Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mental Illness, Introversion and Self-absorption

I am an introvert--big time. I teach college, typically lecturing in front of an auditorium of students. So I am not talking about 'shy' here. I am talking about a personal preference, comfort with self and being content to spend time alone. I also have bipolar disorder, and speak from personal experience when I say, spending too much time focused on yourself is a bad thing for someone who is depressed or bipolar.

Personality and Bipolar Disorder
And its not just me who thinks so. Isolation is bad for depression. There's lots of data out there on the subject. The article What Personality Tests Tell Us About Bipolar Disorder specifically explores aspects of the bipolar personality in some detail. It is very interesting piece, and really hit home with me.

The author of that article has collected data on personality (Myers-Briggs personality test) from people struggling with depression. Not a formal scientific study, but revealing data none the less. His results suggest that many of the clinically depressed and prone to be introverts as well as belonging to a category called 'dreamers'. This essentially means that a lot of us spend a good deal of time in our own private inner world, rather than out there participating in the wider world of others.

What's Wrong with Preferring Your Own Company?
Now daydreaming introverts may get defensive when someone suggests that they need to get out more, and I can understand this reaction. My mother spent a lot of breath, when I was a kid, nagging me to spend more time playing with others instead of sitting under trees reading. Her well-meaning prompting pissed me off. It still does. But honestly, a great deal of research as well as my own experience, show that getting out of your own head is a good thing, especially when your head contains a brain that struggles with bipolar disorder.

Obligations Can Save Your Life
In my 25+ year struggle as an adult with bipolar disorder, I have seen how dragging myself out of bed when things must get done (caring for kids, keeping a job, etc.) has helped my mental health. The obligation that I feel towards my kids, has certainly saved my life. I would have been much more likely to follow through on suicide impulses had it not been for my unwillingness to subject my kids to that kind of grief. It is certainly true that sometimes, when a person is very sick with mental illness, he or she can't do much of anything. I volunteered for day psychiatric hospitalization when I got to that point.

Get a Pet, Get a Friend, Get a Virtual Social Network
So, the moral of the story for this post is that if you are bipolar and see some of that introvert-dreamer personality in you, give some thought to how healthy spending most of your time inside your head is. Probably not so much. It's great to enjoy your own company and be comfortable with yourself. But having someone or something (even a pet) depending on you, or staying engaged in some type of healthy social relationship, a social network or community, can help draw you out and inherently improve the state of your mental health.

Leave a comment. Let me know what you think.

Yesterday, as an adventure, spent the night at a hotel with my two youngest kids. Fun! Also sleepless (one snorted the other kicked). Still, after a nap, my overall mental health feels pretty balanced right now. Dealing with lawyers and support issues related to my oldest child; a huge expense and huge stressor. Going to get plenty of sleep tonight to keep that stress from knocking me into depression. Feel a little blue.

Manic 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 depresseD

This blog is for informational purposes only, it is not intended to be used for the treatment of mental illness. If you are having emotional troubles, please see a mental health professional.


  1. Interesting... I am BP1 rapid cycling, but I prefer to be in the company of others ALWAYS! Maybe it's an only child thing and maybe it's something more complex, but I have a real problem being alone with myself. It never fails to amaze me that those of us battling bipolar are so similar in so many ways, but on the other hand couldn't be more different...

  2. Hi Kimminentdanger -
    Thanks so much for your comment. It is good to be reminded about the wide range of personalityes that have bipolar disorder. Although reasearch does show that a large number of us have characteristics of introversion, this is not a one-size-fits-all disorder for sure.

  3. A very good article. As a loner, I understand the benefits of spending solitary time. I also see the hermit in myself and need to force myself out of the house, like today, I made myself go for a walk/jog for at least a 1/2 hour and I feel loads better. It gets worse if one tries to disappear or make themselves invisible from the world. When you back away from people, they end up forgetting about you and that is bad. It's a self-fulfilling-prophecy-type-thing. You say you will be alone forever, you stay away from people and voila, you are alone forever. Thank you for your blog. I have on also, on this site, even though it's a very self-absorbed blog, but it's written nicely.

  4. Although I'm not diagnosed with anything, I place myself in the depression rainbow. I'm at a point where I've reached out to a shrink (today) and am waiting for a response. I made myself leave the house to jog/walk because I see how my isolating is escalating to longer and longer periods. It doesn't help that I've been unemployed for 11 months and have been sick lately. I've never tried suicide, but have been entertainint it for a while; a long while. Yet, after watching "Sylvia" this morning, I realize how selfish suicide is. It's something that one "romanticizes" although after contemplation, it's not romantic at all. It's selfish, indulgent and just leaves sadness, then leaves memory and then leaves nothing in it's wake. I think watching that movie was what I needed. I am now going back to a manuscript I've been writing and will continue to add to it. Creativity comes to me in moments of saddness and I'm going to milk it for what it's worth. Thanks for your good article. Keep it up. I have a blog here too, somewhere.

  5. Goodstuff from all. I am. Bp2 with audible and visual hallucinations... kind of like being in a state of. Paranoia while lucid dreaming. I can always find something si freakishly odd that I tell myself this will pass andit does sometimes when I am lucky enough to have medications, I like being manic its when I write my best songs but as I cycle rather rapidy ( can go from fantastically productive to hermitting for days not ansering the door, opening mail and yes leaving my vm full so I don't have to hear others. At this time I am taking wellbutrin 450 at 9 am it keeps me awake all day I am forcedto sometimes live in my head if I am out of klonapin and I cannot sleep at all manic or depressed without ambien. Depakote lexapro didn't help I am just now finishing withdrawls from 3 months of cymbalta. Hope I get rid of the 20 ibs I gained with it. I need something to manage my moods or slow them down that works well with wellbuterin....please comment and sorry about the length. First timer

  6. I just came across this site. I don't suffer from bipolar disorder, but I have a good friend who does. One of the things I find most difficult are the rapid changes in mood. On one day, everything will be absolutely fine between us, and on the next, my friend's attitude toward me will abruptly change. She will be distrustful, doubt my sincerity, etc. What is the best way to handle this? I've only know my friend for about a year and a half, so I'm not sure what's best.