Bipolar and Concentration Problems: My Experience, Cont’d.
In contrast, my concentration could be so intense it felt as though I was locked in a zone. I once made an intricate card for my friend’s wedding day and spent hours with my nose to the scissors cutting out tiny petals to build a beautiful flower. Any interruption or distraction would send me into a rage, yelling verbal abuse and on the odd occasion throwing things. It was as though any unexpected stimulus was my brain’s worst enemy and it couldn’t cope.
I mainly cope with depression now, which brings its own challenges. I can only concentrate on my negative thoughts and it is almost impossible to distract me from them. I am lost in a vacuum of pain and anguish whilst staring blankly at a TV, unable to retain any of the information. We are so internalized by our overpowering thoughts we can’t listen, interpret movement or noise, learn or remember things.
People are sympathetic to these difficulties in a crisis, but living with a long-term mental health diagnosis brings day-to-day challenges. If you see a man with a broken leg you see the cast, but mental health problems are invisible. There is no cast.
I get frustrated from not being able to follow fast conversation, watch complicated films, concentrate for long periods, complete big tasks with ease, answer complex questions and read books. I try to push myself but frustration, struggling and failure triggers upset, and the impact of common comments from outsiders who don’t understand, such as, “Try harder,’ and, “Come on, think,” are damaging. I’ve seen so many faces look at me in annoyance, and it’s soul destroying.
What Helps Bipolar Focusing Problems?
The key to improving concentration and distractibility is by controlling mood swings, which is usually through mood stabilisers. I always ask my psychiatrist what I should expect from my medication, as we know in psychiatry the ‘one size fits all’ rule does not apply. To aid my treatment I always report back noticeable changes.
There are many other ways we can help ourselves, and some of these techniques have been invaluable in my recovery:
- I manage racing or negative thoughts by imagining them rushing past me like traffic as the more I focus on them the more I become distracted.
- I say, “STOP!” in my head to bring myself back to the task in hand.
- It’s important to face situations, but if I feel they are overwhelming to the point I can’t concentrate, I calmly leave. I avoid pushing my brain to the point where I can’t cope and feel panicked.
- I set realistic targets and reward myself e.g. if I write 500 words of an article I can go and watch TV.
- I know if I am sitting with my family there will always be noise so I choose to watch films in the quiet.
- I take much longer to complete tasks so I give myself more time, and I’m ok with asking others to check for mistakes.
- It’s also about going back to basics. Lack of sleep, stress, drugs, alcohol, and caffeine contribute to poor concentration and distractibility so it’s about looking after yourself.
- It is also worth talking to those around you to make them aware of your struggles. If we’re relaxed about being ourselves and don’t fear pressure or judgment, we are far more likely to concentrate with less distraction and achieve what we desire. This helps to build our self-esteem, encouraging us to try again next time!
A combination of professional support, medication, self-help strategies, and understanding from others is definitely a proven formula for my bipolar and concentration problems. I’m not perfect, but who is? I do things to the best of my ability and that’s enough for me.
Serani, Psy.D, Clinical psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression.
Marchand, M.D. Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and author of the book Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery.