I started doing it while I was depressed and found the basic breathing exercises and body scans super helpful. It may have just been me! But they would just take me out of my head for a few mins which I was really needing and help take some of the physical tension away.
Great article! Thank you for all this effort. We are on similar life journeys 🙂 I manage my bipolar almost exactly the same way. Bipolar is complicated but there are triggers we can avoid: overworking, too much caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or recreational drugs, going to bed too late to fit in enough sleep, making adjustments even under a doctor’s advice that don’t work out such as adding antidepressants or switching mood stabilizers, and emotional stress due to the drama of life.
Meditation helps me the most with calming and releasing emotional drama before it ignites a mental tailspin into mania. It also can have mood alterning benefits enough that too much wine or other substances are not really necessary to relax and feel comfortable in social settings. Good luck with your life. It’s somewhat comforting to know many of us are on this fascinating journey though right?
just wanted to report my experience:
Yes, mindfulness was the best tool for me to get sensitive to my feelings, thoughts and physical symptoms.
BUT at the same time I have to say that mindfullness was the trigger of my first hypomanic episode (I am bipolar II with ultra rapid cycling but my disorder began with a longer hypomanic phase which was not far away away from full mania).
Few weeks before I began to meditate (sitting and just focus on breathing).
First I felt more calmness in daily life. I was more optimistic but very calm at the same time. I experienced those benefits after only meditating 15-30min daily within 1-2 weeks.
Then I got more and more optimistic and got into a thought pattern that I could achieve anything if I just thin positive and keep on meditating.
I got very talkative and wanted to convince everybody in my family and friends that meditation is the best thing on earth.
Later the “increased energy” turned into anxiety (which I never experienced this way before in life). Pretty soon I had rapid cycling bipolar disorder with fast changing moods (mood quality changed within minutes/hours). I thought I should meditate even more to get calm and everywhere you only read from benefits from meditation. It is good for everybody – that is what you find.
However in year I found that meditation is one of my main triggers for inducing rapid cycling bipolar disorder. It causes manic symptoms (anger, anxiety, irritability, short lasting euphoria) which are followed by depressive feelings (guilt, depression, low self esteem)
When I mediate it always feels so right. Like I am connected with the universe. I reach such a state pretty fast, even if I did not meditate for a year).
But pretty soon I notice “too much energy” or anxiety. Few years ago I tried to just meditate through it. I did that for weeks and did long meditation sessions, but it didn’t change anything. I kept on having those experiences during meditation.
So in my experience bipolar people need to be very careful with meditation. It can work pretty strong anti-depressive, thereby inducing mania…
I hear what you are saying, but… if you were thinking you could achieve anything through meditation, you weren’t being mindful, you were being… grandiose, so symptomatic of mania. If you felt like you were connected to the universe, that isn’t mindfulness because you were overwhelmed by feelings of bliss so then not simply observing any more. As I say in the article it’s NOT something you do to try or expect to feel a certain way, so it sounds to me like it’s the mania driving the feelings during those feelings you had meditation, not the other way around – that meditation became the vehicle for the grandiosity and connectivity, opened a way for something that was already there.
I should add that after reading my first post again, I find your reply very good because there is much information missing. Assuming you had all the information about my practice, I shortly felt irritated because you said that I was not meditating correctly. I just wanted to explain that I was. But based on my first post it really sounds different and yes, as if I was totally driven by mania. But in the beginning I did not know I was bipolar. Still, through the meditation I was aware of the hypomanic state (without knowing it was hypomania)
The conclusions I took are based on 3 years of practicing (starting with 3 month of the MSBR program of Kabat Zinn including the yoga techniques). Intermittently after my first experiences, I was meditating to achieve something, but the mania very soon did not drive anything anymore because I got very aware of certain processes.
Only 2 years later after experiecing the same pattern over and over I realized that meditation triggered my first hypomanic episode. I can say for sure that it not only was a vehicle because the same happens still.
