The Intense Delayed Response

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

13 responses to “The Intense Delayed Response

  1. Good job Sarah. When I took my NAMI facilitator training I had many of the same feelings and felt like I was in an intense therapy workshop instead of being trained to help others. But the tools I got I’ve been able to use steadily improving on them. What can I say, “It’s a process”. Having Bipolar seems for me to be a new experience every day and my daily goal is acceptence and patience. I would love to hear more about the workshop, sounds like something I would like to attend. And I hope you know that even just attending as you did is a gift to us all as it comforts us, inspires us, and gives us hope. Just as does your blog. -David

    • Thank you David! I’m sorry I wasn’t able to attend the group on Monday, but I was seriously exhausted from the workshop and just needed to shut down. I would definitely love to talk with you more about the model they used and whatnot, and I am hoping to hit up the group (potentially) next week!

  2. Like you, my eruptions also have the ability to stay hidden while others are around and only spring up when I’m alone- which doesn’t makes the argument that you think it’s more than built up stress so much harder! I’ve got so good at hiding it all that my psychiatrist never sees any of it and so can only work with what he sees…. His latest label is Adjustemnt Disorder, which doesn’t explain anything, just says he’s not sure what’s going on! *sigh*

    • I always tell my doctor everything even if I’m selfmedicating, or not following my self care, or having what you are talking about. It’s really hard to do and sometimes embarassing but I figure the more he knows the more he can help me. Finding the right doctor you can trust is really important too. Hope you are well. -David

  3. Thank God I’m not the only one whose explosions remain hidden!! My psyciatrist’s latest label is Adjustment Disorder- which tells us nothing, only I need better coping skills, yet he says “I’m coping very well” That contradicts it’self! I’ve had all the soluion focused therapy I can stand! *sigh*
    Thank you for your blog. You’ve answered so many of my questions and your support is invaluable! 🙂

    • I have a very hard time getting any help at all because of the wall I put up between me and the world. The breakthrough came for me when I brought my wife in with me to speak for me when I couldn’t. Very tough on her, but it was the help I needed to finally get some help…..MBC

    • Hi Squeak01, when you said, “I’ve had all of the solution focused therapy I can stand” it really resonated for me, for a long time that was the only type of therapy I was involved in, and I wound up quitting therapy entirely for several years because I felt like I had exhausted that branch (but couldn’t seem to find a therapist who wanted to explore something different). What has helped me draw away from that is trying to focus with therapists on my other, non-bipolar related issues (PTSD, anxiety, abuse, etc.) which is approached an entirely different way, normally. I think the result has been slightly confusing for the therapist, but it has really helped me a lot.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. I haven’t found many others who can explain this thing that happens in our mind that seems to be a defense mechanism. I do very similar actions. I have always called it my outside projection of me. It’s the person I let others accept as me. Very, very few ever get a glimpse inside at this scared, anxious human that lives behind my Avatar. It is the only way I am able to interact with others.
    I should put in an “except” here. The anonymity the blogging world allows you is a great opportunity to finally express your inner emotions without any worries of recourse.
    Thank you for blogging and having the courage to express these feelings to us. You are truly blessed….MBC

    • Hi MBC, I can definitely relate to your description, and it wasn’t until going to enough support groups to feel like my inner-self was merging with my outer-self and I decided to make a bold move and “come out” as having bipolar disorder in my community that those two worlds seem to be aligning. What is odd, though, is that my body still wants to separate that emotional portion from the world, and I don’t know if it is just because of years of doing it that way or what. I’ve always felt I had a hard time expressing my needs and desires, so I’m sure that has something to do with it.

      Thanks for the kind words, and for coming by! Take care!

  5. “In the workshop, I had felt awkward, I had felt overwhelmed, and now that I was home, I felt discouraged.”

    This is how I feel on a daily basis at school. School has always been a real struggle for me; at the moment I’m working towards a degree in a helping profession.. I’m absolutely petrified that I’m going to crash and burn once I graduate and start trying to do the work. :c

    • Hi ilenva, at the workshop the instructors were very focused on requesting that each of us do as much “self care” as possible (basically pampering ourselves a little to help cushion the blow and the weight of what we were dealing with in the workshop) and though that might seem like a simple solution, I really had a hard time with it. It can be hard for me to look away from the task at hand or the anxiety it is causing me to “do something nice” for myself, but I would expect that going that route probably makes a big difference. Everyone copes differently, too, I guess, so hopefully you’ve been able to find some good coping skills & methods of self-care!

      The other thing I would mention (because I know this is something I struggle with as well) is remembering that it isn’t going to be easy right away. When you move on from the school portion, it might be realistic to expect things to get very difficult very quickly as you learn to adjust, and that is perfectly normal. It takes time (unfortunately) to reach a point where any kind of care-taking becomes “easy”.

      Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best. Take care of yourself!

  6. I am reading this in the midst of a delayed response, one of a kind which has become waaaay too common for me in the last year. I need these to end. I am so grateful to read that others have had similar experiences, and it’s not just my own special brand of torture. Thank you for sharing.

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