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Am I Manic or Is This My New 'Normal' in Bipolar Disorder Recovery?

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

I woke up at 6 a.m. recently — usually, I am sleeping to noon or later due to fatigue and depression. My mind is racing. I am thinking about all the articles I want to write. Ideas enter my mind. I am thinking in paragraphs. I am trying to sleep but all I can do is think that I should be writing all this down. I go to the bathroom and try to return to bed. I still cannot stop the racing thoughts.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

At 7 a.m. I give up and get out of bed. I walk from the bed to the computer, turn it on and begin typing.

I have only been a writer for two years. Before that, I thought I cannot possibly have a career in writing. I was told in my senior year in high school by my advanced placement English teacher that I was not a good writer. I accepted that as truth and from then only heard her voice in my ear.

During the pandemic, I started writing for The Mighty and my whole worldview changed. I got positive feedback and I have exploded as a writer. Now the words just flow onto the pages, and I have trouble managing the word limit.

So, it is now not uncommon for me to get excited about writing and just stop everything I am doing and write. Well, this morning I saw I could not slow my mind down and I became a little worried.

Is This Hypomania?

See, I have bipolar II. I have been diagnosed since 1996. I know my signs and symptoms and know quickly when I need to call my treatment team. Also, my symptoms of hypomania are obvious to those around me. I was getting concerned and began to scan my mind to see if this was mania. I wondered if my treatment team would be concerned and try to head this off at the pass. The downward spiral into depression could be next.

In two hours, I had written two articles, communicated with two colleagues about starting a nonprofit, and written two long emails. I even approached a state governor candidate about speaking publicly on her behalf. I was firing on all cylinders and there was nothing I could not do.

Reality Setting In

My roommate came in about three hours later and I told her all I had been up to. I was so excited I could barely contain myself.

The first thing out of her mouth was, “I hope you do not immediately think all of this excitement is the result of being hypomanic. You could just be having a normal reaction to being excited.”

This had crossed my mind, but I was too busy exploiting the high before the feeling wore off.

The reality is I had a lot of good things happen recently. I saw my daughter after a year, made a video that I was very proud of and am excited about making more, my pain is about 75% better after I got the proper diagnosis and pain medication, I had a good 50th birthday and have several trips planned. Someone said I was living my best life and I tend to agree.

What Is My ‘Normal?’

The question is, what is my “normal?” Have I ever been at baseline? Have I been so medicated that I do not know? Do I call my team too early, telling them that I am thinking my “normal” is abnormal?

What if my baseline is being up early, excited about writing, and thinking clearly? What if I am actually doing just fine?

What if my high will not lead to depression? I am sure my team would disagree. It has time and time again turned out bad.

I must admit, I want these moments of hypomania. I love getting so much done and the excitement sends me to moments of bliss. I mean, I really feel invincible.

I am not sure what to make of all of this. I can call my psychiatric nurse and see if she is worried. I could ride this out and see where it leads. It usually leads to rapid speech, panic feelings, breathlessness, anxiety, out-of-pace thought processes, and I will become annoying to my friends as my thoughts jump around when I try to have a conversation. I also get pretty loud. Then I descend into a very dark place.

After a couple of days of still feeling revved up, I decided to speak with my therapist at our next session. I will tell her what I have been doing and how I have been feeling. She can take the hour to observe me and tell me her opinion.

Secretly, I hope she agrees this could be “normal” and she lets me stay this way. I know my mental health can be fragile and it can change from moment to moment without the proper attention to its ebbs and flows.

I want my “normal” to be enthusiastic and productive but also, I want to feel good in my body and mind. I am beginning to think this does not feel good.

What can help when you start questioning your symptom status:

1. Do not panic! You know your body best. Check-in with yourself.

2. Have a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) and a Psychiatric Advanced Directive (in most states they are non-binding but can still be useful) in place to refer to when it appears you may be in a crisis.

3. Check in with loved ones to see if your behavior has changed by their observation. Prior to having symptoms, let them know what to look for.

4. Work with your treatment team to help them know your body and ask them what you should look for from their experience.

5. Communicate often and ask for support in evaluating your symptoms.

6. Believe your inner voice when you hear something may be off.

7. Do not wait too long.

8. Do not go off your medications (without your doctor’s orders).

You have this. You can do it. You have been here before. Stay calm and move forward with diligence. You will be OK. This will pass.

You have a Mighty brain, so take good care of it!

Getty Images photo via SDI Productions

Originally published: August 23, 2022
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