A typical hypomanic episode

For me, it starts in my chest…well just a bit lower. What I suppose you’d call my core. It begins as a ball of energy the size of a marble that fluxes and gyrates and, as it grows bigger, starts to spin faster and increase in excited energy. As the power builds, it courses through my body and fills me with an inexhaustible supply of fuel, like the intense fusion that churns at the centre of the sun.

I sat in the chair in my sunny garden, my knee a blur, bouncing a thousand times a second. I was struggling to sit still and stay dedicated to a single thought for longer than a few minutes. I didn’t have a filter for my thoughts, either, I just spoke in a frenzied trail of consciousness and shared everything that flitted through my head.

Every single idea I was having was seriously the best idea anyone had ever had. I was an idea machine; they were like an endless fleet of high speed trains flying through the station of my mind. I shared them with anyone who would listen…but nobody was anywhere near excited enough. In fact, sometimes they looked at me as if I were crazy, which I very obviously wasn’t.

Everyone moved in slow motion, apathetically nodding while I explained my plans in detail…why weren’t they being as animated as me, jumping up, ready to join me on my adventure?

I was getting seriously frustrated. What, let’s think about it? No, no we don’t need to see how it goes, let’s just do it!

Colours were vibrant, everything was brimming with possibility. My thoughts were like bolts of purple and blue plasma emanating from my brain in all directions, made of pure energy and fracturing into paths of finer and finer detail. They felt real, I could feel them undulating from my head in slow but powerful waves.

I can also feel over-confident in myself. There’s been several times I’ve, let’s say…ran my mouth. I’m suddenly filled with a sense of needing to put things to rights, as if I’m a budget superhero and it’s my duty to protect anyone and everything. I’ve done everything from confronting strangers in the street who I thought were being “rude”, to chasing down (what I thought at the time were) shoplifters. As someone who’s generally very balanced and level headed, this really isn’t my norm.

The downsides of the highs

This is just a snapshot of what hypomania can be like for me. I’m Bipolar type II, so I’ve never experienced full-blown mania, but hypomania can be very debilitating in its own right. When most people think about the “highs” of Bipolar, they imagine it’s great, and on paper it might sound like it. Loads of energy, ideas, inspiration, little need for sleep. You get loads done, why wouldn’t you enjoy being in this state?

It honestly isn’t always as fun or as productive as it sounds, at least in my experience. Yes I might have a fleet of juggernauts full of ideas rolling into town, but they’re usually fantastic and not in the least bit sensible or practical. Of course, at the time I don’t understand this, I just think they need to be realised as quickly as possible.

I’ll admit once or twice, some good has come from an episode; I once wrote, recorded and released an album in a week when I’d never done anything like that before in my life.

But I barely slept for a week and the aftermath was a tough one to get over. The energy a hypomanic episode takes is immense, you have no idea how you can still be buzzing away when you ran out of fuel days before. There can also be bigger pieces you need to pick up once the party ends, especially if you’ve had an urge to spend a lot of money you didn’t have…if you took risks you wouldn’t usually take and left the path of safety and sensibility.

Other times, hypomania can combine into the form of a mixed episode. It’s all the energy of the hypomanic symptom but with agitation, an awareness and a frustration with not being able to settle and even having depressive thoughts. This probably sounds like an oxymoron, a depressive hyperactivity. I’ve likened it to feeling like a corpse that has been dug up and had a thousand volts run through it. I’m moving about quickly and getting stuff done but I’m not at all happy about it.

Mixed episodes are my least favourite state, but I don’t want to go into them in too much detail in this post, as I’d like to focus on hypomania. I just wanted to illustrate how complex the various symptoms of Bipolar can be and it varies from person to person.

Now and again hypomania can be virtually harmless for me. I’ve had shorter episodes which only last a few days and I’ve just been the most animated version of myself. By nature, I’m generally a quiet person and definitely introverted. When I’m hypomanic, I’m more confident than usual and certainly more extroverted. You’ll find me dancing about and being very fidgety. I won’t be able to stand or sit still for very long at all, and I’ll probably be singing away to myself almost constantly.  

The likelihood is you’ll be treated to Cher’s greatest hits.

Apart from being very tired afterwards, feeling a bit guilty and apologetic for getting on people’s nerves, that’s about it. Not much to clean up this time, which is a blessing. (Sorry everyone who knows me!)

The aftermath of hypomania: the spiral downwards

The negative side however is what goes up, must come down. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if I’ve been spinning out of control, powered by borrowed energy, I’ll burn up and descend in an Icarus-like plummet away from the warm glow of hypomania, into the dark cavernous depths of depression.

I’ve often tried to explain the aftermath of an episode as a sort of emotional hangover. Suddenly I feel awful about the rubbish I was broadcasting, how much of a handful I must have been and embarrassed about how I acted. It’s like thinking back through a wild night out when you’ve lost control and now you’re just left feeling tired and stuck with re-runs of all the crap you came out with. On top of that, you’ve got the fall into depression building around you.

I’ve already mentioned this, but to reiterate: hypomania is different for everyone. Bipolar is different for everyone. This is just an insight into how it feels for me. I wanted to share how it feels to help people understand that the highs aren’t fun, or something to be desired.

My experiences haven’t gotten me into serious trouble (yet…), but these episodes can be disastrous.

Some sufferers can end up in huge debt, ruin relationships, quit jobs, make hugely life-altering decisions. All whilst they’re really not well. We need to remember that hypomania is a symptom of a mental illness. It’s not controlled, for the most part, so it’s not something we can praise as great or something to be desired.

That’s not to say we can’t learn to have safety measures in place to protect ourselves, but it’s not an easy feat, and it needs to be kept in check.

So that’s my experiences of hypomania; the highs, lows and the inbetweens. I can’t deny that it must look great from the outside looking in, but it’s a difficult thing to go through, both during the episode and after. It can be frustrating as well as brimming with possibilities, but it’s just the other side of the Bipolar coin; it’s the light that sits directly opposite the darkness with my mind swinging like a pendulum between the two.

Although it’s not as extreme as full mania, it has its issues and shouldn’t be down-played. I hope I’ve managed to give enough insight in this post to help give a good understanding of what this lesser-discussed symptom of Bipolar type II is like and helped break down some of the stigma surrounding it.

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