Category Archives: In depth

The benefits of support groups

Like most, I found being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder completely bewildering. On the one hand it was a relief to finally find out that my life was coming apart at the seams not because I was a weak person who couldn’t cope with everyday life, but because I had an illness that had become unmanageable. But even though I had the diagnoses, and read everything I could lay my hands on, I felt that there was a key piece of the puzzle missing that made it impossible for me to really understand how it all fitted together. At the time it felt like I had to somehow fit my ‘self’ into the illness, instead of the illness into my ‘self’. I tried to discuss it with my psychologist, but to me it didn’t feel like he thought that I really had Bipolar Disorder. I might have only imagined that, but regardless I couldn’t talk about it. I eventually stopped seeing him because I didn’t feel like we had anything left to discuss. I felt lost, alone and unable to communicate or figure out what it meant to have Bipolar Disorder.

I had heard about the support group in my area, but hadn’t had the courage to attend. I was anxious about going by myself, but had no one to go with me. My family lives very far away and at the time I didn’t have any other support, so I had to talk to someone. Walking into my first meeting was absolutely terrifying. I wasn’t at the point where I openly discussed my illness yet, and I felt embarrassed and way too vulnerable. I didn’t know what to expect and was sure that the people were going to judge me. Luckily I was wrong.

These days I actually look forward to going to group and even when I don’t really feel like it, I go anyway (that’s usually when you need it the most). I have met some amazing and inspirational people and have made great friends that I meet with outside the meetings. Being able to talk to people who can identify with what I go through, think the way I do and have experienced the same frustrations I have has really made life easier. Although I believe that Psychologists have their place, and I still see my Psychiatrist monthly, attending a support group has helped me a lot more than therapy (in terms of understanding and dealing with my illness). I know that I now have people I can call on who will understand and a place to go where I can share my load, get help and advice and even laugh at myself. I also find it very rewarding to be able to pass what I have learned on to others.

Research has proven over and over  again that support groups have many benefits for their participants, whether it is for mental health issues, weight loss, addiction, chronic illness etc. These groups don’t have to be led by professionals in psychology or psychiatry and are more often led by ‘regular’ people who share the condition and therefore know what other participants go through. I found this quotation that sums it up:

“Mutual support groups, involving little or no cost to participants, have a powerful effect on mental and physical health… The psychological and physical health importance of this diffuse community is striking. The self-help movement, both in face-to-face and virtual arenas, has tremendous therapeutic potential.” (from American Psychologist feature article “Who Talks?: The Social Psychology of Illness Support Groups” by K. P. Davison, J. W. Pennebaker, & S.S. Dickerson, (55) 2, pp. 205-217, 2000.)

According to the Mayo Clinic, support groups hold the following benefits for its members:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
  • Improving coping skills and sense of adjustment
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Reducing distress, depression or anxiety
  • Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
  • Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
  • Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options.

For more information read this article. It’s about stress management, but I think the principles are the same.

Thanks to the Internet we don’t have to only rely on face-to-face support groups. Some people don’t have groups in their areas, some prefer to stay anonymous and others would rather express themselves in writing or to strangers. You can even belong to a few different groups if you want. The point is that these days it is easier to find a support group or forum that will suit your particular needs.

I’m sure support groups don’t work for anyone and it might take a few tries before you find something that works for you, but I would definitely recommend that you give it a try.

I only have a few support groups listed under Useful Resources, but please share yours and I will add it to the list.

Bipolar Disorder: The ‘flu’ of mental health?

I recently read something about celebrities and Bipolar Disorder where Bipolar Disorder was being described as a ‘fashionable diagnosis’ and ‘the flu of mental health’. I practically blew my top. This after hearing people say things like ‘everyone is bipolar these days’, ‘the weather is so bipolar’, ‘I think being bipolar is awesome’.

