Mental health symptoms verge from the mundane (pacing due to anxiety) to the bizarre (hallucinating: seeing, hearing, or sensing something that is not there). But almost everyone who suffers from mental health issues has symptoms that are particular to their situation or mood state and needs management on an individual basis rather than a one-size-fits-all treatment model.
One symptom I have learned to watch for when I receive seriously bad news is my urge to start cleaning. I remember back in the mid-1990’s when I had applied for a job and got an interview, only to receive a letter in the mail telling me I wasn’t going to be hired. Next I knew after opening the letter, I was furiously cleaning up the kitchen.
Now, at that time, cleaning the kitchen was my husband Bob’s one job around the house. I cooked; he cleaned.
Not that day, though. I found myself loading the dishwasher, cleaning the sink, and scrubbing down the countertops. I was no longer concentrating on the failed job interview; I was occupied scrubbing the grease off of the stove top. Bob came in that afternoon from work and looked around, blinking at the organization and cleanup I had done.
The same pattern emerged after I was told of my mother’s illness of strokes, my dad’s diagnosis of prostate cancer, etc. I joked about it a bit before I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder—I told people that Bob knew something bad was wrong when he found the kitchen clean when he got home at night.
I know now that this reaction is a function of my control issues. When life spins out of control, I start trying to exert as much control over what I do have a say in as I possibly can—which for me, means cleaning the house as much as I can. It often foretells that a manic episode is coming on; I manifest mania by bursts of energy where I clean furiously and throw out items that I no longer need or want.
I’m not saying that every burst of neatness means trouble is on the horizon. When I get bad news, it is often therapeutic to concentrate my energy on something else other than the situation, particularly if it seems I can’t do anything about whatever is troubling me. But resorting to obsessive behavior on a constant basis is a good way to take the joy out of your life.
What is an odd symptom that foretells an upheaval in your mental health? Leave us a note in the comments.
Julie Whitehead currently writes and blogs from Mississippi at her personal blog. She has been a university lecturer, a disability examiner, and a freelance writer. She carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and blogs to create awareness and help others understand the disease and its effects.