Racing thoughts are perhaps the most common symptom I get with my bipolar. I have racing thoughts when I am manic, when I am mixed and sometimes even when I am depressed.
Experiencing racing thoughts doesn’t sound like a very serious problem. The common misconception is that it is just a case of your thought processes being ‘sped up’ which is surely not a bad thing. However, this is too simplistic in several ways.
First of all the thoughts are sped up to such a degree that you can’t keep up anymore. Every time you have a new thought it quickly gets replaced by another and then another and so on. You forget then where you were to begin with. You may forget which thoughts were the important ones that need further rumination or action. For example you may think ‘I need to book that appointment soon’. Straight after this thought (or even at the same time) you may quickly switch to another. Like ‘I wonder what I will wear later?’ followed by something like ‘I wonder who invented the skirt?’ and ‘during what historical period have men worn skirts?'. In a few seconds you have had so many thoughts that you can’t remember the important one about booking the appointment.
When thoughts race this quickly I usually spend hours on the internet. I suddenly want to look up all the answers to the questions that keep popping in my mind. However, I usually get distracted before I can find the answer as my thoughts have moved on. This leads on to the second way in which the idea of thoughts just being sped up is too simplistic. The thoughts often don’t occur naturally like they usually do in a good logical order, but they sort of tumble out in rapid, chaotic sequence. You end up feeling lost because you can’t remember where you began and can’t stop you brain from ploughing onwards. There is never a break from this rapid, disjointed thinking and you feel exhausted.
A final point I want to make about racing thoughts is that sometimes your thoughts can become so fast and disjointed that you don’t even recognise that you are having thoughts anymore. At least this is what can happen to me. Your brain ends up just collapsing in on itself and you can feel this constant imperceptible buzz. You have no idea what your thoughts are any longer but you can feel your mind is jumping around. It is extremely unpleasant and you find that you have become so distracted you can’t do anything. It feels like all the radio channels are on at the same time and have merged together to create this static, indistinct buzzing.
When racing thoughts get to this point I usually end up either rocking backwards and forwards, wailing or even screaming. I can’t fully describe how unpleasant this feeling can be. Your mind is being electrocuted and you would do anything to escape. At times like this you can feel desperate and maybe resort to all sorts of bad self-soothing techniques. Some of them such as self-harm and drinking, can be helpful at the time but ultimately damaging in the long-term. However, when you are in this much distress anything will do.