As someone who’s been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I have a lot to say about emotions. I have felt emotions course through my entire body at a cellular level that was so intense my entire body shuddered. Physical emotions. And I’ve also found deeply hidden emotions buried under years of repression that had to be coaxed out of their cave.
What does someone who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Know about Emotions?
Bipolar Disorder comes with big emotions. Confusing emotions. Exhausting emotions. And yes, even exciting emotions. Inspiring emotions. Blissful emotions. People who’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder get to feel the FULL spectrum of human emotions with an intensity few can truly understand without experiencing it.
This depth of experience provides a ripe playground to hone our emotional intelligence skills. And sometimes it can also feel like we are low crawling an uphill battlefield with live fire overhead. In my experience, balancing the emotions associated with Bipolar Disorder must be a priority 1 item.
I found emotions come with autonomic programming that is easy to miss if we aren’t looking for it. Learning to traverse this wide spectrum of emotions with grace requires a mastery of two things; transition and integration. Our autonomic programming tells us that heavy emotions like sadness, grief and fear are emotions to be avoided. Our Bipolar diagnosis tells us that big emotions like euphoria, joy and bliss could be signs of a manic episode. That’s why learning to understand and navigate emotions is so important for anyone who has received a Bipolar diagnosis.
I also believe learning to navigate our emotions is an important life skill. If 2020 taught us anything it has been what our emotional response to uncertainty is. And the emotional response ran the gamut from families slowing down and appreciating the small things to living in a state of fear and panic with headlines blaring in the background.
What is the purpose of emotions?
Emotions are energy in motion. They are the motion of our energy. Put simply, they are a movement of energy in and through the body. Imagine a time when you genuinely smiled. Notice your smile also comes with warmth in your body, often around the center of your chest. THAT feeling is the energy of emotion. Now, imagine a time when you were angry, really angry. Notice your sides of your smile turn upside down and you also feel a warmth in your body, often an intense searing warmth in the pit of your stomach.
THAT feeling that courses through your body in a seemingly uncontrollable fashion is your emotional guidance system. It’s like a GPS system. And it basically has two modes; on course and off-course. It also has variations for how far off course you may become to alert you directly and sometimes intensely. Here’s an analogy that will help that I learned from Bentinho Massaro. Imagine you’re holding two pencils some distance away from each other. And around those pencils is a rubber band. The pencils are pulling away from each other inside the rubber band creating tension.
One pencil is your peaceful center. The other pencil is YOU and your current perspective. The distance between the two is equivalent to the distance between your truth; the truth that sits at your core and is unwavering. And the perspective you’ve selected for the current experience.
Now, let’s make that tangible. Go back to that time when you genuinely smiled, imagine you are holding the pencils and remember the story again. Notice your hands relax and so does the tension in the rubber band. To hold tension while smiling is unnatural. So the rubber band relaxes as your body relaxes.
Now go back to that time when you were angry. Notice what happens to the tension in the rubber band even though you are only imagining it. Your hands clench tightly on the pencil until it pulls them apart and the tension becomes greater and greater. This is because your perspective is further removed from your peaceful center; your peaceful truth.
The purpose of our emotions is to show us how far out of alignment our perspective is from our peaceful center. So how can you use this model of emotions to balance your emotional responses?
Balancing your emotional responses requires practice. When it comes to emotions you can’t get to the playground without dealing with the battlefield. So let’s start with learning how to navigate the battlefield. The battlefield contains any and every emotion you’ve repressed, held back, stuffed in and in any other way chose not to fully express. Further, in not expressing it, it often leaves a feeling of heaviness behind for the emotionally attuned. The battlefield often contains sadness, depression, fear, anger, resentment, jealousy and all emotions that have received the label of “inappropriate”, “unacceptable” or “unhealthy” in our society.
Mastering Battlefield Emotions
The only way through the battlefield is THROUGH the battlefield. We have to face each one of these emotions and sometimes several of them at once. We must work through the pain and trauma in our lives and sometimes in our near ancestors lives like our parents and Grandparents. These emotions and their responses are coded deeply into our psyche and many times we do not feel in control of our responses to them. As such, it is important to understand YOUR responses to these emotions as your responses will become mile markers you can recognize later if they ever come up again. They become beacons letting you know that your perspective is out of alignment with your peaceful center.
There are a couple of exercises I have used for developing a deeper relationship with my Battlefield emotions. The key is to create a safe space to experience and practice processing these emotions so I could take the sting out of them.
- Mirror exercise – Look in the mirror and think of something that happened to you that resulted in Battlefield emotions. Watch your face as you relive the story. Watch your body. If you really want to understand your physical responses, video record it for yourself. You’ll be shocked at how much the body responds to emotions.
- Meditation – Meditation is a great space to process emotions. There are thousands of meditations online that include mantras, breath work and even silence to create a space for emotions to come through. This can be an easy entry point for someone wanting a gentle approach to facing their Battlefield.
- Exercise – Battlefield emotions carry A LOT of energy with them and I like to put that energy to good use with exercise. These emotions can help you push through personal records while giving you a healthy outlet for moving them in and out of your body. Pick a playlist that will get you riled up and hit the push ups, weights or TRX.
