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The Surprising Link Between Reality TV and My Bipolar Disorder

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We all have guilty pleasures. Whether it’s caffeine, chocolate or shopping, we like to treat ourselves to every once in a while. And we deserve it. We need to have something to balance out those pesky tasks like paying bills and cleaning the house. One of my personal favorites is watching reality television. Now, before you stop reading because you’ve lost faith in me, please continue. Yes, I do partake in trash TV, but I also have a point to make here.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

A recent indulgence of mine was the “Below Deck” series found on one of those numerous cable channels out there.  I found living vicariously through the crews and guests of multimillion-dollar yachts fascinating. I loved seeing the beautiful scenery — I mean who wouldn’t want to enjoy visualizing aqua blue oceans and beautiful, sandy beaches? We’re talking the Amalfi coast in Italy, Greek islands and the British Virgin Islands. All breathtaking, right?  But yes, I definitely got pulled in by the drama, especially by the crews of these charters.

These crewmates were all young and good-looking, and in nearly every episode, they ended up quarreling about one thing or another. Then there were the inevitable crew hookups. From the initial attractions to the unavoidable fallouts, which involved jealousy, emotional outbursts and exposing the shocking truths to the remainder of the crew, I took it all in — every, single morsel. I binge-watched six or seven seasons of this delicious recipe of drama, relishing every moment. I savored each episode and couldn’t wait for the next.

Then, the unimaginable happened. I started researching the shows — I read recaps, news of the crew and reviews of these “reality” programs. Well, in doing so, I found that while there is some truth to the “Below Deck” series, most of the content is completely made-up. Fake. Untrue. Scripted by producers. The only real aspect was the boat itself. But, even these were altered in a sense since all the yacht names were changed to protect the names of the innocent.

Once I started thinking about all of this, I noticed something. These reality shows parallel many aspects of bipolar disorder. I know it sounds like a stretch, but when I broke it all down, I realized just like “Below Deck,” I have a tendency to take my bipolar disorder at face value.

I believe I am really, truly happy when the hypomania steps in. Even though I am on top of the world, while others are carrying on with their mundane lives, I am certain the euphoric feelings are real. And when I am in the depths of depression, I believe I am worthless and a total failure. I have no value, nothing to offer the world. No one could ever care about me — why would they?

Actually, most of us with bipolar disorder are told lies all the time. We have to be so self-aware of our surroundings. We search for the truths, hidden in the mask of lies our bipolar brain feeds us.

And this process is quite counterintuitive. I mean, why pull back? Why take the needed measures to ensure stability, like getting adequate sleep, eating nutritiously and stopping impulsive behavior? I am enjoying life for a change, and I certainly deserve this reprieve after all those dark days of depression. Right?

Well, the kicker is, to remain healthy and stable, we must stay on track and do what needs to be done during these mood swings. We have to minimize the peaks, or the valleys will take us to that awful place none of us want to be.  I have to keep reminding myself the higher I go, the lower I will fall.  And that “reality” is a tough one to get my head around.

The good news is as time goes on, we grow stronger and wiser with each bipolar episode. We become better suited to handle the ups and downs. We find more bits and pieces of armor to prepare us for the next battle.

So, after discovering the “unreality” of reality television, I reinforced something of great importance. Just like the scripted shows I watch, I don’t have to believe everything I hear, even though on the surface it appears to be true. Although my bipolar brain lies to me from time to time, I am learning how to dissect incoming information, thus navigating the disorder better. And that in itself is a reality I can live with.

Getty image by -zlaki-

Originally published: October 31, 2019
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