I have always had a temper. Except for the people closest to me, it’s a side of me that I rarely show. One of the major problems I have when managing a manic episode is controlling my anger. I usually come across as calm and friendly; a level headed type with a gentle nature. When I’ve explained I struggle with angry outbursts to people, the reaction I’ve had has been
“But you don’t come across like that” or “You seem like such a calm person!” or “Could never imagine you doing something like that.”
I find it all very difficult to explain to others. Of all the mood swings that accompany Bipolar the swell, well actually the tidal wave, of anger I feel is difficult to explain and for others to grasp. What tends to happen is that I bottle up how I feel and hold onto it when all I want to do is rant and rave. Everyone has flashes of anger and we all know someone that we describe as having a short fuse; they’re a hot head, or just generally grumpy and bad tempered. The anger I feel is sustained and intense.
It begins with a general irritability, with everything around me touching a nerve. Ok, everyone feels that way when they’re having a bad day and we might feel as if we want to burst. For me that irritable feeling is relentless, like a constant itch I can’t rid myself of. The loudness of someone eating, the way they might look at me, people getting in my way when I walk down the street all annoys me. I will snap at people vocally and internally. This will go on for days and days and, if I’m lucky, it all levels out and I act like an annoying bitch for awhile before it dissipates.
The anger, the real anger, is when things get serious. Sometimes it is an explosive rant. I’ll shred the person to pieces with a barrage of insults, or I might angrily shout about something that happened earlier in the day. Everyone does this occasionally, but nearly always it will be a significant argument or serious situation. It’s not the same for me, with the tiniest annoyance setting me off and sparking a rant. I often explain these rants as being stuck in a loop. A cyclical bout of anger I trap myself in. It can last hours, ruining an evening or a whole day for myself and everyone that has been caught in it. I literally can’t move past the problem and calm down, constantly going over and over it.
On another note, I’m also ashamed to say I have had many, many temper tantrums. Shouting, screaming, swearing at nothing, everyone, in people’s faces, in the street and at home. I’ll stamp my feet whilst I rant and rave, I’ve thrown my phone, my laptop, trashed my home. I’ve hit myself, I’ve punched the walls – I had to explain to my landlord when we moved out why there was knuckle shaped hole in the wall. These tantrums can be a response to pretty much anything that has upset or annoyed me. Once it started because I thought my brother had opened a package addressed to me. Another occasion involved me forgetting my hairbrush when my husband and I went on a trip.
Before I was diagnosed, I assumed everyone had bouts of anger similar to this but they were just better at hiding it than me. I assumed it was pms, although this anger could happen at any time of the month. Mania and feeling stable but happy are very different things. Bipolar: The difference between feeling good and mania Deciding that this was true, in certain circumstances I began to train myself to hide how I was feeling inside. At work in particular, because of the nature of my previous jobs, I would nod and smile when really I was raging. I would excuse myself and go to the bathroom, where I would scream and stamp my feet. This is one of the most unhealthy coping mechanisms I have acquired over the years and is one I can’t seem to break. Returning home after work the anger would explode into viciousness and exasperation. Everyone I have lived with, or has spent an extended period of time with me, has had to deal with this and I’ve apologised many times when I’m more stable.
One comment that really doesn’t help is “I can see you’re angry.” Yes, of course I’m very aware that I’m angry! Or “You just need to calm down.” It’s pointless to reason or argue with me and the best way for people to deal with it is to leave me to myself. I’ve told family and friends there is no point in telling me I’ve upset them there and then, because I won’t see how inappropriate I’m being. If I’m calm and stable, then I’ll listen and I’ve been deeply upset at how I’ve treated people I care about.
I know my behaviour is destructive, and after the mania has ended I am completely exhausted. I talk about the realities of mania in the post Mania is… The anger can last for weeks, or a month or two, so doing nothing for a week and catching up on sleep is all I will want to do. I’m learning to spot the signs now, but it doesn’t necessarily stop it from happening.
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