Inside My Mind When I Have 'Bipolar Rage' During a Manic Episode
“Bipolar rage” can be a waking nightmare for both the person in its grips and those in its path. It may feel uncontrollable, unstable, and unpredictable. With “regular” anger, there’s usually a trigger, something you can pinpoint and go, “Ah-ha! This is what set it off and why!” With “bipolar rage,” though, there does not necessarily need to be a trigger — it can show up without warning and may often be absent of reason. This type of rage may choose chaos — it’s often not the individual choosing to lose control. If anything, control is something we may feel desperate to have, and that desperation may only make our anger more chaotic.
I can only imagine how helpless loved ones who become the target of a “rage attack” may feel. Verbal abuse is sometimes front and center during these episodes, and naturally those that are targeted can often become defensive and upset. I could encourage them to not take these verbal attacks personally, but let’s be honest here — the attack is personal because those of us who experience “bipolar rage” may often make it personal. During a manic episode, I would verbally attack someone with a fury out of hell itself and have no recollection of it.
When someone who is diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder experiences a manic episode, they may not be aware that their behavior is destructive. When my loved ones made attempts to calm me down, it only fueled my anger. Nothing could soothe it. On more than one occasion, our neighbors made noise complaints to the leasing office, but at the time, I couldn’t understand what their problem was. That was the thing — I thought everyone else was the one with the “problem” — not I. It was everyone else’s fault when I lost my temper because they pushed me over the edge. I believed this to my very core. In my view, most of the time it wasn’t what someone said that set me off, it was how they said it. My mind would pick apart their sentences and twist their words into something that threatened my vulnerability.
I went through a manic episode when I was 31 years old. Sometimes when mania occurs, a person will experience euphoria, but I could not have been further from a euphoric state. I was angry from the time I woke up in the morning until the moment my head hit the pillow at night. I couldn’t shake these feelings, and I began blaming the people around me for them. I had lost the ability to regulate my emotions. I could sense something was wrong, but did not realize it was because my mind had basically gone off the grid. I thought I was simply responding to my environment.
Although high stress has been proven to aggravate symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is how we respond to stress that can be the indicator of our present state of mind. My erratic behavior continued for weeks and was becoming more intense with each passing day. I never felt further from myself than when I was in a state of mania. I think that may be why even now, I cannot remember what I said or how I acted when rage would take over my reasoning.
I told myself I was just tired and burnt out. I did everything I could to explain away my behavior, and I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t know I needed it. I had convinced myself that once the people around me learned how to “communicate” with me better, then my outbursts would stop. My bipolar disorder was not only taking me down, but it was also taking those I loved down with me. They had to walk on eggshells around me. The home we shared was only at peace when I was at peace.
At work, I was able to contain my anger, but as time went on, the stress of my job as a mental health technician began to further exacerbate my manic episode. It wasn’t long before I was forced to reduce my hours to maintain the façade that I was “OK.” I wasn’t “OK,” though, and I knew it. I started to see the cracks in the foundation, and I felt like I was slipping beneath the undertow. Finally, after struggling for months, I was open and honest with my psychiatrist, who put me on an antipsychotic and an antidepressant. It took a few weeks for the medication to take effect, but once it did, I felt like I could breathe again.
I’m grateful for my mother’s and my fiancé’s love — had it not been for their relentless pursuit to convince me I needed help, I maybe never would have realized I did. This is why treatment should always be a team effort. People struggling with mental illness — especially during acute episodes — may need a team of trusted people around them. We sometimes cannot do it on our own. I don’t know what advice I could give on what to do or say when your loved one is experiencing “bipolar rage,” but what I can leave you with is a reminder to not stop trying to help your loved ones with bipolar disorder. We may need you more than ever.
Getty image by Alepo Beliavsky / 500px.