What Bipolar Disorder Taught Me about My Frantic Anxiety-Ridden Heart

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

In this essay, I explore my experience with bipolar disorder and how the highs and lows helped me take more risks with my heart and open it
more compassionately to myself and others.

I also discuss the lyrics of the song "Heartliation" by the band AJJ. Anything I say about AJJ's song "Heartilation" are my thoughts and my thoughts alone. They are not necessarily representative of the band's thoughts or opinions.

Please feel free to check out AJJ's song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxroKXQKHJM

I am sitting in my room right now with my heart pounding with excitement and nervousness over writing this very essay. As I write, I wonder how these two feelings can co-exist inside me. I often feel like they are fighting for ground in a celebrity death match. There is Excitement – a piece of happiness and anticipation, and Nervousness – a piece of fear or impending doom. I am sure that experiencing these two feelings co-existing is not foreign to all, but it may be for some.

 
It’s not foreign to me at all. I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder about 2 1/2 years ago. It was an extremely terrifying time of my life. I was having intense suicidal thoughts and I was extremely anxious to the point where I was having panic attacks and deep feelings of shame and disgust with myself for most of the day. As someone with bipolar 2 disorder, I tend to experience emotions very strongly. I think that those with bipolar disorder often feel they experience emotions diametrically opposed to one another at the same time. This is called rapid-cycling, going from euphoric to sad in hours or minutes, or sometimes feeling these things at the same time accompanied with a slew of anxiety. Then there are times when my mood stabilizes for many weeks and I wonder when I'll start getting pulled up the track of a roller coaster. I often feel like I am a churning ball of emotions and I have no idea when I'll slow down next. Sometimes I feel pure elation, sometimes intense sadness and hopelessness, sometimes aggravation at the smallest things. And sometimes I feel like while one pendulum swings to another… that these feelings cannot exist without the other. 

Sometimes I feel like to reach great heights of joy I have to sit in the deepest darkest feelings. Although I am not sure that is true, I believe that mainstream thought about emotion teaches us that feelings are to be compartmentalized, and that this can be very problematic. It seems like just another way that humans are kept in cubicles of thought, out of touch with themselves, pushing paperwork around and submitting requests to the emotion department – “is it cool if I feel this?” – “Nope, DENIED, talk to your HR Rep.” 

There can be so much futility in compartmentalizing our emotions, and on the flip side, so much chaos in having no boundaries between them. There is a song I came across 8 months ago from one of my newfound favorite folk punk bands - AJJ. When I heard the song “Heartilation” for the first time, I was overcome with what I can only describe as joyous-grief by how much it matched my bipolar experience, and I never felt so validated in my life.

I truly felt like Chris Traeger on Parks & Rec boldly proclaiming that he was “happy-sad” while bawling on a bench outside at a party. Feeling both deeply depressed and manic can be so frantic and frightening that it feels impossible to calm down. In the throws of flipping between being happy-sad, I sometimes turned to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to just feel sane. 

And I think Sean Bonnette, the lead singer of AJJ, nailed this experience with the first lines of his song “Heartilation”:

I wanna break apart my heart
Glue the pieces to my car
Crash it into a wall
I don't want to feel at all
I want to break apart my heart

In my experience, the first few stanzas of the song really encompasses the intense feelings that come with having bipolar disorder. Those with bipolar disorder are often misunderstood, we can have what feels like an endless well of emotions and sensitivity. This can lead to destruction with one in-breath and creation with the next out-breath. With this feeling of chaos, the wish to be numb through self-medication or self-immolation through endless stabs of self-criticism is immensely strong.

The idea of breaking apart your own heart, as if it is glass or clay of some sort, reminds me of the ability of humans to objectify our own lives, and in this situation – our vital organs. He expresses wanting to destroy his heart and not only break it into pieces, but destroy it further through pure destruction and flames.

