When Mental Illness Manifests as Rage

In her blog post for The Mighty titled, “The Symptom of Bipolar Disorder We Don’t Talk About,” Jess Melancholia writes about hypersexuality, a symptom of bipolar disorder that sometimes presents during times of hypomania and mania. As I read her blog post, I couldn’t help but think of another symptom of bipolar disorder we don’t talk about: rage.

This is something Stephanie Stephens wrote about in her blog post, “Bipolar Disorder and Anger: Stuck on the Rage Road.”

Many people with bipolar say that uncontrolled anger has destroyed their marriages, families and personal relationships, ruined their careers and left them emotionally isolated.

Stephens states that her “long-simmering irritability and rage” can result in angry outbursts that last over the course of a few days and is a symptom of her bipolar disorder mania and agitated depression.

Bipolar disorder rage can lasts for days, as an anger that can destroy relationships and careers. But what does bipolar disorder rage look and feel like?

Often, my own bipolar rage episodes are charged with negative words that cut so deeply when spewed it’s amazing the wounds inflicted by them ever heal. It’s almost as though I have an out-of-body experience during a rage episode. It’s like I’m floating along the ceiling looking down at myself, shaking my head at all of the toxic waste that pours from my mouth, shaking my head at violent behaviors I exhibit, like throwing anything available at my significant other. Although I feel like I’m watching myself, I feel completely out of control, unable to stop myself from hurtling myself to the floor in a tantrum over what could potentially be absolutely nothing.

For me bipolar rage episodes feel like I am standing on top of a burning house, being pushed higher and higher, until I’m standing on a burning roof with nowhere to go. I can feel the fire at my heels and it sends through me a need to burst open and destroy everything in my path. For a short time, bursting open with rage feels good because it feels like relief, relief from the tension that’s mounted inside. But after a while, it feels chaotic, messy and out of control. And, after the storm is finally over, I am filled with remorse and regret for all of the painful things I have said and done.

Living with anger (whether it’s a symptom of bipolar disorder or not) can be very damaging to one’s life and especially to one’s health. According the American Psychological Association (APA), anger can increase one’s risk for coronary heart disease, headaches, insomnia and digestive problems. But there is hope.

According to the APA’s article, “Strategies for Controlling Your Anger,” there are several techniques that can help lower one’s anger, like relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or the use of calming imagery. The article offers other advice to keep anger at bay and also suggests cognitive behavioral therapy to assist with problematic anger.

Bipolar rage is ugly, messy and sometimes violent. Fused with aggression, it often becomes problematic for careers, relationships and life in general.

Those who experience bipolar rage are often steeped in deep remorse, embarrassment and regret after their bipolar rage episode ends. However, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other techniques have the potential to calm bipolar rage, offering hope to those who struggle with this particular symptom of bipolar disorder.

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