driving fast on the highway

People often have this misconception that mania is fun, that it is exciting, exhilarating and exceptionally productive. In reality, full blown mania is exhausting, excruciating and exceptionally chaotic. Hypomania, on the other hand, can be fun for me. So, for those of you who don’t quite understand the difference, please let me lay out for you what hypomania and mania look like to me.

Hypomania can be a precursor to mania. When I am starting to get hypomanic, I do feel good. My thoughts speed up, I’m productive and I have lots of great ideas. I can stay up late and wake up early. I enjoy planning things and executing those plans.

I make a bunch of dates to hang out with friends and get a little more daring in my daily life. I make rash and sometimes bad decisions, but they are based on reality in some way and not entirely out there in left field. I can cruise through books, write for hours and create beautiful pieces of art without having any symptoms of “writer’s or artist’s block.”

Hypomania seems like a good thing, right? Life just seems better, more efficient and more enjoyable. I am creative, alive and happy.

However, there is a catch. Hypomania is unstable. It can quickly turn into a deep depression, or, for me, it typically turns into mania or mixed mania. When I become manic, there are no more good ideas. They are out of control. My ideas come so fast that before I can act on one, I switch to another and another and another.

It gets to the point where sometimes I sit on the couch with my head clenched in my hands begging my brain to stop. Then, I get impulsive. I act without thinking about any thoughts for long. I don’t think. I just react to my mind. I get out of control and irrational.

In my last severe manic episode (thank God it was years ago), I slept with a few strangers a week. I tried drugs. I drank too much, sped too fast and bought too many things I didn’t need. I made terrible decisions, and I hurt people emotionally.

The entire time I’m manic, I know what is coming later. I can’t stop my mind from derailing. I am out of control. Yet, there comes a place in mania where you reach a turning point. Yet, there isn’t a “hypo-depression.” You don’t slowly fall out of mania and gently come back down. You crash, and you crash hard. Once the mania is through with me, it hurtles me into a deep depression. That is the other dark side of the coin.

Neither one is anything you would want to have. Both mania and depression are awful in their own right. I have often found people glorifying the manic side of bipolar disorder, as if somehow it is the opposite of depression, as if everything is great, fantastic and fun.

It isn’t. Mania is full blown chaos and catastrophe. I wish more people understood this part of bipolar disorder. When I say I’m manic or I’ve experienced mania, it doesn’t mean I’ve been on a joyride. I haven’t been to the epitome of happiness. No, far from it. Mania can be destructive and terrible.

Mania is not fun.

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The “ups” of bipolar disorder are typically referred to as hypomania or mania. Mania can be so severe it requires hospitalization or involves hallucinations and/or delusions. A diagnosis of bipolar I means a person has had at least one fully manic episode. In bipolar II, one only experiences hypomania, not mania. I have type II, which means my “highs” of bipolar disorder involve hypomanic episodes. I don’t speak for everyone with the disorder, but here’s what this is like for me:

There seems to be a misconception that hypomania is a very positive thing, and in some ways it can be. I’m happier when I’m in a hypomanic episode. I feel like I’m walking on air, like nothing could ever go wrong. I feel productive, and I want to accomplish everything ever in one sitting. I feel really good.

But there’s another, darker side to hypomania. That’s the intense, anxious energy I feel throughout my body. The jumping from task to task, never really being able to focus on or complete any one project. It’s being filled with lots of great ideas, but accomplishing nothing.

It’s drinking a cup of coffee and then feeling like I could run a marathon with the blood pumping through my veins. Couple this with intense anxiety, and imagine trying to sit still during a class to learn.

It’s the fear of waiting for a crash to come, knowing the high won’t last forever. Knowing a depressive episode is waiting right around the corner.

It’s being emotion-charged 24/7. It’s crying during a church service because you just feel too much all the time.

It’s the constant need to be around people. It’s talking up a storm, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise. It’s tripping over your words because your brain is thinking too fast for you to speak.

While hypomania or mania may seem like joyous highs, there are a lot of challenges that come with them, too. Everyone’s experience is different, but no one chooses to have a mental illness. Mania is just one more thing I have to learn to live with.

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Living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder can be a hard time in a person’s life. You’re experiencing symptoms that don’t have a name yet, and it’s really easy to believe there’s something wrong with you before you know you have an actual mental illness.

And even then, accepting you have a mental illness is not easy. Even with answers, comes confusion. You might feel hopeless and unsure of what the future holds.

