Expanding the depression and bipolar comfort zone.
Understanding the role of comfort is critical for getting Bipolar IN Order. To do so, we must measure comfort at each level of intensity for both mania and depression. When we compare comfort levels to awareness, understanding, functionality, value, and the time before escalation, we find the optimal intensities where bipolar is an advantage in our lives.
In any aspect of life, those who only seek comfort are consigned to mediocrity and boredom. Those who judiciously step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves are the ones who learn and grow. This is equally as true with mania and depression.
The best growth, though, happens just slightly outside the comfort zone. Too far outside and the lack of comfort can cause you to shrink instead.
Too many times, bipolar people step too far outside their comfort zones and find themselves at an intensity of depression or mania that is far beyond their control. Many of them become so frightened by it they hide inside their comfort zone hoping to remain there the rest of their lives. They accept a diminished story of their lives because they believe they have no other choice. They fear one wrong step will rapidly escalate back to an uncomfortable and out-of-control state.
When we carefully assess comfort (along with the other criteria) at various levels of intensity, we find close relationships between understanding, functionality, and comfort. One’s level of understanding, if accurately assessed, predicts the levels of functionality and comfort, for example. One’s level of comfort also influences the ability grow in understanding and function more effectively; all three are intimately tied together.
Such assessments lead to a far more accurate identification of the demarcation lines of an individual’s comfort zone. These assessments also help the individual to recognize the next level of intensity where depression or mania has just begun to go too far. The ability to find the zone between the lines is the key to success. We need to cross the line and go outside of our comfort zone to grow, but not so far that lack of comfort harms us.
If we look at any other field, whether physical, medical, or academic, we expand our understanding and functionality by taking on challenges that are slightly outside of our comfort zone. We are taught to take on reasonable challenges and make sure the risks that come with them are reasonable. We do not, for example, climb the Himalayas on our first hiking trip. We start out slowly and carefully until we develop skills. Most of us do not climb the most difficult peaks, but we usually go far beyond the first steps we took as a baby.
But, mostly due to ignorance and fear, many (most) do not treat depression or bipolar the in the same manner. They believe it is not possible to safely expand their comfort zone and refuse to accept that many of us have already done it. They narrow their range and call it “recovery” when a more effective method would be to expand their range and call it “growth”.
Because of such false beliefs, most programs for depression or bipolar disorder are only designed to lower the intensity until one is inside of the comfort zone. They do not teach how to cross safely into the growth zone or to recognize the next critical line where we have gone too far.
The result of such treatment leaves us with people who live in fear that the next episode will escalate out of their control. Unfortunately, since they do not develop understanding or skills that lead to functionality and comfort across a wider range of intensities, their fears are validated during the next episode (which is virtually guaranteed to happen unless they are willing to be a zombie for the rest of their lives).
For all of the talk about stigma, this is the worst one. The judgement of others may keep us from some opportunities, but our self-judgement keeps us from even trying. Accepting a narrow comfort zone regarding depression or bipolar influences the expansion of every other part of our lives.
When I was first diagnosed, I was told many times that I should not take on stressful challenges or certain jobs because they would trigger my “illness.” Such statements were coming from the same people screaming the most about stigma. There is nothing more stigmatizing than being told you cannot expand your comfort zone and take on reasonable challenges, especially coming from those who have restricted their own. If you want to stop the stigma, you need to stop saying “can’t” and expand your own comfort zone.
Some say that I do not understand depression or mania because there is a line that cannot be crossed and these concepts only apply to very minor cases. They think “real” depression or mania is overwhelming and uncomfortable for everyone. They say it is not possible to function during them because we are all incapable of understanding what is going on while it is happening. They are wrong.
Many of us are highly functional and comfortable at extreme intensities of both mania and depression. The people around us are also comfortable with us when we are in such states. We have taught others to do the same; many of them thought it was impossible at first too.
What the naysayers are really saying is that such intensities are too far outside of their own comfort zone which is restricted by lack of understanding, functionality, and comfort. Accurate measurements bear that out when we determine the previously mentioned lines at the edges of their comfort zones and where intensity is too much for them.
Like with climbing the Himalayas, very few have the desire or resources to reach such lofty heights. Most expand their comfort and functionality zones to intensities that they value (covered in the next article of the series). However, they recognize that those of us with more expansive ranges are the experts to listen to. If you want to expand your range to one where you live more fully, you should take advice from someone who knows how to get there and ignore those who say it is not possible.
What are your comfort zone intensities for depression and mania? What would need to change for you to be comfortable at the next ten percent intensity? Who do you know that understands how? Do the people advising you know how?
The next articles in the series will cover how we Value bipolar experiences and the effect of time on them. In the mean time, please share your questions and insights in the comments or contact me through our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bipolaradvantage if you prefer. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series about Awareness, Understanding, and Functionality too.