Half Full or Half Empty?

Is your glass half full or half empty? My psychiatrist often uses this phrase to me when we are talking about how my moods are going

I keep telling him that I come from a long line of Yorkshire men from the Northeast of England, and to us the glass is always half empty. People from London in the South describe us as pessimists, but of course, we feel that we are just realists and if you expect the worst all the time, you are always pleasantly surprised when things work out okay.

When I take my Dad to his doctor for his regular checks, the doctor always has a chuckle and asks him why does he wear both a belt on his trousers and suspenders at the same time. My Dads’ answer is that you can never be sure that either the suspenders will slip off the pants or the belt will break and so he likes to make sure.

With that sort of background in my family history – you can tell I was doomed from the start can’t you?

But I think that there is another meaning that this phrase can have when us bipolar sufferers.

When you are on a high the glass is always full isn’t it. Life is wonderful, full of energy and things to do. New ideas and projects to start because we just can’t waste the time or our cleverness. There seems to be clarity to everything around our senses, our feelings, our abilities, and us.

On the other hand when we are on a low, the glass is always completely empty and will never be full again. Life is empty, dismal and full of failure – past, current and future. Things will never get better. Our ability to do anything beyond the minimum seems to be completely gone.

Then, after we finally get diagnosed and find a treatment regime that works with us, the middle ground is found more often than the extremes. But something happened to me a few days ago that helped me realise that there really is a different meaning to “Half full or Half” empty for me.

March has been a very up and down month for me for reasons found in my last article – ‘When the Stigma hurts’ and my moods and lability have been a lot more volatile than for quite a while.

A few nights ago I had one of the worst nightmares that I have had for a long time. It followed the regular pattern of loss of wife and family that many of my dreams do when my moods are out of kilter. But the intensity of the emotions I felt during the dream was the worst I can remember in a long, long time. I finally got out of bed exhausted and in a kind of a daze.

For the next couple of days I found that when I went to make out my daily mood chart – I really had difficulty in deciding my mood. It was as though I was in limbo – not depressed, not high, but not in what I could describe as a ‘normal’ mood either. When I am down, even a bit, I know and when I am on a high my family knows, even if I don’t.

This was different.

I seemed to be caught between the two states and not knowing which way I was going to go next. There wasn’t the gray of the depression or the light of the highs, just a foggy, cotton wool feeling of being apart from things. That’s when I realised that there is a different state sometimes, and that I had had it before and not realised until then. And the glass was neither full or empty for me – just waiting for me to decide.

If you have ever felt this way – I would love to know – or is it me just being me, a little out of step with everyone else.


Graham Brown

5 April 2003

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