A woman in silhoutte reading a book with the universe.

What the Hypomanic Phase Feels Like for Me

29
29

This is what it feels like for me to be hypomanic. I word it that way because it affects every one differently, but this is my interpretation in the best way I know how to describe it.

It feels like I am in fast forward.

I feel like I finally have energy again, but it’s too intense.

I’m whizzing around at the gym, at work, on the road, like I can’t get somewhere fast enough, and it makes me impatient.

I can’t sit still, and I have butterfingers, dropping and tossing stuff, slamming doors and cabinets without even trying.

I’m distracted, and my thoughts are sporadic. I think about one thing and before I even finish that thought I am on to another one because that previous thought made me think of something else and it just cycles round and round with all these different thoughts that are completely irrelevant and pointless. (Notice the run-on sentence there?) Sometimes I dwell on silly stuff.

But it feels good. Except for the paranoia that other people are talking about me behind my back, or me thinking others can tell I’m different. I have to tell myself to “act normal,” like I did something wrong or suspicious and I don’t want to get caught.

Sounds are louder, lights are brighter, I can feel energy all around me. I feel like I can do anything!  Like right now, I am so inspired and motivated that I feel like I could write a book, or write songs and send them to famous artists who will applaud my work. I know these things may never happen, but my brain is telling me they can and will. I have grandiose ideas about my abilities and creativity.

I’ll probably come home and be super mom/wife. I’ll cook and clean and put the little one to bed and feel accomplished. It’s a nice comeback from not having the energy to even sit in a chair.

But there’s always a downside. I don’t need as much sleep so it’s hard for me to fall asleep at night. More thoughts about things that aren’t real, more racing thoughts that bounce from positive to negative and everywhere in between. The energy is great for the time being, but eventually it will catch up to me and I’ll slip into a breakdown again.

I’d really like to stay up all night getting stuff done. Cleaning, organizing, art stuff. If I didn’t have anything to do the next day I would do that and just sleep it off the day after. But I have to be smart enough to know when I need to go to bed.

I want to plan a party or get together. I want to redo my mom cave. There’s so much I want to get done that I don’t have the energy for when I’m stable or depressed. I wish I could take advantage of the time I have, but I can’t.

So, I’ll just sit here, bouncing my knees and chewing on my lips trying so hard to sit still as to not appear too hyper. I’ll just sit here and wait it out, like I always do.

This too, shall pass.

Image via Thinkstock.

29
29

RELATED VIDEOS

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How I'm Thriving With Bipolar Disorder

515
515

“You need to lower your expectations for your life.”

By the time I first heard this, I had already graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, earned a master’s in public health and published my first book. I was 29 years old.

The woman encouraging me to expect less of myself was an outtake counselor charged with helping patients reintegrate into society. In my case, I had just spent roughly a week as an inpatient in a locked psychiatric unit where I had been diagnosed with the most severe form of bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression.

The counselor was not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker. Her office wall boasted a certificate that resembled something you’d encounter at a nail salon. I knew she wasn’t qualified to make any such assessment, and even if she were, I knew better than to believe her. I was raised to expect more of myself, even and especially when the world – whether because of my gender, nationality, skin color or any other such nonsense – expected less of me. Bipolar disorder fell squarely into the “any other such nonsense” category as yet another baseless reason people might think less of me. So my response to the suggestion I lower my expectations was firm and immediate: “Girl, raise yours!”

Since then, I have published a memoir about my experiences with bipolar illness and become an outspoken advocate for the rights of those living with psychiatric conditions. Along the way, I’ve met many others who share my diagnosis – some disabled by it, others not. Invariably, the key distinction between these two camps is acceptance.

While psychiatric disorders account for some of the leading causes of disability worldwide, with depression now topping the list, these conditions are not nearly as inherently disabling as the scorn and stigma surrounding them.

I know this from personal experience, but even more, I know it from the experiences of all the desperate mothers who have ever broken into tears while handing me a book to sign. They show up at every event, without fail, and their stories are all different, but also the same: grown children who will not accept their diagnoses, whose lives and families are being torn apart as a result, who fail to receive the treatment they need – not because they are stupid or stubborn, but because they fear the very real stigma that accompanies a label like bipolar.

Wednesday, March 30 marks World Bipolar Day, an initiative started in 2014 and aimed at challenging this stigma by changing global perceptions about what it means to have bipolar disorder. Spearheaded by the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder, the International Bipolar Foundation and the International Society of Bipolar Disorders, World Bipolar Day falls on the birthday of Vincent van Gogh, who scholars suspect struggled with the illness.

While I tend to cringe at the concept of a day for everything (I’m looking at you, National Frozen Food Day), not to mention the idea of reliable posthumous psychiatric diagnosis, I understand the impulse here. People don’t like to talk about mental illness. For God’s sake, we still call it “mental illness,” as though the brain weren’t a fundamental part of the physical body. Given the prevalence of this colossal oversight, not to mention a grossly underfunded mental health system that relies heavily on condescension, coercion and incarceration, it’s hard not to support any day that might bring more attention to brain disorders.

