Hypomania: riding the bipolar high

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silhouette of girl jumping with excitement
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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.

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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…


By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Wowzers honey – your writing is exquisite this time. I don’t know what I want to wish you but as ever, much love is crossing the pond over to you x

    1. xxx You’ve said enough already, Jen with that delicious compliment. I’m just off to my morning yoga class, don’t know how I’ll calm my mind. I just want to fill the room with noise and movement now 🙂

  2. Wow. Just wow. I’m blown away by the insightfulness and imagery of your writing; there’s a sing-song, peaceful quality to it. Despite the maelstrom you describe. Like the eye of a storm. Beautiful.

  3. You write so eloquently. I have been reading about bipolar recently and it seems like bipolar 2 is not as widely known and the effects of hypomania are not always considered to be as disruptive as mania, whereas I think they are equally hard to manage. I hope you achieve a balance x

    1. Yes, definitely a case of different horses for different courses. The irritability can flare up at the slightest provocation, and although very brief, can leave me feeling apologetic and ‘meh’ when I’ve just barked at my loved ones. Self-awareness and communication are crucial to extracting the positive lessons from the negative experience.

    1. It forces you to be self-aware in a much more perceptive way. I’m still learning how my personal experiences with anxiety, irritability, highs and lows translate into the parameters identified by the moodtracker tool but it means I’m learning to take greater notice of what my body and mind are telling me, and that’s no bad thing.

  4. I hope you find the balance one day – I don’t have bipolar but have ridden my own highs of the mental health illness I fight and I would never wish any of it on anyone.

    1. The depression side of things is both soul-destroying and dangerous, but I accept it’s the trade off for the times I’m like this – living at full volume. Right now I feel blessed and grateful for all the things I have that can’t be ‘got’ by design – a husband who’s both logical and loving and whose calm, clear outlook is unruffled by drama, children who teach me, amaze me, give me an insight into myself and a future to fight for, a world that’s a constant source of wonder, and while often confusing and frustrating, has shaped me into the person I am today. It’s taken me a long time and many tears to finally realise no-one ‘gets’ it and there’s nothing to ‘get’- it just is. Henry James put it better in his novel The Ambassadors, “Live all you can: it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?”
      I’m happy with that. I hope you find your balance too x

  5. My mom is bipolar and it’s really hard for her and for the rest of the family. It makes me so angry with her from time to time. I know she doesn’t want to be manic or depressed but I still find myself blaming her.

  6. Fabulous writing. I have a close friend who has the same condition, and have watched from the outside, it is a hard, hard disease to find balance in, the highs (when not too high) can be wonderful but the counter attack of the low is very difficult.

  7. I hope you will find your balance if this is what you seek.
    I wasn’t diagnosed with anything but i am all over the place most of the time… I guess this is my balance – up and down and up and down… hardly ever stopping in the middle

  8. Wow, this is my teenage daughter. As a family it is hard to understand and we are all on that rollercoaster with her. I feel so guilty for wanting her to be ‘normal’ but mostly I am so afraid of what she is capable of doing or has done. She too does Yoga and it has helped a great deal.

    1. A large part of managing this for me has been reducing the amount of stress I’m under – all those little tasks and goals we set ourselves trying to conform to someone else’s idea of normality. It’s very hard though to stop feeding the fire once mania has you in its grip. “I just need to…’ and “One more…’ keep me hyped on empty energy (like McDonalds empty calories – you think you have the reserves but they’re just an illusion) until it all comes crashing down and you find yourself at the opposite end of the mood spectrum.
      I hope your daughter sticks with the yoga, it truly helps to reset the balance.

  9. Great to hear your words. We are brave, and we are strong who stay afloat on the tides of depression and mania. It is a balancing act of great skill which develops over time until some of us can walk that tight rope and make it look graceful!

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