That’s why we teamed up with the International Bipolar Foundation and their “Say It Forward” campaign to ask people to share what they wish they could tell their younger selves about living with bipolar disorder.

Check out their answer below, and join the conversation by using the hashtag #DearTeenageMe.

1. “Dear teenage me: I’m sorry things are tough. I’m sorry you don’t understand quite yet. I’m still trying to understand my thoughts. You can’t run from your problems, and you can’t curse them away by hurting your loved ones. Times are tough, but you’re important, you’re loved and you’re here for a reason.” — Alicia P.

2. “There was never anything wrong with you. All those nights you cried, self-medicated and drank yourself to blackness just to not feel… all it will get you is more darkness. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help, even if every one else makes you feel like you’re making it up. You’re you, and you are a beautiful soul. Your future is much brighter, I promise.” — Sara E.

3. “You will wait too long for help but, it will come — and life will be better than you could ever imagine now. Hold on!” — Helen B.

4. “You will find your illness does not have to be an enemy. You will learn it will give you amazing talents, perspectives and feelings. Don’t fight it.” — Alli M.

5. “Life is a roller coaster. Yours has higher highs and lower lows. Know there’ll be days of sheer hell, but the next day could be beautiful. You just have to remember that for every down there is an up if you can hold on until it gets here.” — Kristin Leigh

6. “Bipolar disorder may be what you’re diagnosed with, but that does not represent who you are! You are so much more than an illness. You will get through this, and be stronger for it. It is not a death sentence.” — Mary G.

7. “Don’t try to beat it on your own. It’s OK to ask for help. Go visit a doctor. Take your meds. Don’t panic. Stop trying to prove you’re normal. It’s all going to be fine. It’s a tremendous gift. Seriously.” — Michal K.

8. “The people you thought were against you will end up being the ones that make you stronger. Don’t give up on them or yourself.” — Soledad K.

9. “This is not your fault. You didn’t choose to have bipolar. Don’t feel scared to truly express what’s going on in your mind. The sooner you can catch your symptoms, the sooner you can do something about it.” — Shawna H.

10. “Dear teenage me: I am proud of you for who you are. You couldn’t ask for help for many reasons, but you survived and there you are. Keep your chin up, sweetheart, even when you are low. You’re not alone.” — Elsa R.

11. “Please don’t grow up thinking you need to ‘fix’ yourself. I want you to know that right now, you are a beautiful, caring person. And through the years that are going to be hard, you will gain more and more empathy for those struggling around you and you will be able to help them. Please remember, you have something important to give the world, just like everyone else.” — Denise H.M. 

12. “Dear teenage me: Have more confidence in yourself and trust your gut instinct. Be patient, things will work out even if you don’t know how, just keep heading in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to try even if you fail. It’s worth it. Don’t be ashamed of being different. Embrace it. Own it.” — Emma T.

13. “Even though there is stigma everywhere you look, don’t be too proud to get the help you need and deserve. Medications aren’t a crime. A therapist isn’t a punishment. Visiting the doctor several times a year doesn’t make you weak. Doing all of this actually makes you strong. Stronger than those who choose to close their eyes. Stronger than those who perpetuate stigma. More importantly, it makes you stronger than you were yesterday and it will have a better path for your future. Don’t be afraid to succeed.” — Chandreyee J.

14. “I know you don’t think you’re are strong. But you have strength beyond anything you could ever imagine! You are going to go through hell many times and you will feel like giving up. Don’t lose hope. It will be hard, but you can make it!” — Sherry W.

15. “Embrace who you are. Embrace the darkness and learn to cope, embrace the light but remember that’s the only time you can be happy or be you. Oh, and find a treatment plan that works for you, and stick with it. Even when you feel like you don’t need it/them.” — Tessa B.

16. “Accept with grace all of your beautiful imperfections — all those unique, quirky little intricacies that make you, you. And, above all else, have the courage to find your own truth.” — Rob F.

17. “Be open to others around you. Don’t be ashamed to talk about your problems, it’s not your fault at times. Remember you are made of stronger stuff than you think. You might slip up, but you can keep fighting a bit longer. You are loved and you matter to more people than you think.” — E.J. Hobbs

18. “Dear teenage me: Do not be embarrassed. You’re strong, you’re smart and your value is immeasurable! Negative comments and opinions are not meant to hurt you, they are only the result of the lack of information on our community… educate yourself, educate others. You’re loved!” — Jennifer M.

