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Part 22: Bipolar Disorder and Anger: Learning to Fight the Monster

Illustration of an angry man sitting in a car and writing in a journal
All I could write were angry words. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

My face was so hot I expected it to burst into flames. Bipolar anger was raging within me, another trial I was learning to fight after my diagnosis.

In my journal, I filled an entire page with four-letter words and exclamation points. My fists longed to punch someone, and I imagined taking a sledgehammer to the walls and windows nearby.

What set me off? Nothing really. Bipolar disorder and anger are lifelong friends and a beast inside you have to learn to tame.

This is how anger affected me in the early days of my bipolar journey and how I learned to control it.


Surviving Bipolar is a monthly series telling the story of the early days of my journey with bipolar disorder. Read it from the beginning here.


Problems with anger as a child

As a child, I often had rage attacks. It’s just one way mental illness manifested during my childhood. Each angry episode scared me, but my friends loved to see the rage monster come out.

A tiny thing would set me off, usually an unkind word from a teacher or a cruel attack by a classmate. The irritation flipped a switch in my brain, and like Bruce Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk, I became something else.

Most of the time, I was a happy kid. I loved to smile and laugh and felt like it was my job to make everyone else do the same. I guess even then I was pursuing positivity, but I didn’t know it.

Occasionally, that cheerful little guy became an angry monster.

My arch nemesis was a boy named David. David’s life mission, at least through elementary school, was to make my life as miserable as possible.

David, my childhood enemy

“Hey Willy,” David would whisper in my direction.

For context, Willy was a nickname I carried in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. Our teacher thought my friend Angie and I were spending too much time together, so she named us Willy and Nilly. Angie’s nickname never caught on, but I was branded as Willy until I went to another school.

Sitting quietly at my desk, I focused on the math assignment worksheet. Multiplication tables. I hated them so much.

Six times eight is 48, I said slowly in my head.

“Hey Willy,” David tried again. “You’re stupid.”

My plan was to ignore David. If I gave in, things always got worse.

Seven times eight is 56. I tried to make my voice louder inside my head.

Then a spit wad flew past my arm and bounced off the front left corner of my desk.

Great, I thought. Now he’s got a straw.

Pinterest Pin:
In this captivating piece, we continue exploring the Surviving Bipolar Series. 

This chapter peels back the layers, revealing the often-overlooked aspect of bipolar disorder and anger. 

Through the lens of one writer's personal experience, we delve into what it feels like to live with this unpredictable emotion, and how it shapes the everyday life for those battling bipolar disorder.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
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Relentless irritation triggers anger

David sat a desk away, diagonally behind me. There was nothing between us to block what I knew was coming.

Glancing up at the front of the room, our teacher was oblivious to the students in the room. She buried her nose in a romance novel, and we knew her one command was we stay quiet.

Another spit wad hit the side of my neck.

Stay calm, I told myself. He’s not worth it.

A wet ball of paper bounced off my forearm.

I turned to David.

“Knock it off,” I told him, and he smiled.

I returned to my multiplication table. Nine times eight is 72.

Another ball of paper flew over my desk. As much as David practiced shooting spit wads at his fellow students, he was still a terrible shot.

In the next few minutes, three more lumps of paper ricocheted off of me or my desk. With each attack, I felt my anger monster stirring within me, but I knew letting him out would have consequences. I hated being in trouble, so I fought to keep myself at peace.

Then a squishy, wet blob of paper hit my ear with such precision that it stayed there.

Illustration of a boy with a big smile sitting at a desk
David’s greatest joy came from torturing me. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

Flying into rage

Flip. The switch was on. I was no longer me but the beast that lived in me.

“I hate you!” I screamed, jumping up from my chair, pulling the hunk of paper from my ear and throwing it at David’s face.

I grabbed the straw from his mouth and tried my best to rip it apart. When that didn’t work, I crumpled it into a ball and threw it at him.

“You’re such a baby,” David taunted me, only making my anger burn hotter. I picked up the pencil off his desk and broke it in half. Then I broke each piece in half again, throwing all four at him.

David laughed, and that was more fuel for my fire. I snatched the sheet of paper with the multiplication table David should have been working on and tore the paper to shreds, tossing them in the air.

Losing control

With nothing else on his desk, I went for David. I imagined wrapping my hands around his stupid neck, but just then, another hand caught my shoulder and spun me around.

“What do you think you are doing?” My teacher’s face was as red as my own. “We do not act this way,” she scolded me. “Now, apologize to David.”

“He started it,” I tried to defend myself, but by then there was no proof of what David had done.

“I don’t care,” my teacher said, turning me back to face David. “Now apologize.”

David smiled like the Cheshire Cat, and I wanted to rip the smile off his face.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, looking at the floor.

