Dancing with Swinging Moods (Or Wrecking Balls)

“I am so tired of being the object of the wrecking ball that swings from the end of his wrecking rig. He’s in the cabin in the cool air conditioning, listening to music, while I am out here in the heat and cold being blown aparat against my will. And he is the captain in control!”

“Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine how brutal this feels, and how weary you must be!“ My response was all it took for her to dissolve into tears that she obviously practiced holding back, as she blurted out: “Can I even survive this?”

“Only if you learn to dance with it!” I said empathetically.

I immediately deciphered the metaphor and knew she was living with a  with a great man who was having severe mood swings.

Don’t misunderstand, not everyone who has mood swings is a male. It is prevalent among females as well. 

Research reveals that about 19% of men and 21% of women have mood swings.

We all have mood swings at times. But I am speaking of the kinds of mood swings that often feel severe and or all too often damaging to those in connection with the person experiencing the mood swings.

I am beginning a series about this today, because not nearly enough, is written, and available to help those living with or around those experiencing the “wrecking ball swinging” as my client said.

I am writing this, not to give you tools to diagnose, but to give you tools to cope, and hopefully direct conversations and interactions in a way that your friend or loved one desires to seek help. 

This week, I’ll help you understand what might be causing it. And give you ideas about what might be causing it.

In the following weeks, I will be talking about:

  • What it’s like to live with or around it
  • What can be done about it
  • What you can do to help
  • How to learn to dance with it
  • How to take heal the damage that you’ve incurred

Remember, we all have mood swings. I am not addressing an occasional “pissy mood” or moments of depression. I am addressing mood swings that leave a trail of devastation and destruction behind, with the wrecking ball controller being the only one who cannot see it.

1. Bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II and cyclothymia

With any of these diagnoses, there is a swing between mania and depression.  Bipolar I has extreme swings of both. Bipolar II has depressive swings, but less severe mania, often called hypomania. Cyclothymia is when there is even less severe depression and less severe hypomania.

Remember, I am not giving you this information to make you an official diagnostician. I am merely trying to help you understand what you might be dealing with so you can determine what might be done to help, or what you might be able to do to help. Leave the official diagnostics to the professionals!

Here are common symptoms seen in all three conditions, again with varying levels of severity and occurrences on the side of mania:

  • Inflated self-esteem (usually to cover insecurities, which is hard to see)
  • Decreased sleep (yet sleepy and “tired” all the time)
  • Very talkative (often talk signifying significant agitation)
  • Brain racing (which can be mistaken and misdiagnosed as ADHD)
  • Easily distracted and struggle to complete tasks
  • Restlessness
  • Engaging in addictions or activities that could result in unfortunate consequences (which the person denies)
  • Extreme agitation, rages, negativity spewing

Here are common symptoms seen in all three conditions, again with varying levels of severity and occurrences on the side of mania:

  • Sad, lethargic and “down”
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once found enjoyable
  • Significate weight gain or loss, along with appetite changes (vows to starve onself, followed by a half gallon of ice cream)
  • Repetitive purposeless movement (pacing, picking at sores or nose, chewing nails and cuticles, drumming with fingers, etc.)
  • Continuous complaints of fatigue, need to lie down, frequent naps
  • Complaints of loss of energy
  • Constant guilt that shows up in need to explain oneself
  • Feeling worthless (which can show up as feeling criticized when someone is just sharing their feelings with no blame attached)
  • Indecisive, making it difficult to make or keep plans
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Often makes simple tasks or decisions difficult

Although your loved one does not have to have ALL of these symptoms, they must have a significant number of them, and they must occur more than just a few times.

Quite often, as mentioned in the symptom list, these things can be misdiagnosed as ADHD. Also, because addiction goes hand and in hand with these disorders, it is not unusual for the person to be diagnosed as an alcoholic or drug addict … however, sobriety is difficult when the underlying disorder remains untreated.

“So that is definitely my husband!” my client assured me. “But am I supposed to feel sorry for him? I mean I do a little bit, but I am the one being battered by it …”

“I understand!” I nodded with great compassion. “No, this is not an effort to ‘play on your sympathy.’ However, understanding the backdrop can help put it in perspective. That does not, in any way, excuse him of the damage you have experienced!”

I continued: “I work with people with these diagnoses all the time. And I say the same thing each time: ‘There is medication that can help. And we can do some work here to help. But now that you are aware of what you are doing, you must also take responsibility, and work together with us as your provider team to make different choices!”

“OH MY GOD, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! He tells me all the time it’s me … not him. And part of it is me. But I am NOT the one who swings all over the place. And our last counselor told us that I just needed to be more patient. He loved that, and reminds me of that often!”

I had to laugh. “I’m sure your patience is wearing thin, and patience is needed. But 90% of the spouses of those with this diagnosis come to me because their partner has convinced them that they are crazy! You are in the right place, my friend!”

And so you are, my friend. If you are reading this and you are nodding … you, too, may have been brutalized.

