Encounters with Hypomania.

Song of the Day: Possibility by Lykke Li

Over a good few years of Bipolar Disorder research I realised that, although there is a lot written about mania, there is a lot less published about hypomania. I’m diagnosed as Bipolar II which means I experience hypomania, but never full mania. I’ve always felt I would like to learn about how others experience this phenomenon and how it affects their behaviour, so I thought I would recount a few of my own encounters with hypomania. (I wont spew out the diagnostic criteria of hypomania and mania as they can easily be found using a search engine and I imagine most Bipolar peeps will know them anyway).

My most memorable hypomania episode occurred during the first term of my third year at uni. I had the usual increase in energy and racing thoughts, which manifested in me waking up, jumping out of bed and getting on the first bus to the city (I missed so many lectures!) where I started to spend my student loan on silly things. When I was in HMV or Waterstones everything looked way more enticing than usual. If I found a book I was interested in, the topics would seduce me so much that I felt I had to have that book NOW; no later would do. Everything in the shops was so exciting and I really believed I could have anything I wanted. Any thoughts of the consequences were completely lost to me. Product colours would seem brighter, words would bounce off pages of books, the music playing made me more excited than usual- I spent A LOT of money.

All the energy would keep me power walking through the city, I honestly felt I could fly. I love feeling like this, it makes you feel high! But I couldn’t relax, it was constant movement or activity directed into shopping, studying, socializing. The latter was probably what would get me most excited- I loved the challenge of flirting with guys. I’m quite a flirty person anyway, but was better looking back in uni :-D, so I had pretty high confidence when I was hyper! I could talk to ANYONE, so easily as well. I actually felt like the most attractive, appealing and magnetic person in the room (oh how this can all change!).  I would dance as if in another world and was constantly thrilled with the prospect of a sexual conquest. I definitely experienced the increase in sex drive as quite a prominent feature of my hypomanic episodes.

During this time I had absolutely no interest in cooking for myself or doing any chores. I would eat erratically, but much less than usual- I couldn’t keep still long enough to eat! Sleep was about 5 or 6 hours a night, which I think compared with a lot of hypomanic people is quite a lot. I would wake up feeling like Tigger from Winnie- the- Pooh, I just wanted to spring around everywhere and bounce off the walls. Lots of ideas would come to me about business ideas, books to write and trips to make (quite a few of which I would book impulsively) and I could write and write and write about nothing in particular. I felt so much more talented than usual and would imagine myself as a great undiscovered musician, artist, writer, etc, waiting to be found.

Even though my memories of the changes I experienced with the energy increase are vivid and rich, I’m not sure how much of this was visible to other people. I guess quite a lot in terms of the shopping, but my flatmates were often not home or I was out, so I think in that respect it was all pretty under the radar. When living at home with Mum & Dad they would notice it easily. I was definitely aware of my euphoria and that it was part of the disorder, but when it did occur it was so amazing I would ride the wave and do more and more and more until the crash.

My more recent experiences have been less severe in terms of harmful behaviours that I would later regret, but my favourite part is always the euphoric feeling that absolutely nothing can go wrong, that the universe will give me whatever I want, that I am a superhuman! I often have the feeling that the energy coursing through my body is healing and that I could heal people. All this sounds so crazy now, but I swear that’s what I really think when hyper!

Talking to people suddenly seems to become more of a contest to see how many ideas and words I can cram in to as little time as possible, and as loudly as I can. If I have a thought I feel an intense pressure to say it straight away without even thinking about keeping quiet until the other person has stopped talking, as if it is dangerous to let it stay in my head- I must say it NOW!. I completely monopolize any conversation, constantly talk over people and have to be the centre of attention! (I’m a lovely person really!) I also get silly, as if I’m tipsy. Woe betide anyone who disagrees with me though, because I will fight and fight til they know I’m right- coz I’m ALWAYS right when I’m hyper! 😉

After maybe a few days of hypomanic activity (and in some cases a few weeks) I would get more and more irritable, sometimes experiencing intense anger and rage attacks. Agitation would also set in where my muscles were so uneasy and tense that I literally could not relax them and sit still. The energy that was once so wonderful then at once seemed to turn on me. I don’t know if this is what is termed as a mixed state? (I find this state to be very vaguely described in most of the literature on Bipolar). But, whatever you call it, it can be absolutely terrifying, where I would feel the despair of depression and hatred of myself, guilt and worthlessness, but with this need to move all the time, to never sit still. There was no way of relaxing and calming myself. I think these have been some of the most difficult stages I have been through, as I could see absolutely no way out of them or remember the good times. There seemed no hope of things ever improving. My ability to comfort and look after myself was completely compromised.

Then of course would follow depression, which is for another day!

Having been with Bipolar for over 10 years, I now recognise very obvious patterns which can trigger hypomania for me; generally it’s the lead up to Christmas and the lengthening of the days in March. But other triggers seem to centre around big changes like moving house.

I really hope that more and more people will share these kind of experiences to help others recognise the symptoms in themselves, but also to show that we are not alone- that there are others out there who we can relate to and vice versa.

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