Conquering Hypomania: From Reckless to Responsible

Harnessing the energy and sociability of hypomania.

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It’s hard to sit still and write when you feel like your body is electric and your brain is overflowing and you feel that you just might burst. It’s hard to articulate the feeling of hypomania. I’ve said it before – if you’ve experienced a cocaine or MDMA high than you have some idea of what this feels like. It’s like I don’t have complete control over my mind and body and it’s thrilling and scary and wonderful and terrifying all at once.

I want to do everything, everything, right now! I’ve had about a thousand excellent ideas come to me in the past few hours – I want to have a dinner party, I want to buy expensive champagne and lots of new things for my sister’s new house, I want to deliver the best presentation ever next week at work, I want to cook a week’s worth of meals and freeze them, I want to buy new perfume and books and makeup and clothes, I want to organise a mini holiday, I want to paint…no, I want to knit my friend’s baby a blanket…or maybe watch those podcasts I’ve been meaning to watch… Ideas overwhelm me and I end up pacing the house doing nothing at all. Each time I reach for something I’m suddenly  gripped by a better idea so I go and pursue that instead.

I can feel hypomania lurking before it strikes. It’s a strange sensation I get before it happens… like a tingling, a restlessness, a creeping happiness that grows and grows until it feels like it consumes me and suddenly it’s not happiness anymore but hypomania. It’s like being on the verge of orgasm, knowing that it’s just there and then you explode with energy and ideas so big that the world feels like it can’t contain you. But there’s no anti-climax, there’s no resolution, just an ongoing high that stretches on and on. The possibilities and confidence and energy and ideas are infinite. Life is wonderful!

I’m very adept at masking it. I can talk incessantly and am in high spirits, but generally I can hold a lot of it in, keeping it close to my chest like a dirty little secret, afraid that if people notice they might snatch it away from me and suggest firmly that I see my psychiatrist to increase my medications. Sometimes, when I’m home alone, I allow myself to let go and turn the music up loud and dance in the dark with abandon, singing and dancing and feeling like the music itself.

There are downsides of course. The irritability. It hasn’t struck yet, but when it does it’s a force to be reckoned with. It’s difficult to manage this aspect of hypomania. I feel like a time bomb on edge, holding my breath whenever someone speaks to me in case I start screaming obscenities at them. Sometimes the irritation and agitation tips over into anger and then there’s trouble. I feel at a loss at those times, filled with so much toxic energy that I don’t know what to do with it. I often feel like cutting myself or smashing things. I usually do neither. I walk. I call someone and rant. I yell and swear and cry. I let out the toxic energy until it’s all gone and I’m exhausted afterwards. Empty.

The hypersexuality can also be problematic. It can be wonderful too – the reduced inhibition and wonder and curiosity. But the fixation on sex and everything sexual can be harmful. And there’s no satisfying the fixation. I can spend hours indulging myself in sexual behaviour and still feel compelled to go on. I get demanding and when I’m denied sex, that toxic energy comes bursting forth and I get angry. It’s relentless.

I know that some of what I have written might alarm some people. People are afraid to hear me say that I enjoy some aspects of hypomania and I understand why. But I have learned some lessons from past hypomania. I am better informed and better equipped to manage these feelings now. I can sit back and see the bigger picture – the depression and stability yet to come, my everyday life that needs to be maintained, my own near and faraway future that needs to be protected from any reckless actions, the people around me who may be affected. I know that despite wanting to indulge in the feelings without reigning them in or being accountable for them, its best to tell my support people how I’m feeling and to let them help.

I hope too that I have learned enough to harness the positive aspects of hypomania and to use them to my advantage. I’ve learned how to adjust my life to fit hypomania rather than futilely trying to smother the inferno. At work, I set small tasks for myself and commit to finishing one thing completely before moving on to the next. I take regular breaks to release the extra energy. I stop to meditate for ten minutes. I play calming music. I limit my caffeine intake. I let the creativity flow but am mindful about committing to too many new projects. I schedule lots of social activities and indulge my heightened feelings of sociability with friends and family.

I’ve learned to deal with the less positive aspects of hypomania too. When the irritability is too much, I put myself in a quiet room and meditate. I let people close to me know that I’m irritable. I stay away from noise and crowds. When I start fixating on sex and getting agitated I might take some prescribed valium or engage in an activity that holds my attention. I try thinking myself through it, coaching myself into not expecting sex from my partner. The key factor in all of this is awareness and insight. I undoubtedly still have blind spots about how I experience and manifest my bipolar symptoms but I am learning all the time. Sometimes all my skills and self-care goes out the window and the symptoms prevail, but again, I am learning all the time.

The last time I felt full blown hypomanic symptoms I was afraid. I was afraid of the recklessness that had consumed me previously and I was worried about how other people might see me. It was the first time I was hypomanic since being diagnosed with bipolar and I was suddenly aware of how out-of-control I felt and how big my feelings were. I had been living like this for years but had no concept that what I was feeling, thinking and doing was linked to bipolar. Now I know. And knowledge is power. So this time, this time I am ready.


Image by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash





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