The symptoms of mania are identifiable as being a serious change from the way a person normally thinks and acts.
- feeling overly upbeat, jumpy, or wired.
- having a decreased need for sleep
- talking very fast, often with racing thoughts
- feeling extremely restless or impulsive
- becoming easily distracted
- exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
- engaging in risky behavior, such as having impulsive sex, making life-altering decisions, or going on big spending sprees
I have Bipolar II, which means I don’t go straight into the FULL-BLOWN mania of Bipolar I and my episodes of hypomania are more frequently measured in days rather than weeks. However, even though my hypomania is less intense than I might otherwise go through, these episodes still frighten me.
What makes hypomania dangerous for me is that it is very difficult for me to recognize the red flags leading up to it until I’m right in the middle of an episode, engaged in the self-destructive behaviors that are just a stop on the way to full-blown, life-wrecking mania.
Normally, I would describe myself as outgoing, optimistic, friendly, and charismatic. I believe I’m a good person and that my behavior generally reflects that.
I’d also say that having a tendency to do what I want to do, rather than what others think I should do, is usually a good thing. Normally.
But when heading toward hypomania the behaviors I exhibit become extraordinarily difficult not just for me but also for the people around me. Those are the behaviors that people notice.
I’ve spent a big chunk of my life being told (and then start to believe) I am a bad person because of how I act and behave during hypomanic episodes. The guilt and shame felt (or forced to feel) during or in the aftermath of these episodes makes things even worse.
So much that I lean toward believing that’s who I really am, even when I know that’s not true. I start to think that those behaviors are what’s normal. That I’m a bad person.
I think, that’s me. That being manic or hypomanic is just my normal state of being. I am the disease.
I’m too much. I’m too enthusiastic. I’m too impulsive. I’m irresponsible. I’m irrational. I’m reckless.
Rather than noticing the differences between what IS normal and what’s not, and being concerned that my behavior is out of the norm, I get criticized for what other people have decided are my normal behaviors.
Years of paranoia and lacking trust in what’s normal for me, and of becoming defensive over various actions or behaviors being criticized makes me hyper-focus on that criticism. It frequently triggers every fear I have that I’m not the good person I think I am and that people hate me.
I get so overwhelmingly hyper-focused on the few behaviors being criticized that I miss completely every other red flag that should be warning me that I’m headed toward a hypomanic episode.
Knowing that certain red flag behaviors can look like ways I normally behave is tough. But what’s key is to see what is different.
Finding the line between normal and hypomanic
Red flags to look out for.
Lori is behaving normally
Boredom. I want to do all the things. If something is not interesting, I get antsy and bored – I find other outlets for stimulation.
Lori is hypomanic
Manic Energy. Nothing is interesting and nothing engages me. I can’t sit still. I want to do all the things. I jump on spontaneous ideas and run away with them without thought.
Insomnia. I don’t sleep because my mind buzzes over projects being worked on or new ideas taking over the old. I become revved up by how productive I can be. Sleep is an unnecessary interruption.
My brain moves faster than I can keep up. My conversations have no linear focus to them. I grab a tangent and run off in that direction, eager for the people I am with to engage with me and help direct the conversation.
Inability to listen to other people. I do most of the talking, and people have a hard time getting a word in. I lose track of where the conversation started or what we were supposed to be talking about because I’m running the show.
Hello ADD. I jump from idea to idea. Distracted by everything shiny. I’m aware this is a thing.
Are we sure this is not ADD? I jump from idea to idea to idea. I can’t stay on task because something else has grabbed my attention. I’m lost.
Confident and self-aware. I’ve put in a lot of work. I’ve got a pretty solid grasp on who I am, and I know I am a smart and capable person. I trust that if I try something and fail that I can pick myself back up.
Unrealistic overconfidence. I feel like I can accomplish anything and everything with minimal to no effort. I take on too many tasks, knowing I can handle it all. I latch onto an idea and decide that this goal is perfectly reasonable because of COURSE it’s something I can accomplish, and no way would I fail.
Acquisition but not possession. I love to shop. I love pretty things. Shiny things. New things. But owning things forever? Not important.
Spending beyond my means. Whether I’m buying shoes, deciding to collect something new, or browsing Amazon multiple times a day, I feel a constant, compulsive urge to buy and excessively hang on to things I don’t need.
Sexuality is Power. Owning my body and my sexuality. Repudiating the concept of slut shaming.
Hypersexual. I start slut shaming myself.
Notice the similarities. Notice the differences.
Were you able to see where the line is?
Missing the red flags that warn me of hypomania is dangerous. I know what happens with an unchecked hypomanic episode. I’ve ended up in the hospital as a result of ignoring hypomania and letting it develop into mania.
But it’s hard for me to not hyper-focus when I am criticized for a behavior I am exhibiting. Particularly one where the standard of normal is being defined by someone else.
Therapy is essential. I just can’t say enough how much therapy helps me. It’s helped me learn where the line is between what’s normal and what is not. Normal as defined by me, not by other people. It’s helped me learn that my disease is not me. That I am not my behaviors. Because behaviors are not a permanent state of who I am.
Another thing that helps? Finally having a strong support network. Talking has always been an outlet to help me process, so having people in my life who understand me and can listen and be patient with me and help point out specific red flag behaviors has been amazing.
And I write.
Writing has taught me to be honest with myself. It forces thoughts I may be unable to speak out loud onto a page where I can see it. I can track my moods through my writing. So I try to write. Every day if I can.
I believe that to help people really understand bipolar I’ll need to open up and go into detail about my experiences within both full depressive and full hypomanic/manic episodes.
I’m not ready for that, yet. I’ll get there, though. Because the more I write here, the easier it gets.
4 thoughts on “My difficulties in recognizing hypomanic red flags”
This is a good video by Dr Tracey Marks explaining the differences between ADD/ADHD and bipolar.
The Wikipedia article on racing thoughts implies that “flight of ideas” can happen in ADHD. I find this very difficult to believe. The racing thoughts of bipolar leapfrog all over the place and you get to the stage where you can’t explain what you’re thinking, cannot write it down, can’t read, can’t understand what people are saying, and so on… that’s not ADHD, but that’s pretty common in bipolar.