I can assure: The meditation induces manic symptoms for me and according to the therapist for many other bipolar patients as well.
This was my first answer which not yet was posted…
I understand what you are saying, but you are wrong. I actually were meditating. I know what mindfulness is. I followed the work of John Kabat Zinn and read his book as instruction. I have to say, that you really totally wrong when saying that meditation cannot lead to feelings and especially when you are saying that it cannot lead to the feeling that one is connected with the universe or else said: That you just feel connected with nature and every other being. The experience of such kind of feelings and the experience of diverse feelings is something that happens very often during meditation practices. As long as you focus on your breathing or “observe” feelings, you stay mindful. Only if you get attached to them or try to make something with them you aren’t mindful anymore.
I can tell you what I did or what I would do when I meditate:
I just sat on my chair, straight, but relaxed and followed my breath. When thoughts came up and I noticed it, I just focussed again on my breath. Pretty soon (after only 3-4 sessions) I noticed that I managed better and better to focus. Especially during the sessions the perceived time or room between thoughts got bigger and bigger and the greater the “time”or “room” between perceivings other than my breathing got, the more focussed I felt. I was not trying to achieve anything trough meditation when I began with my practice because I never experienced something like that before (so there was no expectation or something I would want to achieve) and as I said was greatly instructed by the book. I really can recommend it to start with.
At some point when I was very focussed during my practice…so focussed that it was as if I would forget everything around me and only my breathing was in my mind going up and down…something happened. I got kind of dizzy (but in a positive relaxing way). It was very difficult to still focus on breathing when that happened for the first time because you tend to judge or think about what happened. However, after some practice I managed to focus very well, even when that happened.
And this was when I then was so deeply focussed on my body (breathing) that I felt as if my mind was out of my body or as if my mind was all around my body. Very difficult to describe. But this has NOTHING to do with grandiosity or trying to achieve something. It could not be different to that, because there was NO SINGLE thought or anything else. There was just nothing but it was the greatest experience in my life I can tell you afterwards. I felt so relaxed, but super awake and focussed at the same time. I am sorry that I cannot explain that feeling more specific. Something I could add was maybe that I felt like I had a high self esteem but not that kind of high self esteem you have with hypomania when you feel you are grandios. But more that kind of high self esteem because you feel connected and everybody is worthy and you are ok the way you are (without having to be anything else or having to do something). When I said universe I meant feeling connected to any kind of “energy” or “mind” (there is no word for that). What I tell you now, really is true: After that experience, my narcism was gone. I never had a narcistic personality disorder. However, due to my hypomanic states I had narcistic thoughts and behaved like a narcist sometimes. After that session I never behaved like that anymore…Not because I inhibit myself. It is as if I am too aware of the underlying cause for that. Since that day, I don’t need and want to push my selfesteem into unrealistic dimenensions anymore. It was as if I had an “awakening”.
However, after that experience, I wanted to experience that again!!!
So right the next day I sat down to meditate again to then ACHIEVE it again and what you said, then suddenly was true: I was not meditating anymore because I forgot about one of Kabat Zinns rules: That I never want to achieve anything with meditation….
However, because I wanted to achieve something, it did not “work” anymore. I could not get into that state anymore because of that trying. However, I noticed that I was trying and I knew that this was “wrong”. But this was not my grandiosity driving me. I just wanted to feel connected to everything again. It was just the best moment of my life (And I really no bad life before and has had experience with acohol :P)
I read the book from Kabat Zinn again and the instructions and the point that you have the attitude to just be and not try achieve something was what prevented me from getting into that state of “no mind”. It was difficult because I really wanted it. So it was very difficult to not sit down to try to get again.
