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Hypomania Feels Like An Entitlement

Charlotte Walker

I’ve been a little hypomanic again lately. It started, as it usually does, with a reduced need for sleep – even continuing to take my usual doses of lithium and quetiapine (Seroquel) I began to have difficulty drifting off, and started to find myself wide awake hours after the antispychotics have usually kicked in. When I did get to sleep, I found that I was waking frequently throughout the night, every night. My dreams become much more vivid and intense than usual, and the boundary between dreaming and reality somehow got blurred – I know I woke my partner several times last week calling out, or thrashing about, unsure what was dream and what was reality.

It’s not surprising to me that my dreams become larger than life, because hypomania makes me experience the world differently in a whole range of ways. For me, it is a state in which ordinary sensory experiences become transcendent. I bite into a bar of chocolate, and I am stopped dead in my tracks by the way the flavour seems to literally burst onto my tongue and fill my whole being with pleasure. It is almost an out of body experience. Music has a similar effect. Find the right song and - especially if it is delivered to my ears via headphones - I experience a phenomenal rush of bliss. I feel my pupils dilate, and I have to close my eyes and breathe in to deal with the intensity. I often listen to music on public transport, especially when on the London Underground (somewhere I necessarily spend a lot of time as I travel between appointments). I this state I can find myself over-receptive to every little movement and sound of the train, so that it feels as if I am travelling much faster than usual. Combined with music, travel by tube as it hurtles through the tunnels begins to feel like being on some kind of weird, cut-price theme park ride.

Another ordinary-turned-astonishing experience is running in the park. Despite the lack of sleep, a key feature of hypomania is that I don’t feel tired in the day – in fact I have plenty of energy, for writing, for cleaning, for exercise. The combination of pre-existing hypomania, endorphins which are naturally generated by running anyway, and up-tempo workout music, results in another wallop of brain-chemistry high. It makes me so euphoric that I feel like my head might have to burst in order to release the rush of ecstasy. I am surprised that nobody seems to be looking at me strangely. Never mind walking your dog, can’t they see how UNBELIEVABLE I feel?

On top of all that, like most hypomanic people, I feel great about myself. I don't just think I'm smart, I know I’m brilliant, and what is more I feel beautiful and sexy, too. Instead of worrying about the weight I've gained from months and months of taking lithium and quetiapine, I glory in my curves, somehow knowing how to pull together outfits that flatter my figure. If I can't find just what I want, I can go shopping, an activity where I will be amazed at how many absolutely perfect items seem to be queuing up to bring themselves to my attention. Everything will be a bargain, as well as an essential purchase, and all the shop assistants will be wonderful people who could not be more helpful.

At the time, hypomania feels like an entitlement. A wondrous, amazing, exciting experience, but one that feels like this is the way life should be lived. Intellectually I know that, far from being my birthright, hypomania is pathological. The impulsive, distractible, disinhibited part of it is risky. I often feel that I want to quit my job and start things I can’t follow through, some of which have a financial cost attached (I am so glad I pulled out of that six year part time degree in archaeology just in time). Part of the reason I can’t go back to my job yet is that it involves making important decisions based on detailed and confidential information, which affect the lives of vulnerable people. In that context, the grass-hopper brain and the poor decision-making of hypomania is a dangerous liability. And so I forced myself to tell my psychiatrist about it last Thursday. And of course I know there is only one logical response to acknowledging my hypomania and accepting that it is pathological, and that is to treat it. In fact, in the context of my overall goal of reducing my symptoms to a point where I can return to work and pick up the pieces of my life, treat we must.

I am only a few days into tackling my hypomania with a combination of increased antipsychotics and a deliberate avoidance of stimulating activities (shopping, socialising ), but I have already been hit with the conviction that my hypomania was in fact not a right but a gift, and a gift I took for granted. And suddenly I feel that in telling my psychiatrist about it, in agreeing to increase my medication, I have thoughtlessly given the gift away. I’m sleeping better at night now; the elation is dampened down to such a degree that I can only catch glimmers of it, and my main mood state is now probably one of slight irritation. And now I miss my hypomania badly. I miss it badly enough to briefly consider stopping my medication, although I’ve never done that in the past and I don’t intend to start now. It’s just that as I grieve for my hypomania, I can’t help feeling like taking pills to cure me of the most explosive joy I’ve ever felt in my life – a bliss that other people take drugs to achieve - is the craziest part about this illness.

