Exploring the Relationship Between Introversion and Bipolar Disorder
What’s the relationship between bipolar disorder and introversion? My friend and I were discussing this topic. She had noted my aversion to going out and being around people and thought it might be because I was an introvert, instead of my bipolar depression.
She also noted the spoon theory sounded a lot like introversion as well — that people who ran low on spoons wouldn’t have enough left to go out and have coffee with a friend, for instance.
She and I still have lots to discuss on the subject, and she is lending me a book on introversion to see if I agree with her after reading it. I await the arrival of the book, but here are some thoughts I have on the subject. I write them here just to collect my thoughts.
First, to point out the obvious, introversion is a character trait and bipolar disorder is a mental illness. Character traits do not generally require (or respond to) medication. Bipolar can and often does. Introversion, like many mental disorders, may respond to therapy, such as group therapy — unless, of course, the person is too introverted to attend group sessions.
Bipolar depression — or any kind of depression, really — can manifest as an unwillingness to be around other people. The feelings of hopelessness, failure and unworthiness can make it painful to be in the presence of people, especially ones who don’t know about the disorder or that you have it.
But depression isn’t all there is to bipolar disorder.
There’s also mania (or hypomania). Mania can produce the opposite effect, driving the person to desire and enjoy the company of other people, even to the extent of being “the life of the party.” Hypersexuality may come into it, too, which almost certainly requires another person, or even people. Hypomania can produce, if not a full burst of energy, at least a lift that can make being around other people less painful.
I have bipolar disorder, which probably began when I was a child or a teen, though I wasn’t diagnosed until much later. I remember walking through the halls of my school between classes, reading a book the whole way. (Hence the picture, which isn’t me but could have been.) Was I shy? Was I introverted? Was I avoiding attracting the attention of the school bullies, on the theory I’m invisible when I’m reading? Was I fascinated by the book I was reading and unwilling to put it down?
There’s an argument to be made reading was my form of escapism and school hallways, notoriously “peopley,” were a thing I wanted to escape from. But there’s also an argument to be made I was affected by bipolar depression. I certainly felt I didn’t fit in, that I was different somehow. Maybe that difference was my disorder. I did have friends, though, and I remember laughing wildly with them at jokes in the cafeteria, which was also “peopley.”
As for the spoon theory, I can see what my friend was getting at. Spoon theory generally applies to people who have chronic illnesses, and I maintain mental illnesses fall into that category. My friend said she thought perhaps introverts start their days low on spoons and run out of them early in the day, making socializing virtually unachievable.
My take on it is, as introversion is not a chronic illness or mental disorder, an introvert will likely start the day with the same amount of spoons as non-spoonies — if I’m right, an introvert will start the day with 10 or 12 spoons, while the chronically ill may start with only five and have to choose very carefully how to use them. Plus, getting dressed for work might take one spoon for the healthy or neurotypical, while spoonies often spend one whole spoon just taking a shower, let alone choosing clothing, dressing and getting out the front door.
Does an introvert experience the exhaustion, depletion of energy and feeling of being totally flattened a chronically ill or mentally ill spoonie does when the spoons run low or out? Or do they choose to use their remaining spoons in ways other than socializing, such as caring for a pet, pursuing a craft, reading or shopping online? These are things that, when spoonies crash, are often unable to do, just as much as they’re unable to go out to dinner with friends. Hell, a lot of the time they don’t have the spoons left to make or even eat dinner. Collapse into a chair or a bed is the most likely choice of activity.
Granted, I haven’t read the book on introversion yet. And I’m not a teacher of psychology like my friend. But I still think my bipolar disorder is likely the cause of my not wanting to go out among people, rather than introversion. And I absolutely don’t believe introversion caused my bipolar disorder. I’m of the school that blames that on neurotransmitters being out of whack.
But maybe my friend has a point. I’ll read the book, and we can toss ideas around, maybe via email or phone, if I can’t go out where it’s “peopley.”
Getty image by Lazy_Bear