In one of my posts, “Expectations”, I mentioned that I take medication for impulse control. This medication helps with regulating the anger that has formed as a result of a combination of both my bipolar and impulse control. A bonus of this medication is that it also helps with the OCD. My psychiatrist says that both my OCD and the bipolar anger (how I refer to it) come from the frontal part of the brain. I’m not going to even pretend to understand the physiology of it all, so I’ll just explain it as I have learned.
All people get angry, bipolar or not. It’s a normal human emotion, that my doctors also say is extremely healthy to feel. We must feel it to continue functioning properly as human beings. When the average person gets angry, their anger comes from the part of the brain that fires off those emotions. However, the anger that I get, and that she said many people with bipolar (and some without) also get, comes from the frontal lobe area of the brain. She said that when that part of the brain becomes over-stimulated, it prevents you from being able to control your impulses, so the anger comes so fast that I can do a complete 180-degree turn. However, the medication that I take now is great, and it has helped immensely! It’s called Tenex, and I take the generic version of it, called Guanfacine. As long as I continue with that or a similar medication, then I’ll be able to manage it. I’ll probably need tweaks as with all of my medication, but it’s working for me and that’s what’s important.
When I Knew It Was Bad
I didn’t start this medication until after an episode, back in 2009. With the exception of my mom, one of my cousins, and my doctors, I’ve never told anyone the truth about this experience. But, I think that it’s time that I finally write about it. I had been diagnosed with bipolar for only a few weeks at this point. I was still struggling to adjust to that news, and at the same time deal with all that I was feeling even prior to the diagnosis. I had been on my mood stabilizer for only a week, and it hadn’t done anything for my moods yet. But, little did I, or my doctors, know that it was the anger that was going to become more dangerous than the bipolar itself on one particular day.
It all began because I wanted to make a grilled cheese… one stupid, grilled cheese. My mom was in the kitchen and I had just gotten out of the shower. I grabbed a frying pan and placed it on the flame and left it heating up. I got the bread and buttered it, and went to the fridge to get the cheese. However, there wasn’t any in there. I asked my mom, “We don’t have any cheese?” And, she said that it had finished. It was then that some sort of switch was flipped. I yelled at her for not telling me ahead of time. She had seen me preparing to make one and did not tell me.
I was so upset and quickly turned off the flame that had been on now for almost five minutes. It was then that I just snapped without any warning. I suddenly picked up the buttered slices of bread and threw them across the kitchen where they hit the wall by the back door. It was at this point where my recollection becomes blurry, so I will give you a combination of both what I do remember and the information that my mom has given me. She said that she looked at my face, but that she did not see her daughter. She said my eyes were somewhere else and I had a look of so much fury in me. I then grabbed the frying pan by the base, not the handle. I do remember standing there with it in my hand. I remember clearly wanting to throw it with immense force across the ways into the sink, but for whatever reason I restrained myself.
After that, it once again gets blurry. My mom said that my face was still one of someone else. My anger was clear. She said that instead of throwing it, that I then grabbed it by the base again with my other hand. However, it was at that point when the searing pain snapped me out of my rage. The frying pan had just been sitting on a flame for almost five minutes, yet due to me being so gone, I had not felt the extreme heat of the metal until it had been in my hand for almost ten seconds.
It was then that I screamed and dropped the pan on the floor (which began to melt from the heat). I began crying and I was in so much pain. My rage turned to a different kind of anger. I was now angry and upset that I was in pain. But that eventually subsided though, and was replaced by fear as the pain increased. My hands were bright red, swelling, and slowly forming white blisters. I just remember my hands and body shaking uncontrollably. It was so painful. My hands felt like they were on fire. I had second-degree burns on both of my palms, and was at a loss as to what to do. I just remember looking to my mom for help. I was so lost.
I Didn’t Want Anyone to Know
My mom called one of my cousins who’s a nurse. She gave my mom some instructions of what to do, until she came to take me to the emergency. I just held my hands under cold running water. I couldn’t remove them because each time I would try, the pain would immediately take over. My mom called my dad who was at work, and as usual he began yelling and was furious. My mom didn’t tell him what happened, just that I burnt my hands on a frying pan. But, when my dad gets worried about someone he loves, he yells and expresses it in that way. It’s just how he is. He was far away working, so was not going to be able to get home until another half-an-hour, so he sent one of my older brothers to the house (they work together) since he was closer. When my cousin arrived not long after, she and my brother helped me into the car, and off my cousin and I went.
I remember feeling so helpless at the emergency. My cousin had to fill out my chart for obvious reasons. And as I sat there waiting, I just kept staring at my hands, looking at what I did to them. When they first called me to do the initial questions (blood pressure, find out what happened, etc.), the nurse asked how I burnt my hands. I told her by accidentally grabbing a frying pan by the base. She looked at me with a strange look and then asked me, “We’re you trying to kill yourself?” I remember looking at her and feeling frightened inside. I thought she was going to find out it wasn’t just a clumsy accident. My fear was (and still is) that I’d be hospitalized. I was so frightened that the truth would be found out. Prior to even entering the hospital, I remember almost begging my cousin not to tell them what had really happened. I trust her so much and that is why she and my mom have been the only two people (aside from my therapist and psychiatrist) who know what really happened that day. I didn’t want anyone to know the truth. I was afraid they’d put and keep me in the hospital and I couldn’t let that happen. I was extremely relieved when I asked my cousin to please not say anything, and very caringly and earnestly she replied, “I won’t.”
I know she is one of the people who may be reading this blog, so I just want to say, thank you again, Cuz! I appreciate you giving me the opportunity of revealing what really happened in my own time.