This song implies that he views the desire of destroying his emotions, which is represented through his heart, as a way to become numb. Then at the same time in the next few lines he expresses setting (presumably) his own car on fire and being a badass doing it with the flick of a cigarette. He looks at destroying himself as a way to be on top of his self-destructive attitude, so no one else has the ability to hurt him, which brings me to the next several lines.

Douse it in gasoline
So the fire burns clean
Flick a cigarette like that movie "Con Air"
Doused in gasoline

And if you think you are better than me
You're right
There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

I want to pick up the pieces
And plant them in the ground
When a tree grows there
I want to chop that tree down

Almost in secret, he sings about using his heart to create life, in this case growing a tree – almost in a way that reminds one of consumption, using things, benefiting from it, and throwing them away. Is this a cycle of suffering? Or on the other hand, is it representative of what is true about life? That feelings and moments come and go. That lives are created, live, and die. And in Buddhist thought – this cycle is one of the fundamental joys of life. Not holding onto pleasure or pain, just experiencing feelings come and go is the path, in Buddhist thought, to experiencing joy and reducing suffering and not having an aggressive relationship with life.

When he talks about chopping that tree down, destroying life once again, is it truly a bad thing? Or is it a practice of non-attachment to the material world? In Taoist thought, Lao-Tsu wrote about how materials are only so important as to how much they are useful to us. The usefulness is key. In the next several lines he explores this.
 

(I want to chop that tree down)
Build it into a boat
And float it in a lake
And with dynamite
I will explode that thing
That makes me make mistakes


That’s what seems to matter in this song. He takes what grows out of the pieces of his heart, set-aflame, and he uses it as a boat, maybe to get where he wanted to go, maybe to show that he could do it. Then he destroys it once again. I wonder, if in this creation and destruction there is a desire to show that material things are only as good as they are useful or bring joy.

In this whirlwind of metaphors and vivid emotional imagery, he says “I will explode that thing that makes me make mistakes”. This is where we come back to the feeling of the uncontrollable intensity of emotions that is the bipolar experience. Those with bipolar disorder are full of powerful emotions swirling around inside them, sometimes they bring up euphoria and gratefulness within us. At times, it can be our absolute own worst enemy, one where we tend to destroy ourselves and our relationships with others by refusing to recognize a problem. Or we destroy ourselves through alcohol and drugs, attempting to numb this chaos, and acting like it’s a rebellion.

Then I listen to the rhythm of the melody, its quick pulsating beats, an arrythmia of elation like that of a heart overwhelmed with anxiety and pure love and loss of hope and trauma again and again. It reminds me of my own experience. For instance, I will get very excited about something, but I am afraid that getting so excited about it might bring on very painful disappointment and failure. I find myself holding my breath while my hummingbird heart eggs me on to move forward. I realize I am not giving it the in-breath and out-breath of life. So, I suppose this song is the paradox of the heart without momentary oxygen. Without letting in love. With the fear of vulnerability at letting in oxygen to fuel the fire of feeling – whether it be good or bad. Is there a balance that can be achieved?

And if you think you are better than me
You're right. There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

He continues to repeat this idea that “there’s no one to love, there’s no one to trust in my life”. I’m not sure if this is the feeling of shame that comes with chaotic emotions, or possibly similar experiences of trauma with early attachments in life, but I frequently struggle with the feeling that no one will be there or accept me for the emotional whirlwind that I feel that I am.

Sometimes I get so lonesome
I can't breathe
Sometimes I get so scared
That I can't speak
Sometimes I get so worried
I can't hear my heart beat
Anyway, anyway

I connect very strongly with this feeling and I’m sure many would people feel the same. I know that when I get lonely in the way he describes, it doesn’t feel like typical feelings of loneliness, but actually intense helplessness and trauma all wrapped up into one. I remember having the idea in my head that I could stop my heart so no one could hear me, because it could invite in those that would scream at me for making a noise, for having the audacity to express sadness.

