Bipolar Depression & The Fabric of the Universe (Ideas of Reference)

Autumn 2015, around the time of my manic episode, life obviously began changing for me personally. The weird thing is, I felt like it also started changing in the world at large. America actually elected Trump as its president, which no matter where you stand politically was historically unprecedented. And then things got stranger and stranger, with almost daily scandals and the emergence of Q-Anon. And then things got stranger and scarier still with a global pandemic, self-isolation, and the fear of nuclear war.

Yes, the world definitely started to get noticeably worse in 2016, just a couple of months after I crashed into black bipolar depression. And it’s not just me. I remember people widely sharing that meme about David Bowie’s death on January 10th, 2016, something along the lines of “I’m not saying that David Bowie was holding the fabric of the universe together, but just look around you.” That meme was circulating right around the time I was experiencing my own, personal internal unraveling.

Was it possible that my sanity was actually, literally holding the universe together? I doubt that so much rides on the balance of my brain chemistry. To think so would be a delusion of grandeur—highly inflating my own importance or influence on the world.

I’ve been curious for awhile whether that whole “perceived exterior reflection of inner mental state” had a more specific term or title. I feel like other people must have felt that way, too. Like what if your parent or spouse died right before the stock market crash, and then you had to live through the Great Depression? That catastrophe would probably *seem* linked to you, even if you knew it rationally wasn’t. Back when your loved one died, not only were less sad every day, but the world was actually, literally a better place—for everyone, not just for you personally. I guess you could just call it bad timing, a personal tragedy becoming forever linked with a dark time in history in general.

Anyway, thanks to a psychiatrist friend of mine, I found that this is indeed a specific type of delusion, and it’s called an “idea of reference.” Ideas and delusions of reference are described in Wikipedia as the phenomenon of an individual experiencing innocuous events or mere coincidences and believing they have strong personal significance.” It is “the notion that everything one perceives in the world relates to one’s own destiny,” usually in a negative and hostile manner. The world does seem noticeably worse than it was in 2015, but it doesn’t bear any magical relationship to my mental health diagnosis—it just is what it is.

I should note that I experience more of an “idea of reference” rather than a delusion, because though I feel the reference strongly at times, I am able to challenge its reality. When I think of the “before times”–the times before bipolar disorder manifested itself in my life–I wonder whether I was naturally happier with less effort because I was more emotionally balanced generally, or because the world itself was actually better–happier, more carefree, not as scared or isolated. I think it’s a coincidental combination of both, and anything else is an idea of reference. 

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