Bipolar Disorder - Can You Trust What You Feel?

September 29, 2011 Natasha Tracy

One of the most terrifying things about mental illness is that you can no longer trust what you feel. Oh sure, you feel it just as sure as day, but can you trust it enough to act on it? Not really. At least, not if you want to keep your job, friends, marriage and so on.

You can no longer simply feel and act. Now you must feel, think and then contemplate acting. It's exhausting and not a particularly reasonable thing to be expected to do.

Acting on Feelings

I look at the world and I am acutely aware that they feel something and then act on it. They feel hurt and then pout. They feel angry and raise their voice. They feel happy and they smile. These things are pretty predictable and reasonable.

I cannot do these things. Because my feelings are out of proportion with the situation. Because when I'm hurt I don't pout, I want to die. Because when I'm irritable I don't want to raise my voice, I want to smash your head in with a rock. These things just aren't acceptable in a polite society.

What Makes Us Feel?

And similarly, different situations make me sad than make an average person sad. I feel inconsolably sad because the wrong song comes on the radio. This simple stimuli rolls into feelings of despair and agony until I'm certain that dying is the right thing to do.

That's a bit of an overreaction.

Feelings and Bipolar Disorder

Because what happens is my feelings are mostly there without any stimuli at all, stimuli just cranks the feelings up to a 10+. I'm irritable right now. I want to smack someone right now. Why? Just because of the illness. Just because of the medication. Just because that's what my brain is doing.

But I can't act on those feelings just because they are there. I can't just get mad at a friend just because I feel angry. That wouldn't be fair, or reasonable, or kind.

Construction Worker Triplets

I can't trust what I feel. Because what I feel is the product of illness. Like a headache. Or a muscle spasm. Or a runny nose.

And realizing this is a bitch because if you can't trust what's coming out of your brain, what, exactly, can you trust? Your brain does everything for you. It interprets everything you ever see, smell, hear, feel and do. And yet it's wrong. It's sick. And the brain is supposed to temper its own illness. The brain is supposed to handle the bad signals coming out of itself.

This is not a reasonable thing to ask an organ to do.

And yet, somehow, it must be done.

In therapy they try to teach you how to do this, and in some respects, they are usually successful. But in the end, it's still you alone with your brain, just trying to figure out what's real, reasonable and what's a symptom or side effect.

It's an exhausting way to try to live.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, September 29). Bipolar Disorder - Can You Trust What You Feel?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

September, 29 2011 at 1:34 pm

"Because when I’m irritable I don’t want to raise my voice, I want to smash your head in with a rock."
Exactly! And in my case, since I tend to self-harm, I want to smash my head in with a rock. Or at least my hand or something. Anything to release from the pain and crushing weight of what I'm feeling.
Great article. Thanks.

October, 1 2011 at 5:16 am

Always love your perspective Natasha. :)

October, 1 2011 at 6:02 am

wow, feelings put into words I truly can understand. It is scary, lonely, terrifying, and so confusing. So much work just to be 'normal'. Sometimes I think it is more work than it's worth but then where does that leave you?

Natasha Tracy
October, 1 2011 at 6:20 am

I can identify with that too. You're welcome.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
October, 1 2011 at 6:20 am

Hi Gretchen,
Thanks :)
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
October, 1 2011 at 6:21 am

Hi Zara,
Yes, those are accurate words. And you're right, the thing about it is that there aren't really any other option. No choice but to move forward. (Like a shark?)
- Natasha

June, 12 2015 at 9:01 am

I went searching for an article to explain the way I've been feeling, and you are so on the money.
It is so exhausting to live this way. To have feelings of sadness, anger, irritation, neglect, all of these feelings that are mostly nothing more than fabrications created by my own mind but brought to life x10 by a simple situation like an argument with my husband over the television.
To know that you are a capable, intelligent, deep, compassion person but yet unable to trust any of your feelings or knee-jerk responses to situations can be overwhelmingly frightening. It sometimes makes me wonder if I even truly know myself.

October, 29 2015 at 10:36 pm

Its just so confusing....i never act on my feelings immediately because i dont know if i make a storm in a teacup or i if I just feel that pretty much everything is just fine because life is beautiful. I cant trust my judgement. I dont understand and I dont know myself. Its so frustrating loosing contact with myself. For the first time in years I am in a serious relationship and my BPD just messes everything up. i hate it. I had a big fight today with my boyfriend and I guess he had a bad day too and things didnt go very all ended up in disaster; i smashed a glass into the floor and ran downstaires, slammed the door as hard as I could and ran out of the house (with bleeding feet). Ive just told him i have a mood disorder (i try to avoid the term "bipolar" for now because of the stigmas as weve been together for quite a short while) but still he does nor undestand whats going on and neither do I. i really care for him ... And i hope this wont mess it up.

Nadja Winfrey
November, 15 2017 at 2:18 am

I have B P D and I have been with this sense I was a child. They did not discover it until 1996.

William winters
May, 16 2022 at 11:33 am

I’m really tired of not feeling like my feelings matter because im overly emotional. I’m really tired of being lost in a confusing illness

May, 16 2022 at 2:00 pm

Hi William,
I assure you, your feelings matter. Even if your feelings are over-the-top, they still matter. And even if you're overly emotional, you still matter too.
You didn't create your feelings. We can't control our feelings. That's a fact. However, we do need to decide what to do with them. It sounds like you're aware that sometimes they are out-of-scale with the situation -- okay, that's great, that shows insight. Now you just need to be able to communicate that to others in a way that helps them and you.
I recommend getting a hold of my book (not endorsed by HealthyPlace). It really can help:
You could also see a therapist. You should see someone who is very experienced in your particular illness, though, as not all therapists are for all things.
I know what it's like to feel lost and yes, this illness is confusing, but it's like a jungle -- you can work your way through it a little bit at a time, with help.
-- Natasha Tracy

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