Critical Thinking: Learning to See Criticism As Suggestions for Change

Gracefully accepting criticism is difficult for anyone, let alone when you are battling bipolar disorder.

Having written this bp Magazine column for more than a decade, I’ve received lots of feedback. While I’m touched by the positive comments, I’m also grateful for the criticisms. After speaking at a mental healthconference a while back, I was especially taken by a particular critique: The only thing more rotten than the bananas at the break was Stephen’s presentation. (I’ll admit that those bananas were disgusting!)

I regret not having had a chance to speak with that individual. I would have liked to know what led him or her to make that statement. There’s no doubt I could have learned something valuable.

I’ve come to see criticisms as suggestions for changing my thinking and improving my message. Here are some remarks from readers, coupled with my thoughts:

Criticism #1: Don’t make it seem so easy.

Those of us living with bipolar know how challenging the condition can be. I’m not suggesting that tackling the techniques I discuss is simple. There are many times when I set aside ideas I hear or read about—but I’ve learned not to dismiss them altogether. Instead, I wait for a day when I wake up with a clearer head, some extra energy, and more motivation. Then, maybe I can reconsider a concept that once seemed impossible. I “take the best and leave the rest” … at least for the time being.

Criticism #2: We are the ones who are expected to make changes.

It seems unfair and unreasonable to put the burden of getting better on the person who is directly dealing with a difficult diagnosis. There have been countless times when my only goal was survival. Eventually, I realized that if recovery was to be, it was up to me—with help: Any success I’ve had has been largely due to support from family, friends, peers, and professionals … and lots of prayer!

Criticism #3: The information is great, but it’s not realistic for those whose illness is chronic and debilitating.

Indeed, battling bipolar means confronting a complex condition for which there is currently no cure. My deepest depression lasted nine months, and once I survived nine months of major mania. To this day, during times of trouble even I am inclined to ignore the concepts I write about! The principles I share are not panaceas; rather, they are potential tools for managing your mood, and they are meant to be taken advantage of if and when you choose.

Criticism #4: This only makes those of us who are struggling feel that we are not trying hard enough.

In my column, I merely attempt to offer help and hope. Everybody is at a different place, and everyone pursues wellness at a different pace. The very fact that you are reading this indicates that you are at least making an effort. You can only do what you’re currently capable of doing. Give yourself credit for trying today; you can always make another attempt tomorrow.

Criticism #5: I know more about bp than you do.

I don’t doubt that. I’ve lived with bipolar for 30 years, facilitated support groups and spoken at conferences for over 15, and written professionally on the subject for more than 10. Yet I am well aware of how little I know. I’m still a work in progress, with a great deal left to learn, and I benefit greatly from what others—including my critics—have to share.

Here’s what I do know: Living with bipolar can be incredibly overwhelming. It can seem like no one understands. Suggested solutions don’t always work. There are many people who’ve faced circumstances that are considerably more challenging than mine.

But I also know what my motivation is for writing for bp Magazine: to offer ideas that might help people at some point in their lives.

Printed as “Mind Over Mood: Critical Thinking”, Winter 2016

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