I would say that if there has been anything in my life that has protected me from the potential criticism of people (for having bipolar disorder), or from feeling shame about my wild emotional reactions, the delayed response would be the key.
In times of having an overwhelming response, this response might occur immediately. Other times (and more often for me) the whistle on my emotional kettle starts wailing, but instead of exploding right there, the kettle is moved to the back burner. It may sit, looking completely docile until company leaves, and then it resumes the process of “exploding”.
Because of this, I spent a long time hiding the fact that I had bipolar disorder, and though the people who knew me best were not surprised by such a notion, those that were my acquaintances often seriously doubted this diagnosis. After all, they had never seen any of these emotional “explosions” -so how could they exist?
Even when I was younger and undiagnosed, I hoped someone would approach me about my behavior. Unfortunately, most of the time (like at school) I could hold it together relatively well (for a while), and things wouldn’t come back and hit me until getting home. Not openly exploding in front of others felt almost like a curse, in that regard, because nobody seemed to believe that I was having any problems with my mood.
The same has been true at work, only there I’ve considered this delay a godsend. Being able to keep it together the majority of the time only to go home and have the acts of the entire day effect me all at once left me feeling like my job was less at risk, but the fact that everything hit at once meant mood-swings that would shake me to the very core.
And then there is the third situation where this has been an issue. In times of trauma or anxiety or discomfort, the kettle still gets put on the back burner. It might be a situation where I desperately need to let my reaction out immediately, after being harassed, or after a panic attack, or after a particularly harsh conversation. It almost feels like everything is fine at first, there is no need to talk about what happened to let anything out because it often doesn’t feel like there is anything there. I can’t hear the kettle, I don’t know it is boiling, so when I get home and it blows up in my face, things are ten times worse.
Is this something that other people with bipolar disorder face?
Is it a result of years of stuffing my feelings away without letting them out, now I automatically stuff them away even though I feel inclined to deal with them immediately?
Or is this an issue something else? Namely anxiety? Perhaps this is happening because of anxiety being the prevailing mood or feeling in the moment when I expect a response, and it isn’t until it dissipates (or triggers a response?) that the emotional response can occur?
I don’t know.
This came up though with the Suicide Prevention Workshop I attended the last two days.
First off, I have learned that the Geodon I am taking now is helping raise my mood in a general sense, but it is not effecting how I respond to stress and anxiety.
After the first day of the workshop (which, it hadn’t occured to me that talking about suicide for two days straight would be depressing -I was definitely wrong) I was extremely overwhelmed. I got home and it was just as I had described, there was an explosion of intense emotional reactions.
Obviously the topic of suicide can be upsetting, but I felt like anxiety (mostly around being in a classroom-type setting) was what was really prevailing.
With bipolar disorder, it often seems like my emotions sit right below the surface of my being, ready to make an appearance at any moment. Going into this workshop, I considered the notion of what it means (and what it takes) to be a healthcare professional (as I was the only one there who wasn’t). I admit there have been times in my life, in the more recent years, that I’ve considered the possibility of going back to school to be a social worker or a therapist… but I wasn’t sure about my ability to realistically interact with intense emotional content with someone (like suicidality) without being affected myself.
If the first day was any indication, I was affected. I came home and flopped on the bed, face in the sheets, and just cried.
In the workshop, I had felt awkward, I had felt overwhelmed, and now that I was home, I felt discouraged. Most of the content felt like it was over my head (as someone who isn’t a healthcare worker) and my anxiety had been so high that the reaction once I got home knocked me off my feet.
I decided not to go to the second day of the training, and I wrote the following:
“Unless something that stabalizes my mood or relieves my axiety pops up, I would never realistically be able to break into the world of the health care professional but will more likely be set only in the role of consumer instead, as things have been for as long as I can practically remember.”
I even impulsively emailed one of the workshop trainers, saying I didn’t think I could complete the second day.
And then… I didn’t sleep.
At 2 am I checked my email and she had emailed me back. She said she “understood but really hoped I would reconsider and be there.”
By 4 am I had decided I was going to finish the workshop. I felt better, and I really did want to know how things were all going to come together.
So I went. And I went knowing that when I got home last night, I would probably feel like shit. I would probably cry, my head would feel overflowing with information and like it was a sponge that needed to be wrung out, and I was right.
But, last night the crying lasted less time. I felt more like exhaustion than despair, and after 30 minutes of pretending I couldn’t move my arms or legs and laying with my face in a pillow, I stood up and helped cook dinner.
And it was done.
I still no longer feel compelled to be a therapist (or, at least, I am a bit more wary of the notion now); and if anything I really appreciate the role I have now. Unless a miracle drug suddenly cures bipolar disorder, I will always play the role of the “consumer”. That doesn’t mean, though, that I can’t talk to all of you about it like I have been, or support the actions of others like I have been, or that I can’t use the suicide prevention training that I have just received.
I feel good about doing what I’m doing now, and now that I am certified in suicide prevention, I feel much more prepared for those emails you send me in crisis, and even those messages you send me when you’re not.
I’m not a therapist, but I am someone who has probably felt how you’ve felt… and I know how scary, and how hopeless life can feel sometimes.
I truly believe with all of my being that there needs to be a place where these feelings can be expressed safely, and you can know that if you need to talk about it, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org