Hypomania? Never heard of it
I’m speeding hard, no need to stop for breath, the world outside my eyes a static blur as I captain a mutinous mind through the churning straits of ceaseless internal soliloquy. Who’s got their hand on the tiller? Not me.
Earlier this year I was diagnosed with bipolar II. I’ve come to recognize this experience as hypomania (literally, “lesser mania”, characterized by a persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 4 days). I’m treated to mild euphoria, a flood of ideas, seemingly endless energy, and a desire and drive for success. Unlike full mania, those with hypomanic symptoms are often fully functioning and don’t experience psychosis (when thought and emotion are so impaired you lose touch with reality).
I thought everyone thought like me
I used to think this was the normal me. That the wet cloth of depression, that fleshless grin of skull and eyeless sockets molded to my features, was the affliction and that a return to the light was what the rest of you call normalcy. I was wrong – this is the other end of the ‘pole’ in ‘bipolar’ (and it’s more equatorial than polar) so forgive me if this post jumps around, my head is a box of frogs right now.
Daily, I log my Moodtracker entry online; the allure of discovering my course and context in the world keeping me faithful as a pilgrim to a shrine. A longitudinal mood record might reveal a pattern I can use to help me anticipate these fluctuations.
On a scale running from ‘severely depressed’ through ‘baseline’ to ‘severely elevated’, lately I’ve been identifying as ‘moderately elevated’. To me ‘baseline’ suggests an even keel while ‘severely elevated’ means you’re on the ceiling, a prophet or possibly Napoleon. So far this time I’ve only had one day where the incendiary orgasmic energy firing bolts of lightning off the insides of my skin, and threatening to escape with the screaming release of a pressure cooker, reached a pitch that became torturous in its denial of relief.
A model of efficiency?
Time, it seems to me, has slowed down. To fill it, and feed the restlessness that gnaws at me, I cook and bake like a 1950’s housewife. I attack with gusto all the nagging little things scheduled for ‘another day’ – sewing on buttons, repairing ripped seams, re-organising the craft cupboard so it doesn’t void its innards when someone opens the door, super-gluing broken toys and, that rare feat, reaching the nadir of my ironing basket (endemic Easy-Iron renders me a species in decline).
Hoovering, however, is my Geiger counter. I know something’s up when the rate climbs above normal levels of efficiency. Last week I hovered the house three times, two of which were what I call ‘pre-emptive sweeps’ – the superficial kind designed to allay ‘the big one’. Totally irrational as I’m inevitably compelled to thoroughness by dint of 1. having got the damn thing out in the first place, and 2. a reluctance to do so again anytime soon (a notion that’s forgotten a day later).
I wish this productivity extended to my writing, but though ideas and inspiration swirl, the maelstrom whips them away before I can explore them. They’re never more than mere breadcrumbs in a trail of fragmented ideas and unfinished thoughts. It’s easier to feed, and draw warmth from, the flame of creativity through a different medium: drawing and reading are more forgiving of periodic daydreams and flights of fancy. It’s an effort to concentrate this restless, arcing energy into a single prolonged focus. Bursts of creative thought strafe me in magnificent clarity before flickering out, their fading conviction replaced by another spark of inspiration. Like the speeded up credits at the end of a film, it makes my head hurt the harder I try to follow them.
I’m forced to acknowledge the paralysis of my own powers to do anything but increasingly and inordinately feel. I’ve crossed an existential border into a state of actuality drenched in the vivacity of sensation; where colours sing and the air carries a thousand sensual messages.
My mind exists apart – watching myself in a world too vast to ever be constrained by the ropes and chains of puny human minds – full of wonder, with one eye on infinity. Yet I’m connected to the earth so viscerally I feel I’m an extension of it. I know how to enter into the life of everything around me – how it feels to be a bird, a beetle, a tree. I people-watch in the coffee shop bleeding empathy and feeling an affinity with every soul, a strange solidarity with their thoughts and motivations – high on ‘human-ness’.
These days when I relax in shavasana at the end of yoga the tears flowing into my ears are from an excess of joy not sorrow. But always at the back of my mind is the knowledge that what goes up must come down – I may not know the time or circumstance but it’s a safe bet eventually I’ll be immobilized, face slack under that wet cloth of depression again. This is how it’s always been. That, my friend, is balance.
I focus hard, just not on the right things.
My mind sees through to bone and my intellect sings.
I unfurl questions in the war-room of my brain,
Memorizing details as illumination wanes.
I grab a piece of paper, try to crystallize the vapor of the answers that fade away before they’re even real to me…