People living with bipolar feel life more intensely. How do you handle random encounters that can substantially, sometimes dramatically, shift your mood?
By Stephen Propst
Ups and downs—in a matter of minutes
Recently, while attending a Mental Health Conference in Washington, DC, I found myself with a little free time. So, I attended a timeshare presentation. From past experience, I knew that these can be intimidating, unnerving, and sometimes overwhelming. (That sounds a bit like bipolar, right?)
But this situation was unique because it illustrated a particular facet of bipolar that often catches me off guard. The young lady who recruited me to learn more about vacation ownership was incredibly kind. In fact, I formed a friendship with her and was actually looking forward to the presentation she had scheduled.
Likewise, the gentleman who took me on the tour was extremely pleasant; I genuinely enjoyed talking with him. These simple encounters truly lifted my spirits. I recalled past experiences when something seemingly minor noticeably and almost immediately did the same.
Unfortunately, I would soon be reminded yet again that what goes up must come down … and sometimes hard. If you’ve ever attended a sales talk of this type, you know that the “closer” eventually joins the conversation. This is the person whose sole job is to get your signature, no matter the cost. This particular individual was calculating and condescending and cost me my good Mood.
In a matter of minutes, I went from feeling great to grim. My entire demeanor changed; I now felt depressed, dejected, and deflated. I walked out of the resort with head hanging and heart hurting. Something seemingly insignificant had suddenly robbed me of my good mood.
Fortunately, after returning to my conference, I again ran into my newfound friend who had originally signed me up. After I explained what had happened, she was very understanding and apologetic. Once again, almost instantaneously, she turned my temperament around for the better.
That night, I attended a conference session in which a remarkable psychiatrist presented research that provided an explanation for what I had experienced earlier that day: People living with bipolar feel life more intensely. Random encounters—like being approached by a friendly face or a cold closer—can substantially, sometimes dramatically, shift your mood.
We’re all susceptible to stress. Bipolar carries an additional burden, however: what might be a minor trigger for most people can spell major trouble for us. Utilizing coping skills—which you might learn from your therapist, at a support group, or from your own research—can help soften the blow.
For example, be aware of situations that might elevate your mood too much or too quickly. Try moving away from a problematic situation (or person, as in my DC scenario) and toward something (or someone) more calming and reassuring. Doing so can help boost your morale.
No matter what life brings, using such techniques to moderate your mood makes sense. How do you currently respond to people, places, or things in life that stimulate or suppress your mood? How will you choose to react in the future? Your answers to these questions can help you understand how to better manage mania when something good happens or deal with depression when something bad happens.
Again, mental health professionals can help educate you, and peers can help empower you. It can be very reassuring to get educated, perhaps at a mental health conference, about the science behind your symptoms and to learn that there’s often a method to the madness.
Life will always have its ups and downs, but when you live with a mood disorder, these shifts can be far more sudden and severe. The next time something unexpectedly messes with your mood, don’t underestimate the role you can play in the toll it takes. Make an effort to put the brakes on how high or low you let your mood go.