The last thing I wanted to do was invite in abuse while I was at my most vulnerable. Then I finally breathe and realize that my heart is still pumping. Squeezing blood in and out and moving it through my body. And I found that this heart that I have pumping here, is in fact, not my enemy. It’s not the harsh pulsating inside me that reminds me of the pain I’ve experienced at the hands of those that destroy emotions with an iron fist.

It is life and joy; it is fragile and strong. It is a magnetic current. So, even if these currents are switching from north pole to south pole frequently, does it mean I am any less valid or worthy? If you think of the earth and the life that flows from it, is this nature wrong? Or does it just exist. These currents that run through us can bring the beauty of the northern lights above us or it can corrode through holes in our ozone layer, depending on our relationship with it.

Under the sway of all of my moods, there is a choice of what to do with my heart. I can give it away. I can let go of protecting it so harshly, corroding it from the inside with flames of anxiety or giving myself cardiac arrest so I fail to make a sound.

Or… I can give it away, knowing that is what keeps it pumping, open, and makes life worth living.

Anyway, anyway

I wanna tear out my heart
And give it away
To a person more deserving one day

And if all I see
Is the worst in everything
That's all I'm gonna get
That's all I'm gonna get
That's all I'm gonna get

And if you think you are better than me
You're right
There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

In this brief moment of enlightenment, I believe he broke through his thinking of self-destruction and had the thought of letting love destroy him and wake him up. We can almost touch that break-through as he makes it – “I wanna tear out my heart and give it away to a person more deserving one day”. He desires to stop protecting, consuming, or destroying his fragile and beautiful heart.

Then he continues “and if all I see is the worst in everything” and he repeats “that’s all I’m gonna get, that’s all I’m gonna get, that’s all I’m gonna get”. In that window, there is a burst of vulnerability. And if we can stand back and observe the vulnerabilities in ourselves as a joyous piece of ourselves, one forged with the intense pressure of living with bipolar disorder, any other mental health disorder, or just being human. We can see that our experiences, our pleasures, our pains, our grief, can soften us into courageous people.

Then he continues as he breaks away from the thought and repeats the pattern of possibly old thinking:

And if you think you are better than me
You're right
There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

There's no one to love
There's no one to trust
In my life

Here, he acknowledges that patterns repeat until they are interrupted. He doesn’t seem to think that it all just goes away once it is seen. The thing that matters in this beating heart of a song is that the inexorable joy that exists in life can be forged from pain. It can soften us to the suffering of the world and that’s an extremely special and courageous ability to have.

There is a saying in Buddhist teachings – they say “abandon hope”. This may sound very sad and cynical, but many practiced Buddhists speak kindly of this phrase as they believe that the present is all that we have. The teaching goes that if we are living with feelings of hope that things will get better, we might be unintentionally exhibiting an aggression toward all that exists in the present, just waiting for the greener grass to come to our side. There is so much to be grateful for right now, if we could travel down to Dante’s inferno and abandon hope and let go of aggression towards ourselves and others, maybe there would be less suffering in this world.

Right in the moment of the awakening in these lyrics, there is a window of throwing oneself out of the nest in order to have a fundamental non-aggression toward himself and life. Maybe instead he believed he could watch a moment fall away with pure experience and continue to create and let life unfold to its fullest extent.

So, when it comes to the matters of these precious moments and our hearts, do we protect them harshly? Do we let them corrode from the inside with the flames of anger? Do we attempt to stop our hearts from beating so they don’t make a sound?

Or, can we break apart our hearts and give them away? Knowing that they could create something beautiful, compassionate, or extraordinary.

So here I am, giving my heart away to all of you, knowing that it terrifies me for anyone to know these parts of me so closely. But if this essay can inspire some kind of insight, validation, compassion, or comfort to those suffering with mental illness, if that possibility exists… and, even if it doesn’t… I will do my best to keep giving it away.


Submitted: January 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Roxanne B.. All rights reserved.

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