Bipolar disorder is sometimes categorized as a biological ailment, but in my experience, it has been a combination of biological and experiential factors that have contributed to my emotional range spanning far beyond the limits of the average person’s. From my earliest age, I have always had an abundance of energy that kept me moving around and staying active. As soon as I woke up I was constantly in motion and my teachers always commented on how I could never sit still in class. I always had a desire to get up and walk around and just move in some way. For the majority of my childhood, I was always on the positive end of the spectrum and people frequently commented on my atypical positivity. Although I had many underlying social and psychological issues I was almost always in a good mood, making jokes, and laughing with peers. There was a two and a half year spell in middle school where I went through a severe depression and nearly committed suicide. I had no friends and I was ridiculed daily to the point where kids told me I should kill myself frequently at the lunch table and in the hallways. Before this time I was always a very positive person but during this time I was extremely negative. The experiences of my life have determined which end of the spectrum I have been living on. Whenever someone made fun of me during the following years I had such a surge of emotions triggered from my middle school experiences that I became speechless because I was almost afraid I might snap or flip out if I even tried to express my thoughts. I held in my emotions and thoughts which made it look as though I was more even-keeled on the outside while internally I was swelling to a point where I couldn’t even express my thoughts, stand up for myself, or think a coherent thought. Part of this was social anxiety but another part of it was just being overwhelmed with emotion. I was generally taught to ignore people when they made fun of me and this kept my emotions at bay for several years but once I got to college I couldn’t take it anymore.
I was sick of being the scapegoat and the brunt of the joke and I started saying cruel things to people after they made fun of me or ridiculed me in even the slightest of ways. I began developing mental rigidity because I had difficulty navigating social situations where people were making fun of or joking with me. From even the earliest of ages I was always considered to be very sensitive and I still am to this day. One of the main reasons for this is I have strong emotional connections to my middle school social trauma of being constantly made fun of. It’s a salient issue for me and it can sometimes trigger emotions from those times if I’m reminded of certain things that had happened or if I’m experiencing a similar type of ridicule as I had in past years. I think another part of it is that I experience emotions to a greater extent than the average person so these emotions have a stronger effect on me when I experience them and I respond differently than the average person would. I also don’t like to let people think they can make fun of me without me at least joking back at them because they tend to do it more if you allow them to.
During college, my inability to navigate social situations created mental rigidity which spiraled into schizoaffective disorder. I also had a biological inclination towards schizophrenia from having had a cognitive impairment. Some signs of this were thought blocking, and racing thoughts from earlier years and difficulty articulating my thoughts. People made fun of me for being less socially adept even though I was still fairly intelligent. They tend to judge my intelligence by the way I socialized and not necessarily by the decisions I made. People considered me “book smart” but of course I wasn’t considered “street smart” or someone who had common sense. I did in fact, have common sense but I also had social anxiety and this inhibited my common sense during social interactions which lead people to believe I lacked a sensible mind and I was only good at school work.
As my first episode of schizoaffective disorder continued developing there were more environmental factors contributing towards my diminishing health. I was living in a fraternity where I disliked and was disliked by almost all the members. They all had knives, baseball bats, random weapons and they all did drugs worse than marijuana, steroids, and had mercurial personalities and a variety of unaddressed psychological issues. I was constantly on edge and I began flipping out and yelling with hostility at people when they tried to cause me trouble. During pledging, I had been constantly yelled at and this is where I picked up the truculence that characterized the negative side of my bipolarity during episodes. I had previously almost never yelled at anyone my entire life but once in the fraternity I probably yelled at someone once every couple weeks or so. I was constantly on edge because it was a very precarious place to live and my developing paranoia also contributed to my sharp anger and negative mood. I also listened to a lot of negative music which didn’t help either. I listened to songs about violence, drug dealing, and hostility and those were also things people constantly talked about in the fraternity. After having lived there a while I moved out and lived in isolation.
