If you told me you had a cold, what symptoms would you have? For me, a cold is that horrible headache behind the bridge of the nose and tight ears. For my husband, he’s suffering from a sore throat and dull headache on the crown of his head. The point? No two colds look exactly alike. Another point? No two people suffer in the same way. I hate that tightness behind my nose, but my husband hates the scratchy throat. My daughter hates the exhaustion and cough. Sneezing freaks me out. Others seem to find sneezing funny.
Just as no two people experience the common cold the same way, no two people duplicate the bi-polar experience. And, no two families struggle in the same way. This is one of my primary complaints about Bi-Polar in the mainstream media. “Bi-polar” is flung around in almost all crime shows when the writer is unwilling to be more creative. Based on Criminal Minds or NCIS or Bones or … well, you get the idea … anyone committing a crime must be diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Ipso Facto, bi-polar sufferers must be a criminal. (Lately, I’ve noticed that crime shows are turning to narcissistic personality disorder as the crime diagnosis de jour.)
I have two primary bi-polar symptoms: irritability and compulsivity. We all get irritable from time-to-time. What makes my irritability a symptom instead of a ‘normal’ occurrence is the recognition that I’m irritable and powerless to stop it. Furthermore, my bi-polar irritability lasts for a very definitive amount of time – 24 or 48 hours depending on the trigger. It’s almost as if my body reacts to something by washing my brain with some irritability hormone and then exactly 24 or 48 hours later, the hormone rinses away. It’s that distinctive. Irascible to Amiable with the movement of the clock.
This is not to say that I always know the trigger but usually I can point to something – especially after it’s run its course. For example, two weeks after my father died, I woke up on a Friday frustrated with the air, with the wind, with the soft sheets. I spent that day thinking this was ‘normal’ irritability because my house was under renovation and it was annoying. But when I woke up Saturday morning just as annoyed and short-tempered, I recognized this episode as a bi-polar irritability episode. It ended as quickly as it began around 4PM on Sunday. When I looked back at this, I understood that I had been too busy to really process my Dad’s death.
A few things help:
For years, I was able to manage my symptoms without pharmaceuticals. That changed about 18 months ago and I’m okay with it. It is what it is. The drugs do help with irritability but not completely. There is no magic pill. What I will do, though, is more closely monitor my episodes. If they start to last longer or arrive more often, I’ll speak to my doctor. I don’t think that will be necessary – I’ve found that if I’m INTENTIONAL in watching what’s happening within myself, I can re-introduce some balancing behaviors(more sleep, exercise by long walks outside, look at my food choices, no overt sugar foods, no alcohol) and manage myself without additional support.
NOTE: If I need that support, I WILL GET IT. I will not suffer (or make my family suffer) because of some pride against medication.
I can put a great plan in place for taking care of myself, inside and out, but I do have bi-polar disorder and this disease manifests itself in irritability. No magic potion will prevent that 100% of the time.
BUT, two words, spoken sincerely, do have magic power: I’M SORRY.
Try those words sometimes and then back it up with action – what do you need to do differently to lessen the suffering?
IMPORTANT: There is a difference between irritability and meanness. I used to be very mean during these episodes. That is unacceptable and unfair. When I had my mental breakdown, I re-structured my life so that meanness does not become my default. This is not to say that I’m tons of fun to be around and sometimes I can be caustic. But I’m not mean just because anymore. If I am not able to pull it back, then I make time to be alone. NO ONE SHOULD SUFFER because I do.
Tune in next time for what compulsivity looks like – and for me, that’s a bigger monster.
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