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What's Really Behind My Hypomanic Smile


If you got out of bed today and brushed your teeth, I want to applaud you. If you were able to put on a clean shirt today, or wash a bowl and put it in the dishwasher, I am proud of you. This may sound odd or even condescending, but hear me out.

When you have a mental illness, even the simplest of tasks can take a huge toll on your energy and wellbeing. I live life with bipolar disorder. I have ups and downs (and ups and back downs). For people around me, it can be exhausting. It’s exhausting for me too.

The aforementioned experience of not being able to get out of bed, brush my teeth or participate in other daily self-care activities, well that’s the ugly side of bipolar depression. It’s humiliating to know that I haven’t been able to shower in over a week because I just don’t feel like I love myself enough to take care of myself. Even though it may be hard to admit, I feel like most people that live with any kind of clinical depression can understand this experience. But right now, that’s not the case for me. Right now, I am coming out of a hypomanic episode.

What is hypomania? You may just think I’m in a really good mood. I’m smiling at work, I’m telling loud jokes, I have a ton of energy and I’m super productive. I’ve cleaned my apartment down to the baseboards. All of my laundry is sorted, cleaned and folded. I feel like I’m an extremely high-functioning adult. I love how it feels. It’s like being buzzed without the alcohol while concurrently being hyper-productive. I feel confident. I feel sexy. I’m smiling, but only on the surface.

Behind my hypomanic smile, I also feel aggressive, intense and confrontational. I am sweating and talking a mile a minute. I’m oversharing intimate details about my life with people whom I don’t know very well. Even though there’s a smile on my face and I’m wildly dancing to the music playing on the radio, also know that I’m not eating or sleeping.

Behind my hypomanic smile, my behavior is erratic at best, and borderline self-destructive at worst. I’m pacing back and forth at work, practically screaming the happy hour specials at the tables I’m serving. I want to hang pictures on the walls at 2 a.m. I want to dye my hair purple. I’m posting five selfies on my social media accounts in less than 24 hours so that I might get instant peer-validation I so desperately crave — no, that I so desperately need. I’m writing 15 pages of discombobulated poetry that don’t make any sense, and I’m getting mad when people don’t think it’s magnificent.

Behind my hypomanic smile, I have delusions of grandeur in which I think I’m more important than I really am. During my last episode, I flung my bachelor’s degree off of the wall and onto the floor because I felt ashamed that I have a four year science degree, yet I wait tables at a chicken wing joint. I collapsed on the floor of my apartment crying because I got my period; all it meant to me was that yet again, the month had passed without me becoming pregnant. Why don’t I deserve a baby? Why doesn’t God want me to have one? I don’t even want a baby, but why not me?

Behind my hypomanic smile, I feel hyper-sexual. In this day and age where an adult woman is supposed to feel liberated and free in her sexuality, all I feel is shame. I love my fiancĂ©, but it feels as if I constantly pressure him into sex, more and more aggressively each time. No matter how tired he is from work, no matter how satiated he is, I want — no, I need — sexual attention from him. I also crave this attention from other men and women, and I can hear myself flirting with friends, coworkers and strangers even though I am 100 percent happy and fulfilled in my own relationship with my soon-to-be-husband. I would never cheat on him, so I feel horrified by all of this unwanted sexual energy.

Behind my hypomanic smile, I don’t know where all my money went from this week’s tips. I spent it all, but I can’t remember what on. I can’t remember what we did last night or where we went. What did I do?! What did I post on social media?!

And finally, behind my hypomanic smile, there is the knowledge of the inevitable crash. The 15-hour dreamless sleep that follows. That’s when I just stare at the dishes. I can’t bring myself to get out of bed. I feel like an awful parent when my 5-year-old just wants some cereal and cartoons, but when I get up to make them a bowl, I just want to cuddle them and hold them and cry and apologize over and over again that I wish my brain is different. But my daughter loves me anyway. Your kiddos don’t care if you brushed your teeth or changed your shirt.

But back to my original point, if you did do those things today, pat yourself on the back. Whether you are stuck in a rut because of clinical depression, a bipolar hypomanic crash or any other variation of mental illness, realize that there are others out there going through the same thing. Try to comb your hair, take a shower, rotate the laundry or eat a good meal. If you can’t, it’s OK; you can try again tomorrow. Don’t let the shame of your struggle completely debilitate you. But if you were able to do any of those daily self-care activities today, give yourself a hand. Seriously. Because life gets hard, especially when the smallest tasks add up and tower over you like a skyscraper.

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t give medical advice to tell you how to manage your hypomanic episodes so the crashes and impending depression hit you less hard. But what I can insist on is that you reach out for help. For those people in your life who are lucky enough without a mental illness, all they may see is that hypomanic smile. It could truly look like everything is perfectly OK on the outside. And even if it’s not, it is OK to not be OK.

Unsplash via Carolina Heza