They Can’t All Be Winners

“I’ve had the sort of day that would make St. Francis of Assisi kick babies.”
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

#Trigger Warning: This post contains literary imagery that may be unsuitable for sensitive readers. Reader discretion is advised.

 

Yesterday was a very, very bad day.

 

I woke up groggy, irritable, impatient, intolerable. I wasn’t even able to finish my sacred daily morning coffee ritual before the first phone call with bad news was had. Calm words were spoken at first, then the tension grew until the eventual crescendo of emotions escalated the verbal barrage to surgical strike precision and mean-spiritedness.

More phone calls of the same irritating type kept smacking me in the face, urging me on to proclaim that Thursday, December 27, 2018 was going to be shitty day.

Words, thoughts, and intent are powerful tools; they may be used either for constructive, positive endeavors, or they can be handled as subtly as an angry bull wreaking havoc in a china shop cliche to swathe a path of devastation if someone even looks at you the wrong way. Either way, they prepare and condition the mind for events; that’s why mantras, repetition, affirmations are key to good mental health.

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Don’t maim anyone today. Don’t maim anyone today. Don’t maim anyone today.

 

And I should’ve listened to my own damn advice yesterday.

 

I should’ve cleared my mind, used my techniques, closed my eyes, breathe, self-soothe, etc.

Yet I CHOSE to have a bad day, whether I consciously decided to or not.

I hopped unto social media, opened up the research tabs on my browser, to then be bombarded by a relentless assault of negativity and vitriol not unlike the slime you find underneath and around structures and junk after flooding from rainstorms.

I froze.

I allowed myself to be enveloped in the comfy blanket of familiarity and just go into autopilot mode – I spent more than half the day sitting in my terrace, on my favorite chair, just staring out at the outside world.

 

Despising it.

 

Wishing for a nuclear holocaust.

 

Cars and motorcycles zoomed by annoyingly with their loud, penile-compensating roars; individuals went on with their days, walking, carrying grocery bags, living their daily life.

They were living, and I was seething in anger and loathing, stewing in the cesspool of judgment, uncertainty, confusion, feeling my eyes well up with tears, my arms and legs shaking like a bartender’s blender during Happy Hour, my chest thumping with the incessant need to go supernova, to cave in and just bleed out all over; I wanted to fingerpaint the floor with my entrails and draw a huge middle finger to the world.

Anger Is Not a Symptom of Bipolar Disorder, Or Is It?

An example of how I see myself during an anger-fueled manic episode

 

I screamed in agony, but nothing came out of my throat except a slight whimper, a sigh of frustration, as my eyes darted around looking for some measure of salvation that would not come. I kept swinging in my chair, faster, harder, the rhythmic squeaking of rusty joints singing a lullaby, the familiar sound of anxiety and hopelessness. There was no music for me to dance to and bob my head with, there was no YouTube video playing to make me smile, amuse me and comfort me, and I almost made the mistake of breaking one of the cardinal rules: posting on social media while angry and manic.

 

In the past, I have relied on others to get me through manic episodes, much to the detriment of many interpersonal relationships, therefore I desperately hesitated for a few seconds.

I thought about getting in touch with certain individuals, but that would be an exercise in futility; in my mind, in my experience, people have better things to do than to listen to someone whine and complain, even if there is merit to the pain they are feeling, even if they are just shouting out to the heavens for some release from a force that will not let them go, a specter of mocking indifference that haunts their every thought, every action, every decision.

Also, I would probably tear them a new asshole just for the hell of it, just because I didn’t want to be the only idiot in pain, according to Hulk.

(We’ll eventually dive deep into the subject of abusive behavior in interpersonal relationships soon in a future post.)

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I find comfort in attempting to make my day worthwhile by making others happy.

That is a common trait for someone suffering from mental illness, especially Bipolar II Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

It is also a very damaging trait that can lead to some terrible and dangerous decisions – I’ll abound on that subject in the near future as well.

