I am the king of burning bridges. Put me in a situation, have someone do me wrong, and I’ll launch a cruise missile at them that could turn the Bay Bridge into a seven mile piece of frayed rope connecting San Francisco to Oakland. I’m not talking about someone stepping on my foot by accident. I’m talking about the time a company came to fix my kitchen cabinetry and the owner grabbed and kissed my girlfriend in the parking garage when I wasn’t around, then denied it. Or when an acquaintance was supposed to watch our dogs for the weekend never showed up. Upon return our apartment looked like a giant un-flushed toilet bowl, smelled like a men’s room in a Greyhound Bus Station and the dogs were gnawing on furniture for nourishment. However, he did take the two-hundred and fifty dollars we paid him in advance.
And, the cruise missel is usually in the form of a venomous voice mail, a hot tempered email or a no-turning-back text message. But even if they really are rotten people, when I take a step back I always feel I was too harsh, escalating the situation and wishing I had thought about it a little longer before I hit the “send” button. Even after I have made the mistake of reacting too soon hundreds of times in my life, like a compulsive Black Jack gambler, I keep asking the dealer to hit me when I’m holding two face cards hoping for an ace.
But what is that ace for which I am looking? Is the recipient of my snide comments or email rants, no matter how justified, going to suddenly see the light and make nice too me? Are we going to sit on the floor and play paddy-cake? Face it, if I we ever cross paths, I’m the one who is going to feel like I just got stuck in an elevator with my ex-father in law.
If you are bipolar and have been going off half-cocked all your life, even when justified to later regret it, you are not alone. I have spoken with many fellow bipolar illness sufferers who have the exact same issue. My belief is that we feel things on a much deeper level than normal people as we have a higher consciousness of our emotions. Our psyches are more delicate, and when something happens making us feel happy, excited, angry, unjustly wronged, sad, etc., we sense it more strongly and more immediately. If it’s anger or injustice, we as bipolars tend to act quickly because we want to resolve the negative emotion. We want the sadness to go away and not become a trigger causing a major episode.
The solution doesn’t involve air guns and paint balls being shot from a moving vehicle. Simply give yourself a cooling off period before you react. Set an arbitrary period of a time, like a half hour. Try and think about sending or leaving that message and how you would feel if you ran into this person the next day. Also, is this person a bridge you want to burn? If you tell your male-chauvinist supervisor he’s a freak and quit, you are decimating your chances for a good relationship with the company as a whole? Worse yet, what if you end up working with this person again at another place of employment? That’s enough to justify an extra Xanax for first day jitters. Chances are if you really think it over, you’ll use a more tempered approach.
A few weeks ago I was driving home in thick downtown rush hour traffic. I couldn’t find a good song on the radio, my “low fuel” light went on and a fax machine kept redialing my cell phone and blasting me through my speakers. All of a sudden a banged-up maroon mini-van battering-ram darted out of a parking space and cut in front of me, causing me to slam on my breaks. I almost hit the guy. Then he darted up the street and pulled into another space. My heart was in my throat. I took a deep breath. “What a fucking idiot.”
I drove a little further and the same mini-van pulls out of its new spot and cuts in front of me, almost causing me to hit him again! I was furious. Now, I am not a confrontational person. I was the kid who covered up every time my grade school friends threw fake punches at me. However I lept out of my car, leaving it idling in traffic like a car thieve’s wet dream, went up to the mini-van and tried to pull the driver door open to verbally assault the terrified diver. When he frantically locked the door I pounded on the window until it fell off the track and into the door. When the middle aged bespectacled driver started yelling for help, I realized I was committing a crime, was hit by a lighting bolt of common sense and ran back to my car. And the very worst part? Traffic patterns forced me behind this guy all the way back to my obscure neighborhood, on the complete other side of the city. We practically lived next to one another!
It’s likely I will see the maroon mini-van again. And, I am the one who blew up. I am the one who will feel shame when he points me out to his children and says “Stay away from people like that. He’s a bad man.” I doubt the guy even knows he cut me off twice. Worse yet, he could have had me arrested for attempted battery and property damage. For the rest of the evening all I could do was marvel at my stupidity. I had never done anything like that in my life. And now the consequences made me feel like a criminal on the lam. I kept waiting for the cops to kick down my door with the min-van driver in tow yelling and pointing at me sitting on the couch in my underwear, “That’s him!. That’s him!”
At 46 I’m just learning the lesson of not burning bridges. As bipolar individuals, I think we have it a little harder because our emotions get the best of us and weaken our impulse control. So we have to be extra vigilant when it comes to letting things “marinate” before we serve them up. Because once that bridge is on fire, it’s virtually impossible to put it out. And the last thing you want are people saying, “Oh, he’s bipolar. Just ignore whatever he says. He’s not right.” Then it doesn’t matter what you say, nobody listens at all.