Sometimes, Bipolar Disorder can feel like fire.
There was no reason for me to feel that way–that small irritation that circulates through the bloodstream, heating up with each heartbeat until the veins can no longer stand the intensity, and it breaks through, pulsing like radiation, and poisoning the entire environment around you.
You see, my bipolar brain is sometimes dumb (when not properly medicated). It takes several small slights, real or imagined, and assembles them into a long story of how everyone has wronged me and how I’ve been taken advantage of. My brain loves to pick out minor details to support this theory. It tells me that no one cares, that the world is out to get me, that it’s either me or everyone else.
Bipolar Rears Its ugly Head
It’s hard to believe this started as an amicable conversation.
In my defense, being around family is hard for everyone, not just those of us with a mental illness like my Bipolar Disorder. It’s especially hard when they’re visiting from 2000 miles away.
My parents, brother, and sister-in-law were visiting for a week and I had taken the week off to spend some time with them. When you haven’t seen your family in over a year, it’s hard to remember just how long a week can be.
We had had a great morning. The beauty of living in Colorado is that no matter where you turn, there is something amazing and beautiful to look at, climb on, and bask in. Nature is one of the few things that makes me forget for just a moment that I have Bipolar Disorder. Of course, at the time I was diagnosed depressed, not yet Bipolar.
A light lunch with a side of manic rage
The morning of hiking and sight seeing turned into an afternoon of driving through the mountains. It was nearing 1:00 so we stopped for lunch at a restaurant between two red rock cliffs.
Underneath the restaurant ran a flowing river, still high from the snow-melt. Occasionally, a group of rafters or a kayaker would flow by with it, still drenched from the rapids upstream.
We sat outside to eat. The sun was high, and the morning cool had turned hot. The large patio umbrella was a sanctuary, and we took shelter under its protection.
I had yet to realize I was about to introduce my family–and myself–to my Bipolar.
As usual, Small talk of “Did you see those mountain goats?” and “I swear if you go anywhere near a bear just for a photo…” filled the air while the server shuffled from table to table. The place was severely understaffed.
As the food arrived, a cloud moved in front of the sun, and a chill came on the breeze.
Cloudy with a chance of bipolar
The humming birds which were flitting about when we sat down had found shelter themselves. A sudden afternoon gust was moving through the canyon, and our former sanctuary had turned into a sail.
The server went from table to table, lowering the umbrellas. She finally came to ours and lowered it in turn. We touched back down, and the meal continued.
The sun peaked back out from behind the clouds and for a moment, everything was still
Manic / aggressive
The heat was back, and seeing the sweat on my family’s face, my father opened up the umbrella.
“You can’t do that” I said. I had a history in the food service industry, and I know just how irritating that can be (even to people without mental illness).
“Your mother is hot, Sean.” He said.
“It’s rude, you shouldn’t touch them. Besides, the wind here is on and off.”
I put back down the umbrella.
“Sean.” My dad started.
“Don’t” I said
The First Time I saw Bipolar Disorder
The table was silent.
Everyone, including me, was sweating. But I was right, and I’d sweat half my weight to prove it. Finally, my father couldn’t take it anymore and he opened up the umbrella.
It blocked the sun, but I felt hotter than ever. “Put it back down!” the light chatter of the tables behind us stopped abruptly.
“Sean, it’s not a big deal,” my sister-in-law chimed in. Always the voice of reason. (I’m convinced she’s the only sane one among us).
“Yes it is,” my bipolar brain said.
I turned to my father, “You’ve never worked in the service industry! You are being one of ‘those people’. Now but it the f– back down!”
Either from the near ear shattering volume of our argument (OK, my argument) or from the wind picking back up, the server came back to our table.
“I’m sorry, but we have to leave these down. There’s a lot of sudden gusts this time of the year.”
Arguments fade but mental illness is forever
I love winning arguments. I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. My technique has one crucial advantage over that of my family’s: When I win the argument, I just keep arguing.
The rest of the lunch was an uncomfortable mix of silences, low voices and occasional screaming from yours truly about how he needs to respect my town, and how I’m a grown ass adult and you can’t yell at me like I’m a kid.
It is one of the great embarrassments of my life. But I have so many to choose from.
The silver lining
While I’ll always regret this fight, it made me take another look at my mental health. It made me question my previous diagnosis, which eventually led me to get the right diagnosis. Now that I’m treated for Bipolar. The wind doesn’t blow so hard.
I’ll always be Bipolar, and I’ll always love to win arguments. Now that I’m in treatment, I get to win arguments without using words I’d regret saying, and after it’s over, it’s over.
Your (bipolar) Son
Find more resources on Bipolar Disorder, and other Mental Illness here