(Bipolar and other mood/anxiety disorders manifest in different ways for different people. The following explaination is based solely on my experience with Bipolar/anxiety.)
The first thing you should know about Bi-polar is that it is a disease which means just like any other condition certain things are more difficult for a person who has it than it is for you. For instance, not worrying is way more difficult for someone with bi-polar or any other anxiety related disorder than it is for someone without it. The worst thing you can say to a person with bipolar or anxiety is “Don’t worry about it so much.” They can not stop worrying just by taking your advice. They are chemically predisposed to worry and in a way that you cannot physically understand unless you have been there. Even if their medication is correctly prescribed and present in their system it may not be possible for them to “calm down”. Believe me they want to be calm more than you do. You don’t have to feel what that worry feels like on the inside. It hurts. Sometimes it prickles on the inside. You feel like your heart is going to jump out of your body. Sometimes you feel like you are stuck on a treadmill and you cannot get off. Your head literally feels overfull like it can not contain the activity going on inside it. There is a physical reaction inside our bodies that we can feel. Yes we all worry at some point and yes we all get stressed but stress you can wash away with a shower or a glass of wine is not what I’m talking about here.
We need you to understand that. Anxiety is not an abstract concept for us. We can not will it away. If we could none of us would be sick. Why would we choose to be this way if we could be otherwise? It is in our bodies. Unfortunately it’s also in our mind, our brain and it is beyond our control. Like the sometimes subtle sometimes teeth rattling micro seizures I have, it is beyond physical control. I cannot stop the ripple of motion that starts in the base of my spine and snaps my head back. I cannot stop the tremors that make my legs kick etc. But I can feel it coming on. I know when my body has had enough and I’m in for a bout of seizure, the sheer exhaustion of working eight days in a row on my feel for instance. I know if I don’t get enough sleep all of my symptoms will be worse. This does the opposite of help me sleep. I know its a shocker. But once I am short of sleep my anxiety gets worse and it is harder to catch up on sleep, which makes my anxiety worse. Knowing the pattern does not give me any amunition to fight against it repeating or perpetuating. When I am short on sleep I am more likely to cry over nothing. The fear of dissolving into tears at my place of work, or in the grocery store is completely valid as both of these things have happened multiple times. Honestly the stimuli may be infantessimal but it prods the wrong nerve at the wrong time and boom, tears. So now I’m tired, I’m crying in public, I’m embarrassed about it and there is still something I have to do, like shop. But knowing the signs does not make me able to stop the symptoms. I can hide in the house but when the cupboards are bare and you just have to go to the store or you have to put your game face on and go to work you just take your meds and pray for the best. Are you starting to see the tangled web that is my behavioral existance? When I am short on sleep the filter between my mouth and my brain gets thin and its more likely that I will say something unkind which will make me feel horrible which may keep me up at night and will certainly add to my anxiety. Again to a person who only understands anxiety as “worry” this makes no sense. Just snap out of it. But we can’t and that is what makes it a disease.
Now not only are they anxious but you are making them feel like they should be able to do something about it. They can’t. They know they can’t so now they are anxious and they feel inadequate for not being able to control the symptoms of their illness. And you have no way of knowing that and you are just trying to help. We understand that but sometimes, just sometimes, it gets to be too much to be sick, uncomfortable with racing thoughts and racing pulse and then explain to someone else how they’re not helping at the same time. The stress of making your symptoms understood as something more than just being “weird” or “out of control” on top of being unwell is astronomical. I have a good medical regimen and a great nurse and it is still difficult. How hard to think it is to try to advocate for yourself while in the grips of crippling anxiety and imsurmountable mood swings. I don’t even like to think about how hard this was before I was diagnosed and treated. But my family, my partner and my support network remember and they are a good guage of just how far i’ve come.
The real kicker is that no matter how unconrtollable our symptoms are they run exactly contrary to what “polite normal” behavior is. So support, understanding and kindness from outsiders is very rare.
What I’m really saying is that navigating society with a mental disease is difficult and regardless of how I falter I believe that some great spirit is paying attention to the added difficulty rating of seemingly mundane tasks and keeping score for me. I hope to cash in these afterlife bonus points for a relaxing life next time, maybe. Maybe I feel more accomplishment this way.
Post Script: if the frenetic pace of the writing makes you feel out of breath, you have just experienced the barest hint of an anxiety attack. I hope the experience was illuminating.