View Full Version : Racing thoughts & bipolar disorder

12-04-2010, 02:50 AM
A character from my YA WIP suffers from the complications of bipolar disorder, and I'm looking for information or descriptions of "racing thoughts." I've tried doing some basic Wikipedia research, but the description there is pretty general. So, some basic questions:

Are the thoughts always pleasant? Always unpleasant? Are they associated with one mood or stage, or do they depend on other factors?

I understand that this probably varies from person to person, but are there consistent triggers that will produce this feeling?

How long does a typical episode of racing thoughts last?

Any other input or experiences you have to share are always appreciated. I feel I have a pretty strong understanding of bipolar disorder, but this is one of the few things that has eluded me. I'm striving to be as realistic with my portrayal as I can possibly be.

Edit: I should mention that if you do not feel like talking about bi-polar publicly, feel free to PM me.

12-04-2010, 04:15 AM
I'm not bipolar, but you might look up "flight of thought" for some examples. I have had (a hell of a time with) ruminating thoughts, as a depressive when not on meds. Those can happen in bipolar, too. I'll tell you how those went for me if that's also a topic you're interested in.

Flight of thought I've never had like bipolars do. I've seen it. It looks kind of like hyper with a dash of grandeur or delusion, in layman's terms, and in that person ;) :)

12-04-2010, 04:21 AM
I'd be all ears on ruminating thoughts and your experience with them. I'll also check out flight of thought. Thanks! I've definitely seen the external behavior of someone having such thoughts, but no clear picture of what the internals of their mind is like.

12-04-2010, 04:33 AM
The ruminating thoughts aren't external-feeling (like in schizophrenia); they are that voice in your head that's you, but man did they go farther than I liked. So a typical person might think, 'I was supposed to mail that letter today'. I'd think that, and then I'd think:

Damn, I can't believe I forgot. What a fuckup. (Still normal).
I'm always such a fuckup. Fuckup (repeat x 10-12, 20? No kidding.)
I also forgot x, y, z, - can go on as many times as your mind can think of examples, back years, back to childhood!
I'll never do anything right. Etc, etc. Useless thoughts, really.

The problem was, it was uncontrollable. I wasn't doing it! I wanted to not think those things. They came up on their own and were nearly impossible to turn off.

For me, antidepressants turned them off like a light switch :) There were other issues worthy of therapy, but honestly, those thoughts always felt like a broken record and I believe they were: misfiring synapses.

I still worry about things and criticize myself as much as a normal person, but now I'm not bogged down by 20 million depressing thoughts I'm not even really thinking! Seriously, it was about so many everyday things, all day. It was really hard to take.

12-04-2010, 05:14 AM
I can imagine. Thanks for sharing, and I'm glad it's better now!

12-04-2010, 05:16 AM
I'd be all ears on ruminating thoughts and your experience with them.

In addition to what backslashbaby said, the voice in my head (I call it the insufferable know-it-all) likes to explain things at great length. To continue the mailing the letter thought, I'd go through everything I know about the post office several times, always circling back to forgetting to mail that letter and how stupid I was to forget.

The know-it-all also keeps me awake at night explaining things at great length.

Some part of the know-it-all always keeps a snippet of a song circling, too. Usually something that I only heard part of, so I try to control how much of a song I hear. I go to bed with the snippet running and (usually) wake up with a different one.

Music distracts it. So does knitting. But I don't want it to entirely go away... because it knows everything. ;)

12-04-2010, 05:18 AM
Imagine this in your head until you're so exhausted you drop wherever you stand:

Gotta make a cuppa. Need caffeine. Fuck, no milk. Where'd I put the milk. Milk milk milk. Okay, in the fridge- look, something shiny! Dropped a coin. Funny. Ha ha ha coin on the floor. Wait, what was I doing? Telly. Watch something on telly. Sit down. No, can't sit down. Can't. Was doing something. Can't remember. Read a book. Book book book. Can't decide what book to read. God. I can't stop. I need something to do. Oh, look - something shiny. Where was I? I was about to do something. I know. Move furniture. Rearrange the furniture. Make the room look pretty. God I need something to drink. No, have to move the furniture. Spider! Fuck, so many spiders. They're all out to get me.