So, as I sat there, looking at the nurse, I didn’t know what to say. I just shook my head and put forth a fake little smile, while whispering, “No” to her question of whether or not I was trying to kill myself. She said that she needs to ask that question when such injuries occur. Thankfully, she believed me and did not press it anymore.
Once I had the Silvadene crème put all over the burns and my hands were bandaged up, the pain began to subside quite a bit. By the time I returned home, my anger that was present earlier was a mere remnant on the wall… literally. The butter from the bread when it hit was still up there, reminding me of my excellent portrayal of Baby Jane’s cruel sister.
I was calm now, though. And, after a while, I became almost giddy. I’m not sure why. It was just a switch in moods I guess. Thankfully, not all of my fingers were bandaged, so I still had a few open to use. This allowed me to at least be able to peck at the computer. I think that it helped for me to get back to some kind of normalcy after such an experience. I couldn’t do a whole lot, but I pecked away, and did a lot of researching and reading on what I had gone through. I wanted to read about others who could understand, because at that point I did not even understand what it was that truly had happened. I had reached highs in my anger prior to that experience, but that was the first time of reaching such a point. It was pure rage that went through me that day, and it terrified me.
It was also then, that I could truly reflect upon what had transpired. The memories that I did have of that experience were strong and clear, while the rest were muddled and hazy. I felt so much emotion that resonated on various levels.
I was hurt that I had put my mom through that. The guilt for that was the worst of all. She did not deserve to be yelled at in any way, let alone for such a menial thing in the first place. She also definitely did not deserve to have to witness her daughter flip out on her. I disrespected her that day, and to make it worse, I also
frightened her in the process. I am sorely sorry for that. And, to top it off even more, I also put my cousin out on her day off. She works nights as a nurse. And here on one of her days off, I go and take time away from her busy day so I can go to the emergency… for an unnecessary injury no less. It wasn’t right.
I also felt so disappointed in myself for throwing the bread across the room. I still tear up when I think about that entire experience, but the bread part gets me on a unique level. My mom and dad have always worked so hard to provide for their family. My dad sweats and gets tired as he works hard every single day to put food on our table. And, what do I do? I throw it across the kitchen. I am so disappointed and disgusted with myself for disrespecting my parents and their home like that. It hurts me that what my parents work hard for was just wasted and ruined because of me. I wish that was a regret that I did not have.
Ultimately, though, I began to feel like I deserved what had happened to me. I deserved to have second-degree burns after how I acted. I deserved to struggle with basic daily tasks due to my two hands being bandaged and in pain when touched. It was my rightful punishment for acting like I did. And I admit, that I even wondered if it was God dishing out the punishment.
They Helped Me… They Listened!
I was extremely nervous about telling my therapist and my psychiatrist what had happened. When I saw my therapist a few days after the burns occurred she immediately had a worried look on her face when I walked into her office with bandaged hands. I knew I could not hide it from her, but I didn’t want to either. As scared as I was to tell her, I also wanted to hear her support. I wanted to hear her non-judgmental voice, and I had hoped she would tell me that I wasn’t a bad person.
She listened to everything that I said, and she indeed gave me that very support that I needed. She also told me that I needed to tell my psychiatrist. I did not want to. I worried she would put me in the hospital, but my therapist insisted that at that point she would not because I was not in the rage-state at that time. She insisted that I tell her. I can now say that I’m quite glad that I followed my therapist’s advice.
My psychiatrist explained that what I was experiencing was not a normal kind of anger. It wasn’t produced in the area of the brain where “normal” anger is, but rather in the frontal lobe, as I mentioned earlier. And, most importantly, she stressed to me that what was happening to me was not a fault of mine. It was not a character flaw. It was a biological malfunction that was causing it and when combined with my bipolar it just became too much. She said it’s common with bipolar. It was also explained to me that my OCD and mild Tourette’s (which I’ve had since childhood) come from the same area in the brain, due to that section regulating impulse control.
In addition, my therapist helped me to take that medical information, and better understand what happened to me that day. After discussing the experience at length, I realized that although the bipolar and impulse control were the cause, the experience itself was a reaction to a particular trigger. When this all happened, I was in the midst of a deep and dark depression. I felt so hopeless and alone. And, I also felt like nothing was going right in my life. Everything seemed so pointless and upside down. Then, the day came where all I wanted to do was make a simple grilled cheese. So, when I discovered that there was no cheese in the refrigerator, that was the trigger. However, the trigger wasn’t the actual grilled cheese (or lack thereof), but rather what the grilled cheese symbolized. It was the idea of once again something not going right. It was a moment where all the built up feelings of disappointment – feelings of hatred for myself, the feelings of failure, frustration, loneliness, emptiness, and being misunderstood – just all came rushing out and I exploded. It was the gunshot that triggered the avalanche.
The Anger Today
I still experience the anger today, but nowhere near the intensity as back then. My hands are completely healed, and thankfully I did not cause more serious damage to them. However, my memories of that day are still clear, and cause me to flash back to that day each time that I place a frying pan on an open flame. I know my mom thinks of it often too, as she always warns me to be careful whenever there is something hot on the stove. She’s always done that, but since that day, she has become much more persistent about it, repeating it multiple times.
And then, there’s the impulse control medication. One unpleasant effect of the medication is a result of it actually doing its job. When I begin to feel one of those outbursts coming, the medication seems to show its true effect as it keeps the anger restrained. It’s in that moment that I can feel the anger, but cannot release it. It’s like a lid has been sealed over the release valve, but the contents of the valve have not been removed. I can physically feel it inside. It’s an uncomfortable sensation that goes through me, and there is not a single thing that I can do about it. It’s just how it is, so I just have to deal with it.
I guess it’s better than the alternative, though.