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What It Feels Like to Experience Hypomania

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Note: In spite of the second person, this is not everyone’s experience with hypomania.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Hypomania is, by definition, mania lite. It’s mania, toned down. As the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual says, it doesn’t cause a significant decrease in functioning. Actually, hypomania kind of makes you function better. An increase in goal-directed behavior, an increase in productivity. It can be pretty obvious, especially once it comes after depression.

You feel like you can do things again, even though when your mind is racing so much, it’s just one thing after the other and you get bored after five minutes.

And you get loud and laugh a lot and it sounds unhinged when you do, your high-pitched braying punctuating the words and sentences and monologues that keep spilling out of your mouth because you can’t shut up — the words in your mouth are all trying to push themselves out and holding them in is almost physically painful and why not talk? You have so much to say.

Suddenly you’re the most amazing person in the world. You’re so smart, you’re so talented, you can do anything, but —

At the same time, you always know that’s a lie. Your happiness isn’t happiness. It’s plastic at the edges, fundamentally fake at its worst.

It’s happiness that’s desperate and sharp enough to cut. It’s losing control while feeling like you have so much control of everything that you can do whatever you want. You don’t care about much, you throw caution to the wind, and it’s not like the heavy, bored not-caring of depression — it’s this not-caring where you don’t have to care because everything’s going to come together even though your anxiety says no.

Even though the other parts of your brain, all of them — the broken parts and the steady ones — are screaming at you, telling you that you’re acting very strange, begging you to understand you’re acting very strange. That it’s not going to end well.

You ignore them, of course you do, and the world zigzags and tilts and goes up and down like you’re a little kid on a swing, going higher and higher until you’ve gained too much momentum to stop, the only option is to jump even though now you’re scared, and your face is windburned and your eyes are watering and you are out of breath and now you have found yourself in a mixed state, depressed but with your thoughts racing and twisting into things you’re not sure if you’re actually thinking, because you feel so outside of yourself.

You are a character in a book. There is an author controlling you.

The author has absolute power. You are not the author.

So one moment you’re on top of the world and the next you’re panicking in the bathroom and then you’re leaving class (which you don’t understand anyway, maybe college isn’t for you, maybe you should become a paramedic, but the bitter truth is your hands shake too much) and then you’re considering suicide and then — never mind!

Your mind has moved on to something else. Your mind is always moving on to something else.

You’re laughing and half an hour ago you were panicking, and when you look back on it, it’s frightening and wrong, even when you rewind to the better moments of pure (false) joy it is frightening and wrong, even at the moment it is frightening and wrong, but you just got out of a depressive episode so you feel like you’ll take whatever kind of happiness you can get, because there’s nothing wrong with happiness.

There’s nothing wrong with this.

You’re perfect.

You’re so perfect that you can do everything you want even though you feel like the machinery in your brain is grinding so fast it’s sparking and screeching, even though your life is no longer linear, even though your consciousness is rolling away like marbles, even though your world is mixed metaphors.

Your mind moves on to something else.

And something else.

And something else.

But everything good or bad ends and so it grinds to a halt again and you’re depressed (again, always again, that’s been part of your life for a long time, at least, you’ve been clinically sad since 14) and you realize the hypomania was sick and scary, but never mind, you want it back. You’d give anything to not have to feel this way anymore. You’d give anything to have that flying feeling again.

And then you think, “But it would be so much better if my emotions could stay in check. If I could be ‘sane.’ If I could be sure of what is real and what is an episode.”

There’s that moment when you wonder if you’ve ever felt happiness at all because you’re always cycling through these episodes and the worst part is now you know. Now you are aware. A diagnosis comforts you — it tells you there’s an explanation for this thing that’s been part of you for such a long time. But it also makes hindsight become everything because you look back and you see. You see things weren’t right, and you wish you could’ve done something earlier because this is so, so out of control.

Reality and unreality blur. Past and present turn into a sucking black hole. The expansive universe becomes distorted under the magnifying glass of your brain. You’re real and then you’re not, and you miss being real. Even when you’re so supposedly happy you could die and you wouldn’t even mind, you miss it. Being stable. Being a person who is OK.

And then sometimes you are OK, you’re happy or content and it’s soft and well-lit and true, and honestly? There are moments that feels like the worst part. Because it ends. And when it does, you feel cheated.

Except the truth is that every once in a while, you don’t. Because you’re swinging on a pendulum and it’s making you so sick you’ve forgotten you’re sick.

And if you remember, you don’t even care.

Why would you when you’re so fucking happy?

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Thinkstock photo via ClaudioVentrella

Originally published: May 15, 2017
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