Seductive Self Pity and Sweet Anger Part 1

Part 1: They Meet

Ok, Not Really.

Identifying Unhealthy Patterns of Anger and Self Pity

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.    — D.H. Lawrence

I found some of my notes from my posts on how I fight bipolar disorder, and I thought I would treat you to some of the issues I wanted to address but which were probably too narrow to include in a general mood disorder article. You lucky people, you.

About two months ago, I went through a little slump.  Just a couple of days of sadness and fatigue, nothing really out of the ordinary. It passed. Then I went to an event which involved a great deal of activity and stimulus (http://texrenfest for me, and so I intelligently stopped taking my meds regularly. Don’t worry, I was still taking them, but I would miss days here and there. Ok, I missed about two out of three doses. For a week or so. The consequences of doing so were that I had a huge meltdown about a week ago, spent the next three days recovering, and then I had to be really strict with myself about the meds. I experienced more side effects, and I was less stable than usual. Welcome to fatigue and nausea city! Fatigue and nausea town? In any case, it wasn’t a spot you’d choose for your destination wedding. The moral? When you’re experiencing fluctuations in mood, and when you’re engaging in activities that you know might make you fluctuate, make sure you take your medications correctly!

I noticed during my meltdown that the first emotion I felt was a sort of self-righteous anger. Yes, I notice things when I’m having an irrational mood swing. If you have a mood disorder, you may have noticed that you tend to detach when experiencing strong emotions. People often describe it as a feeling of “watching” themselves and having no control over their actions, as if they were “someone else.” This is called “dissociation (http://en NULL.wikipedia” Wikipedia says so. While I was crying hysterically, I noticed that I was very very angry, mostly because “no one ever listen[ed] to me,” “no one care[d] that I have a right to feel this way,” and “I listen[ed] to everybody all the time, but when I need[ed] someone to listen to me, no one [gave] a shit!” This was about the time I noticed that I was feeling really sorry for myself. That’s a classic bipolar pattern, in miniature, because these emotions went away the next day.

So what’s with the anger/self pity pattern? I mean, sure, the sudden, evil, gut shredding anger is part of a chemical fluctuation in the brain, but the pattern of anger and self-pity seems pretty common, not only for me, but for a lot of people with mood disorders. Heck, even “normal” emotional traumas like grief or even unemployment can evoke this pattern! So what gives?

Anger is pretty natural. Come to think of it, so is self pity. Both are (usually) responses to outside stimuli. Problems occur when these emotions don’t go away, and if they start to impair one’s life, whether the problems occur at work, at home, or with other relationships. I guess the trick is really to try and figure out what we are feeling, and if those feelings are helping us or hurting us!

Easier said than done, right? Anger is pretty straightforward. We get angry when someone hurts us. We should ask ourselves, though, are we angry all the time? If nothing else, statistically it’s impossible that someone is hurting us all the time, so if we find that we’re always angry, we might want to look within for the problem. The more seductive emotion is self pity. If you read back in this blog, you will see that I’m no stranger to its wiles! Sometimes I have to make a whiny blog post just to get self pity to loosen its hold!

What’s the deal with self pity, anyway? Self pity is a way of self comforting. Little kids do it to elicit sympathy and/or advice from adults or other kids. Adults sometimes do it because “If I don’t feel sorry for myself, no one else will!” (That one’s my personal favorite.) Again, sometimes feeling sorry for yourself is healthy. What’s unhealthy is waking up every day and telling yourself: “I hurt so much, and nobody cares.” “Why does everything always happen to me?” “If people only knew how bad I feel, they would feel sorry for me.” Wait — what?

Who really wants people to feel sorry for them? Nobody healthy, that’s who. Self pity is addictive, too. Once people start feeling sorry for themselves, they sometimes don’t want to stop. Why? Well, it’s comfortable. Remember how I talked about taking responsibility for your mood disorder (Look under Step 2)? When feeling sorry for oneself, it’s healthiest to move on and use that self-pity as a step toward accepting something (such as a layoff or the death of a loved one) or deciding to change something (such as getting treatment for an addiction or moving to a different apartment). Still, sometimes we get trapped in the folds of that self-comforting behavior.

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