On and on and on, like a running commentary of sheer nonsense half the time. Not necessarily good or bad, but it's like a voice that's you and not you, urging you on to do things faster than you can cope with.

Rufus Coppertop
12-04-2010, 05:56 AM
I'll also check out flight of thought. .

Google "flight of ideas" and check out the wikipedia page. It has a lot of examples of the different types of thought disorder.

Mr Flibble
12-04-2010, 05:57 PM
Are the thoughts always pleasant? Always unpleasant? Are they associated with one mood or stage, or do they depend on other factors?

No always one or the other. For instance if I've got a new shiny WIP the thoughts/ideas etc come so fast I don't have time to write it all down. It feels...kinda like a very mild electrical pulse going through me. It's quite nice lol. Exhilarating. Heart races in that OMG EXCITEMENT!!! way. These tend to be manics. The thoughts don't always appear connected to outsiders (you should try reading my notes! lol) but absolutely are connected to me. At the time anyway.

However if I'm on a downer....not so nice. Dragging feeling in the pit of the stomach as I remember being a dick...or random fears. Especially so since I had the kids. Sometimes the voice shouts at me and I can't get it to shut up. Sometimes the voice is me older or younger. Sometimes the voice is not me at all. Sometimes I shout back. Heart races in that OMG NOOOES THE WORLD IS ENDING!!! way.

I should probably live in my own head less tbh. But mostly I like it in there.

12-04-2010, 11:10 PM
Fulk - everybody here has given you great ideas. Just a bit to add is that one thought leads to another leads to another and so on. Until the person forgets where they started. Sometimes, the person would have to back track to get to the first thought that started the whole mess. lol Positive or negative it depends on the person's mood at the time. These are racing thoughts.
Ruminating thoughts are those that a person dwells on continuously. The idea does not change at all. The person's focus is only on this idea no matter what.
Someone who is bipolar with racing thoughts would have sad/self-abuse/self-loathing/paranoid thoughts during a down period and happy/inspiring/gradiose/etc. when they are in a manic (up) state.
Hope this helps and if you have any more questions, pm me. :)

12-05-2010, 12:43 AM
I have one friend who is full-blown bipolar and my husband has bipolar depression. The friend (female) is very obvious in her manic/depressive cycle, even on her meds. The best description I have for her when she's on the manic side of the cycle is a hummingbird. Her hands are constantly moving and she goes back and forth, cleaning counters, rearranging stuff, writing lists, all while talking in a constant stream so fast you can barely keep track of what she's saying. Think bubbly fourteen-year-old girl on fast-forward. In general, there wasn't anything particularly negative or positive in what she would say or do, it was just *everything*, really, really fast.

My husband doesn't cycle that severely but on the manic upswings he's one of those life-of-the-party people. Lots of jokes and puns, a little bit obnoxious but generally in a good way. He doesn't seem to really have the "racing thoughts" but his depressive cycle is way out of proportion with the manic, so he might not get to that point.

Don't know if that helps, since I have an outsider's perspective, but for whatever it's worth...


Plot Device
12-05-2010, 03:23 AM
I shall call this this "Mental Tequilla Shots" story.

I had a professor in college who was a bachelor in his thirties, lived alone in an on-campus apartment, and he had no problem allowing students to call him at home with questions. Now I do not know if he was bi-polar, but there was this one odd time when I called him at home about the research paper he had assigned the class. When he answered, I could hear in the background that he had the TV turned up VERY loudly. And in the midst of that outrageous din I also discerned that he simultaneously had the radio also turned up just as loudly. Now, I had been to his apartment in the past with other students for study groups, and I knew it was a damned small place. So those two broadcasts were surely echoing off the walls and there was no way (I assumed) that a normal person could possible listen to both broadcasts coherently, and certainly not such decibles comfortably. He anwered, I said hi and identified myself, and then he said "Wait a minute please," and put the phone down. Then I heard the TV get turned off first, and then a moment later the radio also was silenced. He came back to the phone, and I was of course astonished, so and asked point blank why on earth he had them both going at once. He was never one to dodge a question, even a personal question. But for the first time in my acquaintanceship with him, he did exactly that. That was the only time I had ever observed that odd behaviour in him. I guess I had called at the exact right moment, and he somehow forgot to turn down the radio and TV first before picking up the phone. I can't swear he ever did that on a a regular basis. But I kinda wonder if he did in fact make a habit of it.