But we need to do more than draw attention to the issue. We need to transform the way we view “mental illness,” not merely as a kind of clinical disorder, but also as an alternative – not necessarily inferior – way of thinking and being. I’m not saying these disorders aren’t serious or don’t require treatment. They are, and they do. Those of us living with bipolar disorder, for example, face a much higher risk for suicide than the general population.

Still, whatever the specific diagnosis, there remains something extraordinary – and yes, valuable – about a mind that works differently. For all the problems that may accompany a condition like bipolar disorder – and I assure you, there are many – there is also an upside. Just as we can experience certain extremes of mood and thought that others do not, we can also see certain solutions where others cannot.

My solution to dealing with the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder, for example, has come from the application of a hard-won skill earned from experience as a perpetual minority: an acute aptitude for adaptation. As an Iranian-American Muslim feminist living in the American South, stigma and prejudice are not new to me. I know from experience they are often the misplaced and unfounded result of others’ deep-seated insecurities, so I refuse to let them dictate how I live my life. More than any medication, it has been this mentality that has allowed me to thrive with bipolar disorder.

Having a psychiatric condition means you have an illness that requires treatment, nothing more. It doesn’t mean you are incapable or ought to lower your expectations for your life. Rather, it means you are uniquely capable and ought to raise the world’s expectations of you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

515
515
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What It Really Means to Be Managing My Recovery From Bipolar Disorder

54
54

“How are you?” you ask.

I provide the customary, “I’m all right.”

But I’m not all right.

I want to tell you I’m tired. I’m exhausted.

There is no cure. There is no respite.

There is management. There is recovery.

Bipolar Disorder requires a lifetime of recovery and management, and I am a recovery newborn. I have yet to learn how to crawl – much less roll from my back onto my stomach for recovery “tummy time.”

Even with management, the “highs” and “lows” still exist. I still fall into the depths of depression. I still take the hypomanic rocket sled that shoots me into the sky and above the clouds. Then, just as quickly, the sled falls and plunges into the ground.

Management may not prevent the highs and lows and transitional swings, but it can minimize the aches, pains and bruises of the “bipolar wild ride.” And still, there are moments of calm equilibrium.

Management is the mechanism used to achieve the goal of continued recovery. Sustained management is difficult. It’s tiring. It’s tiring to keep the quiet storm inside from manifesting and smothering progress. That’s why it’s called management. I’m managing my recovery.

Recovery is exhausting. It’s a struggle to stay focused throughout the day, to stay on track everyday. Especially when the beasts of bipolar ascend from their deep caves in an attempt to snatch the helm and run recovery’s ship ashore. It requires a white-knuckle grip to hold on as the beasts jump upon my back and latch onto my limbs, attempting to push me into hibernation.

There is a longing to pull the sheets over my head, to sleep, to drown out the world, to shield myself from the dark storms raging in my mind, to hide from the howling creatures lusting to draw and quarter me from within.

I am exhausted.

I am bruised.

I want nothing more than to succumb to hibernation’s inviting call.

Yet, I manage to find the strength to push myself out of bed. I try to be present throughout the day. I put on my smile when I really don’t want to. I socialize because I have to. I pull the management tools from my recovery backpack but my hands are clumsy and I question whether I have the energy required to effectively use them.

I want to tell you I am struggling.

I am fighting.

And I keep moving forward.

Image via Thinkstock.

54
54
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What 'I'm Tired' Can Mean When You Have Bipolar Disorder

321
321

Yesterday I fell asleep in a bathroom stall. One moment I was trying to hide from colleagues, the next, I was waking up from a 30-minute slumber. I was tired, and this made me scared.

The last time I fell asleep in a bathroom stall was just over two years ago. It was a rough year, full of crying and self-doubt. The bathroom became my safe haven; in the
bathroom I could hide from my boss and find some sort of piece in the office. That day I had walked in intending to spend a few minutes to regain my composure and then go back to my desk. An hour later I was picking myself up from the floor. I had fallen asleep: my body’s first warning that I was “tired.”

What soon followed were days of fighting to go to work. The moment I stepped out of the shower, my body was ready to go back to bed. It was as though my mind and body fell out
of sync. My mind was racing, painting pictures of death and depression. My body was slow and calculating, as though preserving energy for a fight to come. With seemingly no warning, I found myself in the midst of a major depression. My fatigue: a sign an episode was fast approaching.

Even with this knowledge at hand, I still find it difficult to express the idea of an approaching episode. I still say “I’m tired” or “I need to sleep early today,” instead of
saying I’m afraid. I’m afraid I am fast approaching the drop in the roller coaster called bipolar II disorder. I’m afraid my voice will become trapped behind the walls my mind builds. I’m afraid this time I might give up fighting and let the illness win.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Image via Thinkstock.

