If you’ve been watching the U.S. national news, you might have heard about the torrential rainstorms that are ravaging Colorado this week. My neighborhood in Boulder County has received the equivalent of one year’s worth of rainfall in three short days. Streets are now rivers, fields are now lakes. It’s as if the heavens opened up and decided to have one big cry.
Which led me to think about how often I’m now having emotional breakdowns. Just yesterday, I completely fell to pieces for really no reason at all. I just started crying, and the waterworks went on for nearly three hours. The last time I had myself a good cry was months ago. I think it had been early summer since I completely fell apart. I feel a lot like those rainstorms: months of strong emotions with no place to go until suddenly, my brain and my heart simply release, opening the floodgates and allowing all of those tears to pour out.
And the analogy applies not only to hours of crying. It could also be used to describe not just tearful breakdowns, but my history of manic episodes, as well. My last manic episode was February. A huge span of time for me, by all accounts. And before that, it had been 8 or 9 months between complete losses of control. I can’t help but make comparisons between the weather and my emotional ups and downs.
Like a devastating rainstorm, my breakdowns now only happen on an occasional basis, thanks to a combination of ECT, DBT and medication. As our weatherman predicted the unavoidable storm, tensions rose among the people living in the areas involved. Anxiety was high, and people were nervous. I feel the same when I start to sense an impending manic episode or complete meltdown. I know it’s coming, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I feel anxious and I do whatever I can to prevent the inevitable. But in my case, sandbags bear no assistance. I might increase my meds, or try to get extra sleep, but there is no way to stop the storm that is brewing in my head. I become more sensitive to my triggers, and even the slightest annoyance grows into something much greater.
No matter how many warning signals I encounter leading up to the storm, there is never enough time to prepare. And even if I had the time, what could I possibly do to prevent or dull the onset of the disaster? Like Mother Nature and her forces, my emotions are completely out of my control. I can only brace myself for what will likely prove to be disastrous to myself and those around me.
In the event of a manic episode, my family is typically forewarned. They have witnessed enough of them to recognize the signs and they do what they can to relieve my anxiety and avert disaster, but in the end the best thing they can do is to save themselves and move to higher ground. They brace themselves for the worst, and hope that their predictions are unwarranted. But unlike the unpredictable science of determining the weather, I typically never fail to “disappoint”. When all the signs are there, we are usually doomed. In the event of a devastating storm in the forecast, we can always hope that the meteorologists are wrong in their predictions of how, when, and to what extent. Sometimes the storms turn out to be not so violent, and sometimes they don’t occur at all. They just disperse in the atmosphere and never materialize on the ground. But with me, there are no mis-predictions. The episode is on the horizon, but the how, when, and to what extent of it can vary. I never know how violent my personal storm will be. I only know that once it starts, it’s unstoppable.
In the wake of a massive storm system like the one that swept through Boulder County this week, there is so much damage, so much confusion and pain. Some of the damage will take years to repair and recover from, and it is not unlike the hurt I have caused in the midst of a manic episode. Some of the damage will never be repaired – I can only hope that in time, the people I have hurt will forgive me, or in the least, forget the full extent of the pain. Repairs can be attempted, but sometimes the damage is permanent. But I don’t have the assistance of the National Guard to save my friends and family from the worst parts of my storms. The most I can hope for is that instead of a manic episode, I simply break down and cry for hours. That’s much easier on everyone, including myself.
But regardless the extent of my own storms, there is always one certainty. Storms can be very cleansing. Following my breakdowns, there is always calm. The calm might last for weeks, or it might last for months. But I savor it while is lasts. And I try to use that time to prepare myself for what comes next, and to try to recover from the damage that was done in the midst of the disaster.
The aerial video footage of the flood damage here in Colorado showed entire families being led to safety in big rubber rafts. My raft is my family. Regardless of how much I have hurt them, or how much damage I cause, they always seem to be willing to lead me to safety. They could have given up on me and left me to float out there alone, but they continue to be there for me and lead me toward the healing process that must follow any emotional breakdown. And for that I am eternally grateful.
I hope that, in the future, meteorologists can more accurately forecast damaging storms so that the public has more time to prepare for what can be devastating and painful. I hope the same for myself.