Racing Thoughts - When Your Mind Won't Quit

Patient Expert

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I just stared at my psychiatrist. I was depressed. I'd been depressed most of the time for as long as I could remember. I took some convincing.

One of the things that helped me accept that diagnosis was that for decades I'd had a condition I called "racy brain" that turned out to fit the definition of racing thoughts. Sometimes fast-moving thoughts would be so "loud" that I couldn't sleep. Often thoughts would overlap with each other and with music.

I felt trapped. I couldn't escape the loud, fast babbling, the phrases of music that repeated over and over and over. Often a slow thread of thought would slide through. And through it all I'd be consciously thinking - "stop, stop, STOP"

It wouldn't stop.

Sometimes there would be patterns of pressure in my mind. This recognized form of racing thoughts is difficult to describe, but I'll make a stab at illustrating what it's been like for me.

Imagine your mind as a sphere of energy inside your skull. Now imagine a point inside that sphere being pressed for a split second, then another and another. The pressed points come to form a pattern of actual physical sensations moving very, very fast - the whole pattern of 15 points or so might repeat within a single second. Sometimes the pattern expanded so that I felt points in my body "pressed" as well.

Racing thoughts are one of the possible symptoms of mania or hypomania, but not of depression. What I was having were mixed episodes - depression with some symptoms of hypomania. At the time, the presence of mixed episodes automatically mandated a diagnosis of Bipolar I disorder, but over the years, psychiatrists have come to recognize that people with Bipolar II (my diagnosis today) can also have mixed episodes.

The phrase "racing thoughts" doesn't sound like a big problem to people who've never experienced them. Those of us who have know that the state can be massively uncomfortable, make it impossible to focus, keep you awake in spite of extreme tiredness. My racing thoughts sometimes made me pound the heels of my hands on my head or cry out for them to stop, to go away.

Have you had racing thoughts? Comment and tell us about it.