321
321
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

10 Things I Want to Clear Up About Living With Bipolar Disorder

3k
3k

Just like many mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is largely misunderstood. Here is a list of the common misconceptions I have noticed since being diagnosed:

1. It’s not just changing your mind on a topic.

I hear it all the time. “I’m so bipolar right now! I can’t make up my mind.” That’s not what it means to be bipolar. Bipolar disorder is having uncontrollable shifts in moods, going from manic or hypomanic to depressed, or a mix of the two. It’s not a choice. It’s a real illness.

2. You can’t just “get over it.”

It’s not something a person chooses. Bipolar disorder is an illness. You wouldn’t tell a person with another condition to just “get over it.” That’s just not how it works.

3. We don’t have control over our moods.

Sometimes we know when it might happen if we know some of our triggers, but we don’t always know. It causes us to act differently, sometimes even irrationally. If I had control over my moods, then I certainly would not choose depression every few weeks.

4. Hypomania is not better than depression.

Sure, I can get a lot done when hypomania hits and I feel like I have all the energy in the world. I also get reckless, putting myself in danger or even my family by spending excessive amounts of money. Besides that, bipolar disorder works in cycles, so we always know after the mania hits, the depression will come soon after.

5. Taking medicine doesn’t make it all go away.

Taking medication absolutely helps, if you’re lucky enough to find the right cocktail of drugs. Psychiatric medication does not cure the illness. It simply curbs the symptoms.

6. We’re not being lazy.

Part of my treatment involves not working more than 25 hours per week. It has greatly reduced my stress and helped me gain some control over my life. If I could work a 40-hour work week, then I would, but I need to take care of myself first and foremost.

7. It’s not an excuse.

Sometimes I can’t go to work because I just don’t feel up to facing society, let alone being in my own skin. I’m not being lazy. I’m just trying to survive.

8. Having bipolar does not mean you’re artistic.

I wouldn’t say it’s cool to be diagnosed bipolar, but I also would not say that there’s anything wrong with it. It just is. Mental illness does not discriminate, and it doesn’t happen in just those who artistic.

9. I’m still capable of being rational.

One of my biggest fears coming out about my disorder was that people would not take me seriously. It has happened though, where I get upset and someone says, “You’re just having an episode.” No, I am having human emotions. My whole life is not about my illness.

10. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you.

I can be hard to get along with. Sometimes, I feel like I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Sometimes, I just can’t stand talking and I snap on anyone who speaks to me or even looks at me the wrong way. I don’t mean to be a pain. I still love you, even when my illness takes control over me. Those are the days I need my loved ones the most, and it means everything when I realize they’ve all been there for me through my ups and downs.

Related: Mental Health on The Mighty Podcast

3k
3k
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Despite My Bipolar Disorder, I'm Not Afraid of Becoming a Parent

54
54

I live with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And I am not afraid to become a parent one day. Here’s why.

I have heard time and time again that deciding to have children while living with a mental illness is hard and irresponsible — that it just should not happen. While I definitely respect people’s own choices about deciding to have children (or not), I personally believe my illness and the experiences I have gone through will make me a better parent instead of the opposite.

I have seen my own parents raise five children. I have four younger siblings. While neither of them have never been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, watching their strength, no matter what life would throw at them, gave me faith I can overcome almost anything in life. Both of my parents have given me great tools to walk my own path in life. It wasn’t perfect, and it still isn’t. But I know in my heart they did the best they could with what they had. And I accept the good and the bad they have given me as a legacy.

It is true I have not always felt this way. But I do not see why I should refrain myself from having the same dreams and aspirations as anyone else just because I live with a diagnosis. I refuse to not even consider trying. I refuse to see myself as doomed.

My disorder does not define me. I am not bipolar, I live with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And I have clear memories of the child and the teenager I once was — a person I’d give a big hug today because she was such in distress. I made a promise to myself to always remember that kid. Because I recall feeling even more hopeless whenever an adult would dismiss my feelings simply because I was not 40 years old. I made a promise to always remember so I cannot forget where I came from and the path I have taken over the last few years.

Now that I am managing my illness, I keep in mind that I must never take my mental health for granted. I have learned to know myself and recognize the red flags, my red flags. I know my strengths, my ability to ask for help and more importantly what makes me more vulnerable. I know who I am. It has been a long process, and it is never-ending. But I have never felt more solid, calm, loved and happier than I do now. In the past few years, I have taken the time to do anything I wanted to do. I have decided I did not want to live my life for anyone else but me.

If life gives me the blessing of having a kid one day, I hope if I embody everything I have just explained to you, I can be a great example and a great mother. That my disorder will make me more sensitive, alert and actually more capable. From the bottom of my heart, that’s what I want to believe.

Image via Thinkstock.

54
54
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.