Bipolar Disorder is a useful coping mechanism???

Over the years I’ve developed a good understanding of how my relationship with bipolar disorder works.  I’ve come to realize that bipolar disorder exists to help me cope with circumstances that I unconsciously perceive as beyond my control…times of stress, fear, uncertainty, change, excitement, pain, overwhelm or any circumstance that could potentially threaten my ego, quality of life or survival.

In this blog, we will explore some of my ideas (that are a work in progress) about how mania and depression work as useful coping mechanisms and how they may come to be an “emotional roller-coaster from hell”.

I notice that bipolar disorder responds to circumstances that are beyond control with the following responses:

  • Fight = mania
  • Flight = mania and depression together, known as a mixed episode aka emotional roller-coaster from hell
  • Freeze = depression

How mania works as a coping mechanism:

  • Mania replaces fear with euphoria, courage and intense focus (aka goal directed obsessions).
  • Mania replaces powerlessness and/or pain with rage and irritability as well as feeling invincible and taking action.
  • Mania dives in and takes action during times of uncertainty, excitement, threat and overwhelm.  It does not back down to fear.  Mania beats fear up and flies away like Superman.
  • Mania replaces self-doubt with grandiosity and exuberance.
  • Mania replaces “not knowing” with an abundance of ideas.

Mania is an awesome coping mechanism, yet many people don’t experience it that way.

A problem with mania is that it can go way too far.  It doesn’t have it’s “Coping Recipe” perfected. Mania gets a little carried away in the kitchen. Instead of a dash of exuberance and euphoria, it pours in the whole jar.  Instead of a pinch of rage, it empties it’s pockets into the pot.  Instead of “one plan of action” it throws in every possible idea you could ever have all at once.  Instead of a little self-esteem it freely pours in grandiosity and omnipotence.

Mania only knows how to do things in EXTREME. Maybe mania wants to not be afraid, overwhelmed etc…so bad that it just keeps pouring in the ingredients until there is an out of control roaring fire.

How depression works as a coping mechanism:

  • When emotion, pain or fear is too big, depression makes it so you can’t feel emotion.  Depression makes you numb.
  • When you don’t have the resources to manage your circumstances, depression waits our the storm which allows you to conserve your energy.
  • Depression does it’s best to release pain through tears.

A problem with depression is that not being able to feel can be more painful than the feelings themselves. Being numb can often cause people to not feel alive and want to be dead.  Depression often lasts longer than the circumstances that cause it.  Depression does not turn off after the storm leaves.  Crying uncontrollably often causes people to feel guilty and bad about themselves.  It is not okay in our society to openly experience depression; therefore, we have to hide it which makes it worse.

Mania and depression have been described as an “emotional roller-coaster from hell” and that is a fair description for what I described earlier as “Flight”.

How I make sense of “Flight” aka the “emotional roller-coaster from hell”:

Bipolar disorder doesn’t really know what is going on and what to do because we are going through fear, uncertainty, stress, excitement, change, threat etc…so it takes a gamble…

It throws in a little mania into the pot…a splash of euphoria with some hyperactivity, but the fear etc are still there.  It didn’t work…

So in order to cope, bipolar disorder throws in a grandiosity…but fear etc are still there, it’s still not working.

Bipolar disorder gets a little frustrated so it throws in some rage…it doesn’t work.  Fear etc  are still there.

So it gives up a little, it throws in sadness, frustration and guilt for not working…Fear etc are still there…so it adds a bottle of “numb”.

Now that  bipolar disorder is desperate, it dumps in the exuberance, the rage, the grandiosity, the impulsivity and obsessive goal-directed behavior all into the pot…there is an explosion.  But the fear etc. are still there.

Bipolar disorder keeps doing this until you take the fire away from the pot.