I’ve found that there are two kinds of bipolar depression, and few seek treatment for the second type. By identifying our depressive symptoms before we get sick, we can manage bipolar disorder far more successfully. Here are the signs of an angry and irritated downswing.
Not All Symptoms of Bipolar Depression Are Obvious
I have bipolar disorder, and even though I use the plan that I write about in all of my books, I still have mood swings. It’s an illness. By knowing the signs of an episode, I’m able to catch it in the middle and do something about it.
It’s easy to spot what we consider traditional depression symptoms: crying, lack of movement, sadness, silence, brain fog, slumped body, lack of desire, fear, hopelessness, helplessness, and an overall perception that life is not worth living.
I’m here today to talk about the OTHER depression—the one that is often mistaken for a personality flaw or written off as “being in a bad mood.”
I call the first kind of depression WEEPY DEPRESSION, and I call this depression ANGRY & IRRITATED DEPRESSION. People with bipolar tend to experience both, but we rarely get help for the second type since helping someone in this kind of depression is like talking with a really angry snake.
Are you ready to explore your own depression or the depression of someone you care about who has bipolar disorder? Let’s Go!
Signs of Irritable & Angry Bipolar Depression
You’re pissed off at everyone and everything. Kittens and puppies make you mad.
Your thinking is out of control. You think about thinking about thinking. Then think about thinking about the fact that you’re thinking about thinking about thinking. ARRRGGGGGG!
You second-guess everything you do. Turn right, and your brain says, “You should have turned left, moron!” Unfortunately, you do this with the people in your life as well. Nothing anyone does ever feels right.
What is the point of doing anything since everything is so #$#@ed up! There is a LOT of cussing in this downswing. This can’t be ignored or softened just because people don’t like vulgar words. When you’re in this mood swing, your language WILL change.
You feel you will never reach your goals and will be stuck in this current “hell” forever.
The body hurts. Headaches, backaches, eye strain, painful hair (yes, your hair can hurt when you’re really depressed). You can’t get comfortable, and you change locations a lot, looking for a better resting place that never arrives because the pain is internal.
YOU JUDGE EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. Especially yourself, but outwardly, you will tell people what you think and can be very, very unkind to people you love.
Your face looks displeased. Your judgmental feelings come out in pursed lips, sighs, rolled eyes, and other physical expressions that you are not pleased with something.
You have a negative worldview. You will find the garbage in the gutter when there is a rainbow in the sky.
You can’t see the positive. It’s not that you don’t want to see the positive—you simply CAN’T see it, because this kind of depression makes you focus on everything that is going wrong.
No joy gets through to the brain. You see something you know should bring you joy—your own child or an animal or a funny movie—but there is a wall between you and the joy.
You stop your hobbies. They seem pointless and a waste of time. They don’t bring pleasure.
You are suspicious and see the behavior of others in a negative way. If someone says something nice, they probably want something from you! (This can also be a sign of psychosis. If you actually feel that people are looking at you, filming you, or following you to do you harm, that’s indicative of paranoia rather than typical depression-based suspicion.)
You worry. A lot. Things are not going to work out. You can just feel it. Unfortunately, you can be very vocal about these worries: “We will never find a parking place” or “There is no point in going—there will be a really long line and the food isn’t good anyway,” and so on. The people around you really, really dislike this symptom.
Deep inside, you feel completely overwhelmed and worn out by life. Life feels hard. Life feels difficult. You read the news, and it just confirms what you feel inside. The world is going to hell, and there is nothing we can do about it.
You can pick apart anything nice and lovely and turn it into something dirty and worthless. You could practically do this with a child’s painting. Finding something nice to say seems pointless. You say defensively, “This is just my opinion. Do I have to be Mr. Happy all of the time!”
You are mean. Pure and simple. You see it as … telling the truth, setting the record straight, giving her what she deserved, simply stating your opinion…. People are upset by what you say, and you simply can’t understand why.
You can’t stick with anything—because everything feels uncomfortable and/or pisses you off. “This restaurant is too loud, and I’ve had it with this cheeky waiter. We are leaving!” And off you go.
You can be physically aggressive. Kicking things, slamming doors, punching walls, pushing against someone a bit too hard. (Note: if there is a lot of energy around these symptoms, there is a chance you are experiencing mixed or dysphoric mania, not angry depression. See more below.)
It’s very, very hard for you to see that you’re ill. This behavior is not how you act when stable. This is a mood swing, and the others around you can tell something is wrong, but, because part of the mood swings is a lack of self-awareness, you feel normal and can’t see that you’re sick. This leads to a lot of arguing with people who keep asking you, “What’s wrong?”
That finishes the list. I will now let you in on a secret. I made this list about myself during a particularly nasty downswing. I had ALL of these symptoms … in one morning. ALL of them.
I already know that these are my signs of an irritated and angry depressive episode. I wasn’t manic; I didn’t have the mania symptoms that go with mixed or dysphoric mania. This was simply an angry and irritated depression episode.
Distinguishing Angry Bipolar Depression from Mixed Mania
How do you know if it’s mixed mania and not plain old angry depression?
It’s all about the energy behind the symptoms. It’s possible to have all of the above symptoms and still sleep normally, talk regularly, watch your spending, keep a regular libido, and stay at a level of consistent and often low energy. However, if the above symptoms are actually a result of mixed or dysphoric mania, you WILL have one or more of these additional symptoms: noticeable sleep changes, increased libido, the desire to spend, rapid speech, goal-driven activities that you actually act on, and an overall sense that your organs are trying to jump out of your body due to profound restlessness.
Angry Depressive Episodes & Relationship Damage
I can tell you from a lot of personal experience that an irritated and angry depressive episode is a relationship wrecker. You are miserable inside and miserable to be around.
The good news? If we know what our symptoms look like before we get sick, we can manage this illness far more successfully.
Symptom Awareness & Management Can Lead to Bipolar Stability
If you recognize yourself (or a loved one) in these symptoms, write them down. Memorize them. When they show up again, you will be able to stop yourself from acting on the symptoms.
I was rude to someone during the episode that compelled me to write this list, and I felt terrible. I knew I was sick, and I knew I needed to be careful, but this illness is strong! I apologized and went into management mode; the episode was gone by the evening.
I believe that the secret to stability is the awareness and management of symptoms.
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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