Understanding triggers for yourself and your spouse

It goes without saying that everyone should be aware of their own triggers so as to have proper boundaries with the people in their life. This might include their spouse, a clinician, or perhaps a person in the grocery store. Once we know our own triggers, we can better avoid situations with these triggers as well as adopt behaviors that help manage through the triggers if they are unavoidable.

But what I am proposing here today is not only to know your own triggers but also be aware of those triggers for your spouse (or your best friend). Invariably about three times a year, my husband’s trigger gets tripped. This is often surrounding planning for / taking a car trip for a week to ten days. Or it may have to do with some investment issue or mechanical mishap gone awry – usually something simple. My husband tends to sweat the small stuff but let the big problems roll off his back.

Understanding what triggers my husband is as important to me as understanding what triggers me. When he is under stress he tends to use a tone of voice that is not pleasant to me. For a while in the earlier stages of our relationship I would try to counter that tone of voice in a way that escalated the conflict. I would just mimic back the escalated tone which never resolved anything and only made things worse.

What I have been doing for the last several years of our marriage or so is just going silent if he is in a triggered space. Not reacting. Not engaging. Another thing I do is to let him know I cannot process the information he is communicating to me when he is using that tone. Both of those tactics seem to work better than the escalation scenario.

Another thing I have been doing lately is verbally acknowledging him when I know he is in a stressful place. From time to time, I do talk him down from getting to that trigger in the first place. If we are unable to manage through a trigger zone successfully, I ask for an apology and he gives one.

On the other side of the coin, when I am triggered in my anxiety spot which is almost once a day for a half hour, my husband uses humor to deescalate me. If I am worried about losing the keys, he might say that he threw them out the window or some such joke. If I am worried about the car windows being open, he says he rolled them all down before it started to rain.

I am not sure this is ideal behavior for a couple but it seems to work for us. I understand his trigger areas and largely seek to avoid or deescalate during those times. He understands mine and does his part through humor to let me know my anxiety should not dominate my day or dominate my thoughts.

For the most part, we also go out of the way to thank each other for things we do around the house or to help with the running of the household. We try not to take each other for granted and express gratitude for the times when we are able to manage without impacting each other’s triggers. Part of being thankful is acknowledging that neither of us is perfect and that is OK.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Being a Working Mom with Bipolar Illness

Being a working Mom continues to be the most difficult part of my journey.  I am drawn to high- stress and high-pay jobs as this was generally my track before my daughter was born.  However in the last sixteen years I have not been able to work a high paying job for longer than a few months without some sort of bipolar break-through or debilitating anxiety attack.  Usually this involves some sort of high anxiety event where I disclose my health issues to my employers who are invariably not sympathetic and ask me to leave their place of employment. 

My worklife over the past sixteen plus years has gotten more and more difficult as I seek to balance the responsibilities of motherhood and of work.  Again, how potential child abuse issues impact my anxiety levels today is somewhat unknown but something I am working on.

If I want my childcare activities to be front and center or “on,” I need to work at a job that is generally stress free and does not put a priority on a high salary.  I am just coming to terms with this reality and starting to seek jobs that are lower stress and relatively lower pay. This includes looking for work that is part-time, that includes flex-time and/or that is not particularly challenging.    This also includes just doing volunteer work for the time-being.

So far I have not been able to find the balance between motherhood and a job for pay – even if that is a relatively lower paying job.  So I have gravitated toward writing my story with this book / blog series as a way of perhaps finding worklife success in an unconventional manner.

This also includes getting back in touch with the writer in me who attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, Vermont some 25 years ago.  But instead of fiction writing, I am focusing on telling people the story of my bipolar illness through this text and perhaps through other texts to come in the near or not so near future.

The ultimate job would allow me to spend time with my daughter and be present for her in her after-school activities like cross country, track and chorus.  The ability to write about my illness, the challenges it presents and my approaches to tackle those challenges may just be the “ultimate job” I am looking for.  Time will tell if my bloglife satisfies my need to work financially or otherwise.

As for the bipolar diagnosis, my husband and I have determined to be relatively transparent to my daughter who is sixteen about mental illness and about addiction issues.  We are betting that Nurture will win out over Nature in the future of her life such that she will be minimally impacted by mood swings and addiction issues.  We talk openly about how we don’t drink alcohol as a family and how we are very sensitive to moods and mood changes.  We have been active in our church and in my daughter’s role as an acolyte as well as a member of the church choir. We hope to be setting the behavioral example that we did not necessarily follow in our growing up years to include marriage at 38 and 42. 

I am hopeful that by providing my daughter with a strong home life and spiritual life, she will muddle through the teen years and twenties without signs of either bipolar illness or addiction.  Invariably, I am aware that these health concerns will probably not hit until her teens and/or twenties if they do occur.  With God’s help, we will steer clear of these obstacles or encounter them in a way that is manageable.  With God’s help, we will also steer clear of any abuse issues that may present during her childhood.

For me, much about being a Mom involves letting go of Ego and embracing God.  While for years my Ego has told me to “follow the money” and jobs that pay high dollar, I am unable to manage these career expectations and still be present in my daughter’s life.  It appears I have “a Mom switch” that it is either on or off with little in between.  This leaves my career choices to be a great deal more restricted than they were before the postpartum period.  Today I seek a job that will provide “a living wage” that will also provide me the opportunity to get my daughter to cross country or track practice or travel to nearby Augusta for an Honors Chorus performance. 

A high-paying job is only feasible for me if I extricate myself from all Mom activities.  That leads to a highly stressful and largely empty lifestyle.  In my current search for work, the pay and the status are taking a back seat to what it is I can do with and for my daughter on a daily and weekly basis. 

I still seek a job that allows a “living wage,” allows meaningful interaction with my daughter and allows ongoing relationship development with my husband.  From what I understand from talking to people with no behavioral health concerns, finding this balance is even a challenge for them.