Have you ever ridden a Tilt-a-Whirl? How about one of those carnival rides that spin you mercilessly until the world around you is nothing but a colorful blur?
Do you remember what that world looked like?
The ride was likely relatively short, and most of it you were probably wondering how to stop the spinning. Try to remember if you can.
The blurry, spinning world you saw is a glimpse of what it’s like to live with bipolar blur.
No, “bipolar blur” is not a medical term. It’s something I created to describe the days when things are moving too fast or when my mind is overcrowded with everything in there.
The blur comes with emotional numbness and a feeling of being disconnected. You see the world, or flashes of it, but everything is out of reach. It’s a shimmering mirage off in the distance.
Right now, I’m happy to say that things are fairly clear. My world is spinning at close to the right speed. That’s a wonderful gift I don’t normally get this time of year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bipolar blur, though. Memories have been surfacing as I’ve been looking through old journals. Many of those recollections include times of experiencing the blur.
Reading those words has made me feel so much that I had to write the poem, Bipolar Blur. As I was writing the final comments after that poem, I realized there was more I needed to say on the subject. That desire spawned this post.
The Blur From Inside
Bipolar blur is largely about being removed from yourself and the world around you. Things appear in glimpses, flashes of images, many with little or no meaning.
Bipolar blur is not the same as bipolar depression. Depression can paralyze you, making it difficult to function at even the lowest level.
In the midst of the blur, I can still function. I still go to work, clean my house, and cook my meals.
Bipolar is the “gift” that keeps on giving.
On the outside, I look like everything is fine. I might be more quiet than usual or less involved, but generally the effects of the blur are invisible to others.
Inside, coping with bipolar blur is a lot like how I imagine it would be to swim in a tar pit. No matter how much effort you expend, you don’t get anywhere.
This blur can last for hours, days, or weeks. The world swirls around you in muted colors or shades of gray. Everything is out of focus.
It reminds me of being in a dream. Dreams often contain unrelated images and senseless themes. Bipolar blur feels much the same.
Time Has No Meaning
The thing I hate the most about bipolar blur is the discontinuity of time. When I’m in this fugue state, days and weeks can pass by with little to no impact.
When things finally start coming back into focus, I’m faced with the reality that time is missing, or I only have scattered memories of it. Those memories can be in random order, making them even more frustrating.
Mania can produce similar lost-time experiences. The difference with a blur episode is that you go on autopilot, and the change is imperceptible to others. It’s hard to miss a manic episode.
The Gift of Bipolar
I like to say that bipolar is the “gift” that keeps on giving. Of course, I don’t mean that I’m happy to have it, though it has made me a more empathetic person.
Instead, I mean bipolar is always throwing something new at you.
It says, “Hey! It’s not enough to be ecstatic one minute and in the depths of despair the next. Let’s throw some haze and confusion into the mix.”
Bipolar tries its hardest to make sure every day is its own adventure. The days of haze become just another leg of the journey.
Stopping the Blur
I wish I had easy solutions for stopping bipolar blur. It would be awesome if I could tell you that exercising, eating healthy foods, or sleeping more or less was the ticket to get off the ride.
I could say it, but it wouldn’t be true.
Unfortunately, in 47 years, I’ve yet to find a way off the ride before it’s run its course. The muted cycle comes out of nowhere and on its own timetable. Like a twisted rollercoaster, you have to ride it to the end.
Let’s Help Each Other
Bipolar blur is hardly the worst part of the disorder. The extremes of rapid cycling and suicidal obsession are much, much worse.
It is unpleasant and frustrating to be numb and clouded, but that numbness often silences the usual highs and lows of daily life.
Maybe it’s the brain's way of fighting back or trying to give you a break from bipolar life.
I’m only one of millions living with bipolar disorder. If you’ve found a solution to dealing with bipolar blur, please share your comments below.
In fact, please share any tips you have to make a life with mental illness better.
Working together, we’ll all improve.
Scott Ninneman is a bookkeeper and tax preparer by day and a writer by night. He maintains the blog Speaking Bipolar and writes about living with bipolar disorder and chronic illness. He also enjoys writing short stories, poetry, and inspiration for personal development. His interests include reading, cooking, and entirely too much TV.