I’ve been seeing a recurring theme lately.
I told someone I’ve known for a while (but who has somehow escaped the knowledge of what has really gone down the last year or two) that I have bipolar disorder.
She asked me, “ok, so what does that mean?”
“Mood swings,” I said, “overreactions to things, stuff like that.”
I may have been much too general because her response made me pause for a moment,
“Isn’t that everyone?”
Rather than go on a long rant trying to explain further, I laughed.
Likewise, I was recently at my third visit with my new therapist and she was analyzing one of the horrible days I had last week with an abrupt mixed manic episode at work where I had to leave early.
“You were in a bad mood because you were still sick, which anyone can do,” she started, “you were frustrated with your boss about how you were being treated, you were anxious about coming back to work after having been sick for the last few days,” she grinned wildly, “are any of these things that anyone else (bipolar diagnosis aside) might experience?”
Frankly, this long speech pissed me off because, though I hope to have a therapist who can tell it like it is, I’d rather them do it in a nurturing, enlightening way rather than a smarmy, shit-eating-grin sort of way. After taking so long to come to terms with the notion of having bipolar disorder, having your “support person” question it really drives me bananas.
“Which part,” I asked, “of the following is also typical of ‘normal’ human behavior? You forget, I do not presume to know what is typical and what isn’t, as the only experience I have to base my conclusions on is my own. But having paranoia that leaves one simply terrified of their co-workers, is that typical? How about having the overwhelming urge to attack and/or destroy the people around me? Maybe overwhelming feelings of suicidally that crop up in that situation -surely that is ‘normal’ as well?”
I’ve been thinking about this the last few days and it makes me think about what a few people have said to me, regarding jumping to the conclusion after receiving a diagnosis that any subsequent activity is linked to that diagnosis.
For example, someone with bipolar disorder grieving over a loss assuming they are having a depressive episode associated with bipolar disorder.
Or, (and I expect this is what that therapist meant to say, though she did so in a terrible way) becoming legitimately angry about something but calling it a manic episode.
At first, part of me got concerned that this is something I might be doing too. Am I attributing the regular moods of life with bipolar disorder? Do I lump all of my emotions into one category?
The conclusion I came to is no.
The whole concept behind bipolar disorder (as I see it anyway) is that people experience a wide range of emotions. Up to a point, these emotions are totally normal, everyday occurrences for people. Becoming furious is not singularly a bipolar experience.
But, there is a point where these emotions can do a number of different things that are what relate them to the notion of bipolar disorder.
1. The emotion could be a response to something that has happened (like a normal reaction) but is not a proportional response -either in magnitude or duration.
i.e, wanting to kill the co-worker who borrowed your pen without asking, or being depressed for a week because you know you bought stamps but can’t find them in your house.
2. The emotion could be occurring independently of outside events.
i.e, walking down the street and then bursting into tears for no apparent reason.
3. The emotional response could include abnormal sorts of elements.
i.e, delusions, hallucinations, suicidally, homicidality, etc.
When sitting down and looking at it, these were the things that stood out to me as defining factors of what makes my emotional responses different than those of (what I’ve heard) is the typical human response.
The fact that I have these sorts of responses doesn’t mean I am somehow being controlled by something called bipolar disorder. In fact, the reality is the opposite. Bipolar disorder is merely a description of what I have already been experiencing.
And, unfortunately for me, these incidences happen fairly frequently.
I feel pretty confident that I am able to discern an “episode” (meaning, an occurrence of one or more of those elements -I don’t usually require a specific duration of my symptoms to personally identify these elements, even though I recognize that most doctors do) after the amount of mood charting I’ve been doing, and I find it pretty straightforward when there is a big difference between feeling bummed out about something and feeling depressed and suicidal.
I think it can be common, though, for people with bipolar disorder to either begin tagging all negative emotion as bipolar disorder and expecting that to be something that can be simply eradicated. It can be easy for me, sometimes, to forget that it is normal to feel a bit of misery every once in a while, or loneliness, or anger. As long as it isn’t the killer sort, I consider it a welcome change.