Generally, I have learned to keep my cool when I am faced with ignorant statements like these. Sometimes I would come out of my Bipolar closet and take time to educate the uneducated, but often I just don’t respond to a statement like that. However, hearing the chronic mental illness that my broken mind cannot get rid of being compared to the flu (I mean, FLU), really hit a nerve. But before I turn this post into a rant against those who I deem to be the ignorant and uneducated, it is worth looking at WHY a statement like that would even be made.

In this article about myths about Bipolar Disorder, the myth right at the top reads:’ Bipolar Disorder is a rare condition.’ A survey that  was done found that at least 2.4% of the world’s population  have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, (245 million people) with less than half of those diagnosed actually receiving treatment. Although the percentage is actually higher than one would think, the reality is that about 4% of the world population suffers from Depression, which is also the second-leading cause of disability worldwide. We should also keep in mind that these statistics don’t include populations that still deny the very existence of Depression. What about Schizophrenia? 1.1% of the population. If you look at how many people are affected worldwide by these and other mental illnesses, it’s clear that it’s a much bigger problem than most people realise. I can’t help but wonder why there is still so much stigma attached to these illnesses.

Those who say that Bipolar Disorder is the flu of mental health are obviously not referring to statistics, and they might be snarky about it, but in a way they are not wrong. It is true that more people have Bipolar Disorder now than ever before. This is simply because the illness cannot be cured. So it makes sense that not as many people with Bipolar Disorder die as are being diagnosed daily, especially since the general public is now more aware than before and health professionals have become better at diagnosing it. Personally I’m a word person, but to me this sounds like simple mathematics.

Thanks to celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones and more recently Demi Lovato coming out of the bipolar closet, the illness has received more media coverage in recent years. You just have to search ‘Celebrities with Bipolar Disorder’ to find a whole list. What we ‘regular people’ have to keep in mind is the kind of lifestyle that celebrities lead. With this I don’t mean drugs and parties and alcohol (although that is part of the lifestyle in many cases). The typical lifestyle of an entertainer includes a lot of travelling across different time zones, lack of sleep, high stress, high pressure, ridiculous work hours, sporadic eating and other things that would cause problems to the most stable person’s mental health. Place someone with just the smallest predisposition to Bipolar Disorder in a life like that and chances are they’ll get it, and struggle immensely with recovery and becoming stable. An unstructured and unhealthy lifestyle like that is a recipe for disaster if you suffer from Bipolar Disorder.

One of the big and pressing questions is whether Bipolar Disorder was previously under-diagnosed or is now over-diagnosed. Since it took me, doctors and psychologists about ten years to figure out what was actually wrong with me, my personal opinion is that the illness is still under-diagnosed. Until there are blood tests or a brain scan that can conclusively diagnosed mental illnesses, correct diagnosis will always be a problem. After what I came to know as an ‘episode’ that landed me in the hospital, the psychiatrist assigned to me immediately thought that I had Bipolar Disorder, but since I couldn’t give him the information and history he needed, mostly because I didn’t really understand what he wanted to know, the official diagnoses took a month of hospitalisation, loads of talking an playing around with different medications. It was more a case of ‘since all this bipolar medication has made you better, you must be Bipolar’. I think that is often the case. It is still very much a diagnosis of exclusion.

But getting back to the issue of over- or under-diagnosis, there are mental health professionals that have done studies and reached the conclusion that psychiatrists might have become a bit overly enthusiastic with their diagnosis. On the flipside though, is it better to treat someone with mood stabilisers when you suspect that they have Bipolar Disorder, or to treat them with anti-depressants and risk them becoming manic (which is what happened to me, btw)?

The term ‘bipolar’ is also thrown around very easily to describe any state or being that is not seen as ‘unipolar’. Perhaps Manic Depression is then still a better name for it. I think people are much more likely to describe the weather as bipolar than as having Manic Depression.

I’m of the opinion that all the reasons mentioned above and the fact that more people are being correctly diagnosed now creates the illusion that it has become an illness that is no worse than the flu. A larger percentage of those living with mental illness have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, yes, but I still find the statement offensive; like people think that I can just take a few pills, rest and get over it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Does Bipolar Disorder exist in children and teens?

