Ever had a a “flight of ideas” – thoughts that just won’t stop, and overwhelm you?
Yeah, those are racing thoughts. I have them from my Bipolar Disorder. Often, during a manic episode.
Racing thoughts are a very serious issue for me. They’re not constant in severity, thankfully, but at times they become so distracting and drain so much of my energy that I just don’t want to think about anything specific, try to listen to people, talk, or do anything — all I want is for them to go away.
What are racing thoughts?
For me, racing thoughts are basically this. Let me give you some scenarios:
- I have one person talking to me that I’m supposed to focus on.
- I’m listening to music, watching something on TV and trying to follow along.
- I’m trying to think of one subject (e.g. a math question) and figure it out (e.g. a solution) in my mind.
Regardless of the scenario chosen, the following can happen with racing thoughts:
- While I’m attempting to focus (on 1-3, or any other scenario), my mind is distracted by unrelated thoughts of my own, occasionally music, and sometimes even other peoples voices which could be people I have heard in the past (repeating what they said, in my mind) or voices saying random things that I haven’t heard before. The latter is usually rare, but it has happened.
As an example…
I’m not sure how well I can explain this. But let’s say we choose scenario #1 (I’m trying to focus on one person talking);
While experiencing racing thoughts, rather than being able to focus completely on that person’s words no matter how hard I try, staring directly at them / even watching their mouths move to help me understand, my mind starts to think of multiple other things at the same time. I might hear music in the background that’s not really there, I might recall someone saying something completely unrelated to me from earlier in the day or week, or I might hear myself thinking negative things such as “you’re stupid”, “make sure you feed your fish”, “the weather sucks today, you need an air conditioner .. but you don’t have enough money to buy one. ugh, this is depressing, I need more money, I need a car too, I’m so miserable.. oh, look that tree is nice. I wonder what the meaning of life is, and does this person know? what’s she thinking about me? what am I going to do later?” all while listening and trying to pick up on that person telling me a story about .. getting a college scholarship with a whole background story about her plans. I wanted to be interested in it and be able to reply, but often my reply will be delayed/slow, short and seemingly apathetic (e.g. oh.. <pause> that is great. – or a simple nod / OK) – and this is solely because of the fact that I have to filter out all of these other thoughts that I can’t stop.
Worse yet, that isn’t the only problem.
When I am thinking of a reply, I have to filter out these extra/side thoughts, sounds and feelings, which takes energy and effort. If I were to say exactly what I was thinking as I reply instantly while having racing thoughts, it would come out all jumbled and make no sense! For example, I might say something like “ooh yeah that is meaning depressing of money for miserable car, fuck it and this music is crazy, do you know the scholarship meaning to life too?” … see how disorganized and random that seems? I obviously don’t want to talk like that and sound like a lunatic, so instead I do put the energy in to filter out all the other things I’m thinking about at the same time that are unrelated. It’s very frustrating, but after over 15 years of practice, I’ve gotten decently good at it and slightly faster with my replies. My main problem with it now, is that my replies are still short, a bit delayed, and I cannot put as much into a conversation as I actually want to. Sometimes it makes me feel sad, because I might really want to have a normal, fun, two way conversation with somebody but I have to struggle just to put up a mediocre conversation, and to the other person I just seem uninterested and boring. They don’t understand what I’m going through, or the effort I am putting in attempt to satisfy them and myself.
And it’s more difficult when I’m manic…
When I am manic, I have an even more difficult time slowing myself down enough to process my thoughts before they come out of my mouth. This can often lead to fast speech which at times makes hardly any sense. I seem to let out what’s on my mind without much regret, too. Sometimes they are just silly and random things, which people who know me may just laugh at, but others may react like “huh..? okay”, and maybe even get genuinely concerned or scared. I obviously like to avoid that.
How I feel it affects another person’s perspective of me
Basically, depending on how severe the racing thoughts are, I feel it can change someone’s perspective on me in two ways.
- If I’m in a depressed, neutral or ‘mixed’ state, I am decent at controlling my speech most of the time. But I believe that I react slowly to things even if I should readily know the answer, and I don’t often get out everything that I want on the subject. So therefore I think that it makes me look slow and/or stupid at times, even if I’m really not and just struggling with this.
- If I’m in a (hypo)manic state, I’m not as good at controlling my speech and some of the unrelated thoughts leak out into the conversation. Therefore I probably appear a bit crazy, as if I’ve taken some kind of drug, or am just hyper and silly. But I’m still just struggling, battling against my mind, as always.
How it affects me
I have a very hard time concentrating/focusing on any one thing at a time. This makes it difficult to do things I want to do, such as:
- Reading a book. I can’t get into that state of mind (while having racing thoughts) where I’d be able to visualize anything mentally and keep track of what’s going on. I would mix up my thoughts into the book, or end up skimming over lines and forgetting what I just read because the racing thoughts are so distracting.
- Watching TV or movies and actually following them, for the same reason as above. I often can’t remember details of any movie, just vague info and important parts. Almost never the actors names etc. I’m terrible at trivia!
- Problems that are solved mentally (math, measurements etc.), even though I have a good understanding of them. The longer the problem is, the more difficult it is for me to try to remember what I just figured out and move to the next step in my mind. Again, this is simply because I am so distracted by the OTHER thoughts, that it’s hard to pinpoint and stay on what I actually am trying to think about.
- Sometimes during conversation, I will completely miss what somebody said to me even if I’m listening and I’ll just pause and ask “what?” (maybe even multiple times, to give myself more time to filter out my other thoughts that I can’t stop)
This is an inclusive list, but I hope you have a general understanding of what it is like for me.
I came across a video on YouTube that another Bipolar sufferer posted in their attempt to give an example of racing thoughts that they experience. I thought it may be useful to share this myself. Although it may not be exactly how mine are, it is very similar to how it can be when they are at their worst.
Make sure you read all the text in the video, and have headphones on to listen at ~44 seconds into the video.
Watch on Youtube: Racing Thoughts by Sharing My Bipolar Life
Another example. The volume is very low!
More Reading? What Are Racing Thoughts? | by About.com Health