 

That being said, I decided to text my niece, whom I trust implicitly.

 

We had a very nice, short conversation.

 

I will paraphrase what she said in one of her messages:

“Well, drama will ALWAYS exist no matter how positive you are or try to be. Don’t believe everything you see; god knows if it’s relevant or accurate or whatever*. Just worry about your work and creativity. In the end, that’s what we take to the grave. Our legacy, not rude, immature comments. Wow, I went deep there.”

*Referring to social media in general.

(On a small sidenote: this 13 year old girl has more wisdom and insight than most “adults” I have seen skulking around social media; I am most definitely a proud uncle!)

 

Those few seconds were all I needed to snap out of it and put things into perspective.

 

An individual’s self-worth should never be measured by their actions or lack there-of. Expectations are appetizers for thought distortion, leading to a manic episode full course meal; eliminate expectation, live in the moment, and the nemesis of irrational thinking will come over to the table and flip it the hell over: lucidity.

I was far from lucid. I was in a state of mania; there was no coming back. The only way through the episode was to embrace it, accept it, find enough presence of mind to communicate it to my significant other who was present in our home at the time of my freak out, and then isolate myself from all forms of toxicity, all possible triggers that could worsen the situation.

So I avoided social media like the plague.

I turned off my laptop.

I put away my work materials, adjourned to the bedroom, lit some incense, allowed myself to cry, and then proceeded to painfully sob and scream into my pillow until my throat fed me cathartic bliss.

My body went limp. I lifted my head and opened my eyes. Light hammered into my eyes, slamming my brain with clarity. The pillow was soaked in a mélange of sweat, tears, saliva, and snot.

I got up from the bed, weakly limped over to the bathroom, feeling the strain of tension slowly melt off my body like a molting snake. I washed my face, rubbed off what little tension was left in my neck , walked over to my significant other, kissed her on the forehead, told her that I loved her, thanked her for her love and patience, went back to the bedroom, fired up my laptop, and played videogames until nightfall.

Unfortunately, I got absolutely no work done yesterday, no goals were accomplished – I felt worthless.

 

Or so I thought until I realized:

 

I didn’t hurt myself.

 

I didn’t hurt others.

 

I survived another manic episode.

 

And here I am able to retroactively introspect on what happened, now sharing a minor tale of triumph in the book of Life, with many more chapters to come.

 

I guess the day wasn’t so bad or such a waste after all, huh?

 

To quote a grand philosopher:

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Guilt Trips And Broomsticks

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Humans, in my humble opinion, by nature, are innately flawed and imperfect. That is what makes us beautiful, dangerous, and unique.

People make mistakes; it is an inevitable, inescapable, unavoidable fact of life.

In my opinion, some are fortunate enough to accept this fact and live a life full of choice and consequence, living peacefully, able to reconcile their actions with the result; if they do good, good things happen and if they do bad, bad things happen.

Seems pretty simple and logical to me; it’s the way things should be, right?

Wrong.

For someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, reconciling the fallacy of that seemingly simple thought and absolutist idealization is a world of pain.

Those who suffer from bipolar disorder tend to be extremely sensitive to sensory and social stimulus; we are sponges, soaking up every sound, syllable, sight, gesture, etc. and as the input keeps pervading our senses, our minds kick into overdrive. The world is a very scary place, full of wonder, mystery, danger, and most of all, threats and temptation.

Lots and lots of threats and temptation.

As a byproduct of my condition, I have very poor impulse control; I will flip the nitrous-oxide switch at the drop of a hat, shift my transmission in a split second, and you better sure as hell get out of my way lest you be run over by my 10,000 horsepower top fuel out-of-control dragster of a mind. That’s why when temptations and threats loom, reason bids farewell and gives way to “LET’S DO THIS, LEEEROOOOOY JEEEEEEENKIIIIINS!”*

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*Kudos if you got the obscure computer gaming reference; you’re a geek just like me.

Impulse gives way to action; action gives way to consequence.

