Risa has an MSW from Fordham University and a BA from Columbia University. She has spoken of living with mental illness for the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and was featured in Women’s Health Magazine’s May 2016 issue regarding mental health. Risa was also a panelist on AOL Build discussing the effects of stigma on those with mental illness. In 2017, Risa was also featured in an episode of Dr. Oz discussing her success with ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) and was a featured speaker at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford’s first annual event: Embracing Possibility for Mental Health Awareness and was awarded the 2018 Humanitarian Award at the second annual event. She has written for OC87 Recovery Diaries, Huffpost, Psychcentral, Kveller, Keshet, The Mighty, Bring Change 2 Mind and was published in the 2nd and 3rd volumes of Stigma Fighters Anthology. Risa lives in central Connecticut with her husband and their 10 year old daughter.
In this piece I write about having racing thoughts and how they can interrupt me in different ways. My writing here does not always flow. My thoughts go one way and then another and is written as such. My husband pointed this out to me and it would be a disservice not to publish it in order to truly demonstrate how my bipolar mind works.
I feel most feelings very intensely. When I am sad, it can feel like the world around me is crumbling and this is similar when I feel angry. For me, anger is not simply anger. When I feel angry, I can feel irritable. But these days, I have surpassed feeling irritable. What I feel now is agitation and it is a strong, sick feeling of anger on steroids. To me, feeling irritable is definitely not a good feeling, but agitation, for me, can feel like a living hell where I literally feel as if my body will either implode or explode.
Irritable: easily annoyed, impatient, upset or angry (dictionary.com)
Agitation: psychological and physical restlessness, inner unrest, turbulence, inner conflicts and upheaval (dictionary.com)
When I feel irritable, I feel on edge, annoyed and impatient. When I feel agitated, I feel emotional and physical restlessness where I need to move my body. I also have inner conflicts between my voice and the worst part of my inner psyche: my self-hatred voice which is the darkest part of me and often takes over. My body can feel rigid and my filter is completely gone. I can make snide remarks, one after another, under my breath, and many times they are geared toward my husband, who does not deserve any of it, but it’s always those closest to us that bear the brunt of our emotions. When my husband calls me on it, I either feel justified in my obnoxious remarks, if I am still too far into the agitated state or I feel such severe remorse that my self-hatred voice barges in and says the cruelest things to me and about me. Those statements are so inappropriate and not realistic, yet I go along with it as I believe I deserve it as punishment. This is most definitely a type of self-harm: saying to myself, I’m a fucking moron, I am stupid, can’t control myself, a terrible wife, a terrible mother, a terrible friend, etc.
This is where it is extremely important to have a plan with loved ones. My husband needs to let me know when I am being a bitch to him, or in general. Sometimes I am already aware of it, while other times I need more time to process or simply have no awareness of it. What is essential, though, is that we talk about it and I do not mean only apologizing to him. I mean that with an apology, I try to talk about what was going on for me. I could’ve been triggered while taking a walk and seeing too many people without masks on or I could’ve been cut off while driving. Sometimes, I am not aware of any trigger which also must be communicated to him and is part of the Bipolar experience. It’s a work in progress for us but it’s an important aspect of our relationship that only benefits our communication with one another, as difficult as it is.
My “bipolar agitation” also takes form with my racing thoughts, as when, for example, I am having a conversation with my therapist, I can misunderstand something she says or feel angry about something she says, as I can have difficulty processing so many thoughts at the same time. I can feel such intense agitation, as if whatever she said is a catastrophe that brings me to confusing conclusions that feel terrible. I end up feeling rage and intense anger that can bring on a panic attack, as my mind tries to substitute those intense feelings with more intense feelings of terror. I do not like feeling angry and have always had difficulty with this feeling. This is another work in progress, in terms of allowing myself to feel the anger while also dealing with it in a healthier way.
So much of my agitation and anger is about control. I often feel out of control, in terms of my emotions. On Saturday, after weeks of only feeling bits and pieces of hypomania, I really experienced it at a higher level. I was so happy and prayed that it would continue for at least a few days. I was realistic in knowing it would not last forever. When I am hypomanic, the world feels and appears differently to me and it is truly awesome. It lasted a little over a day and then I sank quickly into feeling depressed, tired, not wanting to see anyone or do anything. It happened so fast and there was nothing I could do about it. I was unable to control it. I sometimes have this belief that I should be able to completely control my emotions and then become angry with myself that I cannot do so. I am able, at times, to see that it’s unrealistic, given that there is organic biology involved that I, literally, cannot control on my own. Another work in progress.
