Glass Half Full Analogy for Depression and Bipolar

The proverbial “glass half empty or half full” can trigger a negative reaction as you start to enter discussions in the mental health space. It’s definitely not just about seeing the glass half full, being optimistic, and “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” and all of a sudden your debilitating mental illness is cured. Depression is not your fault. You’re not consciously choosing to see the glass half empty.
I’d like to reframe the glass half full as an analogy to describe bipolar and depression. This analogy could be helpful both for someone who’s never experienced the symptoms. It’s also helpful for those of us dealing with mental health issues to better understand and be aware of what’s happening in our brains that can sometimes alter the reality of what we see and experience versus what others see.
A “normal” person looks at a glass with water filling it to the midpoint and then can choose to describe that reality in an optimistic or pessimistic view, as half full or half empty. They still see the water at the midpoint. Life isn’t perfect. There will always be both challenges and joys in day to day life. But when we’re feeling “normal” or stable we can choose to see that half full glass (and life) in a more positive or a more negative light.
Mental illness alters how our brains process reality. It is a real physical illness affecting the complex organ of our brain just as heart disease, diabetes and cancer are real, debilitating illnesses. Researchers are still working on the science behind mental illness, the causes and potential treatments, but the unknowns due to the complexity of our brains does not make the dysfunction of our brain any less real. In our depressed, hypomanic or full blown manic states, the cliched glass half empty or half full question seems absurd. Let me try to explain what our brain may see when we’re battling each type of episode.
In a deep depression we look at the glass and say, “What the HECK are you talking about? There’s absolutely NO water in that glass!!” We can’t answer the half empty half full question properly because our reality is distorted and we see no water in the glass. We can even take it a step further to analogize the utmost depression, when suicidal thoughts may be creeping in. Not only can we not see the water in the glass, the glass may be shattered to bits on the floor with pieces lost and the overwhelming feeling that the glass (and our life) is hopelessly, irreparably broken. With the dysfunction in our brains we’re unable to see the reality of half a glass of water that everyone else is seeing. In a deep depression we’re unable to see, process and feel the love from friends and family who care about us and we can’t see the value we bring to the world. We feel lonely, worthless, broken, lost, hurt and we just want the pain and suffering to stop. We feel misunderstood because everyone else is seeing a different reality than we’re experiencing.
In a hypomanic state we experience reality as a full glass and there’s no need to consciously choose happiness and optimism because we’re perceiving reality as a full glass or even an overflowing glass!!! And yet, in reality, the glass is still half full. As we’re interacting with others they may start to notice that our perception of reality is “off.” If we say yes to every activity or buy everything in sight, or start sleeping less to start endless projects with countless ideas in our heads it’s going to catch up to us. Life is a half full glass. Our energy is not endless and we all have our limits.
In a full blown euphoric mania, when asked if the glass is half empty or half full we may respond, “What!??! That glass is freking overflowing with water! I don’t know how but it’s pretty incredible and we may be experiencing a miracle right here and now. Can you believe it?? The water is spontaneously generating from that glass and it’s life giving water that will save us all! Call the President or the Pope! WOW! We have to use this to save the world!” The reality is again distorted to only be able to see extreme positivity and energy. Our brains are overflowing and racing with thousands of ideas that may start to overlap and clash. We can’t see that in front of us it’s a simple half full glass.
If we’re experiencing a dysphoric mania we may start to believe that the water is evil and attacking us or we may experience extreme anger and irritability that may seem like an irrational reaction just from looking at a simple glass of water.
The important thing to remember, for those of us suffering with bipolar or depression and for caregivers, is that the reality is a glass with water to the midpoint. The illness is distorting our thoughts and we need to fight for reality and learn to be aware of the distortions! If your glass is empty, visualize the glass and remember the small things you are grateful for and add those drops of hope to the glass. You may not see half a glass of water yet, but you can at least start to see some water and work towards a reality where we do see the half full glass. If your glass appears broken, describe those feelings to a loved one, a therapist or doctor or a suicide hotline and ask for help putting the pieces back together. If it’s overflowing remember that there will be hard times in life as well and you need to find a balance and plenty of sleep to keep stable and happy. This wrap up is an oversimplification of ways to start adjusting our mindset back to reality. Taming the Bipolar Beast is much more complex! Check out our blog post on Tools and Strategies to Tame the Bipolar Beast for more info.

Categories Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close