Poor Coping Skills are Worse than the Disorder
It’s not bipolar disorder, though. I’m becoming more and more convinced that his “rapid-cycling” bipolar is actually just a product of his attention deficit disorder combined with some rotten coping skills, particularly his habit of avoiding all uncomfortable feelings.
He tries to pretend that he’s not feeling the way he is, as if by ignoring it, those feelings will just magically disappear. But anger, frustration, bitterness, sadness, jealousy, and any other strong emotion don’t just go away; instead, they fester. Upset feelings that are ignored are like a cancer. They’ll eat you alive.
When he’s in these states of mind, his being is permeated with whatever negative emotion started it. The emotion is like a runaway train; nothing can stop it, until it finally runs out of diesel. At that point, my husband is emotionally spent – empty and exhausted.
He’s finally ready to switch gears. All the negativity has oozed out of him, contaminating his home and his workplace, leaving angry and hurt family members in the wake. It had to get out of him, one way or another; if not by him expressing his feelings in a healthy way, then by getting out of him in any way possible. It turns my husband inside out in the process, but apparently – no matter how painful and exhausting the whole deal is – it’s much more preferable to my husband than to talk about his feelings.
During one of these states, a friend of my husband’s suggested that perhaps my husband was simply bored with life and to encourage him to make some change to liven things up a bit. I was willing to try anything, so I asked my husband what he would do if he could do anything in the world and money was no object.
He told me that he would move across the country and find a new job at a berry farm and start his life over again, by himself. So, without showing any emotion on my part, I asked him what was stopping him – thinking that perhaps he’d say that he loves his family too much. No. He said, fear.
Clearly, he wasn’t thinking straight – he was trapped in his negativity and was looking for a way out, especially since he’s completely changed his tune about abandoning his family now that the negative mood is past – but I think he’s spot-on with the fear bit.
Fear is what gets him in these messes in the first place, and it’s what drives that runaway train. He’s scared of rejection to the point that he ignores his own God-given emotions, effectively turning himself into a monster, like the Hulk. But it’s not so simple as telling him to talk out his feelings, that I or whoever won’t reject him, that it’s healthy and normal and OK to disagree with people, that working out conflict is actually a great way to become better friends.
It’s not that easy, because the root of the problem isn’t his fear of being rejecting by others. That’s secondary. What’s actually ground-zero in all this is that my husband doesn’t like himself. He’s had ADD all his life but wasn’t diagnosed until his 30s. He’s had a lifetime of earning the reputation of a screw-up, and his most-practiced coping strategy is to hide from possible rejection – to become everyone’s “best friend,” to never disagree with anyone, to never get emotionally close to anyone. Because, in his eyes, he is what everyone has led him to believe all these years: a screw-up.
I admit that I was one of those people who told him he was a screw-up for many years, before he was diagnosed with ADD. I do regret that very much. I think I’ve done great damage there, and I’ve tried for the past four or five years to fix that. But whatever repair I’m doing, it’s going very, very slowly.
The stimulants do him wonders on the ADD front, they really do. But it’s those coping skills – those bad habits – that I really wish he had a pill for.
Brhel, R. (2012). Poor Coping Skills are Worse than the Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/moody-marriage/2012/02/poor-coping-skills-are-worse-than-the-add-and-mood-disorder/