I like to think that feeling feelings intensely can be a good thing, certainly when feeling happy or excited. My difficulty is that I feel and experience most feelings intensely and it is exhausting when they are not “good” feelings. This is part of my experience and matches what many people with bipolar disorder experience. Feeling agitation and anger is very difficult for me but I plan to continue to work on coping with these feelings in healthier ways. Again, another work in progress.
The premise of UCONN’s Pandemic Journaling Project is to record, in real time, our experiences, thoughts and feelings about this time in our lives. Options are writing, posting a photo or audio to answer questions posed on a weekly basis. This was my entry for this week which is featured on the site.
Since school became something done by “distance,” throughout each day I think I hear school buses drive up and down my street. They are not school buses just some form of a truck. There are no school buses because the buses have nowhere to go and no one to travel in them.
The swift and dramatic change may not have come as a surprise but that doesn’t matter as it did occur and is bringing our kids directly to the end of their school year. My daugher is completing 4th grade in a manner none of us ever imagined in our lifetime. And yes, there are consequences. So many consequences: educationally (kudos to my daughter’s school for being ahead of the game and literally beginning their distance learning when the call to close the schools occurred), financially for families, and, of course, our children’s mental health as well as our own. Yes, there are so many more consequences for our kids but I am focusing on the mental health aspect as it pertains to my family and our personal experience of this unheard of pandemic.
My daughter shows a brave face but I can tell there’s more going on inside her head, emotionally and internally. My husband and I, individually, talk with her alone and together, resetting our safe space, as a family and within our home. No bite. There have been two times since this began in March when she talked to me late at night, sobbing, that she wants things to be “normal” again. She wants to actually be in school and see her friends in person. I told her both times how much I want that for her, too, for all of us and I was clear that while I did not have answers for her, that the 3 of us are together and that her daddy and I love her so much. She was able to then go to sleep those nights after getting to a point of comfort and love (I hope and assume).
Her father and I are tired, weary, running on fumes but we get up every day just like we did before the middle of March and begin, what is, our routine du jour. We definitely have allowed her to play too much Minecraft, allowed some behavior slips, but, like every other parent out there, we are doing the best we can. Yesterday, though, my husband and I discussed that she can’t stay inside all day. When the school day is over (online), she needs to be outside. We had a good flow of this for a while but got off-track these past few weeks, again, her father and I guilty of allowing too much Minecraft. Today she’ll take a walk with me and probably play in the backyard. We have one child and a sibling would come in handy at this time! The 3 of us are it and it’s hard. This is cabin fever on steroids yet we will continue to follow protocol as we want to stay healthy.
What is the answer? What do we do? These are million dollar questions right now. I certainly don’t have answers to them and I’m a clinical social worker with a specialization of working with children and families! I do think opening the lines of communication, in an age appropriate way, is a good step. Kids want to feel protected, taken care of, loved and while that’s an everyday scenario, there may need to be more of an emphasis on that right now. Physical and emotional support means everything to a 10 year old as she leans on me while watching TV and I braid her wet hair at night while watching some painful tween TV show. I’m “holding” her in different ways but conveying the same intention, “I love you, I will do my best to keep you safe and I will always be here for you.”
I think using the very real idea that we are at home, together, for now, can be a good thing. My daughter and I were talking about this about a half hour ago and she said, “ you have to look for the silver linings.” I’m not sure if she heard that from someone or somewhere else but she understood it and proceeded to tell me how lucky I am to have her home all of the time (joke). What is interesting is that when I began writing a biographical description of my struggles with mental illness (circa 2016, not in the works currently), my working title was, Silver Linings.
She also talked about the weekends and being together and I mentioned how I’m not currently working therefore I’m home on Sunday mornings and how nice it is to be lazy together. We talked about our discovery of how much we like hiking and how we found a couple of great spots to do so. Would that have happened otherwise, pre-pandemic? Perhaps, but probably not in the same way.
We have each other in a very different way right now and I just want to hold on to her and my husband and be smart and safe. I want to continue to be honest with her that I simply don’t have all of the answers as I will not lie to her and I will continue to do my very best at keeping her safe.
I will not hear the sound of school buses, until the fall or maybe later. Look for the silver linings. I will hear the laughter of my 10 year old, see her develop powerpoint presentations on why she should be allowed a new Xbox game (yes, she does that), create and complete her own art projects and spend this time with my two favorite people in the world.