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How Hypomania Can Be as Destructive as Depression

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Hypomania, the younger sister of mania; most people who have a concept of bipolar disorder know that mania can be destructive to someone’s life. So, one might think hypomania is a lessened version of mania. Why wouldn’t that mean it’s all the good parts and none of the bad?

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That couldn’t be further from the truth. Those of us who live with hypomania can tell you while the symptoms vary from person to person, there are a lot of the same themes through them. Hypomania can include elevated mood, increased energy, increased creativity and innovation, increased motivation and more. It also carries some of the negative sides, including the impulsive actions with things involving spending and sex.

So, most of those things sound great. Who wouldn’t want elevated mood and more ideas? Compared to the depression felt in the past, hypomania can sound enticing. That, of course, does not take into account how destructive it can actually be.

Here are some of the reasons hypomania can be destructive to our lives.

1. Racing Thoughts

During a period of hypomania, the brain is working on overdrive. Thoughts are coming and going so quickly it’s hard to register them. This can create a flood of ideas faster than you can write them.

Sometimes, the brain even fixates on one or two ideas. It’s hard to quiet the mind until you turn these thoughts into actions.

The thoughts aren’t always positive. Sometimes, our thoughts tell us if we relax or sit down, we are being lazy. Suddenly, self-care is out the window because our thoughts are negative and intrusive.

2. Lack of Sleep

Increased energy can be a good thing, except for when it’s at a detriment to a balanced and healthy amount of sleep.

We will run around all day using our energy to start a million projects. It’s like a tornado tearing through our lives, trying to pick up as many houses as it can. So at the end of the day, when it’s time to put our head to our pillows, you would think sleep would come easily.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Often those racing thoughts in our brains just don’t stop. We keep thinking about all the things we didn’t do today, all we want to do tomorrow and maybe even the best new way to organize our closet.

For hours and hours, we will lie awake, obsessing and ruminating over things we can’t control at 2 a.m. Sometimes, we will even get up in the middle of the night just to clean the dishes left in the sink.

Next thing we know, it’s morning. We are physically exhausted. Our bodies ache and still our minds say, “Look, it’s daytime and we need to go change our lives and the world.” So we do. We get out of bed and by the time we’ve brushed our teeth, our brains have told our bodies it’s time to go. So we fight through the exhaustion.

This pattern continues for nights or weeks. Our bodies are physically exhausted. We may be eating more food to keep up our strength, which ultimately leads to weight gain. We may also be completely forgetting to eat as we are so fixated on being busy we just don’t find the time to nourish our bodies.

Eventually, the exhaustion will catch up to us and that is not a good day.

3. Over-promising

During hypomania, we have an inflated sense of self-importance. We genuinely feel we are the best mother, employee, friend, and so on. In our minds, we can do anything and everything. Doesn’t matter if it’s practical to others. It’s practical in our minds.

Often we start a million projects because we feel amazing. Extra assignments at the office? Sure! Cleaning out the basement? Yup! Deciding to start homeschooling the kids? Why not!

The problem is we underestimate the true scope and time commitment of the project. We also grossly overestimate our abilities. In the end, we are setting ourselves up for failure. There is no way we can keep these commitments in the long run, especially once the hypomanic period ends… and it always ends.

4. Struggling Relationships

So during this tornado of projects, ideas and spending, who struggles? Our friends, family and coworkers.

For example, we may be busy applying to jobs we are underqualified for and we are obsessing about it. Our phones are glued to our hand. If we are organizing the entire house, the intrusive thoughts of “lazy” are telling us we can’t stop.

So, what does this mean for our relationships? It means we are ignoring them. At dinner, we might have our nose in the phone. Instead of going to that party with our friends, we may stay home to clean the oven. Our kids want to play with us? Can’t! They can play by themselves and we have stuff to do.

Our spouses don’t get a place on our schedule. Our co-workers receive less communication and teamwork from us. Children and friends all struggle with our hyperfocus on our increasing list of projects.

5. The Crash

Ah yes, the crash! What goes up, must come down. The problem is, we never know when it’s going to come down.

We’ve just started clearing out the basement when all of a sudden, our body remembers it’s tired. We can’t get out of bed. If we can get to work, we are just barely present and doing only what needs to be done. It’s a stark contrast to the high achiever we were just last week.

Not everyone falls into a depression post-hypomania. It is common, though. The feeling of failure can set in. Why can’t we ever finish things? Those voices in our head that were telling us we were lazy are now telling us we will never amount to anything so why try.

All the projects we started aren’t finished and sometimes there are permanent consequences to that. Did we agree to something we now can’t get out of? Are we going to embarrass ourselves professionally? Is our house worse than before we started?

The crash will come and it’s always scary to find out how far down it will go.

Ultimately, hypomania can be as destructive as depression. It’s not the perfect opposite that society makes it out to be. In reality, those with bipolar disorder need the middle. We need balance. It’s not that depression and hypomania aren’t a part of our personality. They are. They do help define us overall. We do try our hardest though, during the times of hypomania, to keep the middle balance in mind — to mitigate the fall out from the episode.

Photo by Pawel Szymanski on Unsplash

Originally published: November 6, 2018
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