In terms of my episodes, when I’m feeling imbalanced & vulnerable, I’ve learned that my two main triggers are embarrassment & fear of abandonment, which is ironic, since my behavior historically has led to a high degree of both. My sometimes-bizarre symptoms--hypersexuality, erratic mood swings, physical outbursts--& mood episodes have pinned me to the memory of many friends & acquaintances as a fool, a nutbag, a psychopath, distinctions that flood me with self-consciousness & have stolen many worthy relationships. Regardless of whether or not I was in control or made the conscious choice to do those things is some useless debate; for better or for worse, this is me: 99% of the time a typical dude moving through the world with this ugly, mess, & destructive 1% tagging along.
When I texted my mom an article by Jule A. Fast, entitled “Three Bipolar Disorder Symptoms No One Wants To Talk About,” I added, “I’ve never felt so seen.” Really, I think I meant that I’ve never seen myself so clearly, as my three loudest symptoms happen to be the ones JAF calls out. These are the ones that create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy with the abandonment & embarrassment. Both my divorces, the loss of numerous major friendships, my inability to hold a job, & my blacklisting from the poetry community can all be linked to these three symptoms. Thanks to this article, I feel validated & given permission to talk about them.
When my therapist SW read my ex-girlfriend LR’s essay, she said I see a very sick man in these words. My mom’s best friend, an LCSW, echoed that recently in response to my abuser essay, citing the manic nature of the violence, linked to both psychosis & memory loss, not a hunt for power & control, as the catalyst. The typical Midwestern boy-fighting never phased out the way it did for many of my peers; despite consistent counseling & much effort, my “black-outs,” as LR called them, took my body over, often leading to verbal & physical aggression. In her article, JAF admits to chasing down cars who flipped her off; I went through a phase of that in Austin, coming to mid-chase. Before I was managing my symptoms & noting my triggers, I was getting into shouting matches--with my partner, with friends, with strangers--once a week, often ending in me hitting a wall or other hard object, an ugly-but-necessary release of energy.
These violent tendencies were often nudged along by the second symptom noted, psychosis. These were the most baffling elements, at first very mild--errant sounds, whispering voices, paranoid delusions that never got off the ground. As my then-undiagnosed disorder progressed, they increased, intersecting & heightening my mood episodes. I didn’t know until last month that “[p]eople with bipolar disorder only have psychosis during a manic or depressed mood swing,” as JAF says. We see it all over my personal history--misreading another’s intentions as aggressive & disrespectful, becoming convinced that someone was out to get me, a cacophony of sounds literally drowning out my better judgement--but only in those times when my moods were off-kilter. Paired with increased irrationality, these psychotic elements escalated the situation to disastrous effects.
Then, in the aftermath, I am left alone with the guilt, embarrassment, & little or no memory of the situation, much like a black-out drunk. This is a frustrating one for me because I’m so high-functioning in other like areas, such as reading comprehension & direction-following; things I’m normally good at--listening, telling stories, etc.--become very difficult around & in episodes. I have physically harmed & emotionally traumatized two of the people I’ve loved most in this life, along with verbally & emotionally abusing many others I care about, & I have no recollection of those events, beyond their stories & the occasional dream. I cannot describe the heart-breaking & bewildering disconnect of this large regret-without-the-memory.
In the past, this memory loss has often been misconstrued as untrustworthy or not caring. I hope being up front about this stuff helps for the future. As Denise Mann points out in her article “Bipolar Disorder and Anger: Understanding & Getting Control of Irritability,” the key is becoming aware of the stressors, situations, & internal signs that open me up to these now-talked-about symptoms. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll battle these possibilities all my life. What I won’t do anymore is stay silent about them, letting the surprise & fear dictate how I handle them.