If being stressed is akin to turning a burner on under a pan of water, being bi-polar is like putting a lid on the pot. It is never good for anyone, but in the bi-polar, stress can have dramatic effects that set you back months or even years in your treatment.
With no way for heat to escape, the water begins to bubble quickly with panic attacks suddenly coming out of the blue. There appears to be no trigger whatsoever. You are unable to control what you don’t understand and the reason for these is mystical. You can go months without even the hint of a panic attack and then all of the sudden, after a stressor hits hard, have several bouts of boiling emotion each day, severe enough to require medication.
Emotions run amok as the pot boils over and medications that used to keep you stable are less helpful or completely ineffective. This means you have to go back to the drawing board and either increase your dosage (if that’s even possible) or go hunting in the dark, guessing which chemical is out there that will calm your episodes and turn down the heat.
In the mean time, the bi-polar experiences extreme highs and lows that cause erratic behavior. Just as the water is displaced in the pan, this behavior can be severe. It can cost money in lost or damaged items or worse, support in lost or damaged relationships. Friendships are particularly at risk. The cordial, uncommitted way that buddies develop means there’s really not all that much vested in the relationship as a whole. Kind of like trying to pick up the boiling pot from the burner with bare hands, there is a risk of burning the relationship. Bi-polars go through extreme changes every couple of years and it is uncommon to find one with a friend that outlasted even one of those transformations. The short lived buddy status does not lend itself to the insulatory requirements of a hot pad in dealing with the temperatures of a bi-polar reacting to undue stress. This in turn leads to a retraction of friendly support at a time when it is the most sorely needed. The hand pulls back, leaving the pot to boil on the hot burner. Also, the lack of support leads to symptoms flying even more away from the norms of society, effectively placing the pot squarely on the burner to reheat quickly. This creates a vicious cycle.
Also like the boiling water, it takes a while for the water to cool even after the heat is removed. There is an effect that lasts far longer than the stressor. It’s a slow process. As the temperature drops a single degree at a time, the instability becomes solid one moment at a time. Eventually, the water returns to room temperature and the stressed bi-polar returns to normal behavior.