This was the hardest topic to write about. What advice would I give? What is the most helpful and meaningful? Should it be advice that I would give to my 12 year old self, and if it was, how detailed would I get? My mind swirled with ideas and false starts before settling on what I’ve written below.
It is often said that the best advice is to not give advice at all, but who can resist telling people how to live their lives. I'd like to say that I keep quiet, but alas, I don't always. Having lived through a diagnosis of bipolar disorder I find it difficult to not share some of what I have learned.
I don't know who said it, but one of my favourite quotes is "Control your thoughts or they will control you". This is a powerful statement that reminds me that I control my own happiness. By learning how to change my thoughts from negative ones to positive ones I can change my feelings about the circumstances that shape my life.
As someone with a mood disorder I will concede that this is not an easy task and at times I forget to apply the techniques, but with practice it does become easier.
But our thoughts are our thoughts you might say. This is true, and because they are our thoughts we can take control of them. With hard work we can discipline ourselves to replace negative thinking with a positive outlook.
Let's say that I was brooding about something that happened earlier in the day and I was starting to feel depressed or anxious. I have two choices: I can continue to replay the situation over and over in my head, castigating myself for poor behaviour; or, I can look at the situation objectively, identify what I would change, if appropriate make amends, and then move forward, satisfied with having learned something. Every time my thoughts stray back to the situation, (and they will), I can continue to beat myself up, or I can remind myself of what I have learned. If I do the latter, I have changed my thoughts and reduced anxiety.
I find it often it helps to have a mantra to trick my mind into replacing a persistent negative thought. I like Monty Python's "always look on the bright side of life". Mantra's can be a useful tool, although I will admit to forgetting to use them as often as I should. During a moment of conflict a mantra can be recalled to defuse an emotional response. The mantra that I like to use when having a disagreement with Carm is B52s lyrics "I'm having a vision, I'm having a vision of a kiss from your sweet lips". It's difficult for my emotions to escalate when I'm looping that through my head. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and on my way to depression, I have a bit of an inner laugh and can then continue the discussion with less angst. I have changed not only my thoughts but also my mood.
Visualization of a cherished place can also be helpful when negative thoughts threaten to overwhelm me. I contemplate one of my favourite places: the swing on my back deck and envision the trees around the deck, the far away vista, the smell of honey in the air, the feeling of the sun on my limbs and the gentle rocking of the swing. Setting the scene with sublime detail doesn’t leave room for injurious thinking.
Who hasn't had a conversation with someone and thought that they are saying hurtful things. When it happens to me it is time to re-evaluate my thinking. It is quite possible that the person didn't mean what they said; if they did, they may be reacting to their own insecurities, in which case I can concentrate on feeling compassion for them. I try to remember that no one is a perfect communicator and that we all have our own baggage influencing a conversation. By changing my focus from myself to them I have changed my thoughts.
Having bipolar disorder has made me aware of the slightest change in my mood which triggers me to evaluate my thinking. When I catch changes early I can work on changing my thoughts, which sometimes helps me to avoid a mood episode. My thoughts can make me unhappy with depression or anxiety, and with hard work I can change them to make me feel, if not happy, at least in control.
There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under the jurisdiction. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I can read and eat and study. I can choose how I'm going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life-whether I will see them as curses or opportunities. I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
People who ask our advice almost never take it. Yet we should never refuse to give it, upon request, for it often helps us to see our own way more clearly. ~Brendan Francis