There are approximately 5.7 million people in the United States with bipolar disorder. In an attempt to eliminate the mystery and misinformation surrounding the illness, many throughout the country diagnosed with this condition were interviewed extensively. They diligently explain the struggle to balance themselves between floating to a state of euphoria and sinking to a devastating depression.[…] In short, “Up/Down” is a personal analysis of bipolar disorder from those living with it.
It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I most definitely couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.
Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold…
A Story About An Un-medicated, Undiagnosed Bipolar Cashier
I have been on mood stabilizing medication for several years now. Sometimes I think I am fine and wonder why I need any medication at all. Then I remember back to when I was not medicated. I remember the unbearable irritability, the profound anger and rage of a volatile and explosive mind. I was so irritable that I couldn’t even stand myself, I was literally getting in my own way and on my own nerves. I thank god often that I didn’t actually murder someone in a fit of rage. This kind of irritability and anger could result from just dropping a pencil or stubbing a toe. I’m not even going to talk about driving… Well… maybe just a little. The only way I could manage to not rip off my own head to relieve the anger was to imagine my car having undetectable go-go-gadget weapons that would just disintegrate any driver that would send me into a fit of road rage, which was almost any driver. I can’t even go into the things I imagined doing to people who honked their horns at me. Needless to say, after thinking back at how unstable my moods were I remember why I am on my medication and all is well with the world (for the most part anyway).
I am telling you this because I was thinking of an incident from back in the days of my unmedicated madness and thought I would share. At the time I am surprised that I did not spontaneously erupt into a ball of flame and combust from the heat of my own rage. It took place in a store where I worked customer service, which is quite possibly the worst job I could have in my unmedicated days, heck, even medicated.
It was around Christmas time…
I was working at a store that I would describe as a small version of Ikea. It wasn’t all that bad for the most part. I mostly worked organizing shelves and stocking merchandise, things I enjoy doing anyway. It is not that I am not a people person, but I do not do well with a large number of small, superficial interactions, especially if I am in the middle of doing something and am focused on it. I also hate being interrupted and having to drop what I am doing just because someone needs to ask me a question. If I am in the mood for it, I am great at it, but if not (and I am usually not) I loathe it. I’m pretty sure I did a terrible job hiding my complete and utter irritation with the customers. Especially when they were asking me how much something was when the price was plainly posted no more than 2 millimetres below the item on a bright yellow tag. Just like on every single other item in the store. Either way, I was completely out of line. It was never the customers fault, I just quite simply was not cut out for dealing with people and had a bad attitude and an un-medicated mood disorder. Some days I was fine but others, when my mood was off, I could be pretty bitchy. Typically I wasn’t put on as a cashier and worked as much as possible on the floor, left alone to organize and arrange just as I liked it. Besides, that was what I was really good at anyway. I didn’t mind just filling in on cash for someone to break or something like that, but I hated being assigned there for my shift. I would rather eat glass.
I will just give a little background note here: Around the time of the incident myself and some of the staff who had been there for years had recently found out that a girl who barely graduated high school, had no education, hadn’t worked in four years and had no experience was hired as a cashier for 75 cents more per hour than the rest of us. More than people with university degrees who ran their own sections, and had worked there for years. So there was a little bit on animosity brewing anyway…
So, on a busy day during the Christmas rush my manager decides I should spend my shift on cash. I requested that I please work the floor, but it wasn’t happening. A bitterness seed sprouts open in my gut, uh oh, that familiar feeling is brewing. So, swallowing my contempt I slowly moped to the cash. I kept up appearances but inside I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide my absolute disdain for the hundreds of meaningless interactions I was about to endure. People started to enter, the store became more and more busy. It was the Christmas rush. I wasn’t even that experienced on the cash anyway so I’m not sure why he would put me there at the busiest time of the year. It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I certainly couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.
Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold.
I was barely holding myself together, but I was managing to keep things civil, ringing up the items and saying “have a nice day!”. You know, the basics at least. Then they came. The curtain guys. I will never forget those damn curtains. The first gentleman said hello, I responded the same and took the package of curtains to scan them. I didn’t engage in conversation and certainly didn’t give them a friendly smile, full of Christmas cheer, but I wasn’t directly rude to them either. Not good enough. The second man, with his smug face, his half smirk and is condescending attitude snidely remarked,”Uh, you could smile you know.”
I’m not sure where it came from, but before I knew what was happening my mouth was moving and I could hear my voice say, “Not for 8 bucks an hour I won’t.”. (Maybe some lingering bitterness about the 8.75 the unskilled labour was getting at the cash next to me?)
Oh shit, oops.
He glared at me and snottily said, “You’re a little bitch.” “I want to see your manager!”
Much of what happened next is a blur. I froze. It was as though every negative emotion hit me at once not allowing any of them to break through. The silence was palpable. There was a line up extending to the back wall of the store and only two cashiers. I glared at the men for a moment, then without a word I slid their curtains back to them without completing the transaction, left the cashier station, walked to the managers office and calmly said, “I need to speak with you right now.”
My poor, clueless manager.
Trying not to lose it completely I informed him , my voice quivering from restrained rage, “They are pissed and want to speak to my manager, I really pissd them off.” Then it burst through and I snarled “But you can tell them that you are not my manager any more and I’ll be waiting for them outside of the store!”
By now I was livid, all the anger about the unfair wages amongst other issues I had with the staffing, hours and all the bullshit at the job bubbled up and as I gathered my things I proceeded to inform him that we all know about the new girl’s wage and all the other things that pissed me off about the store. Finally I said, “I told you not to put me on cash today.” and I stormed out the back door in a blaze of glory. Then, as promised, I awaited the men outside of the store. I watched them walk to their car. They looked back several times in fear.
“What are you doing?” “Are you following us?” “We are going to call the police!” they shouted in worried voices.
“And tell them what?”, I yelled. “That a 20 year old girl is going to attack two 40 year old men?”
I’m really not sure what I was planning to do, but I finally backed off and watched them until they were out of site. I’m pretty sure they were terrified.
Needless to say, I never returned to that store again. I hated working customer service anyway and it was worth giving up 8 measly bucks an hour to steal any ounce of pleasure they would have had complaining to my manager. It mustn’t have been very satisfying complaining to a manager about an employee who no longer works at the store.
Long story short, I no longer work customer service and I continue to take my medication regularly.
I am not proud of my behavior, but at the same time the emotions were so strong and so unbearable and overwhelming I couldn’t control them. If only I had known that I had a mental illness that was causing these powerful episodes. It was so difficult to live with.
Since being diagnosed and treated I live a relatively normal life. Of course I have up and down episodes but I know how to recognize them in time and I understand what is happening and what to do about it. I am so grateful to haver been diagnosed and been given a chance at a more balanced life.
It has been so long since I have been in such an unstable state that I sometimes forget what it feels like and how detrimental it is to myself and those around me. That is why, when I start to wonder if I really need my mood stabilizing medications, I think back and remind myself of the alternative, then swallow the pills.