I know that it’s okay to be sad, to have times where you just don’t feel good. As I’ve mentioned before, though, I don’t trust happiness in the slightest, and I’m much more prone to believing the personalized critic that follows me around during times of discontent. What I’m saying is that when I get sad…I’m afraid I’m going to stay sad. And that I’m a sad person. And what is wrong with me.
Everyone has bad days. And all of us, not just the ones with an Axis I diagnosis, experience emotional dysregulation in our daily lives. When we’re a little too angry at the person that cut us off, a little too teary eyed at an adorable dog food commercial, or a little too excited about the many uses of WD-40. (Look it up. It’s exciting, okay?)
So what I’m learning as I study CBT and DBT is that I have choices and agency over my thoughts/feelings/behaviors. And the three of those things, while interconnected, are not the same thing. If I can distinguish between them and name my feelings and change my thoughts — well then, I can start reacting in different ways and avoid [some of] this unexplained sadness!
Much harder than it sounds, I guess. But it’s totally working. Already I’ve started a tape in my head about “goal-directed behavior” versus “mood-directed behavior.” Essentially, many times we make our next moves in a day, in life, based on how we feel. I want to exercise, but I don’t feel like it so I don’t. I want to be more spiritual, but I don’t feel like going to church today so I don’t. Sometimes it’s okay to “not feel like it,” but if you’re like me it’s easy for every behavior to become mood-directed. With bipolar I have to learn to define my goals and perform tasks because they are in the best interest of my goals, dreams, life-vision, even if I don’t feel like it. It’s a basic concept some people inherently understand: I want to be thinner so I exercise, I want to rest this weekend so I write my papers today. For me it seems so much more difficult than that! My moods change so drastically, even while I am medicated, that I can get exhausted from an emotional standpoint before I’ve even done anything.
But this “goal-directed” thing has stuck with me. I wanted to nap so badly yesterday and today, but I realize that, even though it’s the only thing I felt like doing, that I really wanted to end my day at an earlier time, get a full night’s rest, and feel productive. I wanted to complete my to-do list for the day. I want to stop needing a nap in the afternoons every day so that I will feel more social and creative in the evenings.
So I didn’t. Nap, that is. I walked around, I didn’t sit down when I got home, and I headed out to run errands rather than sleep. I made something. I started a project. And now I’m blogging. All because I’m telling myself to not let my [stupid] moods dictate my behavior. Because I’m constantly saying it to myself, catching myself, reminding myself.
It’s CBT and DBT in action: mindfulness, identifying automatic thoughts, using behavior to change your feelings, feelings to change your thoughts, etc. It’s difficult, and it’s a tiny step. But that’s the only way we change – in the small steps.
And look. I’m already feeling better. Now that I think about it…I’m not even sad anymore.