5 Warning Signs for the 'Manic Fire' of Bipolar Disorder

Most people are aware of, or at least have heard of, some of the major characteristics of a person struggling with manic episodes – the rash racing thoughts, rage and mood instability, hypersexuality and suicidal ideations, to name a few. But there are all of the little things – little struggles before the cataclysmic ones. Personally, before I go into full-blown mental disaster, these are the little warning signs that I am headed askew. I’m sure anyone with bipolar disorder has their own little flashing lights (whether they adhere to them or not), but these are my five signs of waiting catastrophe.

1. Spending Sprees

A quirk for some, this is a disaster for me. When my mind goes awry, I will buy last-minute plane tickets for my next great adventure in The South, go online and purchase two Le Creuset Dutch Ovens… you know, just because they have my two favorite colors. I go to the grocery store and buy a restaurant’s worth of food supplies for the week, and let’s not forget the non-food items. I really need that new dishwasher and the top-of-the-line vacuum. Mind you, none of this I can afford. But, it doesn’t matter. Thankfully I keep receipts and Alaska Airlines has a 24-hour cancellation policy.

2. Adopting Pets

This doesn’t sound bad. I mean who doesn’t love animals?

But, there has to be a limit because pet food, vet visits, flea medication and critter essentials add up quickly. The urge to harbor all the animals in the world is palpable. At one point I adopted three kittens in two days, bringing our total to five cats. We already had goats and dogs, and of course chickens (sometimes they count as pets). Thankfully we lived on a few fenced acres and had a house big enough to house the critters – all of whom I love dearly and wouldn’t trade for the world.

3. Slurred speech.

I will be in the middle of a dinner prayer or a conversation with a friend and I will start slurring my words or stumbling over my stories. I can’t speak as fast as I am thinking. Sometimes the things I say don’t make sense because my mind has skipped a few steps and my tongue is trying to fill them in.

4. Memory and Concentration

This is common with my depressive episodes, as well. When my mind gets off-balance, my memory and concentration evaporate. I will drive to town to grab a few groceries and get gas in my car, but I can’t remember my shopping list and I drive home without filling up. I walk in and out of rooms trying to remember why I went into them in the first place. It gets worse when I can’t follow map directions or when places I frequently visit seem strange.

5. Good Ideas

All of them. Every single last idea I have is great. From adding on a 500 square foot addition to our home, to changing jobs on a whim, to moving to Colorado and buying a cabin in Montana. All of them. Great! Except they aren’t, at that moment or all at once. Who wants to be talked out of a good idea?

How to stay in check?

Slow down. I cannot stress that enough. Bipolar mania and hypomania are fast, fast, fast. Everything is urgent and immediate. My running coach once told me: “when you feel rushed, slow down.” It works. Now, that’s not saying I always catch the signs. But, over time, I have gotten to the point where I pay more attention to those little smoke alarms instead of waiting until the whole house is on fire.

I must slow down and ponder, slow down and double-check myself, slow down and ask for outside advice. It is incredibly hard to doubt my own mind; even harder to admit I am overzealous in my actions or my thoughts.

But it is OK to be wrong and take a step back.

It takes practice. I now know my warning signs, and over time I have learned how to see the sparks before the forest fire. Typically when I start to feel that burn coming on, I call my psychiatrist, work on my sleep and become even more diligent in my daily routine. The only reason I heed my warning signs is because I know what is coming if I don’t. My life has billowed up in flames because of the full-blown out-of-control mania and I never want that to happen again.

Realistically, I will not always be able to keep myself out of the hypomanic fire every single time – bipolar disorder is not that kind. Although, I do hope to get there one day.

But if I listen to the warning bells, I can control the flames of mania — which is my greatest fear of all.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure

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