I have come to realize that a lot of people simply do not grasp that there is an extreme difference between genuine human emotion and what people with mood disorders experience. I feel like this is an imperative distinction to understand for the mentally ill and their loved ones. If you don’t understand how you’re different; how are you supposed to minimize the damage and find solutions to the problem?
So let’s talk emotions. A normal person will experience a wide range of emotions; but those emotions will not regularly cause interference in their lives. It is normal to make bad decisions while emotional. Everyone does it whether it be from anger, jealous, or sadness. Bad decisions occur. The important thing to remember is that a normal minded person will still feel fairly consistent through these mood changes. What do I mean by consistency?
Let’s say you have a fight with a significant other. You may be absolutely pissed at that person for whatever reason; but you still love and care about that person. If that person had an emergency, broke down on the highway, or had a loved one die; you’d probably swallow your rage and deal with it. Arguments happen in relationships and it’s a normal part of being in someone’s space for an extended amount of time. Even if you’re angry, your love and care for that person is still there. Another good example is if a child gets into an accident. First there’s the concern, “is my baby alright?” Once it is determined they are, then comes the anger or disappointment if applicable.
That’s normal. A mood disorder causes a person’s emotions to shift completely into extremes.
Let’s say you’re with a Bipolar partner. The two of you have a bitter argument and their entire demeanor changes as a result. They inform you that they hate you and you had better not go to sleep tonight. If the person has swung unwell because of the fight (a potential trigger), their mentally ill brain is now feeding them false information and feelings on the situation. If an unwell Bipolar person says they hate you and you had better not go to sleep tonight; you better take that shit seriously and get help before things have the opportunity to get bad.
At that point in time; there is no begrudging love. That’s why affairs happen so often by Bipolars. It isn’t that they don’t love their partner. It’s that they get caught in a torrent of unwell thinking that is convincing them that they do not love or care about their partner at all while they are sick. When the person rebalances out, then they get to look back on the horrible things they did, said, or put their partner through. Decent people will feel terrible about doing those things.
And I hear from misguided, good Bipolar people that they don’t want to use their mental illness as an excuse. “There was no excuse for me to do that.” I’m not suggesting you should use it as an excuse, but you can’t harbor self-hatred for mistakes made while you were unwell. Would you feel guilty and beat yourself up if you couldn’t play baseball because you broke your leg? And I know what you’re thinking- “that’s not the same thing”. Yes, it is. It’s exactly the same thing. Your brain is an organ that can be subject to being sick and not functioning correctly. If it’s sick and not functioning correctly, how can you be expected to make the right decisions all the time?
That’s what makes it a “mental illness” instead of a “mental super happy fun time”.
Does that mean the person should be absolved of any responsibility because of their actions? Absolutely not. The feelings of the normal person who was hurt in the process need tended to as well. I am a firm believer in never apologizing for being mentally ill; but you can and should apologize for hurting people that you do so they can cope with it and move past it.
People with a mood disorder who have not been diagnosed or studied their mental illness often fail to understand there is a difference. In fairness, how could you? A person that has been riding the rollercoaster a majority of their life isn’t going to have any kind of frame of reference to understand what is normal emotion and what is mental illness.
A person experiencing regular sadness will not be contemplating killing themselves or self-harming. Regular sadness does not turn you numb and apathetic for an extended period of time. That is when it is crossing over into depression territory. Even in deep sadness over the betrayal of a loved one; the love will still be there beneath the hurt likely creating internal conflict of the person. The mind of a person with a mood disorder will just jump on the “fuck you” thought process and run; completely changing while they’re unwell. And when they rebalance out they get to look back on the ashes of what they destroyed while unwell.
Happiness is similar. Yes, life is hard for a lot of people and filled with unpleasant shit. But it is not normal to NEVER feel any sort of happiness at all, ever. Hypomania and mania are severe. They cause the person’s brain to scream along in a direction and leave plenty shattered in their wake. Love may disappear or it could become an intense fixation, more pure and passionate than anything we’ve ever experienced. That person is perfect, angelic, and can do no wrong. And that right there is a major sign that we are screaming into insanity. That is a perfectly unreasonable thought process to have about anyone. No one is perfect. No one can do no wrong. We’re all human.
If you’re trying to help an undiagnosed loved one understand why their moods and emotions are fucked up; remember that they probably don’t have a good point of reference to understand what “normal” is. You have to explain it to them in a way that they will be able to understand.
“I know you don’t think you’re depressed; but normal sadness does not virtually cripple a person. You’re sleeping 16 hours a day, skipped a week of work, and haven’t eaten or showered in four days. Sadness does not do that to a person. You need to talk to a doctor.”
“I know you don’t think you’re manic; but your passion and clarity are not normal with happiness. Being happy shouldn’t cause you to completely change what you like and dislike. And it’s normal for happy people to even have doubts on some of their major decisions that you’re just jumping into without a care in the world. You feel great, you quit your job, and now you’re ready to hop a bus to Nashville to pursue a music career when you played guitar for like six months in college? It’s not rational thinking even though it feels so right and so great to you right now. You need professional help.”
And as always, these are just general thoughts. Everyone’s situation is different. The more personal you can get with it, the better opportunity you’ll have to break through the madness. So give it some thought; and if you need help with your approach; leave a comment or email me directly at the address listed below and we’ll see what we can come up with.
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