I am not saying that to bash the person with mood swings. They need help indeed, but they are likely not a bad person.

However, there is much written to and for them, and precious little to those who have been brutalized by the mood swings. I promise you can heal. That’s why I’m here.

2. Schizoaffective disorder.

Here is another disorder that causes severe mood swings.

This one is not one that is thrown around in pop psychology. Perhaps because it’s hard to say.

There is now also a movement that looks at the symptoms of someone raised by a parent or caregiver with schizoaffective disorder. If the individual raised by them does not get significant healing, they are more likely to develop the full blown disorder themselves.

So it is not only important to note if your loved one has the symptoms, but also if they might have had a parent or significant caregiver who did.

Here are some of the symptoms that they may experience:

  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech (they might continually say they have a hard time expressing themselves or others do not understand them)
  • Seeing things distinctively different than multiple others in the same situation
  • Disorganized thinking (thinking somone or something is always out to “do them wrong”)
  • No moderation in motivation … either under-motivated or hyper-motivated
  • Problems with communication, “talking down to” or using volume and intensity to control
  • Strange beliefs that the person refuses to give up, despite facts presented otherwise
  • Feeling elated for no reason
  • Racing thoughts (wish stumble out if expressed)
  • Bizarre behaviors (hands inside mouth to chew cuticles, picking at toes at table or in public, repetitive nose picking, etc)
  • Agitation (often, and often denies it as such)
  • Grandiose thinking and talking (about expensive cars or boats they cannot afford, talking about writing a novel that will make the best seller list, etc.)

“Wow! This list is him too! Could he have both?” my client inquired about her husband?

“Possibly,” I responded. “But remember, it’s not important that you diagnose him. It’s important that you determine if his mood swings follow most of these critieria so that we can determine whether or not he might be a candidate for medical evaluation. Regardless of his correct diagnosis, I will help you learn to dance with it! Because that is the ONLY way to survive it!”

If your loved one seems to fit a majority of these critieria, his/her mood swings are not just PMS or a habit. I’m not justifying their behavior, but when the swinging is severe enough for a diagnosis, they are likely not all that aware, and perhaps you can point them to the help they need and deserve!

3. Addiction

Addiction often occurs with all of the conditions listed above (Bipolor I, Bipolar II, cyclothemia, and schizoaffective disorder).

If you have a loved one who struggles with addiction, it may not just be a “bent toward addiction” … but it could be that the above disorders are what is causing your loved one to “medicate painful reality” with substances or processes.

What is addiction?

Any process or substance used to medicate painful reality or to deny a current or past situation…

  • That wastes your time and your gifting.
  • That you hide or are less than honest about.
  • That hurts those you love.
  • That damages your brain…addictions trick the brain into thinking that it doesn’t damage it…that’s the insanity.
  • That harms or hinders your ability to become all you were created to be.
  • That keeps you from knowing and/or fulfilling your purpose.
  • That has a negative impact on your business, your relationships, and/or your life.
  • All which you choose to ignore, deny, or justify.

In an effort to not label the “person” … we now refer to addicts as someone who has:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Process use disorder

“Well, I don’t mean to label him, but an alcoholic is just an alcoholic!” my client proclaimed. I nodded in understanding.

Then I explained, “Just know that if you have a disorder in your brain, involving neurohormones, neurochemicals, or even physical or emotional trauma to the brain, you may not be drinking because you love beer and/or wine … but because you cannot cope with the wiring and transmitting going on in your brain!”

“Is that why sometimes he grabs his head, messes up his hair and says things like, ‘I just can’t deal with this?’ or ‘I just want it all to stop?’” she used a tone that sounded as if she was begging for affirmation.

“Indeed!” I responded.

Just know that unless the full diagnosis is understood and treated, AA or addiction treatment alone could make the journey even more difficult for your loved one.

Understand, I am a big believer in AA. In my inpatient treatment center, outpatient treatment center, and private practice, I have always referred my clients struggling with any addiction to AA. Working the program with a good sponsor is powerful.

Comorbidity is the term used to describe when both an addiction and mental disorder or illness occur in a person. Research shows that about 7.7 million Americans experience comorbidity.

Research clearly indicates that they can be helped, if correctly diagnosed, and treated by a team of qualified professionals.

If your loved one struggling with the symptoms I wrote about this week, they need and deserve help.

This is not an advertisement. This is informing you that they may need help. There is plenty of help for them. Referrals abound.

However, you … the one who loves them … and watch them sabotage themselves, their relationships, their jobs, their families … like you … are often left on your own. Telling you to go to a support group. Or pray, or educate yourself.

All of that is awesome. But I sincerely want to help YOU! Please follow me in the next few weeks as I help you make sense of your world.

It’s not your fault. You are not crazy. You deserve to be treated well. You deserve to heal!

That’s why I am here!

Keep joining me as I help you learn how to dance with what may seem like a “crazy life!”