So what is wrong with going to a family restaurant? Nothing. We are not looking at behavior. We are looking at markers - a sign of cycling activity. Thus, if you have bipolar II or something in the bipolar spectrum (loosely described as “soft” bipolar), then your uncharacteristic acceptance of an invitation to get out of the house may be an indication of the “up” phase to your illness. This may be as high as your up ever goes, not even close to mania or hypomania. Nevertheless, you have cycled up, and the up may not last. Pretty soon, you will be back in your usual depression.
But what kind of depression? Your “up” may tell you that your depressions are of the highly recurrent type, which may mean a bipolar approach to your treatment and coping techniques.
Situation Four. This is your classic depression scenario. But before you rush to judgment: Are you depressed or thinking deep? Our society extremely over-values extraversion and sociability. A good many of us prefer staying home, absorbed in our dark thoughts, playing with ideas, connecting to great thinkers, finding beauty in unexpected places. And your mother is expecting you to give that up so you can hear Aunt Maggie yammer on and on about how you need to find a boyfriend or girlfriend? Give me a break.
Situation Five. Positive thinking is a zillion-dollar industry. Virtually all self-help books are rewrites of each other, each with their own gimmicks such as “the secret.” Yes, we can all use help in turning around our negative thinking, our destructive ruminating, and all the rest. But let us not devalue the power of depressive realism. Depression is when the rose-colored glasses come off. If we pay attention, we listen to the signals, we acknowledge reality - then we change our behavior and our lives improve.
When personal disaster strikes, depression may be considered the “normal” response. The positive thinker, by contrast, may be stuck in denial, possibly manic, unable to make the necessary course corrections, headed toward disaster.
By now you get the picture: We are too quick to judge ourselves according to rules established by people who have no business telling us how to run our lives. Likewise, we need to be mindful of when we stray from our usual behavior, even when it appears “normal” to these very same people. The key is “uncharacteristic,” a much-overlooked DSM term that is right on the money.
In short, symptom checklists are only the start. This is why to “know thyself” is so vital.
Much more to come ...