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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How an Eye Exam Can Lead to Better Bipolar Assessments

One of the many traits of being bipolar is the ability to see the world in a different way. Many might say it is a curse, but it can also be a gift when looked at from a positive perspective. This change in perspective can literally help you to see with greater clarity.

From early childhood, we have been taking tests to assess our understanding of the world. These tests have had a profound impact on us in ways that we are often unaware. They have created a world view that places too much importance on passing the test and not enough on learning more about ourselves. In some ways, the tests themselves have gotten in the way of what the goal was in the first place.

I have been wearing glasses for almost thirty years. Every year or so I take a new exam to make sure my prescription is still the same. The test seems simple enough: the clinician shows me letters at different sizes and asks me to identify what letters I see. Anyone who has a driver’s license has taken a similar test, as has anyone who wears glasses or contact lenses.

A few years ago I discovered a major breakthrough that has completely changed my life. It has brought my life into focus in many ways. I share it with you in hope that it will help you to see better too.

We are not supposed to pass the test.

I know this goes against a lifetime of training. At least in the US, our entire culture says the opposite. Our education system has been so corrupted by it that we focus completely on tests instead of learning how to think. We have been so programmed to believe in passing that it has become a subconscious need. It spills over into so much of life that we don’t even see the adverse effect it has on our very ability to see.

During an eye exam, the clinician asks us what letter we see and, without noticing, we guess the answer. We are subconsciously focusing on passing the test. We think we are helping to identify the best lens so that we can see better, but instead are sabotaging the exam in subtle ways. We end up with an assessment that is relatively accurate, but miss the subtle difference between the one that would literally help us to see more clearly and the one that is just a little better than our old prescription.

The next time you take an eye exam, try it my way. Focus on failing the test instead of passing it. Each time the clinician asks what letter you see, say it is not clear enough. When it gets better, say “that one is better, but still not good enough. Is there a better one we can try?” Don’t focus on passing the test of getting the correct answer; focus on getting the best prescription you possibly can. You will be amazed how much better you see when you get your new glasses.

What does this have to do with bipolar? I have asked thousands of bipolar people if they lie to their doctors and therapists; most say that they either lie outright or leave important information out. We call it “presenting well.” We are subconsciously (or consciously) trying to pass the test. We have been trained to seek the approval of the tester so much that we present the answers that we think are going to pass instead of what is true for us. We present a different person than who we really are. Instead of a clear assessment, we end up treating an imaginary person in ways that may be detrimental to our real needs.

Think about the eye exam the next time you are with your doctor or therapist. Remember it is in subtle ways that we try to pass the exam. When explaining how you handled a particular stress or other event, try to say “that way is better, but still not good enough. Is there a better way we can try?” Instead of focusing on how you passed the test, use the time to find a better solution for the next time you face similar circumstances.

The great thing about the eye exam is that the results are immediate. If you get new glasses during your exam visit, you will notice the difference as soon as you put them on. It takes much longer with bipolar, but the results can be even more dramatic; you can learn to see bipolar in a whole new way.

Posted by: Tom Wootton at 10:43 am

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