Checking in after Hypomania

“Hypomania” falls within the ICD-10 criteria for a manic episode according to the World Health Organization (1992), and is

A disorder characterized by a persistent mild elevation of mood, increases in energy and activity and usually marked feelings of well-being and both physical and mental efficiency. Increase sociability, talkativeness. Over familiarity, increases sexual energy, and a decreased need for sleep are often present but not to the extent that they lead to severe disruption of work or result in social rejection. Irritability, conceit and boorish behaviour may take the place of the more usual euphoric sociability. The disturbances of mood and behaviour are not accompanied by hallucinations or delusions. (As cited by, The British Psychological Society & Gaskell, 2006, p. 86)

From April 7 to April 20 I had symptoms of hypomania; it being my most recent bout of bipolar disorder. I mean, the illness doesn’t disappear but lays low sometimes allowing me to experience some semblance of normalcy. It’s hard work and normalcy anyway is a moving target as I am sure you would agree. My normal is inherently different from yours and not because I have a mental illness but because we are uniquely created. I have never and will never walk in your shoes and vice versa so let’s not pretend that we can ever fully understand each other but we can try. This is me helping you to understand my walk (and maybe that of similar others within your circles). How about sharing with me about your walk?

My bipolar episode prior to this one (i.e. this period of hypomania) involved depression and didn’t last as long as 13 days; I don’t think…see my post entitled “Don’t take it lightly” on January 24 for details. That one happened at the beginning of this academic semester. I am now pretty much at the end. I must admit, that last year this time, when I had to take a hasty medical leave of absence (after having completed ¾s of the semester) I was in a much worse-off state than I am today. Thank God for improvements and for making a way for me to return to the programme as a part-time student and not least for parents who have willingly funded this endeavor. We won’t discuss my academic progress since re-starting the programme in this post. Exams aren’t over yet and I have another paper to submit. Pray for me.

The hypomania began differently than it has in the past. I can’t recall the actual beginning of each episode mania/ depression over the past 16 years but over time I’ve learnt to recognize untoward symptoms associated with one extreme or the other (thank God for the ability to detect these warning signs!). This time the hypomania seemed to have begun with increased anxiety and irritability. I am on anxiety medication and keep an active record of levels of both anxiety and irritability so I noticed the change. Turns out the change was linked to PMS (which normally comes along with depressed feelings) and slipped under the radar because I have had relief from those PMS-related symptoms for a steady couple of months; I guess you could say I got lax. So the PMS snuck back in as increased anxiety and caught me off guard. All that passed and somewhat suddenly I was hypomanic. I mean, since becoming hypomanic, I have identified what were probably contributing factors but what characterizes such factors I’ll address in another post 😉

Overall, to date, I have had more manic than depressive episodes and more often than not they both have appeared to come out of nowhere. Usually though, in retrospect and with a helpful glance at my planner, it’s easy to see that there is in fact method to this madness- my episodes hardly just “happen” it’s just that leading up to them is easy and it isn’t ‘til they’re over that I have the wherewithal to investigate what lead up to them.

They still seem to come suddenly though…, taking over my life; engulfing most, if not all of my consciousness and ability to reason and stealing me away from conducting “business as usual” in all spheres of my life.

In mania there is no driving, no classes, no church, no phones, no access to the computer (God forbid, the internet!), no going outside. Any form of external stimulation is discouraged as there is usually more than enough internal stimulation like racing thoughts, delusions and hallucinations. What fun! I must admit, during the early stages of mania (including hypomania and just before losing touch with all of reality whereupon I create my own reality (bad scene, as my sister would say): good feelings abound, nothing is too difficult and I can convince myself that everything is right with me and with the world. Sounds good doesn’t it? Not so much. If that goes on for too long, unchecked, I will most likely find myself at home (i.e. under house arrest, which is as far as it has landed me every time, thank God!).

Yes, under house arrest with my parents on shift duty to ensure I am monitored at all times; an altered regimen of meds and very regular communication with my pDoc (God bless him). Not fun for parents; or for me by the way. All this, however, has served very well to save me and others from myself. I know it’s not an easy scene to imagine. As I reflect now on the last manic episode, I shudder to think what might have happened had I not had a stable support system (in all respects: family, relatives, church family, friends and healthcare providers) and most of all a home to be arrested in.