From a very young age I knew that something about me was different from other people. I was very sensitive and frustrated. I can remember how, at a very young age, I would cry without knowing why, and make up excuses to my parents. Apart from that I don’t remember too much about my childhood moods, but what I do know is that I was an extremely depressed adolescent. I had always been a confident child, but my anxiety become so bad that, where once I was an award winning public speaker, I suddenly couldn’t stand in front of a crowd without shaking and sweating uncontrollably. I was forever obsessing about things and people. Especially people. I felt like I had no one to talk to and was absolutely alone. When I did try to reach out to people, I became obsessed with them. I couldn’t control it and I couldn’t understand it. I just wanted someone to talk to, but could not burden them with my problems. I started contemplating suicide when I was about 15, and started writing teenage angst poems about death. Most of the time I either felt suicidal, or trapped and frustrated. Before I left high school, I had seen about 6 different therapists; no one can say that I didn’t try to find help. Strangely enough, I was never referred to a psychiatrist. In the small town that I grew up in, and especially in my family, people just didn’t do that.

My situation was also complicated by the fact that my parents were going through a divorce at the same time and all my emotional baggage was put down to trauma from divorce. I won’t lie, it was traumatic, but no one thought to look further or deeper. I read all about depression, but as a 15 year old I couldn’t quite grasp it, and I didn’t understand what it was. Depression wasn’t really the problem though; it was the obsessions, compulsive racing thoughts, frustrations, sudden bursts of anger, irritability and anxiety that I didn’t not understand and didn’t have the vocabulary to identify. Now I look at my family and I clearly see a history of mental illness, but 15 years ago no one thought of or wanted to go there. Plus it can be difficult to distinguish between just being hormonal and being clinically depressed when dealing with teenagers.

Diagnosing most people with Bipolar Disorder is difficult, but diagnosing kids and teenagers are even more difficult, since their bodies and brains are still going through so many changes. To further complicate things, children and teens with Bipolar Disorder don’t display the same symptoms as adults. It is said that they generally experience more irritability and rapid cycling than adults, and the cycles might not be as ‘visible’. They do not exhibit the manic behaviour described in the DSM and their shifts in mood are not as clearly defined. This causes a lot of controversy around the topic. Some experts believe that Bipolar Disorder can appear in children as young as six years, while others believe that it does not exist in children. This is because the symptoms can easily be confused with that of ADHD or depression. Being treated for these illnesses when children actually have Bipolar Disorder can make the condition worse and trigger mania.

An Italian psychiatrist, Dr Franco Benazzi, explains it very well:

“Misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] and major depressive disorder is common, leading to the use of stimulants and antidepressants, which might worsen the course instead of mood-stabilizing agents,” he notes.

When Bipolar Disorder runs in the family and other members of the family have been diagnosed, it at least gives doctors a bit more to work with, and they know to consider this. Like with adults, Bipolar Disorder can only be treated effectively if correctly diagnosed. At some point I read that if a child displays symptoms of depression it is more likely that he or she has Bipolar Disorder and therefore some psychiatrists would rather treat them with mood stabilisers first and antidepressants second. Even though I’m sure this is not false information I can’t find the original information and wouldn’t want you to just take my word for it, so if you are in this kind of situation with your child or teen, ask you psychiatrist about it. Here is some other advice about how to help your child with Bipolar Disorder. Also have a look at this article from a Psychiatry journal about the misdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, that I have also added on my resources page. The article says the following:

“Research supports frequent onset of bipolar illness prior to age 20. Pediatric bipolar disorder, unlike in adults, has been reported to present as nonepisodic, chronic, and mostly mixed manic states. The unique presentation of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents and its frequent comorbidity with ADHD, anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder might be a significant contributor to the difficulties in accurate diagnosis.”

