The complexity of living with bipolar II and having a career where there I am exposed to others’ trauma is a lively tightrope walk that involves honest self-reflection, exceptional supervision and surrender. I know some things, but I am not an expert. If I could re-do my career, I would go into some sort of moderately-intellectually intensive but bright work like designing murals or studying and designing how human structural environments influence behavior. I may still do that, but for now I am staying with what I know and trying to maintain employment so I can pay bills. I choose to be a realist in that way, but I realize that I need a burnout career, and I’m exploring my options before my final burnout comes.
I kind of accidentally fell into trauma-related work because an interesting opportunity presented itself when I was fairly fresh out of university. This pre-dated my bipolar II diagnosis, and I still do not totally know how this web of personal and professional knowledge and experience that I hold is interconnected. It’s fucking cool though, and I love to analyse the hell out of it. So here I go: *Please note that I might swear a bit, use generalizations, summaries and change details to protect the confidentiality of myself and others. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. I do not profess that it’s gospel. I write my posts in my pj’s, after all. I’m not perfect, but neither are you so please only bring thoughtful and kind commentary into my world if you choose to critique my writing.*
I have a shared client who has expressed thoughts of homicide towards a past partner. Please be reassured that I’ve done my duty of care and safety planning things. As I was discussing this case with a colleague, I realized that I had a more optimistic and strengths-based view of why someone might disclose homicidal ideation knowing that the person they are disclosing to will likely act on the information they are given. I thought this client was awesome to trust my colleague enough to disclose his/her thoughts of homicide. Because I’ve felt the security and relief of disclosing suicidal thoughts to professionals and loved ones who take it seriously but do not freak out, I realized that this client was likely disclosing as a protective measure for him/herself and the person they were thinking about killing. Now, I’ve also come across inexperienced dipshits who think the world is going to end and feel like a cage is the only way to contain a person with suicidal or homicidal thoughts, but I digress.
My point is this – when trauma is lopped upon to trauma (and even if it’s not) sometimes the main form of relief from pain is expressing what you are most afraid of AT THE CORE. I believe this is fairly obvious, but because homicidal thinking seems so far-fetched, taboo and so hard to empathize with, I encourage others to think of it in similar ways to suicidal ideation. It’s hard to know what feeling suicidal feels like if you’ve never felt it, but for me suicidal thoughts come when I feel I need to escape because the pain is overwhelming. When I’m suicidal I don’t generally really want to die or feel like death, but I need someone to take the plug out of my tyres so I can decompress a bit. Contrastly, when I am “on death’s door depressed” (for me a 0 which could legitimately result in a loss of life because I am needing hospitalization and unable to care for myself, I am not generally thinking about suicide). Suicide would be too hard in that instance, and I already feel nearly dead. I don’t have any research on this, but from my range of personal experience, if a person is talking about homicide or suicide, they are not generally at the point they are going to act on it. They more likely need to talk about it to someone who is not going to freak the fuck out (pardon my French).
My normal mood range is a 6 (feeling awesome) to 0 (thoughts or feelings of death). I can’t imagine going much higher than a 7. I only have a few moments in my life that would rate that high, such as the moment I saw my child for the first time. I want to make an important distinction about how my mood at 0 (thoughts of feelings of death) is quite different from thoughts of suicide. These two things are separate and quite different from each other. That is, I can be experiencing a 3 (feeling depressed) and have thoughts of suicide but be at a 0 (where I feel close to death) but not contemplating suicide, mostly because I am so miserably low and feeling such intense pain that coherent thoughts do not exist for me.
This time a week ago, I was at a 0. I am now at a 5. That’s how quickly bipolar II can flip for me. Some people might believe that I am unsuitable or unfit for my work just yet because I was literally unable to feed myself a relatively short time ago. There’s no doubt I need to maintain very close contact with my doctor, be a maniac about self-care right now and ease back into my normal life. However, going to work, contributing my dynamic perspectives on trauma, risk assessment, safety and mental health gives me a way to keep my voice alive and to speak up for those that might be finding it hard to find the most socially acceptable ways to speak up for themselves right now. I have had months off after having a major 0-level mood dip, and I believe it did more harm than good. These days, I prefer to try when I can to jump back into normal life because it doesn’t feel like as big of a canyon stepping over from illness to wellness. It’s how I’ve found I can maintain my dignity and identity when bipolar tries to break me.