What hypomania feels like (to me)

Content warnings: self harm, suicidality

Hypomania is often tinged with anxiety or irritability even when it’s not a full mixed state, but I’m going to start by describing the sheerly happy version.

It’s a bit of a drug. One of the closest fictional analogies I’ve noticed is Felix Felicis: everything seems to be going my way! (This temporarily feels true even about things that arguably rationally aren’t that great.) I get smiley, giddy with the sensation of the gods smiling upon me. My voice is more expressive, I speak more than usual, my words in any format are fast and possibly too excited to fully make sense, I act way more social than is generally in my nature. I feel like bouncing. I flap more. I have boundless energy to accomplish my goals, because I just know for once they are actually achievable. I’ll have a wealth of Good Ideas, which I may flit between, or I may end up obsessing over one in particular. Last time through I fixated on a sudden idea for a new novel, and proceeded to write eight thousand words of outlines and notes over the course of twenty-six hours. Over the next few days I completely ignored other responsibilities and interests, despite a lingering abstract knowledge that they were possibly important. I might not be able to explain why the ideas that are flowing are indeed good, either to bystanders or my future more sane self, they just seem very convincingly right. (I.e., I’ve just got a good feeling about going to Hagrid’s! Except, Felix sort of guarantees that your ideas will work out for the best, whereas hypomania-induced ideas are possibly doomed.)

For Muggles, I think imbibing just the right amount of caffeine begins to relay the experience. I have energy! Actual energy! My spoons do not follow their usual expiration date of 4:00pm, and it doesn’t take my usual ten hours of sleep to replenish them, I can just – do things. I believe I am brilliant, extremely competent at everything I might want to do. I am chipper and genuinely friendly. The world is… uh, there’s some idiom about things seeming to be the color of a rose? Well, I think it’s saying, the world looks more deserving of optimism than usual.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, these descriptions do not reflect the full spectrum of hypomania. I’ll set aside actual mixed states for another post, and just address here what is for me frequent – a hypomanic episode, or a stage in an episode, where the elevated mood gets intertwined with anxiety and/or irritability. Often my first few days of hypomania feel like what’s described above, but as it continues it morphs into this more distressing version.

All the energy remains, if not increases, but it funnels into rapid thoughts that jump not from creative project to creative project but from worry to worry. I’m on edge. And what really gets me, what leads to the worst consequences, is that my ideas still feel true and brilliant. But they’re now, rationally speaking, worse. I pace in circles, hitting my head. Why? I’m not sure, it just seems like the thing to do. In fact, I can’t think of anything else that would be better. Possibly one of the healthy ideas professionals have tried to train me to think will actually occur to me, like “take a PRN”… But if it does, it sounds absurd – nothing’s wrong, you see. I don’t feel depressed, so I must be fine.

But the “good ideas” are liable to get more and more destructive, and there is little chance to think them over before enacting them – they just seem too Right to second-guess. I might vaguely identify that they are actually terrible ideas, but my brain has labeled them quite clearly as important and sensible and in need of immediate action. My capacity to argue those labels with logic is drastically impaired. And anyway, there is a heavy sensation of inevitability: these are ideas that, once they occur to me, can’t not be done.

It’s this kind of thing that periodically ruins my life. This is why one of the suicide attempts that landed me in the ICU for a few days was at the end of a really, really good day. I wasn’t upset. It’s just, the idea occurred to me, and it seemed like The Thing To Do.

Can I just say how frustrating this is? Not in the moment, I mean, just overall as a thing I live with. Knowing that my brain is really, really good at talking me into terrible ideas at moments I am really, really bad at evaluating them accurately – good at talking me into impulses at moments I am bad at slowing myself down – it makes it hard to even slightly trust myself. Professionals worried about me try to get me to do “verbal safety contracts”, a.k.a. promise I won’t kill myself, and I’m just like… yeah, I’d love to be able to promise that. I’d love to feel like I have that much continuous control over my future actions. I’d love to feel like it’s probably never going to be life-threatening to believe the things I think.

Spoiler: verbal contracts don’t work for me. Personally, taking a PRN antipsychotic, or better yet a few of those over a couple of days, is more likely to work. It has a chance of chemically interrupting the hypomania, or at least squelching it down towards well-at-least-it’s-not-getting-worse. But will it even occur to me? Ideally I’ve identified that I’m hypomanic in the first place, and then mentioned it to someone who can prompt me to take the pill. Obviously emailing my therapist is a good option for making this happen, but also if I mention my mood on Twitter sometimes friends will be like, “um… is there anything you should be doing about that?”, and that’s enough to remind me. You’d think I’d have it down by now without needing external prompts, but, brains are quite the thing.

If this whole thing is resonating with you, here’s a very brief summary of some of the things that help me manage my bipolar disorder (I’ll write a more in depth post on this another time): meds, very strict sleep schedule, regular contact with providers, daily charting of warning signs/symptoms, curated sensory environment, masking autistic traits less/using AAC more, avoiding contact with abusers, plenty of quiet time, ongoing safety precautions (example, picking up prescriptions weekly so I never have so many meds on hand that an overdose would be likely to kill me), routines, being open with my support system.

Brains are quite the thing. I’m trying to learn to be careful about mine. You too? Please comment below.

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