Friends and Family Don’t Understand – Bipolar Communication Problems

2014-07-22_17-17-07Sometimes those without the challenges of bipolar neurochemistry simply “don’t get it” – how moods can shift abruptly and dramatically, and often without warning, or with subtle hints of the mood shift about to confront you  – and at what might be the slightest trigger a sudden onslaught of  overwhelming sensations due to hypersensitivity to stimuli, someone chewing can sound thunderous;  a repetitive noise, such as the clicking of a pen, or the sound of someone typing on a laptop keyboard ; even something simple as someone breathing can feel like torture!

These are examples of the brain’s challenge in discerning relevant from non-relevant stimuli. These bursts of sensory hypersensitivity can induce states of agitation and irascibility , as if a nerve has just been exposed and is raw , and to a state of generalized sensitivity to any sensory stimulation – suddenly EVERYTHING can feel overwhelming and “too much”.  Crankiness, impatience , sadness can set in and the bipolar cycle gets geared up.

Other triggers that can disrupt the emotional and mental equilibrium of those both blessed and cursed with the bipolar condition can be, for example, the “wrong” song playing on the radio that suddenly transports you back to emotionally evocative memories that you re simply not able to re-visit at that moment.  Feeling that once the memories have been brought to the surface, you cannot stop their flow.

Or,  another potential trigger could be smelling an odor that harkens to a long-lost memory which may rub you the “wrong” way , immerse you in a sudden waft of emotion that is deeply felt with either a positive or a negative valence .  Or, maybe these stimuli may take you to a lovely nostalgic place and your mood suddenly soars to the heavens and you find yourself suddenly flying high among the ethers of exuberance , delightfully giddy and happy in the company of other “normal” folk who have largely predictable emotional regulation – unlike you – the one whose emotional states are predictably unpredictable . You re different than “The Others,” and you know it;  they know it .

Whichever way the draft of bipolar blows, you re often all alone with it , as you try to manage the sudden shifts in mood and the sudden shifts  in your ability to concentrate and pay attention, the bursts of agitation, impatience, and the experience of frustration that others “just don t get it” .  This sense of being alone can, in turn, can make you feel quite vulnerable to the elements of “The Other” – from whom flows unsolicited commentary such as:

“What just happened ?”,   You look suddenly so sullen . Did I say something that upset you ?  “,; or, “What s so funny ?”, ” Stay focused !!” , “You re being histrionic again ! Stop being so dramatic !” , “You re overreacting !  “ ,  “Stop being so sensitive!”  , “Calm down , will you !” , “Tone it down a notch or two, will you ?!” , “Up your Lithium!” , “You re manic ! ” , “You re going to behave, aren t you ?”

We all know how it goes – the seemingly scripted , predictable reactions of “The Other” towards us during these rapid and sudden mood shifts . The sudden intense overwhelming sense of being all alone with your state of being . Who understands ? Who gets it ?

“The Other” may take your behavior personally, when it has nothing to do with them – you know it, but they need some convincing.  It s just how you get sometimes, not necessarily related to anything “The Other” did, but they don t necessarily get that , do they ?!

The possibilities of “The Other’s” reactions to “bipolar moments” are limitless , and often predictable – from people we may know well . We may feel embarrassed by our abrupt mood change and try our best to contain the reaction or feeling state, during which all the while we are screaming inside to let it out, to express ourselves, those torrid , gripping and oftentimes unwanted emotions that can be so utterly disruptive to our lives .  Sometimes we manage to refrain from expressing what we re feeling so passionately and intensely in that moment because we may be fearing the repercussions of revealing how we really are feeling in that moment, or just don t have the energy to have to deal with the repercussions as exemplified by “The Other” ; for example, feeling compelled to have to explain what just happened .  And, that , in and of itself in turn, can set off another mood shift .  We might suddenly get very depressed if we re on an ebullient high , and “the Other” reprimands us for our errant , out-of-the-ordinary , might we dare say “extraordinary” behavior ? We might even feel shamed. Whatever it is, we are essentially being told that our behavior in that moment is unacceptable , out of the norm, disruptive to The Other” even , perhaps, and the message we infer from that is that we cannot be who we are .  Who we are is errant, we are misbehaving .  Oh, my, we feel so fragile and delicate in those moments ! How do we ” fit in ” with “the Others ” who can find our behavior at times maddening ?

I sometimes have a visual image of bipolar as a beautiful , multi-colored iridescent feather that blows without resistance to the ways of the winds; and, trying to contain the emotional reaction we are experiencing in any given moment,  trying to tame it, becomes an impassioned endeavor at an elusive pursuit of trying to catch that feather in our hands .  This determination to grab that feather can lead us anywhere .  We can trip on a flight of stairs and smash into the wall below, knocking the person on our path over .  We will do whatever we can to try and grab that feather and harness it in the palm of our hand , and in that process, we can get hurt and others in our path can get hurt as well .

This leads me to say that the bottom line here , and the ultimate philosophical elixir regarding us being a bipolar Being, is that we simply need to accept the fact that we are a bipolar Being, that we have this condition called bipolar (I sometimes think of it as a beast) , and to be compassionate towards ourselves for all the ways in which it can make itself manifest , for better or for worst;  simply, just simply to have a respite from being determined to try so hard to do something about it in any given moment .  Sometimes accepting being bipolar means chasing that feather blowing with the breeze , but not condemning ourselves for not being able to grab it, to harness its wayward path in a particular moment .

It is a lifelong process of learning to live with one s self as bipolar , and love one s self in spite of the havoc it can wreck in our lives and the lives of others perhaps, too, at times .  It is about learning how to manage it , not letting what may feel like at times a reign of tyrannical dominion over our lives , over what feels and seems beyond our control . Sometimes it feels like an all too familiar far corner of hell in emotional ambience – unannounced , unexpected arrival .

“The Other” may not always or ever really get it, but we can really get it and do something about it, gives ourselves the understanding we would like to receive from “The Other”.