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.
Download the Discussion Guide that corresponds with this blog and journal your own thoughts!
“Memories begin to creep forward from hidden corners of your mind. Passing disappointments. Lost chances, and lost causes. Heartbreaks and pain and desolate, horrible loneliness. Sorrows you thought long forgotten mingle with still-fresh wounds. The stone [of memories] feels heavier in your hand. [But] When you drop it … you feel lighter. As though you have released something more than a smooth polished piece of rock.”The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
As we get closer to Christmas and 2019, I want to first thank all of you who read my blog. I’d like to send a special thank you to anyone who has reached out when something I’ve written resonates. These blogs are often hard to write because I try to be vulnerable – my appreciation for you is real and sincere.
Oftentimes, Christmas and the New Year bring painful memories, profound loneliness, deep despair, dramatic disappointments. Imagine each of these hurts as stones. Some of these stones are as small as grains of sand, others are pebbles or rocks or boulders or mountains. They are heavy and exhausting to carry. If you stuff your pockets with stones, you will drown.
What if you were to buy some smooth stones and write a hurt on each one? Be as vulnerable as you can (no one will see these but you). Spread the stones out on a table and look at all the weight you carry. Which stones can you eliminate?
You can’t eliminate them all. I wish you could, but you can’t. Some of the hurts are a necessary part of this season of life, some of the hurts you simply cannot control, some of the hurts you actually prefer to hold. That’s all okay. But, surely, you can find one or two or three or four to drop?
Look at your stones carefully. Separate into piles:
What if you could drop these stones into a lake? You will inevitably create ripples for yourself and others.
Some of these ripples will be tiny and barely noticeable. One of my stones is a sister-in-law that I discovered doesn’t like me. At first that seemed like a boulder. But, when I looked at it more closely – when I held that stone in my hand – I realized it was more of a pebble. My relationship (or lack of) will not impact my life at all. Plop – into the lake it goes.
I have a ‘friend’ who judges me whenever I order a healthy meal – she accuses me of not being true to my eating disordered self. She wants me to hold on to the eating disorder. You, too, will have people in your life that don’t want you to drop the stones. You may have to lose or change some relationships. Bigger ripples. Plop.
Which of your stones are because of your own choices? One of my stones is my ongoing battle with eating. It’s painful to know what I need to do and be unwilling to do it. Did you notice I said ‘unwilling’ not ‘unable’? I am ABLE to do anything I want. This painful stone may be because of past hurts, but I’m 53 and while I need to understand the source of my eating disorder, I do not need it to control me anymore. Plop. Plop.
Before you drop any stones, be sure you consider the ripples. Don’t get caught off-guard – if you do, you’re likely to dive into the lake, find that rock and put it back in your pocket. If that happens, the rock may feel heavier.
Some of your stones just can’t go into the lake yet. There are painful relationships that you can’t change – yet. You have financial responsibilities that may force you to stay in a painful place – for now. Maybe you’re a student and stuck in that environment – you’ll be done soon. Maybe there is a coach that hurts you and your options are limited – time will fix this for you.
Maybe you have some painful habits or situations that you can’t just drop on your own. But you can start to prepare yourself to drop that stone – find a support group, go to a therapist, find resources, talk to someone you trust, journal. If you truly want to drop this stone someday, start to prepare today. Who knows? In 2020, you might be ready to throw it into the center of the lake.
You like some of the stones – you hold them close and aren’t ready to let them go. These stones are your ‘known’. The known is comfortable, safe. If you drop the pain, you enter the ‘unknown’ and that’s scary.
That’s okay! We all have those hurts that are like warm blankets. So, instead of dropping them in the lake, take the time to identify the pain. Don’t pretend you are holding tight to certain hurts. If you lie to yourself you’ll compound your pain. Begin to consider why you want to hold on. How does that hurt serve you? What might happen if you dropped it into the lake?
Let me give you an example of a pain I’m not ready to let go. Many years ago I had a friend who betrayed me terribly. I am unwilling to forgive her. I won’t even entertain the idea of forgiveness. I’m holding that hurt close to my chest. I’m not sure I can explain why – but I’m at least willing to investigate how that unforgiveness benefits me. Who knows, maybe sometime in 2019, I can drop that in the lake.
If at all possible, don’t let this blog be a cute metaphor. Buy some rocks, write down your hurts, toss them in a deep body of water (one rock at a time). Be intentional about letting those hurts go. Watch the ripples and you’ll see that soon the water calms again!
If rocks are impossible, write each hurt on a scrap of paper. Once you’ve chosen the ones to drop, strike a match and burn the paper (one scrap at a time). Blow the ashes into the wind. The wind will take the ashes away.
Maybe we can all enter 2019 a little lighter. Plop. Plop.
See you in the New Year!
Smooth stones can be purchased at any craft shop or on Amazon.
Copyright 2021 June Converse, All Rights Reserved.