However after a few sessions I managed again to focus only on breathing, not trying anything, just observing and accepting, whatever is. When something disrupted me or there was the thought again “hopefully I get into that state again” I could observe it and then again focus on my breath…
That way I again got into that state. The “funny thing” is, that it was much more difficult to stay there then because when I noticed that “it happened” I got happy because I “did it again” and as I got happy I got out of the focus and out of the state. A few times I only was in there for a few seconds and feel out and in and out etc….
However after a while I learned to focus even better on my breathing and stayed mindful, no matter what happens.
That state has nothing to do with grandiosity, really not. I also was not trying to achieve anything in that state (the opposite was true, as it felt like it was the first time in my life that I did something without trying to get something). Whenever I tried to achieve something, I didn’t manage to get into that state…So I only ever experienced this when I was truly not expeting or trying and just sat there, being, focussing on my breathing, no matters what happened.
So all that what I wrote above was to explain to you that I was meditating for sure.
I can tell you for 100% that meditating is one of the best working anti-depressants for me (and I am not the only one). It does not work like a drug immediately. But when I do it daily, I first notice more energy after a few days, getting a little euphoric. That easily turns into euphoria, irritabity or anger.
And BECAUSE of my mindfulness I am now easily aware of my thoughts, feelings and behavior. I am not firing those feeling anymore with my thoughts and behavior. I do the opposite. So when I notice that I get “to much” energy, I either do sports or focus on something or do work (where I earlier in life thought about how good I am etc…you know what I mean). The same with depression. I don’t think negatively anymore then and make anything worse or keep it upright.
I am very well aware of my triggers and what changes my mood etc. and I can tell you for 100% that meditation is one of the fasted mania triggers for me. Luckily am I “only” bipolar II, so I never had a full blown mania. But my cycling can be very fast. I had days were I cycled into full depression and then into hypomanic states in and out at one day.
Another thing I wanted to tell is that it is a big mistake to say that you cannot “generate” any feeling with meditation. In the beginning when I did not notice that meditation provokes rapid cycling for me I kept on doing my daily session, sometimes 2h.
I had sessions where I was so focussed as I described above and I observed feelings of anxiety and anger coming and going (without any thoughts or pictures or whatever), so while being mindful. THAT IS MEDITATION! Staying focussed in your middle, even when there is a storm around you!
And that is what I found bipolar disorder is. And with the help of meditation I found out my triggers and I am no more bipolar today. My mood is normal (as long as I avoid my triggers). So I have the “disease”, but I can control it.
For me that means keeping a relative strict rythm, avoid drugs, avoid going to bed after 2:30pm, avoid, exercising, don’t focus on anything that is very emotional for me and I could go on with listing triggering foods etc. but I stop here.
The best for me is to be present most of the time, yes to be mindful most of the time. But WITHOUT meditating. Meditation kind of switched the lights on in my mind. It made me awaken. Since I switched on the lights I started noticing many things I was doing and thinking. But still I learned that meditation is a trigger for me. It made and makes me (hypo)manic. It makes me first euphoric, then irritable, angry, anxious and after that I have a depressive phase. This all happens within only a few days. When I say that meditation causes these feelings I don’t mean that I am angry about anything or have fear from anything. The feelings just come up and if I weren’t mindful I then would pick up the feeling and loose my mind in them. However there is no thought or picture or memory leading to the feeling. This is bipolar disorder! Something triggers your physiology into a certain state. And normally, without practice you would believe how you feel and act it out…
Of course I found it weird that meditation could be a trigger and coudn’t believe it in the beginning. I tried also other things who are related to mindfulness like yoga. But the same happened.
When I get depression (what I very rarely get anymore), I do 2-3 sessions of 15 min. meditation and physiologically it works as if I used an antidepressant. However that really is so seldom and if I go on when I already feel more happiness, then I would get hypomanic…
I wrote to psychotherapist who treats only bipolar patients and who practices mindfulness with his patients and he said that he very often noticed that this happens. He said to me that bipolar patients in his experience are very sensitive to meditation and easily get into altered states of mind and especially tend to get manic symptoms from it. He also says that they therefore need to be very carefut and that they never should force the practice (especially never do those meditation trips where they meditate many hours in a week) and only use it dosed and he said that Asthanga Vinyasa yoga could be better for bipolar as there is movement integrated (however for me that triggers mania as well)
If you look into research of yoga, you even find warnings in the scientific papers for some forms of yoga that patients with bipolar disorder MAY NOT do this practice because the risk of mania.
