My husband has suggested I write a book. This book would not be the Great American Novel, nor would it be a how-to guide on medicine cabinet organization. He wants me to write a book on the numerous interpretations of the phrase “I’m okay.” Why? Because that’s usually my answer when asked how I’m doing and he is correct that there is no way I feel the same every time I give that answer. So what’s the deal? I have a degree in communications and I’m a writer. I should be able to give a coherent explanation of how I’m feeling in a given moment. Why don’t I? There are generally four reasons.
I don’t want to know.
In order to tell someone else how I feel, I have to check in on myself. A lot of times I don’t want to delve into my feelings. I know it’s healthy. I know I need to, but I’m fantastic at avoidance. If I can just keep rolling along without stopping to think, then it’s “Ignorance is bliss,” for me.
It’s hard to communicate.
Communication and bipolar disorder often do not mesh well and your ability to express your feelings may shift along with your mood. In manic phases, there is “pressured speech.” Basically our thoughts go into overdrive and our filters don’t catch them before they come out of our mouths. You could call it “compulsive speech.” It’s fast. It’s loud, and, at some points, incomprehensible. Don’t be fooled, though. Just because we’re talking doesn’t mean we know what we’re saying. It’s more often than not a Faulkner-esque stream-of-consciousness. I never liked Faulkner. Some problems with communication can also stem from the fact that half of bipolar patients have some amount of cognitive impairment. My brain fog occurs mostly during depressive stages. Sometimes I lose the words for concrete objects. At times like that, how am I supposed to come up with an abstract way to describe what’s going on in my head?
I’m not okay and I don’t want to talk about it.
This one’s fairly self-explanatory and goes along with not wanting to know. When I’m not doing well, I put up an emotional wall. It’s easier to ignore it than solve it. I’m afraid that if I delve too deeply then I’m going to have to confront my feelings. This often leads to frustration and tears. It’s not fun, so I go back to avoidant.
I really don’t know.
If you don’t check in with yourself then it’s possible you’re not catching symptoms that may be present. At times like these, “I’m okay,” is the easiest and quickest answer to what really should be a more thought-out conversation and self-evaluation.
All of that being said, these are not acceptable responses, with a possible exception on the cognitive impairment part. I do think it’s important to know why someone may not want to communicate or might be having a hard time communicating. Even then, it’s best to try and work it out.
Communication is key in any relationship. It’s especially important when one or both parties have an illness or disorder. Since bipolar disorder is an invisible illness, it’s almost impossible to tell how someone is feeling just by looking at them. So, we have to rely on one another to bring everything to light. It’s not fair to make someone guess how you feel. It’s likely they’ll get it wrong and then the situation can Jack-and-Jill all the way downhill.
I won’t leave you hanging for ways to get communication started. Don’t worry. Here are some generic tips to use as a springboard. From there you can hone your own communication patterns to what fits you and your moods best. Some times will be easier than others. Like always, just do the best you can. Here we go:
- Make sure it’s constructive. Don’t blame one another, and think about whether what you’re saying could be hurtful before you say it.
- Remember that people with bipolar disorder often have a hard time with interpreting facial expressions and micro-expressions.
- If you’re having trouble finding words, you can use a word list like this one to help you instead of using old, not-so-reliable “okay.”
- Be patient with yourself and others. Remember that communication can be difficult, but it helps everyone out in the long run.