A few years later, I myself was having a terrible time of it. I was depressed and angry and had a whole lot of general bullshit going on in my life. And one day during that really shitty period of my life I was simply unable to concentrate on even getting the damned housework done. I found my mind so overcharged with inner distractions that my ability to concentrated was non-existent. And then I recalled my phone call to that professor from years earlier. So I decided to give it a try. I turned on both the TV set and the radio, cranked them both up super loud, and that was the magic bullet that did it for me. I was able to clean the house and get the bills done and then sack out and relax. I do not know if I am bi-polar. And I am happy to say I have never had another episode of that happen again, so I haven't bothered to check it out. But for the first time I understood why my professor had done that.

I can best compare this to a shot of tequilla. When you do a shot of tequilla as a straight shot, you need to also have a wedge of lime and a snuff boxfull of salt (your snuffbox is the membrane of skin between your thumb and your index finger). You must first toss back the shot, then instantly suck the salt off your snuffbox, then just as instantly grab the wedge of lime and jam it into your teeth. You must do it with as much haste as possible --three seconds is good (one second for each component of the one-to-three ritual). The reason you take your tequilla in this manner is that the taste of straight tequilla (not watered down or mixed with anything else) is so powerful that it completely overwhelms your mouth. So to try and "distract" your tastebuds, you offset the extreme bitterness of the tequilla with the extreme saltiness and sourness of the salt and the lime.

The TV is the salt and the radio is the lime. And together, they distract your otherwise overwhelmed mind from whatever brand of mental tequilla shot that life (or mental illness) is sending at you.

Again I do not know if this was a case of bi-polar disorder for either my professor or myself. But it might be worth considering for your research.

12-05-2010, 03:24 AM
Other outside perspectives are always welcome, so thanks for your input Aerial. I've known at least one person with bipolar, and so I recognize a lot of what you're talking about here.

Google "flight of ideas" and check out the wikipedia page. It has a lot of examples of the different types of thought disorder.

I found this page and immediately bookmarked it. I really liked the brief summaries of the disorders. It makes for a nice general reference. Once again I want to thank everyone for their examples and input, I appreciate it wholeheartedly! I feel like I can paint a genuine representation of my character now.

12-05-2010, 03:31 AM
Plot Device:

Wow, that's really something. I really don't know what that sort of behavior says about one's mental health or whether it's any indicator of a disorder (since it was a one-off for you, I take it you're just fine), but I do like the tequila analogy. I can't recall any time I've had the TV and radio both blaring, but having music blaring when I'm in a funk seems to do something for me (and it appears a lot of others, too). Maybe we only need the lime or had a little bit of juice in the glass.

Sarah Madara
12-05-2010, 03:36 AM
I have a relative who is bipolar. She has all the racing thoughts described here, and she compulsively overspends (like, buying a beach house - and she's not rich), interrupts, talks incessantly, and has even taken things that didn't belong to her without seeing that she had done anything wrong. Most importantly, anyone who tries to tone down this buzz is out to get her. It makes treating a manic episode extremely difficult, because you can't commit adults against their will without evidence of potential harm to themselves or others. Potential bankruptcy doesn't count.

If you haven't already, I'd suggest reading Kay Redfield Jamison's books, esp. An Unquiet Mind. She's a clinical psychologist who suffers from bipolar disorder, and she's also a top-notch writer.

Mr Flibble
12-05-2010, 03:37 AM
having music blaring when I'm in a funk seems to do something for me (and it appears a lot of others, too).

I have learned to be extremely careful what I listen to, depending on my state. One wrong song can tip the balance and then I'm either flying with the fairies or out for the count.

12-05-2010, 04:05 AM
Is it any wonder I loved punk rock as a teenager? Loud music, extremely fun -- usually physical -- outings worked, too. Distract that incessant mind!

My sister is bipolar and swears I must be, too. But the high-energy activity for me was me making great efforts to distract from the ruminating. I never felt actual mania. I could fall asleep, or quiet down, at the drop of a hat. It was just so depressing to do so because of the thoughts in my head. I'd exhaust myself trying to outrun them.