My computer is decorated with innumerable Hulk stickers. I have several Hulk t-shirts. I have a stuffed Hulk on my desk. In the way that many people with bipolar, particularly those of us who are artists, claim Vincent Van Gogh as one of ours, I claim Hulk.
Much like Hulk I have a rage issue. This is not something most people are comfortable talking about. I know that I’m not. There are aspects of bipolar that I am not ashamed of. Rage is not one of those. I am ashamed of my rage.
When I rage I become someone I hate. I lash out. I yell. I break things.
After the fact it is embarrassing; it is shameful. But in the moment I have absolutely no control. That does not absolve me of the behavior, nor does it prevent me from experiencing intense feelings of incredible guilt and shame.
So what leads to my rage?
Rage and self-harm are both coping mechanisms. They are ways to process anxiety, panic, stress, racing thoughts, and other symptoms of bipolar. They are “maladaptive” coping mechanisms. There are much, much better ways to cope with these emotions and symptoms. Those methods, however, are not easy, and do not come naturally to me.
Therapy and medication help with this, but there aren’t really any shortcuts. I had roughly 20 or so odd symptomatic years to develop these maladaptive coping mechanisms. I have had just a few years to try to unlearn them. It is tough to overwrite so much experience and such ingrained patterns of behavior. You must, in the words of Yoda, “unlearn what you have learned.”
Before my diagnosis and treatment I taught myself cope by building a wall in my mind that would hold things like my rage back. Unfortunately building and maintaining that wall uses an awful lot of my emotional energy. And when I have used up that energy the wall falls. When that happens I lose control and become a passive observer in my own body, seeing what I am doing but powerless to change anything. I am no longer in the driver’s seat.
I know better than to rage. I know not to yell. I know not to lash out in anger. I know not to break things. I especially know not to break myself through self-harm. And yet it happens. It may happen less than it did before my diagnosis and treatment, but it happens.
Hulk is a superhero despite an incredibly maladaptive coping mechanism for his anger. I don’t turn green. I don’t grow exponentially. I certainly don’t use my rage to fight evil (or Wolverine). Hulk is fictional and I am all too real.
I’m working on my rage. I’m working on making “Tom Smash!” a thing of the past. And slowly but surely I am making progress. I am learning how to not act like Hulk.
I am not Hulk. Though it would be nice to be built like Lou Ferrigno.