So, I was contemplating about how I often feel like I don’t belong in so many different situations, and I think I am starting to understand why a bit better.
I kinda hate the word ‘misfit’ but if I am honest with myself regarding the definition (“a person whose behavior or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way”), it really does describe well how I often feel when I’m around others.
Only about 1-2% of people in the United States have bipolar disorder…about 2.3 million people all together. If you play around with the numbers (I’m I’m no math whiz, I actually still use my fingers at times…just ask ma), it’s about 46,000 in each state, and in terms of the number of counties in IL where I live (I’m sure you’re all jealous I live there since it’s such a great state right now 🙄), that’s about 450 people in my entire county of over 104,000. Now here’s my point: I really am an outsider in terms of having bipolar. Statistically, it would be pretty unlikely for me to interact with anyone else bipolar on any given day since it’s relatively rare compared to other disorders. For example, about 20% of the population deal with anxiety disorders and about 14% have major depression every year; so although these are horrible disorders to have there are still many more people who might understand what others are going through because of their own personal experiences with them. By the way, if you’re thinking you know numerous people with bipolar, ask yourself if they’ve actually been diagnosed by a psychiatric specialist or if they are assuming they are because of their mood swings. It’s so easy to self diagnose in light of info online, and I’m guilty of it too. Just this month, I’ve told my son I have 3 different diseases since I love to peruse WebMD. Just sayin’. (P.S. O doesn’t worry about my diagnoses like he should…I wonder why 🤨 ).
When I’m around other people, whether it’s at school or at a family function or in the gym or where ever, the chance I’m the ONLY one there with bipolar is huge. HUGE! And since I’m most likely the only one there, how can I feel like I fit in with everyone else? How can they understand how my mind works? Or how sensitive I am to criticism or rejection? Or how I might not be able to control how ‘manicky’ I am, despite others possibly saying, “C’mon, Kristi…just calm down!” How can others understand how I might be really happy when I get somewhere but then get really down if something was said that seems silly to them, but actually hurt me pretty badly (“Kristi…you have to stop being so sensitive. It’s getting old!”)? How can I tell them them that even though I was so excited to plan on being somewhere, I’ve cycled into a depressed state where I can now barely interact? When you think about, it’s no wonder I feel like I don’t fit in…like I’m always on the edge of whatever group I’m around.
Now let’s throw another wrench into the equation: research is showing that those of us with bipolar might experience either very HIGH levels of affective empathy or very LOW levels of cognitive empathy. What’s the difference? Affective empathy is when you basically ‘feel’ and ‘mirror’ another’s emotional states, whereas cognitive empathy is understanding someone’s emotions, but not actually feeling them yourself.
Well…we all know how lucky I am so…drumroll please…I was blessed with the VERY high level of affective empathy! Yea. 🙄 What does that mean in terms of my everyday life? Hmmmm…where the hell do I start?
I know this can be hard for others to understand, but I literally (I hate that overused word, but I’m too lazy to open up another tab and take a look-see at the thesaurus for another 😳) feel what others feel. When someone is crying in front of me, I cry…not just because I see their tears and feel bad for them, but because I ‘absorb’ their pain like a sponge. Empaths soak up the world of feelings that surround them and this can be so fucking exhausting (dammit…I was trying not to say it, ma…but…). It’s hard enough to deal with my own feelings since those are plenty to handle as is. But pour everyone else’s feelings into the mix, and it can wear me down completely.
This is a particularly huge problem in relationships. Empaths take on the other’s emotions, absorb their stresses, feel their pain, etc. It’s like we’re living the relationship on both sides: their feelings seeping (or actually madly rushing) into us while our own are bubbling in there too. Now, couple that with being mega-sensitive and personalizing things like those of us with bipolar often do, and I think it’s clear why relationships can become all consuming very quickly.
Even though I’m not always conscious of this happening, I am conscious of how over-whelmed I can get in relationships and how that can affect my mood and behavior. When I get frustrated or distressed or upset, it can come out in anger. Like I’ve said before, anger is more of a reaction we have which actually has other emotions buried underneath it (embarrassment, fear, grief, shame…). And since people with bipolar have a lot of stuff happening under the surface, anger is something else that’s common among us. Go figure.
When I think about my marriage to my son’s dad, I see it as the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. Hubby 2 came from a really solid family and had one of those wholesome upbringings with nothing ‘bad’ really ever happening to him. I didn’t have to absorb much from him because he was usually on a pretty even keel and my emotional stresses were fairly low.