At the other end of things is depression and having not had as many episodes of depression as I have had of mania, I don’t feel equipped to fully explicate what it is like but I will tell you how I have experienced it.

Depression left to itself is like being in a black hole that prevents you from seeing or believing in the possibility of there being a way of escape. I’d venture to say that it’s almost impossible to see hope beyond depression when it hits. I marvel at those who are able to resurface after undergoing long periods of depression…the thought of a very long period of depression scares me. It really does. I know there are sides to depression (and even mania) that I have never seen especially because I’ve never planned or attempted suicide nor have I been addicted to drugs or alcohol in the midst of my being mentally ill. Things can get really complicated in such instances.

I cannot say however that I haven’t thought that it must be easier to just cease existing (I’m sure you have too). In fact, I have longed for not living (as if I’ve been there before); and been convinced that I (yeah right) and the world (no, I haven’t taken a poll) would be much better without my being present on earth depressed or otherwise.

I’ve painfully woken up day after day to persistent darkness on the inside with each day being scarier than the one before because you begin to believe that it’s really never going away and quite quickly in times of depression I have lost all recollection of what it’s like to be undepressed. It’s crazy because of course I have lived more days undepressed than I have depressed but that’s what depression does- it is a deceiver- it tricks you into thinking that there is no life beyond it.

Depression is something that is hard to imagine experiencing even if you were to examine reports following a survey of persons who have major depression.

I don’t believe that people who actually take their own lives do so from a place of total consciousness. I don’t think they do a cost-benefit analysis and feasibility study before making arrangements to or actually committing suicide. They may consider all the people they will hurt by leaving but I don’t know…depression is a confusing place. Even if you manage to consider (while depressed) what you might be able to uniquely contribute to the world by way of having walked the road of depression; the self-hatred and anger that may accompany depression can make the unknown of “the dark-side” appear terribly intriguing. Have you ever loathed even the sound of your own voice?

I think depression actually steals your life without killing you– placing you on “life-support” while you’re still breathing. Although, depression can appear to the one suffering to be in every way an existence filled with absolute gloom and no possibilities of returning to normalcy- there is hope beyond depression and camaraderie has everything to do with it. We’ll get into that another time.

In times like these when I am better, I don’t recognize the person I’ve become whenever I’ve gotten sick. I am a different person then, understandably so, and just for the record, I don’t think the experience of feeling like a different person or not recognizing oneself is unique to having a mental illness. Thank God I don’t feel the need to reconcile the different “persons” I’ve been. I am done struggling with that.

Relationships have been affected of course; personally and professionally; some a bit more than others. Over time however I have come to accept that part of me as just that “a part” and I believe others have too. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of. It’s kind of crazy, that’s all.

Please note: the views represented here are not intended to be representative of the experience of all people with bipolar disorder, just mine :).

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2 thoughts on “Checking in after Hypomania

  1. Very interesting Auntie, I admire your courage and openness to speak and Express yourself. You have done very well analyzing each episode and I wish you all the best. By the way you can write better than your big Sis. 😏

    1. Thanks Big Bro-in-law! Finally! I do something better than she can 🙂 I am grateful for the healing I have experienced through God with respect to bipolar disorder (BD). Being able to write using this medium is a testament that, while I might never be 100% healed, I am definitely far from where I was a couple years back and in general, things are getting better every day.

      I am enjoying this outlet as well, and feedback from persons I do and don’t know has been very encouraging. I am looking forward to a time when people and families living with mental illness will be free to talk openly with each other and with the world about this struggle, thereby also accessing treatment, compensation, special consideration, compassion etc. as is necessary. Ultimately living well without fear of being stigmatized and/or rejected.

      Just like those who are considered to be “survivors” of chronic physical illness, are celebrated, so too should survivors of chronic mental illness be celebrated and our causes championed in a similar fashion.

      As a survivor myself, however, I would like to be seen (or remembered) as one who didn’t merely survive but thrived as well. I am sure you can relate 🙂

      Love!

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