Doing research on this topic was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Clearly research is divided into two camps and although there is a lot of information out there, it all says the same things. From personal experience I can definitely say two things: 1) No matter what the DSM says about criteria, my Bipolar Disorder definitely started in my teenage or even childhood years, and 2) Antidepressants made my condition worse. Parents and doctors have to be more sensitive to these conditions in children and teenagers instead of just treating them for ADHD or Depression and worsening their symptoms. Kids should not have to experience the suicidal lows, excruciating mixed states or uncontrollable highs of Bipolar Disorder. It scars you for life.

Please share your own childhood stories or the stories of your children. It’s usually not the research in books by scientists that help us understand, but the real stories of real people.

*Small update: I spoke to my psychiatrist about this today. In his opinion Bipolar Disorder definitely exists in children, but is almost impossible to diagnose.

Surviving hypomanic episodes

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!

Be artistic

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.

Get active

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…

Sleep

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.

Write

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.

Use music

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.

Watch TV

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?

What is Bipolar Disorder? – Happy hypomania

For this post, I really had to dig deep. I have found that there are two reasons for why I’ve found it so difficult to isolate emotions and experiences from these times of hypomania, or euphoria. The first reason is that when I am hypomanic, I don’t realise that anything could be wrong with me. How could feeling so good be a symptom of an illness? The second reason is that over the past couple of years, I rarely experienced the highs of hypomania. I’ve mostly found myself in mixed states.

What I do clearly remember from being ‘high’ is that it really feels like you are high on something, without having taken anything. High on life, I use to say. It like being tipsy, without having had anything to drink. I haven’t had any experiences with illegal drugs, but I have heard that the feeling is similar to being high on cocaine. People often become addicted to this feeling, which makes them more likely to quit their medication. After being diagnosed I could look back at my life and I instantly knew when I had my first hypomanic episode. I went to a arts festival with friends for 5 days. It was my first one and I was extremely excited. But looking back I realise that it was more than that. In 5 days, I barely slept 10 hours. I didn’t want to sleep. I partied until the sun came up. I was funnier than usual, more excited than usual, more outgoing, drunker, louder, more carefree, taking more risks with my safety. My friends joked about my two personalities that week. See naturally I’m more introverted, like my sleep, get tired of people and generally a bit shy when I meet new people. That week I really felt like the world was my playground. It was great. After the festival though, I cried a lot. I had a sense of impending doom for months. Even though I was still feeling great, or thought I was, I freaked out because I was afraid that life would never feel that good again. I was scared. My moods were dropping at a rapid and uncontrollable speed.

I remember other occasions where I’d bounce out of bed (a huge deal for the anti-morning person) and feel like my life was the best thing that could happen to anyone. I would write long and meaningful emails to everyone I know, sharing my amazing and profound epiphanies about the meaning of life. I would write fiction for days on end, not typing fast enough for my thoughts to become words. Something would amaze and inspire me, and when others weren’t as excited as I was, I would be furious. How could you NOT see the splendor of this thing, this person, this piece of music? How are you no in awe? I could work and study for days at a time and barely take a break. Poems from my English class, in particular when I was studying Emily Dickens for exams, suddenly came to life.  I would listen to a song on repeat for months, hearing every instrument, every beat, individually and as a whole. Songs would conjure up images and stories in my head. I would write on the train, while waiting in queues in stores, while I was suppose to work, at 5am. Stories would fill my head. I would dance in my underwear for hours, stomping my feet and drinking. Even if no music was playing, I’d dance to music in my head, or bounce up and down. I couldn’t sit still. I told people I had ants in my pants. In truth, it felt like I had ants under my skin. The world looked sharper, colours were more vivid, everything inspired and excited me. I didn’t want to eat, couldn’t eat (big deal for a major food lover). My brain would never shut down, I didn’t stop talking because I had so much to say, and the thoughts and ideas were coming so fast. I was animated and charismatic.

