It was 2:35 a.m. when the cat decided she wanted to go outside. I listened to her bang on the blinds for several minutes before I got out of bed and made my way to the patio door. I opened the door and waited for her to step out.
When I looked down, I saw nothing. Reaching over, I turned on a nearby lamp, and the cat was nowhere to be found. After a short hunt, I found her hiding under the bed.
It’s a little game she likes to play, but on this morning it sent me into an instant rage.
Then, when I tried to reach for her, she backed up just enough that I couldn’t touch her. It’s probably a good thing, because in that moment I felt like I could rip her little head off. No, not literally. I would never hurt an animal, but for a few seconds that was the type of anger I felt.
Bipolar anger comes on that quickly. It doesn’t matter how good of a day it is, one little thing can flip a switch and the rage monster runs free.
While I’ve learned to live with this anger, there are still times when it scares me. Here are three reasons.
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Bipolar depression usually comes with some sort of warning. Usually I’ve either been manic, or I can feel the darkness creeping up on me. Rarely does bipolar depression hit me by surprise.
Bipolar anger has no warnings. It can be a beautiful sunny day, and for whatever reason something inspires the angry beast inside me to rise up, and its rage comes flying out.
The unpredictability of this rage monster makes it impossible to plan for its attacks. All you can do is work to control your monster and hope for the best.
After years of hard work, I’ve learned to control much of my bipolar anger, but it could just as easily prevent me from maintaining a relationship or job.
Only a few times in my career have I told off a customer, but there was a period while I was learning to treat my bipolar that work was impossible. During those times, an unpleasant customer could have triggered something far worse than just a verbal tirade.
Another reason bipolar anger scares me, is because it doesn’t need a trigger. Many times there could be something small setting it off, like my Bootsy running to hide under the bed. Frequently, though, the anger comes out of nowhere.
I can be quietly sitting in Bible study enjoying the topic being discussed, and instantly waves of rage will rash wash over me. The kind and mild me gives way to one wanting to throw things and rip books apart.
Nothing triggers me, but the rage still comes. It’s like living with an evil Jack-in-the-box.
Bipolar anger also scares me because there’s no reasoning with it. With some anxiety and stress, I can quiet my mind and calm my heart. Bipolar rage is impervious to reason.
I can’t tell myself to calm down or to breathe normally, and no one else can reason with me either. Often, it’s as if the people around me are no longer speaking a language I understand.
Like Bruce Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk, I become something else. My raging green monster doesn’t understand what you’re saying, so your calming words don’t help.
A fourth reason bipolar rage scares me, is that I don’t remember my worst episodes. As the rage monster rampages, I can find the most hurtful words to say. The angry beast knows your most painful buttons, and in its fit of fury, it will press all of them.
Afterwards, I have always apologized for my sins, but it’s challenging to apologize for things you don’t remember. I’m often horrified to hear the things I said in this anger state. It’s easily conceivable how someone who is not being properly treated for their bipolar disorder could commit acts of violence.
Author’s Note: Keep in mind that people with a mental illness are unlikely to cause physical harm to anyone but themselves. Often, mental illness patients commit violent acts at a similar rate to the general population, unless there is a history of substance abuse. For more information, see this article from Harvard Medical School.
My earliest bipolar rage episode happened in elementary school, long before I knew anything about bipolar disorder. I have no memory of why, but something caused me to turn on one of my closest friends. In an instant, he was on the ground with a bloody nose.
It’s one of only a handful of times I have physically hurt someone, but even decades later, those images torment me. It feels impossible to think I could have anything inside of me capable of causing harm, yet my friend with tears in his eyes confirmed it was true. Sadly, our friendship never recovered.
Let me be clear, physical violence is never okay. Having a mental illness is not a license for inappropriate behavior. If you or a loved one are hurting others during these episodes, please seek professional help immediately. If someone refuses to get help, it’s best to protect yourself and walk away.
As much as bipolar anger scares me, it doesn’t stop me from living my life. I still have close friends, take care of my family, and work full time.
There are ways to reduce the frequency and intensity of bipolar rage episodes. That may sound contradictory, based on the words above, but it is possible. Here’s a post that can help you.
If you experience a bipolar anger episode and find you’ve said terrible things, be quick to apologize. Listen to your loved ones and accept the truth of what they’re telling you. Just because you don’t remember the episode doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
It’s inevitable that as we battle our mental illnesses, we will hurt others. Our attitude and contrition after the episode will hopefully help them forgive us quickly.
Bipolar anger is a troublesome part of the disorder. In my experience, it never goes away. The right medications can help keep it at bay, but there are still times when the monster comes out, as my poor kitty recently discovered. I never hurt her, but my yelling certainly scared her.
Even so, you must continue to live. There are many people without bipolar disorder who struggle with controlling their anger, so your internal rage is not a reason for you to stop living a normal life. With time and effort, you will learn to control it.
Until next time… Keep fighting.