And therein lies part of the crux of dealing with bipolar disorder; how do you deal with a mistake, an error in judgment, and the consequences that come along with it?

The sad answer: not very well.

Guilt will make you do many things; some funny, some dastardly, most quite desperate.

Guilt has led me many times to demean myself, to humiliate myself, forcing me to lose my dignity, my sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I have committed acts of self-humiliation and self-deprecation, broken rules of social engagement, disrespected myself and loved ones, all for the sake of hearing those sacred words of validation and forgiveness I so desperately seek when I feel I have failed and disappointed.

Instant gratification of impulse is a dangerous drug whose addiction is a daily struggle for bipolar disorder patients; guilt is our delirium tremens, the come-down, the desperation of withdrawal, the horror of acknowledgment.

So, how do I deal with guilt you may ask? It is not an easy thing for me to do, to be completely honest; it is something I still struggle with on a daily basis, but it is something that I have accepted, something that I will constantly work with for the rest of my life. I have alienated many people in my life due to my erratic behavior and abusive tendencies when I do not medicate nor follow the treatment protocol as designed and prescribed, but the following tips have helped me so far mature in that respect; hopefully these little morsels of wisdom may help you as much as they have helped me:

1) Accept responsibility: Let’s face it; we all make mistakes. Accept responsibility for your actions, accept that you are flawed, and accept that it is ok. Doing bad things does not make you a bad person; it simply makes you a normal human being. Acceptance is the first step to make amends.

2) Forgive yourself and others: To err is human, to forgive, well, the world isn’t very big on forgiveness these days. That does not mean, however, that you cannot learn to forgive yourself. Forgiveness is the second step to make amends.

3) Rectify and internalize: Do what you can to remedy a situation, but only as far as you can go, within measure and reason, and ONLY after the situation has passed – it is not healthy nor wise to try to fix a ship’s broken sail in the middle of a storm. Let the storm pass; cooler heads always prevail.

Patience. Temperance. Clarity. These are key traits that need to be exercised every day like you would work out a muscle group to build up body strength.

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Those steps are just the beginning to dealing with the fallout of manic episodes; episodes leave you weak, drained, and most of all, vulnerable. In this vulnerable state, I tend to lash out at myself for hurting others, and that leads to an everlasting cycle of depression. I have learned, through hard work and introspection and retrospection, to not allow myself to succumb to the manipulation of guilt. I stop and think about what happened, I try to fix the situation, and if the situation cannot be fixed, then I accept the consequence, allow myself to be sad for a bit, and then I move on.

You will make mistakes.

Some people may never forgive you.

And that’s ok.

It is not your responsibility to be forgiven; it is your responsibility to forgive yourself.

To love yourself.

Life goes on.

You will grow, learn, and evolve.

Leave penance to the extremists, self-flagellation to that albino monk in The DaVinci Code, and stop blaming yourself for something that is hard to control. What you CAN control, however, is how you deal with the aftermath of your actions in a healthy, mature manner.

Drop that cat ‘o nine tails, kid, and pick up a broom; instead of making more of a mess, just clean it up, lift your head up, shed a tear, then smile and move along. Better days will always come.

Shots Fired!!!

“Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” – Ron Burgundy, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy

 

We’ve all been there; we’re sitting around with friends, shooting the breeze, debating over who would win in a fight, either Superman or Batman (hands down, Batman; his only weakness is being exposed to all those guano-related infections), and then out of the blue, a real argument breaks out, voice-raising leads to yelling, yelling leads to screaming, screaming leads to insulting, the Germans invade Poland, and -boom- a pleasant evening just became a real bad time for everyone involved.

 

Why?

 

Someone got triggered.

 

*insert typical condescending trigger meme here*

 

Please allow me to elaborate.

 

The following clip is an example of how people view escalation from someone getting triggered.*

*It also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time, capiche? Fuggedaboutit!

*Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese (1990)

Notice that horrible tension? That terrifying sense of dread that Tommy’s gonna jump at any second and stab Henry in the neck twenty times with a butter knife? Notice how Henry diffuses the situation by minimizing the event by joking?

 

It’s a movie. It does not work that way in real life.

 

Once again, it’s a great example of how people tend to view those with bipolar disorder quickly disengage from reality, swinging from one mood to another in quick succession, while those around them have no clue what just happened and what to do about it.

Let’s take a look at a more accurate depiction of the same situation:

*Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell (2012)

Now THIS is a more accurate representation of a manic episode (the technical, medical term for a mood state characterized by elevated, expansive, or unusual irritability) triggered by an emotional stressor. This scene shows it all; the point of origin, the trigger that instigates the episode, the narrow-minded focus, the sudden escalation of emotions, the surge, the desperation; logic, reality, all sense of emotional maturity and thought, gone. Not only does it show the pain and suffering, the agony of confusion, it also shows how loved ones are adversely affected by something they cannot understand.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking; it takes an enormous emotional toll on everyone involved.

 

Here’s a metaphorical scenario, just to put things into perspective:

Imagine giving a child desperately craving love and attention a metaphorical loaded gun.*

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*Please never give a child a loaded gun, for realsies; don’t try this at home, or better yet never, unless you’re at a firing range, and you’re a fairly sane, trained adult (a contradiction in terms) or some NRA nutjob. Muhrica! 

 

Now imagine said child imagining he is suddenly surrounded by monsters who are out to kill him, and the world doesn’t care.

 

He’s/she’s scared…. 

 

He’s/She’s alone….

 

Fight or flight just blew the transmission….

 

And so he/she does the only thing he/she can do to feel safe; he/she starts firing off rounds a la John Wick.

 

Except instead of John Wick’s wicked finesse, focus, and expertise, you end up with Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies trying to fire off an Uzi, but instead of killing bad guys, you metaphorically shoot into a crowd of innocents.

 

Innocents who were trying to help you snap out of it. 

 

Innocents who either love you, or care enough to stand by your side in a moment of need out of compassion, kindness, or circumstance.

 

And so you’re blindly shooting, screaming, hoping that the monsters will go away, or, if they manage to catch you, they make your death swift and painless. 

 

Sadly, those monsters aren’t real. 

 

To this day, I still struggle on a daily basis with triggers, and how media and society in general joke about them. Sadly, it is a crucial part of our disease, a symptom that needs to be constantly checked up on. It is a difficult task to learn your triggers, but that is only the first step. I have learned to live with the symptoms, and I have found these few tips helpful in dealing with triggers when they are set off:

1) Try as hard as you can to identify the trigger – What caused it? Is it real? Is it a distortion of thought? If so, purge it with all of your might; breath, use mantras or positive repetition to remind yourself that it is not real.

2) Once the trigger is identified – Assertively diffuse the situation;  if someone’s words were the trigger, be honest, never disrespectful. Be mindful that if a loved one is the source of the trigger, remind yourself that they do not mean you harm. Communicate your anxiety, let them know what you are feeling. Do not be afraid to confront, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. If that is not possible, and you feel an escalation incoming…..

3) Walk away – It is not a sign of weakness to walk away from a situation, especially if it means avoiding a confrontation that could become physically or emotionally violent. Do make sure, though, that when you walk away, be very specific as to WHY you are making the choice. NEVER leave ambiguously; ambiguity is the enemy of clarity, it will lead to further breakdown of communication, and it will end up in further confrontation.

 

The most important part is to always be mindful of your emotions and physical reactions; if you feel tension, if you feel your hands curling up into fists, your breathing becoming rapid, your heart feeling like it’s in a hyper DDR session, odds are you are triggered and going into full blown Chernobyl-mode.

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*Actual image of my head once while playing Werewolf The Apocalypse and having an argument with the Storyteller.

 

Take it from me kids; sticks and stones may break bones, but metaphorical gun fire will leave you with a very empty, lonely life.