Most of us don’t realise when we are in the midst of a hypomanic episode. Only in retrospect from the depths of depression do we realise that are behaviour was ‘of’ or ‘not normal’. I use to think that because I am stable on my medication, I wouldn’t experience symptoms of hypomania or depression again. Of course this assumption was wrong. People more knowledgeable than I have told me that it takes a lot of self-awareness and experience to realise before it’s too late that you are being pulled into depression or hypomania. Personally I have not reached this level of awareness yet, but I have found a few things that help me when I realise that my mind is spinning out of control. These are only my personal ways of coping and what works for one person might not work for someone else. I have found that the only way I can pull myself out of myself is by distracting my mind and focusing on the things I do rather than the things I think. That is what we are doing anyway when we are behaving in self-destructive ways. Shopping, 100s of projects, speeding, taking risks, drinking excessively, doing drugs, cutting, random sex and yelling at your boss are mechanisms, I think, of distraction. Why we have to turn to the self-destructive is beyond me. Although it is also where intense creativity comes from in some of us.
Most importantly though, you have to contact your psychiatrist immediately when you realise that things are going haywire and that you can’t keep it under control yourself. I usually only realise this too late, but as I’m going along I am getting better at recognising the signs in myself.
Below are a few other things that I have found helpful when I feel the hypomania coming on and I can’t see my doctor or am waiting for the new drugs to kick in.
Do something with your hands.
The best way for me to get out of my head is by doing things that distracts myself from my thoughts and focus me on something I’m doing with my hands. My go-to is doing mosaics, which I learned while I was hospitalised (gotta love art therapy). I can do it for hours and just focus on fitting the different piece into each other. The fact that I get to break stuff is a bonus. I also do puzzles. It’s the same concept and completely distracts me. Of course I need to make sure that the puzzle is big enough to keep me busy for some time.
Another thing that really works for me is origami. Learning how to fold some of the more complicated designs can be frustrating and infuriating, but otherwise you could just see if you could get to a 1000 tiny cranes (the Chinese believe that if you can do it within a year, you get to make a wish). You can do anything where you make something, really. Beading, pottery, wood work, baking, whatever works for you. I know some people go into a complete frenzy about cleaning and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You distract yourself and have a nice clean house after!
To me there is a definite difference between being artistic and being creative. In certain areas I am very creative, but I am not artistic at all! The other day I said to someone, “I can’t draw!” His reply was, “Of course you can! Anyone can draw. You don’t necessarily have to be good at it.” I realised that he was right. I don’t have to be a brilliant artist to have fun with shapes and colours. So I bought myself some oil pastels and a sketchpad. Even though I’m pretty sure that I suck, I find drawing simple shapes therapeutic and the bright colours make me happy. You don’t have to be Picasso (although that might be a bad example), you just have to do it for yourself and enjoy what you’re doing.
I’m not big on doing exercise. I’m actually embarrassingly lazy like that. What I have found works for me during especially frustrating and angry times is playing tennis against a wall. I don’t play against anyone else as that will just frustrating and irritate me more, but hitting balls gets rid of a lot of nervous energy and anxiety. I also go for really long walks or especially dancing. That can conveniently be done in your house in your underwear too. Doctors always say that exercise is good for you because of endorphins and all that, and you can’t really argue with that. But more importantly when you have Bipolar Disorder, it distracts you and will hopefully make you tired so you can sleep. Speaking of…
This is a tricky one, since during hypomania you can’t and don’t want to sleep. During ‘happy hypomania’ it’s easy to just let this one go without thinking of the consequences, but during dysphoria it’s just that you can’t sleep, even though you badly want to. Being awake is too painful. When I feel like this, the only thing that gets me to sleep is a sleeping pill. Of course only ones prescribed to me by my doctor and only the prescribed dose.
Even though I love writing and write all the time and would write for a living if I could, but it doesn’t work for me when I’m hypomanic or depressed. My thoughts reach very dark and scary places and drag me down further into an abyss. On the flipside, I have these amazing epiphanies where the world and the afterlife suddenly become so clear, which isn’t a bad things, but these thoughts and pieces of writing are of course to important and life changing to keep to myself, so I email them to everyone I think might be touched by my revelations. At the time my friends humour me, but when looking back at what I wrote later, I realise every time that I probably sound absolutely insane. So for me writing is actually a bit destructive when I’m hypomanic or depressed, but many people find it very therapeutic.
Music can be used as a distraction in two ways, either by playing an instrument or listening to music. I can barely call myself a beginner on the acoustic guitar, but practicing the chords I know, learning new ones or trying to work out the chords for my favourite songs can keep me busy for hours. All I think about then is the music. Learning a new instrument is both fun and much more constructive (and cheaper) than shopping. Again what doesn’t work for me is listening to music. I’m very sensitive to sound and the world gets too loud very quickly. Depending on whether I’m in a euphoric or dysphoric state of hypomania, music will either make me angry and depress or let my mind go wild. I can get so into the music that it feels like I disconnect from the outside world.
Now this one is not necessarily the healthiest one, but when my mind can’t stop spinning often then only thing that works for me is focusing my mind on the lives of characters in TV shows. I can’t watch movies because they are too long and boring and I don’t watch documentaries because I find them boring, but I love stories, so I can easily go through 2 seasons of a show without stopping. This is not what I mean with using it to cope with hypomania though. When an activity hinders instead of helps you, breaks your routine and deprives you of sleep, it because destructive. Therefore when I’m hypomanic I try to avoid falling into this ‘addiction’.
I realised while I was writing the above; and you might have picked it up too; that there is a very fine line between distractions and destruction. The same activity can have opposite effects in different people or even in the same person at different times. The key is to figure out what works for you. I am sure that there are many other distractions and coping mechanisms out there and the ones mentioned here are just the ones I know work or don’t work for me.
How do you distract yourself when you are hypomanic?