My friend Charlotte asked me to write about my experience with mania.
By “friend,” I mean she reads my posts and comments on them, but she lives on the other side of the world and I’ve never met her (Hi Charlotte!). The internet is pretty cool like that, huh? Anyway, disclaimer about this post: I can only write about my own experiences, and I in no way am trying to diagnose anyone or say, “You probably have bipolar disorder if…” I have no idea. Go ask my psychiatrist friend from high school who went to school for a zillion years to be able to actually know these kinds of things (Hi Sarah!).
Okay, enough with the shout-outs. Here’s what I’ve got for you:
I have been diagnosed with bipolar II, which presents with episodes of depression and hypomania. This is different from full mania. Hypomania is scary enough, though. I mean, it’s a little awesome at the time, but also completely terrifying. Confused yet? Try living it.
I think the biggest, most objective way for me to notice a hypomanic episode is to notice that I need barely any sleep. This past summer (before my diagnosis), I went to Asia. I flew through thirteen time zones, which is a hugely bad idea for people with bipolar disorder. I didn’t know at the time that I had the disorder, so I didn’t know to look out for this. Upsetting a sleep schedule can trigger a manic episode, and there’s not a much better way to “upset a sleep schedule” than flying through thirteen time zones. Ugh. Anyway, when I got to Asia, I basically didn’t sleep. Going back through my texts after my diagnosis, things started to make sense that were completely baffling at the time. I texted my husband things such as, “I’ve gotten four hours of sleep in the past forty-eight hours, but I’m totally not tired. I’m going to go explore the city. I tried to sleep, but I can’t.”
Also, everything sounded like a good idea. When I was in South Korea, my cousin asked if I wanted to go mountain climbing. I hadn’t slept at ALL the night before, not even five minutes, but when he asked me that I said, “Yeah, sounds like an awesome idea!” and proceeded to go on an eight hour rock climbing excursion with rock picks and climbing ropes and such. It was crazy, but it sounded like a great idea at the time. I went with no equipment. Some Korean guys bailed me out and let me use some of theirs. I’m lucky I didn’t die. According to me, though, why would I need equipment? I could totally do that with no equipment! (*facepalm*)
During this same episode (episodes can last for days or for weeks, which this one did), I decided that you know what sounds like a good idea? Smoking! Ummm… I realize that you don’t know me that well, but that is COMPLETELY out of character for me. I’m definitely a “good life choices” kind of girl (to the point of being occasionally pretentious…I’m working on it). Doing out-of-character things is another symptom of a hypomanic episode. I found myself smoking cigarettes off of a balcony in Seoul and simultaneously thinking, “This is awesome” and also, “What on EARTH I doing right now?!” It’s like the usual part of your brain that sends up “this is a bad idea” red flags is totally disabled. Like the guy who holds that red flag is standing about five football fields away on a foggy day, and he’s waving that red flag with all of his might but you’re like, “Is this actually a bad idea? I can’t remember…hmmmm….it’s probably fine.”
I was extremely confident throughout this entire episode (as is common with most hypomanic epidsodes). This in itself is strange, as I’m usually quite a bit more reserved and unsure of myself. Throughout this time, though, I thought, “I am so awesome – of course I know what I’m doing.” I met up with a group of teachers in Japan (that’s the reason I went over there in the first place…to meet up with these teachers and study Japan’s education system). I’m sorry to say that I was quite a bit more flirtatious than I should have been with the guys on this trip. I’m not even sure if there is a line for “appropriately flirtatious” when one is married, but if there is a line then I definitely crossed it. The guy waving the red flag five football fields away in a fog finally threw down his flag and walked away. It was pointless. Poor guy…my bad.
Believe it or not, overly sexualized and promiscuous behavior is another symptom of hypomania (I’m not making this stuff up. Look it up. I didn’t believe it either). There was this one guy in particular…the suave playboy of the group…we’ll call him J. I ran into some trouble with J. See, even though I was being flirty, I made it clear that I was married and didn’t want any sort of Asian fling with anyone on this trip. I was just having fun. J was being pretty flirty back with me, and I literally said, “Seriously…don’t try anything. If you try to kiss me I’ll be TICKED, because I’m really for real married, I love my husband, and I’m not doing anything with you.” In J’s mind, I’m pretty sure that translated to something along the lines of “Look! A challenge!” He wouldn’t let it go. Suffice it to say, he didn’t stop trying to get me into bed with him for the rest of the trip. At one point we were in an elevator together, and he literally pushed me up against the side of the elevator and tried to make out with me. I pushed him off and said, “Ahhhh! No! I SAID NO!” but apparently that didn’t really work either. He still liked me. He kept trying. As I mentioned, he was a playboy. I hate to put a stereotype on anyone, but I really think it’s guys like him who make that stereotype what it is. He had been with a lot of women, he always knew exactly what to say to get what he wanted, and I think he was really rattled by someone who he couldn’t get to say yes. Even though, you know, he had a fiancee back at home in America. He’s a quality man, ladies and gentlemen.
I think my experience with J is what scared me most about myself during this episode. My flirtatious behavior at the beginning of the trip seemed really unlike me, but then also I found myself with a crush on this J character, even though he’s a scum-of-the-earth kind of guy. It was very strange. I knew I shouldn’t like him, but I think there’s a part of me that liked being pursued and borderline worshiped. And really, who wouldn’t like that? I kept telling him no, but I hated the fact that deep down I loved the attention, and I think I really liked him. I should be a bit more stable in myself and in my marriage to not let a guy like that shake me up, you know? It scared me that I let him keep talking to me. It scared me that I didn’t hate him. He never did get me to kiss him or do anything with him physically (ha, I win), but psychologically that whole situation had me pretty messed up. It was scary. At one point J told me he liked the way I did my hair that day, and I said, “Thanks. I’ve never done it this way before.” He said, “Really? Like, never in your life?” I said, “Yes. Never in my life. It’s becoming a common theme for me in the past few weeks…” He asked what I meant, but I didn’t tell him. I didn’t know how to explain it myself. I just knew it was scary. I felt out of control.
I was still hypomanic for a little while after this trip, but then I crashed into a super deep depression. I think this is partly because depression tends to follow any type of manic episode, but I do wonder if maybe that’s because once someone comes off of a manic episode, they have to turn around, look at what they’ve done, and say, “WHAT DID I DO?!” I’m lucky the aforementioned situations didn’t end worse than they did, but they still messed me up. I take full responsibility for my actions during this time, but it’s a bit tricky when a psychiatrist tells me, “You couldn’t really help it…you were in a hypomanic state.” Like I was drunk and I’m supposed to blame it on the alcohol, except people get drunk on purpose. I’m not bipolar on purpose. I would rather take full responsibility, because anything less than that means that it’s not totally in my control and it might happen again. I am not okay with that.
Anyway, that’s a summary of my most recent hypomanic episode. Take it for what it is, and nothing more. It’s only my experience. I will say that one misconception that bothers me about bipolar disorder is that people think it just means you’re in a really good mood and then suddenly really irritable and in a bad mood, like PMS on steroids or something. As far as my specific type of bipolar disorder goes, that’s not true for me. Episodes last an excruciatingly long time. Depressive episodes can last months. Hypomanic episodes can last weeks. Neither are good for me (even if hypomania might feel like it makes perfect sense at the time). I’m currently trying to stabilize toward somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Fingers crossed that I’m able to pack up my baggage, move into that place, and live there for a long, long time.