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Bipolar can have a fundamental effect on my perceptions of other people. One reason why bipolar is called bi-polar, is that the person with this disorder can view a person as ALL good or ALL bad – one end of the pole or the polar opposite. This was especially true for me after my first manic/psychotic episode and diagnosis. My perceptions were fundamentally distorted.

I viewed my dad an angel, my mom as vile, myself largely despicable, a girl I was obsessed with as perfect, my aunt as a betrayer… There may have been a small piece of truth in my perceptions, but bipolar caused me to magnify these fragments of perceptions to the point that small piece was all I saw in that person. It WAS the big picture – missing the forest through the trees, so to speak. The reality is that all these people are good, not perfect, and that I wasn’t innocent, either.

It’s hard to have healthy, balanced perceptions when my mind wants to focus on one small take of somebody. It’s also very hard on other loved ones when this happens. It’s toxic to relationships. It destroys my self-image and self-perspectives.

Cognitive-behavioral-therapy (CBT), medications, and education about bipolar all helped me overcome this problem. The steps I took in the CBT I received were:

1. Draw something abstract about someone that seems distorted – say, what I feel and think when I see that girl

2. Process thoughts and feelings in writing using my picture(s) as inspiration

3. Write down a list of thoughts and feelings balanced

4. Make it a habit to think of the balanced picture of the person.

When I thought about that girl, for instance, my mind wanted to race about how wonderful and perfect she was. Instead, I “changed the train tracks” of my thinking by flipping a switch and forced myself to have healthy and accurate perceptions about her that I spent a long time processing in writings and drawings before. When she comes up, my mind can rest.

Flipping the switch that changes my mind’s train tracks is a hard skill to develop, and it starts small. Once  I could do that, changing the train tracks of my thinking became easier, and avoided a lot of train wrecks in my thinking and decisions I made.