Interrupting the Eruptions

Firstly, interrupting your eruptions is much easier said than done.

Secondly, I personally have not come even close to mastering this. I only understand it on a philosophical, theoretical level. Yes, it makes sense to me, but it is very difficult to do in practice. My therapist and psychiatrist told me about these methods, and I want to pass them on as I continue to work on them myself. Both my therapist and psychiatrist believe I can get better if I use these tools.

What are The Eruptions?

This is from my own experience as a person with ultra-rapid cycling bipolar disorder (usually mixed episodes). What I call the Eruptions are the overwhelming, emotional, terrifying, obsessive thoughts that take over your brain when you are having a bipolar episode or a panic attack (I’m still not always sure which it is). These eruptions are extremely painful to experience and they manifest themselves in paranoia, fear, pain, feelings of worthlessness, anger, and despair.

This is what my therapist says is happening at these times:

  1. Your body becomes dysregulated because of a change in sleep, routine, or medications.
  2. Your body sends a surge of energy to your brain. Your amygdala fires up. Your limbic system over-activates. Your cerebral cortex (where your executive, logical functioning is) deactivates as you actually receive less blood to your frontal lobe.
  3. Your mind does not understand what is happening and tries to react.
  4. Thoughts, as usual, float through your mind. Except that this time, your mind needs to find a reason for why your body/brain is feeling this way.
  5. So you latch on to a thought that explains the painful biological eruption…. The thought that you latch onto is usually the scariest, most terrible thought you can imagine. It’s as if you are running your forefinger along a row of books on your “terror” shelf—and then you pull down the horror story.
  6. The mental eruption takes over.
  7. Your body and brain react by thinking that this thought is real when it is unreal.
  8. And thus the cycle continues until “the cloud passes.”

How do you interrupt The Eruptions?

According to my therapist:

“You learn to meditate when you are well. Through practice, you begin to watch your mind and see the thoughts float by. You learn not to grab onto the thoughts, not to latch on, but to let them float on by. For example, ‘Oh, that vase is orange. Oh, my husband might leave me. Oh, I love going to my cabin. Oh, I should do the dishes,’ and so on. You cannot practice this while you are cycling, because you are already cycling and all you can really do is let the cloud pass. The focus is on prevention—maintaining your routine and getting your mind used to not latching on to thoughts.”

According to my psychiatrist:

“You need to do positive affirmations every day. You need to look in the mirror and say ‘I love you. I am good. I am beautiful. Frank loves me.’ You need to repeat these things until the insecurity, fear and paranoia do not surface when you are in an episode.”

According to me:

When I go through extended periods of cycling, I break down. I crumble. My self-esteem collapses. I am hard on myself. The words I say to myself in my head are harsh and critical. When I go through periods of not cycling, I slowly build myself back up and the fears are not so easy to grab. So, in my mind, I need my health first. I cannot just make the fears and paranoid thoughts go away, especially when I’m already cycling. I must build myself up again, and the best way to do that is to find ways to be stable so I can celebrate myself again.

I also believe that understanding the biological function helps me (what my therapist explained). I tend to blame myself for my cycles and then the real me becomes lost in the fear, shame, and guilt.

I wonder if, through positive affirmations and meditation, if I will learn to interrupt the eruptions.

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