And now for your edification, here is a discussion about what psychiatry calls “triggers”.

For those not in the know, triggers are events, thoughts, emotions etc. that cause or contribute to the development of mood episodes. Sometimes episodes come out of nowhere, and in my experience those are harder to deal with because I don’t know where they came from. And there are times when I don’t make the connection between a trigger and a mood shift at first, but with a little digging I can usually figure it out.

Some aspects of life are obvious triggers for me: Stress. Money (or the lack thereof). Crowds. Overstimulation. Even being around negative people tends to provoke a negative response, if not a full-blown mood swing. It doesn’t happen every time I’m exposed to these things, which is good because otherwise I’d be in crisis mode all the time. Medications have tamed that to a significant degree, and living in a mellower world is a lot kinder to my stomach and better for my blood pressure.

But of course meds can’t make everything go away, and I’m still left with a number of stressors that are apt to trigger mood episodes. Some of them are even pleasant: the big holidays, the changes of seasons, the anticipation of good times. Yet I am almost certain to react strangely to anything out of the ordinary; though I may not show it on the outside, a lot of wrangling goes on inside.

It’s really hard to describe this phenomenon, especially to someone who doesn’t have bipolar and can’t possibly understand why a perfectly normal part of life—like job stress—sends me into orbit. My husband, Will, is probably the only person in my life who comes close to “getting it”, and that’s only because of repeated exposure. (Well, there’s also Dr. Awesomesauce, who knows me entirely too well and understands it in an educated sense, but obviously he doesn’t live with me so he doesn’t experience it.)

What’s confusing is that often it’s difficult to identify which came first: the mood shift or the trigger. For example, I might fall into a deep depression because my life is a hot mess, but the depression itself triggers emotions that make it harder to get out of the mess. It’s the old chicken-or-the-egg debate, and it’s not easy to analyze it when one is in the middle of the episode. I usually figure it out only after the spell has passed.

The same goes for the other side of the bipolar equation. The onset of summer, which is naturally a happy time for me, almost always brings on mania, but then again the mania makes the season so much brighter and sunnier than it really is, which in turn feeds the mania. See what I mean?

Anyway, that’s a little bit about triggers…..well, MY triggers. Everybody with this disease has different things that make them tick, and it’s actually rather fascinating to talk with other bipolars to learn what induces their mood episodes. One person I know literally loses her mind when her grown daughter come for a visit; another goes into a tailspin after attending a party, even one she looked forward to. As you can see, it’s all unique to the individual.

Sometime we’ll talk about the mood episodes that have no obvious stimulus. I hate those, because I need to have an answer for everything and there just aren’t any. But that’s a topic for another post; today it was all I could do to write this one. I’ve been having lots of trouble concentrating… what else is new?


Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

6 thoughts on “Trigger-Happy

  1. I see neurotypical people whine about triggers and try to claim that everyone else is just toooo sensitive and needs to buck up. Makes me cross; triggers are some legit serious business, yanno? I saw this one via a friend (TW: rape):

    View at

    which is a pretty to the point explanation of why anything can be a trigger.

    Past that, eye exam and new glasses today.. thank fark. This last pregnancy seems to have decimated my sight.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The most difficult triggers that bring on severe anxiety mixed with complete mania to later fall into a deep depression are the crisis ones. My mind becomes like a cyclone roller-coaster , I can cycle up and down in one day for several days. Those trigger moments are obvious stressors but, paralyzing ones. I agree, that the triggers that I can not identify and have no idea that I have cycled are the fearful. My disorder was becoming so out of hand when I could cycle simply because I had to leave work and bring a proper attire to my daughters’ school, not knowing she decided to wear one of her inappropriate play clothing that morning.

    Liked by 1 person

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