- Yoga – The mat is a great place to express and leave emotions. Take a free YouTube class or even just turn on a great soundtrack and let your body move and stretch into the poses that it needs to. Emotions create some truly interesting body positions I’ve never see in a yoga class, but feel absolutely perfect for me every time.
- Shaman & Energy Healers – I’ve worked with several Shamans to help me process my basement emotions. Shamans specialize in helping us with basement emotions and all things that can be difficult to look at. They help us shine a light where we often are scared to look with gentle guidance. I’ve also worked with energy healers who help to remove energetic patterns from my energy field. A process I still don’t fully understand, but can’t deny its benefits.
- Journaling – There is a lot of benefit to just getting the emotions out and journaling is a great way to do that. Make sure your journal is private so you can really feel free to write whatever you need to write to give your emotions a place to be expressed. Write the story. Write poetry. Draw pictures. Do whatever comes to you in that moment. And then reflect on it.
Once you’ve gotten the emotions going you’ll need to then integrate what you learn in a balancing and centering exercise. Here are a couple I’ve used and like.
- Run – Another form of exercise, but one that can be helpful for processing emotions from a peaceful center. After you’ve riled up all the emotions a run can be a great centering act to bring you back to your peaceful center.
- Meditation – Do a music based meditation focused on grounding to integrate the energy you’ve created in your body.
- 5 Rhythms – This free-form dance style contains 5 waves that are focused on processing and integrating specific emotions.
- Nature – Getting out into nature can do wonders to integrate everything and remind us that we are humans doing the best that we can. Go for a hike, walk or just touch your feet to the ground.
Mastering the Battlefield is a lifelong journey so it’s important not to stay anywhere for too long. You’ll have to go through some discomfort, but that discomfort shouldn’t take over your life at any point. That’s a sign to pull back, pull in some self care tools and possibly talk to a therapist about creative options. As my friend Tamsen Webster once told me, “It’s okay to have a pity party. And like every good party it should have a start and an end time.”
Mastering Playground Emotions
Here’s something I never expected. I never expected that I would have to LEARN how to feel playground emotions. I kind of went through my life knowing I always wanted my life to feel like a playground, but never really thought about whether or not I could actually sustain those emotions in my life. It’s been an interesting point of reflection that brought me here.
Playground emotions are all the emotions we dream about having more of in our life. Playground emotions are the emotions we want to expand, express and sing from the rooftops about. In expressing them the emotionally adept will notice the feeling of lightness. The playground often contains love, joy, bliss, empowerment, inspiration, excitement and all the emotions that received the label of “desirable”, “acceptable”, or “healthy” in society. And like battlefield emotions, the only way to sustain playground emotions is to practice!
Here are a couple of exercises I’ve used for mastering playground emotions. The key is to create opportunities to bring more playground emotions into my life.
- Go to a playground as an adult- Yes. Just do it. Go to a playground and actually play on the equipment. Laugh at yourself as you attempt to do the monkey bars. Try not to chuckle as you get stuck on the slide. Or fall off the balance beam. Play is a powerful medicine.
- Play laser tag as your 9 year old self– You’re about to get schooled by a room full of 9 year olds. These incredible humans are your teachers. Immerse yourself in their world of play. Imagine yourself at 9 and become your child self again. Learn how to have fun through the perspective of your 9 year old self. Really step into character and let yourself loose on the room.
- Play remember the time when – Gather around the table with people you love and go around the table telling stories that begin with the words, “remember the time when we felt _______”. You’ll have a jar full of words that each person can choose from. Fill the jar with words like joy, love, kindness, charitable, generous, compassionate and silly. Then pass it around the table and let everyone share their stories.
- Schedule fun – When something is important it needs to be on the schedule and FUN is important. Schedule time to pursue your hobbies and do things that are fun for you. If it isn’t on the schedule it doesn’t exist!
Integration is an important part of expansion and one we often forget to consider in our growth path. When we expand our emotional horizons it’s especially important to take time to integrate our learnings and provide space between different phases of expansion. After all, mastering our emotions is a lifelong journey. These tools have helped me with overall integration.
- Self care often – In order to unlock the gates of fun, we need to unwind. Take time every week to decompress with a bath, a meditation, a massage or all of those things. Our bodies are the vessel we’ve been gifted to experience all these emotions with, it’s important to honor, cherish and thank it for the work it’s done.
- Eat clean – The gut is responsible for 90% of our serotonin production. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter required for playground emotions and helps regulate mood and social behavior. Keep it simple. Eat whole foods. Eliminate anything processed. The more colors from the rainbow you eat, the better. The difference in how you will feel is profound.
- Meditate – We can not know ourselves if we do not look at ourselves. If there is one thing you pick up from this article let it be the gift of meditation. There is no wrong way to meditate and there are thousands of free online options. Once you get past your resistance, you will find your insistence. My favorite meditation apps are Insight Timer and Soulvana.
I’ve learned that the only way to balance emotions is to feel them, process them and integrate them. To do that, I need to see these emotions in MY eyes, in MY body and in MY world. Just like you’ll need to see them in YOURS in order to master the battlefield and the playground. Because the battlefield and playground won’t change. But how you traverse them, most certainly will.
I wish you all the best of luck as you traverse your own emotional guidance system. Remember, it wants to guide you back to your peaceful center. All we have to do is let the tension relax between our pencils.