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.