Hubby 3 was much more of a challenge. He brought a lot of baggage into our marriage and couple that with the bipolar suitcases I carry, it was a lot. R’s moods were very unpredictable, especially those first couple of years, and having that load on me was problematic, to say the least. His stresses became my stresses. His anger became my anger. His insecurities became my insecurities. This is such a hard thing to explain to people who aren’t empathic sponges. Sometimes he would say, “Why are you so upset? It’s my problem!” What he didn’t understand was this: his problems were passed onto my little empathic heart and TA-DA…they became mine too.
The same thing happened when J came along. I’ve said before that he has PTSD from being in the military and has also been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Both of these cause great fluctuations in mood and behavior and I wasn’t just watching that ride, I was on it with him. Sometimes he’d wonder why I was so stressed or upset. How do you explain it’s because everything he’s projecting/feeling/acting out on, I’m taking in…’literally’ (that damn word again 😐)? His pain. His anger. His instability. I was a passenger on that roller coaster with him, along with riding my own. No wonder the weight of it often became too much for me.
After he cheated a couple of years ago, I was angry. And rightfully so! But I also felt so much more: I personalized the affair to the point I just knew it had to be my fault. Cognitively, I know that’s not right. Emotionally, that’s how I felt. And then after, when we ‘started over’ and he became so much better to me, I not only had all I was feeling from the affair, but I was also absorbing all he was feeling too, whether he realized that or not (and no, I strongly doubt he ever reads this blog…someone asked me that the other day). His own anger over his guilt. His own doubts about our chances. And even his own grief over the woman he loved and had been with. Somedays this would be so freaking overwhelming that I couldn’t breathe, and the only way I could handle things was to channel them into anger. It’s the quickest release there is when you get that overwhelmed with feelings…it’s like a pressure cooker easily exploding if you fiddle with the lid.
I used to wonder why I’ve had such a hard time getting past our relationship and it’s finally beginning to make sense to me. When I caught him cheating the last time I saw him, he started crying and hugging me when he realized I knew someone else was in the apartment with him. That emotional outburst pained me so much and it was extremely confusing to me. I had so much running through my mind and my heart and then I had that to deal with as well. I had my anger and confusion and disgust and disappointment but all of that was connected with his pain too. It was so much to handle and it was a horribly complicated time for me. You know, I totally understand that being empathic like this isn’t something that’s rational, but it is something inside of me that I can’t control. How I wish I could!
I’ve also been able to understand my need to be alone at times. Being so overwhelmed by all of this ‘absorbing’ (like I’m a Bounty paper towel) means us empaths need time to get away from it all. We need to process all of these feelings and stresses and moods so we can decompress.
So many empaths can’t sleep with their partners (actually sleep with them all night…we like the naughty stuff 😳) because the stresses of the day and the burdens we’ve absorbed are simply too much. We need that space to come down again. To unload ourselves. To be able to focus on our own stuff only. I love to sleep alone. There’s only 1 partner I’ve ever been able to sleep with and besides him, I’ve always had my own bed. I used to feel SO guilty about that, and I know it’s probably very hard for other people to understand. It’s almost like you’ve been running a race all day, with others on your back, and you finally have a chance to put those burdens down, stretch out, and have it just be you without that sponge taking over. There were times in my marriages where if I hadn’t had that, I would have burst. Like a big zit. 😐
Anyhoot, not fitting in is actually starting to make sense to me. I don’t necessarily like it, but I know I’m different. My brain works differently. My heart works differently. My moods work differently. My feelings work differently. It does make me a ‘misfit’…I’m not like everyone else. There are so many times I want to be and I think about what it would be like to be more ‘normal’. More relaxed. To be able to be around others without taking all of their ‘stuff’ in, along with my own bipolar issues.
But then again, sometimes I think that maybe it’s ok to be different like this. Maybe others need me to be. Maybe helping others with their burdens is a gift I’m able to give. Maybe it pays others back for having to deal with me being bipolar. Maybe, in a way, it’s what others should be more like. Just a little. Because think about it…if we could all ‘share’ our burdens, feel other’s emotions, take on some stress from others, wouldn’t that lead to more understanding and insight? More compassion? More appreciation for all of our different situations? Wouldn’t that empathy make us better people that don’t cause pain because we feel it so intensely? Hmmmm. Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?