During my time in isolation I was edgy and paranoid but my mood was far more positive than it had been at the fraternity and once my first schizoaffective episode was fully developed I experienced mostly mania. Mania was an extreme adrenaline rush which kept me going for hours on end. I got it when I was doing things that I thought would save the world and ultimately put me back in connection and in good terms with all the friends I had lost from growing up and also the college friends I no longer spoke with. My mania was a direct derivative of expecting an end to what I considered to be the most traumatic of situations which was social alienation and isolation. This was also dealing with being made fun of and also being disliked by everyone I knew. I was disliked for my mental rigidity, yelling, and inability to functionally socialize with others because of my illness but they didn’t know I had an illness at the time and had no idea how to get help. When I felt the darkest of feelings they physically hurt my heart at times and it was from doing things I felt would lead me away from being a messiah that would save the world. I thought there was a telekinetic network that I had been somehow disseminating all my ideas and actions to and if I did everything correctly, it would cause a golden age which would reunite me with my family and friends. However, when I did something wrong I thought it would create revelry in the world thus distancing us. I even had a point in my second episode where I thought my mind had flipped inside out and the world would come to an end from nuclear war if I did even the slightest of things wrong. During this time I had been sleeping only three to four hours per night and I believe these emotions would have been far less extreme had I been sleeping more. My paranoia, psychosis, and lack of social interactions exacerbated the emotions because I also thought these extreme difficulties would be eliminated if I was successful in saving the world. In my mind, there were great repercussions for every single decision I made throughout the day.
During my second episode, I also had spells of truculent. I yelled a lot at my family who were closer to me than anyone. I had so much anger I couldn’t control my yelling. It came out as if I was standing straight up and someone had shoved me from behind, and I couldn’t help but fall forward. I yelled and screamed because deep down I felt my family was at fault for all the years of social trauma I had experienced. Subconsciously I believed they were partially responsible for me having schizoaffective disorder when in fact there was nothing they could do to control it. I directed my anger towards them for my predicament.
Coincidentally enough, once I was properly medicated and my mind was working in a somewhat functional capacity, I was able to sleep, and my body was functioning correctly, I got along much better with them. I was no longer experiencing schizoaffective disorder in full effect because I was medicated. Biologically my emotional range was within a better spectrum and this helped minimize some of the effects insomnia, referential thinking, paranoia, and social trauma had been having on me. I could finally function with some normality and this limited the anger but I still had several years of severe depression following my second episode.
I got to a point in my life where I knew things needed to change and I decided I was going to work towards making my life better. I worked hard in therapy but for many years I was still very melancholy. I was severely depressed from trauma which was inhibiting my ability to socialize. Although biologically I felt fine, there have been many times where I have simply been facing a number of difficult life situations simultaneously and these experiences were the cause for my depression and/or other negative emotions. At one point I didn’t have a job, I was overweight and out of shape, I had no friends and my mind still wasn’t functioning well. This was when I was depressed and spending most of my time in the basement. Needless to say, I was lethargic and had little hope for a bright future.
Once I began addressing my trauma from middle school forward, I began learning how to function better within social situations and my mood gradually improved. I was still suicidal for the first couple years after my second episode but I worked my way out of that mood as I became more adept at socializing and gained some of the things I wanted out of life, including a good groups of friends, a full-time job, and the ability to interact well with others. There have still been times where I have had a lot of anger and melancholy and most of the time these emotions are triggered by situations I am experiencing in my life. There were times where I wasn’t doing as well and I worried about how I was going to get the things that I wanted out of life. I only had several friends at times and I was working in a low paying job and I still wasn’t socially adept enough to start dating. I was also living at home and didn’t see how I could make my way out of the house. The underlying issue which created the most stress was being at stages of my recovery where I knew my mind could function better but I just wasn’t certain how to improve it. It was extremely frustrating and demoralizing knowing I had trauma that was causing me to be dysfunctional in social situations and all I had to do was resolve the issues causing it, but I was unable to identify exactly what those issues were, therefore I was somewhat stuck until I could draw those thoughts out. During my recovery, this created more frustration for me than anything else. Occasionally I have still had extremely dark thoughts triggered from memories of certain experiences and I have felt really depressed. The trigger for the emotion is usually experiential but many times the extent to which I experience the emotions is more biological because my emotional range is wider from bipolarity. Other times the degree of the emotion merely has to do with the seriousness of the situation. The good thing is I have learned how to implement changes in my life and improve situations to gain a positive outcome. I also have a good understanding of how to identify and draw out trauma from my memory bank and work with the meaning I have assigned to it and also the meaning I have surrounding it to improve my functionality. As a result, I can change the way I feel about situations and turn negatives into positives thus changing my mood.
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