Bipolar – Learning How to Behave


Learning how to behave… I know that title might seem a bit odd or offensive, but hear me out. I grew up manifesting symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. My father may have been an undiagnosed bipolar person. Whatever he was he had the temper and anger of a demon. Between myself and with my father as an example I learned how to behave very badly. Somehow my Mom managed to teach me some good manners and I could put my polite hat on when I needed to, but much of the time I was just angry and depressed and it came out in my behavior and my attitude.

I behaved badly especially at home. In high school I wanted to be included in things but was too scared to. In college I got involved an everything I could. I’m not sure where that came from. I went to a Bible College and I behaved like I belonged there. When I graduated and left, the façade faded away and again I was that violently angry person inside. Unfortunately, I wasn’t polite or respectful especially to my family.

Now that I’m well medicated, am pretty healthy and have been in therapy for years I can look at myself and my current behavior and be more or less objective and honest with myself about my behavior. I’ve learned that I sometimes still struggle with in being courteous, being tactful, using the correct tone of voice, smiling, and having the appropriate facial expressions. Strange list, don’t you think? When I thought about what to write today I realized that these are things that directly impact how my Mom and I get along. She’s coming over today to help me pack my things for my move. I always try to prepare myself and think about how I’m going to act when I’m spending time with family because they are the ones I tend to act the most inappropriately with.

Courtesy – Dictionary.com begins its definitions of courtesy with the following two entries:

  1. excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior
  2. a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression.

Courtesy is nothing more than controlling my selfishness in all situations. It is respecting other people’s feelings. It is not, as I was prone to do, blurting out what I feel in my bipolar moments. It requires self-control. It is not always easy, especially when I am angry. Courtesy also requires self-awareness. It becomes more possible the more I have a positive attitude and it reflects quality of my goals and passions. The more I devote myself to those the more my behavior moves in line with their essential quality.

Tact – There is a right time for everything and a wrong time for everything. In this case I’m talking about my historical behavior of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Today I will be testing myself on whether or not I’m able to be courteous and speak with tact while spending time with my long-suffering Mom. I have been known to speak out of turn, speak in antagonistic tones, and interrupt her when she is speaking. I have been known to regularly question the soundness of her opinions and comment on any mistake she might make in texting or speaking.

While I am doing well I have no excuse to continue to behave in this manner. I’ve put in a lot of work on myself and this is a simple test for how good I’m doing. Can I keep my mouth shut unless I’m going to say something nice to her today?

Tone of Voice – There is something that we use to express our personality every time we speak and that is our tone of voice. If we say one thing, but our tone of voice says something different, we will be conveying something other than what we might intend to say. When I speak with my mother and I’m behaving badly my tone of voice is the first place it is evident. If I say something to her in a disrespectful tone of voice, but say something I think is respectful you can bet she won’t think I’m being respectful. She’ll probably be hurt that her daughter is speaking to her in such an unloving manner. Bipolar Disorder is not naturally conducive to good behavior.

Smiling – Smiling is much the same as tone of voice. In fact, if you are smiling when you say something it will be heard in what you say. When I’m feeling stressed out and angry it is very difficult to smile. But smiling is something I can control and I can do even when I don’t feel like I can say anything polite. My objective with my Mom today is to smile and be respectful and thankful that she’s taking time to help me. I don’t deserve the help. She’s doing it because she loves me. She still loves me after all the long years of bad behavior on my part.

Facial Expressions – Smiling is obviously one of the facial expressions I’ll want to use if I want to improve my relations with my Mom and other people. I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten into fights because of someone’s facial expression and what I perceive as their tone of voice. I react to facial expressions even if words are absent. Worse, I don’t control my own facial expressions.

If I really appreciate my Mom’s help today, my smile should reach to my eyes and be evident in my tone of voice. I should be tactful and not insult her if we don’t understand what the other is saying. I should be polite and respectful.

Sometimes I have to take a step back and examine my behavior to see if it lines up with who I’m trying to make myself to be or if it is more along the lines of the behavior I’ve tried so hard to leave behind.

I have no delusions that I will behave appropriately in all situations. I’m still human and I still have a mood disorder. It can be hard or impossible to smile when you are really on the down side of darkness. It’s okay.

Do the things you need to do to be healthly and stable again. When you cycle back up you will still have this knowledge you have gained about yourself and how to interact with your world. Take your meds as prescribed, go see your counselor when you’re supposed to, see your doctor if you need to, reach out to others who know who you are and you can trust to support you, exercise and eat healthy meals. If it seems like you’re just going through the motions that’s okay. Those motions may just bring you back to a happier place sooner and bring joy to your life.

Today, I will behave.

{Later} It was a good day. I only snarled once.

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