“To the corner,” my teacher ordered, and I stomped my feet with every step until I reached the punishment chair in the front corner of the classroom. I sat down hard on the plastic chair and kicked the block wall in front of me.

“Would you rather go to the principal’s office?” my teacher asked, but of course I didn’t. It was 1981, and spanking was still allowed in my elementary school.

The last thing I wanted was that wooden paddle smacking my rear end. So I crossed my arms and huffed in anger, but forced myself not to move again.

Pinterest Pin:
In this captivating piece, we continue exploring the Surviving Bipolar Series. 

This chapter peels back the layers, revealing the often-overlooked aspect of bipolar disorder and anger. 

Through the lens of one writer's personal experience, we delve into what it feels like to live with this unpredictable emotion, and how it shapes the everyday life for those battling bipolar disorder.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva AI.

Bipolar disorder and anger as a young adult

Bouts of anger continued throughout my school years. I learned to handle most of my irritations, but the monster still broke free now and then.

Each time, I swore to myself it would never happen again. As the beast rampaged, destroying pencils and paper, throwing books, and kicking walls, I felt like a helpless spectator watching a movie. I was the main character, but someone else was controlling my actions.

Some friends still laughed at the angry outbursts, but others were afraid of me. I hated how I made the scared ones feel, like it was a failure on my part as a human being. I couldn’t even control the way I acted, no matter how hard I tried.

In my teen years, my family felt the worst of my rage monster. After eight hours of controlling myself in school and another four hours at my retail job, I was too tired to control the beast at home. My heart ached every time I blew up at my mom or dad, but the words always felt like someone else’s.

I was coping with bipolar disorder and anger, though I didn’t know that until I was 23. Even after my diagnosis, it would be another few years before I fully understood bipolar anger and how to control it.

Raging over little things

Jumping forward to 1995, rage episodes were happening more often. Every few weeks, I had another medication change, either an increase in dosage or a switch to a new prescription.

The constant chemical changes in my brain created such a sensitive trigger that even the sound of my kittens scratching in the litter box could make my blood boil.

The page in my journal covered with curse words was all because two of my friends were running late and I needed a ride to my therapy appointment. It wasn’t a big deal, and they were only five minutes late when the rage monster screamed inside me, but that was beside the point.

Instead of erupting in anger, I gave my friends the silent treatment and answered their questions with cold, clipped sentences. Yeah, I know, really mature, but it was better than exploding.

A poem about the beast inside me

Finding the trigger

Bipolar disorder and anger episodes often have a trigger. In the back seat of the car, as my friend Margaret drove us to Chattanooga, I scribbled more expletives in my journal. I knew my anger was unreasonable, but the fire inside refused to be quenched.

Why? I kept writing in my journal, and then in a violent flash, it all made sense.

My therapist, Dr. Burt, and I were working through some of my memories of childhood abuse. I desperately wanted to believe the memories weren’t real, but the more I sat with each one, the stronger the memory became.

The irritation I directed toward my friends was tied to the anger I felt about the events I suffered as a child. The connection? I’m still not sure, but something on that late spring afternoon made my mind return to those memories. My fear of the memories made the beast inside come out to play.

It takes a lot of time and effort to sort out your triggers when grappling with bipolar disorder and anger. Looking back at the past few decades, I still can’t make sense of some triggers, but I know there were connections. When I learned to identify the places, activities, and sometimes people who trigger my anger cycles, I was better able to avoid them.

Other triggers are easier to see. It may be a rude customer, an unkind friend, or a pet waking me up in the middle of the night. Disruptions to my schedule and people not following through with their promises also set me off, so I’ve learned which friends I can turn to and ignore the rest.

Illustration of a man meditating near a stream
Take time for self care. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

Living with bipolar anger today

I would love to write here about how mastered my bipolar disorder and anger. I wish I could say I’ve never had an episode since, but that would be a lie.

Most days, I’m better at keeping things under control, but sometimes, the monster breaks free no matter what I do.

For me, the worst times come when I’m sleeping too little or doing too much. Working 6-7 days a week during tax season keeps the anger close to the surface. The danger is so strong that I wonder how many more tax seasons I’ll be able to work. The exhaustion is not worth the damage it does to my mental health.

My angry beast will also show up when I’m not taking care of myself. If I go days with sleeping too little, skipping exercise, or eating junk food, the missed self care rouses the monster.

Bipolar disorder and anger are a tough pair to tackle, but success is possible. Identify your triggers and keep working to stay calm, and it is much easier.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Read Part 23:

Coming soon!

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Pinterest Pin:
In this captivating piece, we continue exploring the Surviving Bipolar Series. 

This chapter peels back the layers, revealing the often-overlooked aspect of bipolar disorder and anger. 

Through the lens of one writer's personal experience, we delve into what it feels like to live with this unpredictable emotion, and how it shapes the everyday life for those battling bipolar disorder.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva AI.

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