hair trigger

I remember once describing to a psychologist – years before my diagnosis – the feelings I was having when I got into a argument with my soon-to-be-husband. After one phone exchange, a wall of orange-red rose up in front of my eyes, like a migraine aura, clouding my vision. There was a ringing in my ears, as though I were about to faint, a tingling sensation in my extremities, and a tightness in my chest. I wondered if this was what having a heart attack felt like. Was I dying?

But it was just my body, mainlining anger-fear-panic. Maybe the person who had coined the English phrase “to see red” had been experiencing something similar.

The psychologist calmly discussed mechanisms for safely exiting this state without hurting myself or anyone else. So I bit down on my pillow and and closed my eyes, waiting for it to pass. I don’t even remember what the fight, or fights were about. Just the feeling of being overwhelmed by the physical manifestation of my emotions. I haven’t seen red for many years, but there are other feelings that my body gives voice to and magnifies in ways that I’m not sure other people’s bodies do. Or not with quite the same intensity.

I find it simplest to describe these using the vocabulary of recreational drug taking, because drugs tend to enhance your perception of feelings and emotions in a similar way. In my youth I tripped out on mushrooms and LSD, rushed on speed, coke and ecstasy, and blissed out on MDMA, so I have some material to work with.

There are my whooshy adrenaline rushes. The good happy ones where I soar, head upturned to the sky, blissed out on the best home-spun MDMA, usually with a musical accompaniment, because feelings like that really need one. If the rush gets really powerful, I might even let out a quiet little moan, after checking there is no-one in the immediate vicinity. Or stop and lean back against a wall; take a few deep breaths. If it feels too strong – like too many lines of coke, strong – a beer will bring me down a notch, so I might stop at a bar and drink one, alone.

Then there are the bad “the bottom just fell out of my world” dives. These are the worst because I can be on a hair trigger sometimes and truly never know when I might step into the down elevator and plummet. The ground comes rushing up to meet me; the panic, the fear, the nausea become all I am. There is always a reason, but my body’s reaction to whatever circumstance is not a rational one, and I lose all ability to react in a measured and logical way.

So I have learned to withdraw when that happens, to try to remove myself from certain situations until the feeling ends. My default position is head between knees, somewhere private: a work toilet cubicle, any toilet cubicle. Breathe in, breathe out. It will pass. Like any bad trip. It’s just a too high dose of something, coursing around my body, scrambling my brain.

Hopefully, when I emerge from the cubicle, pale and a little dazed, and pretend to wash my hands, the hand dryer won’t strike up a conversation with me, like that time I took LSD in Manchester in 1994.

8 thoughts on “hair trigger

  1. It’s definitely not how my body reacts (there’s some question as to if mind altering substances would even work for me, but it’s not really a thing I can safely test so the question goes unanswered).

    I found out once, after a fight with my sister in our early 20s, that she can get so angry she literally sees red, though. There’s a lot of variety in how our brains process reality.

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  2. in a way i look at this and imagine a person capable of much greater highs & lows than many of us and find it admirable, enviable. maybe this is what inspires you to create. maybe it’s a trait of many writers, performers, creators, that the rest of us dont have. (i am an editor — definitely not a writer.) i would think the highs are worth the lows, as long as you and your children continue to thrive. i had a terrible concussion in 2003 that temporarily resulted in panic attacks, tho, which sometimes scared me so much i thought i might die. not sure whether other people experiencing panic attacks feel the same, but it has left me with a ton of empathy for people feeling anxiety.

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    • I definitely crave the highs when the meds tune them out – usually temporarily. Although temporarily can mean for months on end. I often look back on my life now through the prism of this diagnosis and understand a lot better why I behaved the way I did… Why I sometimes allowed myself to be taken hostage by my emotions, how I came to be paralysed by them. But I also had some amazingly intense positive times. No regrets here. Apart from the bikini-gin-sleeping pills episode. Not proud of that.

      And of course, sometimes I’m in remission. And then I’m just kind of normal.

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  3. I recently found out that I have ADHD, in addition to a bunch of other weird little things… which apparently has a lot to do with my intense emotional reactions and how I spent most of my life chasing after dopamine hits in the form of risky behavior and impulsiveness. I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was younger, but it never quite felt like it fit – I don’t have the intense highs and lows, I just have emotions that are all to the millionth power. (Not gonna lie, I really miss my MDMA/mushroom/LSD days…) I’m still waffling on taking medication or not – on one hand, I’d love to be able to focus and get more done… and sleep better… but on the other, I’m terrified of that “dampening.”
    I experience anger a lot like you describe – it’s a full body volcano. But for me, it’s a massive explosion and then it subsides just as quickly. It doesn’t affect *me* so much, but it rattles the life out of my husband. I keep feel like I keep repeating myself in your comments, but I so appreciate you being honest about all of this, it makes me feel less alone and reminds me that there’s other people who “get it” out there. I might not have bipolar, but I relate to so much of what you write about. I’ve isolated myself, in a way, in this suburban mom life of mine because in some ways I’m I’m trying to hold back those destructive forces. (I’m also just afraid of doing something embarrassing or saying inappropriate things.) I’m surrounded by other middle-aged, suburban parents who just cannot relate to any of this. I’m so glad I went back to college a few years ago, because it helped me start to collect a group of people who are … well, pretty much like me in my 20s. LOL And I can be more myself around them.

    And, it bears repeating… you really are a skilled writer.

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  4. I’m BPD and have experienced some way too heightened sets of emotional discharges. My highs are very much in the order of “I AM GOD” so I can do anything and nothing can stop me, not even death. I’m very confident in myself on those occasions and my anger is triggered by the slightest little things, where I do see red and need to force myself away from the situation or people involved lest I become physically aggressive, or verbally, which I know I will. But contrary to most people, I don’t enjoy the highs. I shouldn’t say I enjoy the lows either – because I get these suicidal thoughts constantly in my head, where I play around different scenarios of how to kill myself and how the world would be without me – but the truth is, as a writer, my best writing is done under these lows. I channel all that ‘angst’ and suicidal musings into my writing, and so far, my best selling books are those written under some very extreme lows. I’ve learnt over the years how to deal with them and how to recognise their uprising – I feel things too deep, too much, too intensely, and a minor comment will trigger an episode of depression very easily with me, that’s why I don’t read reviews of my books. Apart seeing red – literally – when I get very angry, I also tend to nearly faint and have a strong buxx in my ears along a tingling in my hands and feet whenever intense fear takes hold of me. It’s very rare, and so far it has only happened in situations concerning my son’s health. But it’s the scariest thing, more than the seeing red. I feel like I’m about to flee my body and become an atom lost in the universe. I hate that.

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    • It’s so interesting to read the responses here and meet some kindred spirits 😉

      This one in particular strikes a chord. Seeing negative comments about my first book sent me into such a tailspin that it made it very difficult to write the second one I was contractually obligated to churn out. As the subject matter had been personal, I perceived negative comments as personal attacks.

      I realise now that because of the way I’m wired, I was more ill-equipped than most to deal with that situation.

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    • IT’s exactly that. And so so hard to explain to people that no, we’re not being dramatic and seeking attention or wanting only positive feedback. I’ll take the negative too, it just hurts me more than regular people and I have a harder time overcoming it, but ppl don’t want to even understand I’m not complaining but stating a bloody fact. (some negative comments ARE personal attacks, btw. And I was a huge fan back in the day, so glad to have you back into blogging)

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