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Comments

Thank you for such an honest and accurate description of how it feels to experience Hypomania. You've hit the nail on the head.

Wow, you described it perfectly. I too, mourn for the hypomania & often wonder if society has incorrectly directed me to to steal my own joy

I too grieve when I tell my psychiatrist about my hypomania and manic episodes and they increase my medication. I feel like I lost a gift that was given to me. Thank you for sharing this. This was incredibly detailed and exactly what I deal with as well.

I love the euphoric feeling, the rush of energy, the overall sense that everything is right in the world (even though it might not be)...and I don't want to lose it by totally confessing to my doctor just how over-the-top I have been, I don't want to lose this.

I'm new at paying attention to my ups and downs and trying to figure out this bipolar thing that I never knew I had until recent months. Your description is EXACTLY how I've been feeling and everyone is praising me because I'm not depressed (even I am). This is so much better! But I know it is to be carefully watched and I visit with my psychiatrist in 30 minutes so I will discuss it with her. I can't thank you enough for helping me identify and relate to what's going on with me right now!

I think the important question is, are the symptoms severe enough to where they are hurting others? or do they simply make you feel more alive? If you can find a happy medium without increasing meds, ask the psych to let you try to work it out yourself for a couple of weeks. If you know that, as good as it feels, others are being hurt in the process, then you have to consider whether you can get control of this on your own or if you need the increase, if only for the sake of others around you that you care about.

Very critical and significant questions Jen, we all need to introspect a bit, truthfully so, i believe we must be a little selfish to a certain extent, while we're expected to not only try understand our hypomanic-status and its dynamic effects on our surroundings, i take it that we must allow people to try understand us better than the other way around... A good perception of all this , i strongly believe u have, Jen.

Thank you for writing this. I suffer from depression, but I find I'm so scared of getting back to that awful place, that when I'm physically sick, I don't recognize it in time, thinking I can push through and often the doctors seeing my depression start asking if my symptoms are stress-related and it's a vicious cycle. I want to study mental health and tell people about it and family members of those affected what their family members need and don't to do and how to treat them and not to treat them. I definitely don't suffer from this condition. But, why isn't there a profession that can tap into your energy and your confidence? It is sad that you feel like you are being deprived a gift. It makes me wish I had it instead. Thank you for writing this and for the clarity. I hope I can convey my feelings as well about my experiences.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if you could put hyper mania in a little bottle and just have a sip and for 48hours you could feel that positiveness that glow that energy and confidence then to come back down soft and slow without a crash....

So totally what I am experiencing. I am sitting on my porch listening to BEAUTIFUL music. It's midnight and I know I know I need to take the medication and attempt sleep but God I love it and I will MOURN it when it is gone as you so accurately put it. I'm two weeks out of the hospital and am not sure how I spiraled so quickly from a mixed episode into pure hypomania but I am here and I thank you so much for putting this out there and making me feel not so alone. I feel so alone for wanting to embrace this state even though I know how disruptive it can get if I let it continue. Thank you for sharing.

Wonderful writing; you have described the tension between grieving for our greatest joy and inspiration and the knowledge that as good as hypo mania feels it also comes with consequences for our relationships, health and financial stability.

Hi,

I have recently got over hypomania and the idea that I was a better person when I had it. I think it's a frame of mind, it's why people become addicts, I'm not trying to disagree with you, I'm just coming from a different perspective. I think it was great and I loved it, but essentially it wasn't real. I want to experience life as it really is, reality is too hard for some people, I get that, but if you can find joy and you know that essentially it's a completely natural experience and it may not be as amplified as having hypomania, but its essentially authentic. That's what I find so disheartening about mental health that people are stuck in different realities, it's crazy really but I guess you can't undermine someone's experience by labelling it as 'unreal', would be the right thing to say lol, but essentially I've rationalised my experience and tried to separate myself from it so that I don't torture myself wishing I felt different than how I naturally am. I'm quite young and my mental health problems have come at a time when I'm questioning myself on who I am so hypomania really put a spanner in the works. It's a pretty cruel part of mental illness.