19. “Seek help sooner. Don’t be afraid of medication. It does get better. Try to wait out acting on impulses, don’t let your temper get the better of you. Stop apologizing. Think before spending. You don’t have to please anyone and it’s OK to withdraw to give yourself time to heal/realign. You owe no explanations.” — Holly J.

20. “The rage will settle, but not leave. The storm will calm, but not falter when you need it. If you work on yourself first, one day you’ll be able to work the demons you think live inside you to your advantage, and live without so much fear of what you’ll become.” — Maddi A.

21. “This diagnosis is not the end of your dreams. Also, you have bipolar, you are not bipolar…they are two different statements. Don’t let people define you as your diagnosis. It is just a part of you, it is not who you are!” — Anjae H.

22. “There’s not a thing in the world wrong with you. There is no definition of ‘normal.’ You are wonderfully made and the trick is to accept the disorder as a part of you, but don’t allow it to define you. There is no cure, there is only managed and controlled lifelong recovery. You can beat this and after awhile it will submit.” — Kristina M.

23. “When you went to your psychiatrist in 2010 and floated the idea that you think you could have bipolar, and then she dismissed the notion outright — you should have persevered and gotten a second opinion. Don’t give up on your mental health.” — Lara Cathrow

24. “Hold tight, things are going to get worse and this isn’t going to disappear. But you are a warrior and will keep fighting this terrible illness every day. As much as you want to, try not to give up.” — Lexi M.

25. “Even though it’s hard, try not to feel guilty about things you have no control over. When you find yourself feeling this way, ask, ‘Is this my fault? Could I have prevented this?’ If the answer is no, then you have nothing to feel guilty about.” — Lisa C.

26. “Find a good doctor, one you feel comfortable with, and take your meds. You are not your illness. You are stronger than the illness.” — Victoria K.

27. “You’re unique, girl, and it doesn’t matter if people get you or not — be yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Ask for help, sweetie, you are not crazy.” — Heather P.

28. “Taking medication is not giving up. Keep positive, and you’ll learn to cope much easier. It will always be an uphill battle, but some paths are easier than others.” — Alanna-Marie M.

29. “When you’re manic, focus on the real, the scientific, the concrete. When you’re depressed, love people and feed them.” — Drak B.

30. “You have a voice! Keep talking until someone helps.” — Samantha H.

To learn more about the International Bipolar Disorder’s “Say It Forward” campaign, click here.

Before I tell you these things, I want you to know that at the end of the day I love you very dearly. You’ve contributed to much of my growth, and that is irreplaceable.

I want you to know some things about the mental illness I struggle with.

1. Bipolar depression is a little bit different than major depressive disorder. My depression is typically followed semi-closely after a hypomanic episode. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a trigger.

2. When I say I’m tired, I truly mean it. When the battlefront is your own mind, it is exhausting. I spend an inordinate amount of time shoving down the thoughts of hurting myself or the constant fear that I’m not good enough and that everyone would be better off without me. So when I say I’m tired, please meet me in the middle so we can accomplish what needs to be done.

3. Telling me to “just be happy” and “just get out of bed, you’ll feel better” is useless and invalidating. It hurts, honestly. When I hear those words, I hear a lack of support and a lack of encouragement. It’s similar to telling someone with the flu, “just get out of bed and get better! Your fever isn’t that big of a deal.”

4. My coping skills might not be like yours. I like small spaces. My closet. In between the wall and the bed. Curled up under every blanket in the house. Please don’t try to change my non-destructive coping skills. Some days they are all I have to hold onto.

5. You can’t fix me… because I’m not broken. I understand it must be confusing and painful to watch my highs and lows, but I promise you what means the most to me is when you’re still there when the clouds of depression dissipate.

It’s hard being well. It’s hard to continue to take the same medication, day in and day out. It’s hard to “keep your nose clean,” and stay out of trouble. It gets boring.

Living with bipolar disorder is much like walking a tight rope. Too much “fun” and I’m manic; too much “down in the doldrums,” and I’m in depression. God forbid I have an emotion that is human because it will be analyzed to pieces by myself, my husband and my doctor.

Staying out of trouble gets hard to do when you’re bipolar. Many people, myself included, get an adrenaline rush like no other from the heights of mania. Giving that up for stability sometimes looks like a poor choice. You can feel as if you’ve lost your creativity, your “spark,” your muchness, to quote the Mad Hatter.

