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The Surprising 'Warning Sign' That Lets Me Know I'm Manic

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Many illnesses are episodic. The actual ailment may always be there, underneath the surface, but the symptoms are well-controlled.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Until they’re not.

Bipolar disorder is such an illness. If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as I am, you are usually not in a state of depression, hypomania or mania on a daily basis. Your medication cocktail will make sure of that. In fact, you may even function pretty well overall, with no one being the wiser of your underneath-the-surface problem.

Until it comes bobbing back up.

For many of us, there are “warning” signs that our mood is about to slide down far too deep or begin to leap far too high. Warning signs may not always alert us, but hopefully alert those around us that we need help.

When it comes to depression, we’re often aware that there’s a big problem, and are desperate to stop feeling so incredibly horrible.

When it comes to either hypomania (which can feel like being “high”) or mania (which includes intense irritability), we might not believe an episode has begun.

A warning sign that I’m about to step into the too-high zone is when I become fixated on social media. In particular, my “sign” is getting obsessed with ongoing conversations (“threads”) on Twitter. When getting “up,” I’ve hunted down white supremacists, I’ve challenged others about the importance of trans rights, and I’ve argued with anyone who still believes autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is caused by vaccinations (hint: it’s not).

When involved in these conversations, the tweets flying from my fingers reflect my true beliefs. I do despise white supremacy. I do believe strongly in the rights of trans people, and I do damn well know that autism is not a vaccine injury.

The problem with me becoming involved in such threads are not my views, per se, so much as how incredibly fixated I get, and how I develop total tunnel vision. When becoming manic, much of who I am gets exaggerated/expanded. How much I hammer home my points, the importance I place on my words, how adamant I am about whatever I’m saying and how deaf I become to thoughts other people are expressing.

I am often bossy, incapable of listening with a modicum of patience to others, cite the fact I have a Ph.D. in about every fourth tweet, and only read part of what people tweet me, before rushing to my next point.

I will spend hours (even entire nights) staring with burning eyes at my computer screen, involuntarily jumping each time a notification pops up.

Needless to say, my obsession with these threads impacts others negatively, both those in my actual life (I become highly irritable if any of my family tries to talk to me—another, quite awful warning sign) and those involved in the thread.


While I tend to be intensely bossy and a Little Miss-Know-It-All (Ph.D.! Ph.D.!) when attached to these threads, I’m usually not abusive (unless it comes to white supremacists — I consider them fair game, regardless of mood).

Unfortunately, I’ve found, most people interacting on these threads don’t care who the person may be behind the tweets, or even if there is a person at all. They too believe they’re right, and likely find my extreme insistence that I’m an expert in whatever the hell I’m saying is incredibly annoying.

I was involved in a recent thread about the rights of women. I won’t rehash my position or views. Let’s just say they weren’t well received, and that I dug in my heels, and became more and more insistent I was correct. (Ph.D.!)

The reactions to me (and my viewpoint) escalated over a few days.

The following are the main insults I gave to others: Horrible. Idiot. Misogynist. Nasty.

Here is a sample of some the insults I received, in turn:

Brain-scrambled. You’re a liar, a s**t mother. Petty, spiteful person. It’s time for you to shut up now. Your hole is deep enough. You are shrill, self-aggrandizing and utterly predictable. Get over yourself. Grow the hell up. Shrill middle-class suburban mom voice. You are hopeless. Do you get off on playing the victim? You are tiresome and embarrassing and woefully lacking in the rhetorical and intellectual skills to go the long road. You love playing the victim, even though you are a bully, a gaslighter, and think you are much more important than you are. For a minute there, I thought you were Lena Dunham. Hateful person. You’re tiresome and unworthy of the attention you so desperately wish to have.

And perhaps the most brutal one of all: Will you shut the f**k up and go the f**k away.

My husband found me later, sobbing hysterically.

And yet, the next day, I was back on the thread, compulsively checking to see what other people had said about me.

The fact my fellow tweeters were complete strangers didn’t help. It actually made it so much worse. Because, like many people with a serious mental illness, I feel broken. I feel less than. I feel so, so ashamed.

These strangers on Twitter confirmed for me what I already knew: I was tiresome. I was hopeless. I was embarrassing. After all, many of these comments were made after they learned I had bipolar disorder.

Will you shut the f**k up and go the f**k away.

I should point out that there were about three people (all strangers) on the thread who were compassionate and kind to me, despite disagreeing vehemently with my view. They were gentle and seemed to get that no, I wasn’t being intentionally manipulative, that yes, I was becoming quite unbalanced, and that yes, I probably needed to get off the thread and go take care of myself.

To those people, I say thank you.

And again: Thank you.

To everyone else, I say nothing, as they were purely reacting to how clearly obnoxious I was coming across in my tirade.

So what am I trying to say?

What I’m trying to say is that, right now, we’re in the midst of societal shifts in terms of more awareness of gender and racial inequalities. We don’t just speak of aggressions, but microaggressions. As a society, the radar is turned on, and slowly changes are actually occurring.

But not when it comes to awareness of mental health. No, not really.

Despite the fact that 1 in 6 of us are currently experiencing a mental disorder, when someone seems “unbalanced,” they are laughed at, accused of taking advantage of being mentally ill, of “playing the victim.”

Social media sites such as Twitter are a microcosm of what’s happening in society. And, with the exception of three people out of hundreds on that thread, there was no place for compassion or an attempt at understanding why I was becoming increasingly “shrill,” increasingly insistent, or why I was tweeting for hours upon hours, despite having said I have children to care for.

Will you shut the f**k up and go the f**k away.

I’m glad there’s the #MeToo movement. I’m glad ethnic and racial inequalities are gaining awareness. I’m glad of so much that’s beginning to occur in our antiquated society.

But in terms of mental health? My recent experiences just reinforce that when it comes to a person who is exhibiting quite clear warning signs that all is not well, they aren’t worthy of societal empathy.

That message is loud and echoes what I tell myself: You’re broken. You’re less than. You should feel so, so ashamed.

Will you shut the f**k up and go the f**k away.

I don’t care what color dress people choose to wear to support mental health, or what ribbons they may pin on. I just care that we all, as a society, recognize that there’s a lot more work to be done.

Are you doing OK? You seem really upset. Maybe you need to get someone in your family to support you? Do you need to talk?

Yes, please.

Getty Images photo via bowie15

Originally published: March 10, 2018
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