I have suffered from biplar d/o most of my life. As a child it was called being "spazy" id stay up all night cleaning the family home w/o waking a single person.i had never been diagnosed with hypomania until today as i discribed nights of no sleep and when i did it felt like someone shook me violently and up I'd be eating crying and YES cleaning appliances. I quit a brand new job simply because i didn't want to go. I feel uterly exaughted. My actions are reckless and it is really affecting my relationship so i do appreciate all of the honesty and clairity from this page

I've experienced hypomania 4 times in my life (I'm 43) and each time I think I've found the "answer" to my depression. Whether it's a new antidepressant or some really exciting experience that brought it on, I always think "finally I'm going to be happy from now on!" Of course it never lasts more than 2-3 weeks. So disappointing. I finally understand what it is now.

Honestly, my only problem with hypomania is that it doesn't last. My depression, low self-esteem and self-confidence, all gone. What bothers me more than anything else, is being bothered by something. I've done next to nothing with my life because I only come out of my comfort zone when life drags me out of it, kicking and screaming. As you might imagine, I'm one of the least ambitious people you'll ever meet because success often involves taking risks, and risks can turn out badly, and that would hurt.

But in a hypomanic state, I don't fear consequences of taking risks. Because if it goes badly, it will bother me much less than it would normally, if at all. The way I reason, any poor decisions I would make are no drawback to being hypomanic because if the consequences don't bother me, who cares? I have no one else in my life to suffer the consequences of my bad decisions, it would all be on me, and if it doesn't bother me, again who cares?

There's a book called the "Hypomanic Edge" and the author's theory is that many of the movers & shakers of American history were naturally hypomanic. If that's true, and there are people who are that way most if not all the time, it's a matter of brain chemistry. And if THAT'S true, then there has to be a way to create that state through medication. Again I realize I'm in the unique position where the consequences would solely be felt by me. But for people like me who are prepared to accept the consequences, there has to be a way to do it.

I've not been diagnosed yet as bipolar but see most of the symptoms in myself. I love the manic/hypomania episodes. I am alive and young again. I am fit and full of energy, and fear very little. I can work hard and achieve lots in a short space of time. I've got it together. I don't need much sleep. I eagerly look forward to the next day's tasks and to new challenges. I can do anything. After all, how hard can it be? How hard it can be will be discovered when I crash and burn after two or three months on my high. Then, a molehill is an expansive mountain.

Thanks for brilliantly capturin hypomania so accurately. Now, I have something to show non-Bipolar II friends and family when they ask me what it's like.

You also captured the dilemma for bi-polar IIs on meds. i am currently taking a week off the lithium for the first time in four years, and I have quickly realized how much of my powerful creative side I have sacrificed on alter of "stability." My creativity, both in music and intellectually, go off the charts. I'm not just imagining it. Honestly, for me, the only part of the disease I fear are the life-threatening depressions I get every 4 to 5 years. Right now, I am really questioning whether the cure is worth the costs. If only they could figure out how to curb bi-polar depression without suppressing the joys and advantages of hypomania.

If you haven't written a book yet you should...I know that everyone with this "disorder" (including myself) Have their own individual experiences and original perspective on how they view their highs. It never ceases to completely captivate me reading first hand adventures that is hypomania. I am not alone! Thank you for sharing your vivid but also very articulate experience and take on how living this life through the eyes of people like us. INCREDIBLE! Be safe and enjoy your reality!
-Wade
California. USA.

I think hypomania is the potential of this human existence. There have been twice where I experienced hypomania for about 3 months each time. It was wonderful. I was able to learn a lot and make the changes in my life I had always wanted to do. It's so incredible to live life feeling so capable, powerful, and confident with the energy to make things happen! Normally in my daily life hypomania seems to come and go in short bursts of a couple hours, days, or weeks. Last night after work I was driving home feeling tottally high of the perfection of life wondering what to do with all of the energy and wanting to do something adventurous. There was a stray dog running around so I ended up taking care of him. It was so perfect. I was out in the rain feeling so blissed out to have found this dog and be out with him feeling the rain on my skin.
I've just started seeing a psychiatrist and I don't have a dignosis right now. I've never been full blown manic or experienced depression, but it was these long periods of hypomania which caused my family concern and ended up with me now seeing a doctor. So bipolar... to be or not to be? Guess I'll wait and find out!

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