Amazing right? Truly fantastic. Exhilarating and inspiring and passionate and so many other wonderful things. So how on earth can anyone call this an illness? Why would trade these bursts of light and colour for a normal and stable life?

Why? Because it doesn’t last.

As I explain about the title of my blog, your wings catch fire and burn out quickly. Then you start falling, and you fall from a dizzy height and crash spectacularly, either into depression or you go into full blown and uncontrollable mania. The problem is that all those amazing thoughts and feelings become too big. No matter what behaviour you engage in, you can’t get rid of whatever is chasing you from the inside. No matter how many risks you take, how creative you are or how much you self-medicate, nothing gets rid of the excessive amounts of energy building up inside you. I’m not really into exercising except for dancing, but not even jogging in the rain or walking for hours until my body felt exhausted could shut my brain down or help me sleep. Whatever is inside of you grows and grows and your body is unable to contain it. In my case, I resorted to a lot of alcohol to numb and relax me, and self-harm to try to physically release what became, like with depression, a physical pain in my chest. Of course that makes everything worse. For me, once I have reached this tipping point, the descend into dysphoria and depression is rapid, all-consuming, painful and extreme.

After going through this cycle a couple of times, especially after realising that it is in reality a cycle, you get to a point where the cons outweigh the pros. I am so terrified of what my happy hypomania morphs into, that I have now gladly sacrificed it for a more stable and predictable life. Sometimes I feel like I am a very boring person now, and that I have lost my special spark, but since being in remission I’ve realised that when I have ideas now, I can actually follow through. This don’t come as easily anymore, my memory is not what it use to be, which is the worse for me. I don’t have life changing epiphanies and being creative is as much about being inspired as it is about working hard and persevering.

Do I miss those magical times? Definitely. Was it worth giving them up? Absolutely. I said to a friend yesterday that really reflecting on my past made one thing abundantly clear: There was a point in my life that I was stark raving mad. Bonkers. Insane. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Having split depression, dysphoria and euphoria into three separate entities might make them sound manageable. They might be, when experienced in isolation. But all three in a never-ending cycle? Often with symptoms overlapping and an absolute inability to have normal relationships, function in society and keep a normal job? No. Definitely not.

How do you experience hypomania? Have you had to deal with a loved one in a hypomanic state? 

Next post…. How to manage early stages of hypomania.

 

What is Bipolar Disorder? – The dark side of hypomania

In my pervious post I explored what it feels like to have depression. As we know, that is only one side of Bipolar Disorder. What makes this illness different from ‘regular’ unipolar depression is that you have the lows and the highs.

As with my previous post, I am not going to list the typical symptoms of hypomania and mania; you can find more information about that here. A note on the two though: Mania and hypomania are not the same thing. Even with all the reading that I’ve done, I sill haven’t found a proper comparison between the two. It is generally said that hypomania is a less severe form of mania. Mania is usually experienced as an episode that lasts for a few days or weeks. As far as I know it does not last as long as a hypomanic episode. Hallucinations, delusions, psychosis and severe paranoia  are experienced during manic episodes. This is not the case with hypomania, although I know from personal experience that paranoia and delusional thinking should not be excluded when talking about hypomania (or I might just be more manic than I realise…). Mania greatly impairs the sufferer’s functioning up to a point where hospitalisation is usually necessary. People who experience mania are classified as Bipolar I, whereas people who experience hypomania are classified as Bipolar II. Suffering from Bipolar I is probably much worse than Bipolar II, but don’t think that if you ‘only’ have bipolar II, it is not serious.

My diagnosis is Bipolar II, which is why will only share my experiences of hypomania and not go into further detail about mania. Various levels of manic states are, in my opinion, largely misunderstood and the part of the illness that intrigue people and lead to their misconceptions. When someone joking refers to themselves as Bipolar because they experience a couple of mood swings, or feel really happy, I have to work very hard to keep myself from flying into a state of extreme rage. That is when I have to remind myself that people are just uninformed and ignorant, and that my talking about it is part of the solution. As the title says, this post describes the dark side of hypomania. Most people think that hypomania is flying on a cloud of endless euphoric energy and creativity. A fun feeling. Even though that is often the shape that hypomania takes (and I’ll cover that in my next post), there is a dark side to hypomania that in my opinion does not get nearly enough exposure.

