What is disorganized thinking?

(Because I never knew what anxiety was before)

Or racing thoughts? What are those?

When I went to the Brattleboro Retreat after a suicide attempt in 2011, when I was 33 years old, one of the nurses gave me a book on anxiety.

I said, “I don’t have anxiety.”

She said, “Do you know what anxiety is?”

“I guess I don’t.”

“You need to read this book.”

Like they always say, a fish has no idea what water is—well, I had no idea what anxiety was. I had to read a workbook when I was 33 to tell me what water was, and have this workbook explain to me that I’d been swimming in it all my life. My favorite definition in the workbook was that fear was being in the African plain being worried about being eaten by a lion—anxiety was having the same fear while sitting in Central Park. Basically, it’s irrational worry: worrying about things there’s no rational reason to worry about.

The next mystery term that confounded me as a person with bipolar (now bipolar-type schizoaffective) was racing thoughts. I read the symptom lists for mania over and over and I could not figure out what any of these texts meant by that term. In the hospital, during checkins, when asked if I was having racing thoughts, I just said, “I don’t know what that means.” So they would explain it to me. And I still didn’t understand.

I don’t know when it was that I figured this out and I don’t remember exactly how, but I discovered sometime in my thirties that my thoughts are almost always racing. Unless I am severely depressed, my thoughts are racing. They were racing when I wrote computer code, they race when I write fiction, they race from right before I wake up in the morning—they’re basically always racing. That was another water I was always swimming in.

Now I’ve slowly come to realize there is another mystery term that I keep passing over when I hear it in bipolar bloggers’ speech and writing about the bipolar-schizoaffective-schizophrenia spectrum: disorganized thinking. I suspect this is something else that I don’t know about, not because it is foreign to me, but because it is integral to me. I don’t believe that my thinking is disorganized, just as I don’t believe that my thought is racing—doesn’t everyone else just have sluggish thought? I certainly believe so. And I suspect that disorganized thinking will turn out to be equally subjective, that it will simply mean a kind of thinking the majority has trouble understanding and it will possess merits of organization not exhibited by so-called “organized thinking.”

I don’t know, though.

This is my next frontier.

Figure out what disorganized thinking is, determine if I do it, determine how long I’ve been doing it, determine how big a problem it is for me.

I suspect I do it, and do it in spades, because, suspiciously, I can never quite see the meaning of the term—like the water that those fishes are swimming in.

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