So what’s a person to do when boredom strikes, and it starts looking like a good idea to “poke the bear,” as some would say? The biggest thing I do is talk to someone. That’s the number one most important thing you can do when you start thinking stirring up trouble would be a good idea. Talk to a trusted family member, your therapist, your psych or even a member of the clergy, if you’re so inclined.

Be sure to use your emergency contingency plan. I’ve had to make one every time I’ve been discharged from a psych ward, and they all look similar. It details what behaviors I exhibit when I’m starting to relapse, who to contact first and things I can do to prevent my state from deteriorating further.

The next thing you should do is actually use those coping skills that are talked about so frequently. For example, I color. I find something to clean. I pull out my Cricut and create something new. I write. I do something, anything, to keep my hands and mind busy.

I certainly don’t ruminate. Those voices in my head love trouble. They thrive on it. If I listen to them, then I’m headed for disaster. I suppose the most important thing of all that I do is not quit my medications. If you’re doing well, but you’re bored with being well, then quitting your meds is one of the worst things you can do for your continuing recovery.

Boredom is OK. In today’s world, we’re taught boredom is the worst possible punishment you can give a person, and we must be entertained at all times. However, this is not true. Sit with the boredom for a little while. This is super dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)-ish, but let the boredom flow through you like a wave. Acknowledge it is there, and then let it pass on by. Don’t hold on to it, but don’t push it away either. Soon the bored feeling will pass, and you’ll be eternally grateful you stayed true to the course of recovery.

If none of this works, then you may well be struggling and need a med adjustment or a new approach in therapy. However, you’ll be ahead of the curve by being able to recognize a trigger for you.

I’m not going to lie, allowing myself to be bored sucks. I hate it. I don’t like feeling like I need to stir up problems for entertainment. I know myself though, and knowing is half the battle, right? It’s hard to admit when you’re struggling. At least, it is for me. Don’t be like me, who has too much pride to ask for help sometimes. Be yourself, a person who has learned from my mistakes.

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Mental illness is not something most people would probably want, but if you already have one, it’s important to learn to embrace it. So we might as well explore the possibilities of mental illness teaching us something. As I learned from my mistakes, I also learned from my mental illnesses.

1. You’ll lose people along the way.

You’ll lose some people — friends, family and a lot of known faces — over the years. I have lost my school friends, relatives and people who called themselves friends, all of them through the decade of my journey with mental illness. Firstly, because I myself didn’t know I had bipolar disorder when I got depressed. Not everyone around you will understand your depression or your problems.

2. If someone doesn’t understand and wants to leave, then let them go.

This happened to to me with the person who was my best friend in school. Sometimes people won’t understand some of the things you have to do because of your illness. I’m not saying everything I did was 100 percent right, but many things I did because I had no other choice.

3. You will be able to read people better.

Although I think mental illness can be the worst thing that could happen to a person, it also opens up your brain to many possibilities. You learn to understand people better because you’ll see them exactly for who they are. Even though mental illness is invisible, it doesn’t hide itself. The more people you see leaving after learning facts about you, the more you’ll be able to snip them from your life.

4. You will learn who your true friends and family are.

After you have shred all the negativity around you, you will find some people who have stayed with you no matter how your mood swings from depression to mania. People who have accepted you for who you are, with your mental illness. These are the people who will be your friends, your support system. You will get a better perspective, and you will be able to choose your own family. After all, there are families we’re born into, but in the end, it’s the family we choose that sticks with us.

5. You’ll feel less guilty as you get to know yourself better.

As the days and years pass by, you’ll learn more about yourself. I didn’t know my illness  until it was too late. Yet, the feelings of guilt and regret are the same for all of us who have some kind of mental illness. As you know yourself better, you eventually start judging yourself a little less every day, and the feeling is freeing.

6. You will become your own person.

Through the years of crying, begging, expecting and answering to others, I finally understood myself. Instead of being taken for granted, I started appreciating myself. I started doing things for myself instead of expecting from others. People with some kind of mental illness are often perceptive of people because of the experiences we have had. I have personally become my own person by trusting myself and my abilities to survive. It took me a good 12 years to finally accept myself, to start a cause to eradicate stigma attached to mental illness and to finally get the help I needed throughout the years. Now, I have a partner, a brother, a friend and a family who recognize me for who I am. However, this only became possible when I fit in properly in my own skin, acknowledged my mental illness and wore it as a shield so nothing and no one could put me down.

“Never forget what you are, for the surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – George R.R. Martin

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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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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