Search for this pubmed ID: 25440560 for an example.
I hope you no more underestimate the influence of meditation practice for bipolar patients. It certainly needs to be used with caution.
I recently took a job as a labourer in a masonry company. The whole day I am focused on doing physical things that require all my mental attention. When my mind starts to turn to negative thought patterns, it is almost always interrupted. After two weeks of gruelling labour my mind and body feel stronger. Those persistent nagging thought patterns that lead to negative emotional states are effectively being short circuited.
CBT really helped me to get a handle on distortions of reality (I worked through The New Mood Therapy by Dr. Burns). Now I can recognize those thoughts that are leading me astray.
I think of mindfulness as being in the moment and not to so deeply into myself and those cognitive distortions that batter me. The less I think about myself and can be a part of a moment, the more I am likely to feel genuine positive thoughts.
That said, if that moment is one where there is violence, abuse, or I get a feeling I am being driven chaotically, these moments can lead to negative thoughts and some pretty intense emotional charges that I must manage. I get myself out of these moments by cultivating compassionate/self-compassion. I remind myself that the world is unjust, that people are self-centred, etc., but that their reasons are complex (I tend to feel that North American culture is too ego driven and that society is really sick, but I keep on seeing hope). Not only that, but we can’t reduce a person to just negative qualities, or take a negative action as a summary judgement of their worth as a human being. I try to remind myself that people’s motivations are a lot more complex than socially ascribed motives -they tend to be a entwinement of the personal and social reasons that take a long time to understand. I cannot change the world; I can only change the way I think about the world and try to be positive about the things I do have in my life that are priceless.
I don’t like creating a binary between myself and others. Psychology would have us believe that some “sane” world is out there that we are missing out on, however I just don’t see the sanity in a lot of social phenomenon, or the behaviour and thoughts of a lot of “sane” people that surround me. I recommend Foucault’s Madness and Civilization for psychology pundits. I try to be myself, but at the same time I am aware that I can’t say what I think to others. I just try to pick my moments a little more, or do small actions that show that I care about those around me. I think the main thing is to do and say things that are in line with my sensitivity and not treat it as something that is wrong with me.
What works for me is to do things with my family and loved ones, and just try to be a compassionate and helpful person to all those who surround me. That gives me a lot of satisfaction. The more the focus is off of me, the better I feel. The more interest I take in understanding others too, the more I am unlikely to fall into black and white thinking patterns.
I think being aware of my thoughts and checking them is crucial to my wellbeing, and as you note in your writing, just trying to keep healthy on all fronts helps too.
My mother always told me that “I don’t need to perfect.” I think letting go of wanting to be perfect and just being in that moment, as I am, helps.
I can remember being this way since I was I child. I am forty now and can see that being this way has taught me a lot about myself and others. If I look at the journey I feel better. Why can’t we all just be singularities? We are all on a unique course through life, some more bumpy or tragic than others, but they are all lives.
This is a great article about Mindfulness and I really appreciated the section on how it helps manage and alleviate symptoms from bipolar disorder. In residential treatment for bipolar disorder, addiction treatment, and many other mental health conditions, Mindfulness, is a key element that is offered to those in rehab. I have seen many people benefit and help manage their symptoms by taking time daily and using mindfulness to slow down and be in a relaxed present state. I recently linked to this article from my article on “Holistic Bipolar Treatment Centers” which talks about all the elements that are incorporated that make a significant difference. Sharing: https://thetreatmentspecialist.com/holistic-bipolar-treatment-centers/
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