How I’m Learning to Manage Rage as a Bipolar Woman
Are these the only two stories? The one, where you defeat your monster, and the other, where you succumb to it?
Neither of those things came to pass in the way I imagined. Instead, I am still, this many years later, asking myself how muchdo I control my bipolar disorder, and how much does my bipolar disorder control me. What I want to know is: How much is my fault? Where does the fault line lie, and how do I escape its reverberations?
How do I speak of the Rage, I ask my therapist. She tells me about Internal Family Systems, a psychotherapy approach that maintains that our minds are composed of multiple parts (termed “subpersonalities”), each with a discrete viewpoint and quality. The goal is to integrate the disparate parts, to listen to and acknowledge the subpersonalities, even those that seem destructive.
I am skeptical. First, because it sounds somewhat—for a lack of a better term—whoo-whoo-y; and second, to listen to the Rage is to release the Rage.
What if you intentionally released the valve, in a controlled way? she asks.
I do not have a good answer, as I have never considered letting it go on purpose. The Rage always escapes and I always hunt it down, with varying degrees of success. I understand the concept of a controlled burn, but I have also traced the map of wildfires that spread because you cannot control the wind. Still, I can imagine it. To be able to again feel the immediate relief I had as a teenager when I, heart racing, snapped my phone in half and threw it out the window.
On my eighth or ninth re-reading, I realize that the moment of the woman from Mino’s transformation occurred not when she became angry, or when she shaped her hair into horns, but when she killed her ex-lover. After that, she says, no matter how much I tried, I could not regain my former physical self.
Yet before she jumps into the fire, she warns: Do not fail to tell [your wives and daughters] my story and forbid them to let feelings such as I had to arise in their hearts. The warning here—like in other stories and plays of oni women—is against emotion. But the transformation occurred because of her action. She chose to kill a man.
The day after the election, I test my therapist’s idea of a slow, measured release. I dig around in the garage and find our garden lopper, an enormous, ungainly type of pruning shears that my husband wields with ease and I with much effort and grunting. In the garden, I pace up and down the rows of shriveled gray plants. I behead my Taiwanese eggplants. I chop my Cherokee purple stalks into thirteen unnecessary pieces. I open the shears wide, and I close them with as much gumption as I can muster. I yank out all the dead things and pile them in a heap. To my regret, such lopping does not produce the immediate calming effect that snapping my phone in half did. But I have the hope that I can find something.
(The story of the woman from Mino is loosely adapted from Rajyashree Pandey’s translation of Kankyo no Tomo, except for her dialogue, which is copied exactly.)
Jami Nakamura Lin is the author of THE NIGHT PARADE (Mariner Books/HarperCollins and Scribe UK 2023), an illustrated memoir that uses yokai & other Japanese , Taiwanese, & Okinawan folklore to investigate what haunts us. A former Catapult columnist, she's written for the New York Times, Electric Literature, and other publications.
Jami has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts/Japan-US Friendship Commission, Yaddo, Sewanee, and We Need Diverse Books.