Dysphoric hypomania (mixed state)

My process of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder started 15 months ago. I had been on antidepressants for about a year before that. I wasn’t depressed anymore, but I was something that wasn’t normal. Turns out being only on antidepressants is very dangerous if you have Bipolar Disorder. I didn’t realise it at the time, since I couldn’t recognise my thoughts and behaviour as faulty. When I look back now I don’t know how I didn’t realise earlier that something was very wrong. I had been going through a very stressful time for about a year, and I thought that what was going on with me was severe anxiety. I didn’t feel the happy, ecstatic states mostly described as hypomania. Not then. What I did feel was a sense of being stuck inside myself. It felt like I had ants crawling under my skin and that I had to keep moving. I was usually tapping my foot or standing up when everyone was sitting down. At home I put my headphones in and I would dance non-stop for hours, giving myself over to the music completely. Colours looked brighter, sounds were louder. I couldn’t sleep#. I only ate because I had to (even though I love food) and most of the time I would just feel nauseous when I ate anyway. It felt like the world was closing in on me.  I needed to get out, but  there was nothing physical to get out of. I still had a painful feeling on my chest, like when I was depressed, but I was pumped up. Frantic. My thoughts were obsessive. I obsessed over people. I drove people away. I was completely irrational and often delusional in my thinking. It felt like everyone was against me, even the people in my life who love me the most. The intensity of my emotions were almost unbearable, and I didn’t understand how people can experience something with me and not have the same reaction. I was unreasonable. I was aggressive and frustrated all the time. I had fantasies about bashing annoying people’s heads against walls. I was angry about everything all the time.

I think that my behaviour resulting from all this was a kind of attempt to get away from myself. Describing my feelings are not embarrassing to me. I felt things that I had no control over. My behaviour because of these feelings I do still feel very embarrassed about. I have to share some of the things I did to let this information make sense, but I do want to say that I deeply regret most of it. I spent much more money that I had and made debt that I am still struggling to pay off. I almost bought a flat! It was only thanks to a small admin error that the deal thankfully didn’t go through. It would have completely bankrupted me. I got traffic fines in the double digits. I drove drunk, late at night and to secluded places. When I wasn’t home, I was drinking. I took whatever pills I could find, just to try to shut down my head. I would go jogging in the icy pouring rain (and I don’t jog!). I sent out messages and emails and didn’t think about the consequences. There were things that I said and did that I had no control over. The obsessions and compulsions took over my mind. Once I established a routine or pattern, I couldn’t break it. Eg, if I got into a habit of texting one person every day and I realised that, I couldn’t break the habit, I just couldn’t. Even if I had nothing to say. Come to think of it, it might actually be what real OCD feels like (not the kind where people think you have to arrange your books alphabetically or clean a lot, the actual misunderstood disease). Even though I’m not promiscuous and not one to kiss and tell, my sex drive definitely went haywire. Theoretically it’s a small miracle that I didn’t sleep around and contract a disease or something. All of these crazy thoughts, feelings and behaviour eventually led to very bad physical and emotional self-harm.

This was an awful time in my life. I now know that it wasn’t my first hypomanic episode, but it was certainly my worse so far and landed me in the hospital. I really is only by the grace of God that I survived it. Personally I’m not sure how I didn’t commit suicide. This state of mind went on for months. I was completely lost in it. I look back with such relief and gratitude. Now that I look back, I know that I was severely ill and that has made it easier for me. I don’t blame it all on myself anymore.

Learn more about dysphoria/mixed states.

Can you better explain the difference between mania and hypomania? Have you or anyone you know experienced dysphoric hypomania? How has it affected you as a sufferer or a supporter?