Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Most people with bipolar disorder are familiar with the concept of hypomania. It is those fun periods where you have more energy, feel great, the creative juices are flowing, and taking on the world seems like a simple task.

Less commonly known is that hypomania has two faces. Euphoric hypomania (which is the “fun” state described above) and the much more ugly, dysphoric hypomania.

I’ve been hitting a brick wall when it comes to describing the concept of dysphoric hypomania, beyond the fact that it is something of a mixed state. The concept seems simple enough -notably a combination of manic or hypomanic symptoms as well as depressive symptoms, but I’ve been at a loss when it comes to describing what it looks like and how it feels.

I’ve heard words like irritable and agitated used a lot in conjunction with the description of this state, and it occurred to me that these words seem to be descriptors that come from viewing this state from the outside. They fit what I experience to some extent, but they don’t paint a very accurate picture of the sorts of thoughts and compulsions that come with this dangerous territory.

Thankfully (HA) I have the opportunity to experience this thing, this group of what people consider “conflicting” symptoms on a rotating basis, and my episodes are of such a nature that if I’m lucky, it’ll happen for a couple of hours, or half a day, and be gone. That isn’t always the case, but when I’m lucky my symptoms occur in bite-sized chunks that I am beginning to be able to wrap my head around.

So when crazy girlfriend made an appearance last night, I wanted to grab the opportunity to get some genuine descriptions about what was going on.

For those of you who don’t know, crazy girlfriend is my pet name for this blurred, extreme version of myself that is just how she sounds. She exhibits the traits of what you (or I, anyway) would expect from someone who is a “crazy girlfriend”. She is irrational and rather dangerous, moreso than I expected when I had her jot down this list of what was going on in that dysphoric hypomanic state last night.

I’m going to leave this laundry list of symptoms pretty much as it was written last night.

Crazy Girlfriend:

  • There is noise. Insane noise. A high-pitched whine or ringing that becomes present over all other noise at this time. Sometimes it is a whooshing, but it is always unpleasant.
  • I want to throw fits. Serious throwing-things, yelling, stomping on the floor, even just laying on the ground flailing my arms and legs around. A full-on childish fit. 
  • Crushing souls. I want to be a bully, I want to push people around. Be rude, break hearts, disappoint on purpose, screw over, and destroy the dreams of everyone. I want to instigate cruel and unusual punishment.
  • I want to destroy everything good in my life. Rip apart relationships, trash everything I own, blow all of the money I have, and fuck up my job. Because I want to and it feels good.
  • This is usually when self-harm seems like a grand idea. Combine the desire for destruction with the urge to throw crazy fits and that is where the concept of self-harm is usually birthed for me.
  • I become suspicious of everyone, and feel distanced from others because of my current point of view not lining up with theirs. There is paranoia, believing my boss doesn’t like me anymore, believing my boyfriend doesn’t like me anymore. It can get bad enough that I think they are trying to hurt me or get me fired.
  • There is anger. Amazing amounts of anger. And cruelty. And malevolence. I might even go so far as to call it malignity.
  • In addition to the anger, there is the feeling that all actions are pointless, which borders on some kind of sadness. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, because the future doesn’t matter and does not exist. Only the present exists, immediacy and self-centered destruction. There are no consequences in this place, only mayhem.

It is like being that kid that stomps on another kid’s lego castle.

If there was ever such thing as an evil twin, this person would be mine. These feelings and compulsions can be completely engulfing, and I find that I can no longer relate to my usual self, to the point where I feel like someone else entirely.

This group of feelings is the reason biggest reason I never want to have children.  I become the most heinous, terrible person and this place has compelled me to do a lot of just plain awful things. I can’t even tell you what I’ve done, I don’t know that I feel willing to commit any of those atrocities to the permanence of the interwebs.

So that is crazy girlfriend in a nutshell.

However, I just wanted to add that this is not the only combination of symptoms I have in something that is a potential “mixed state”. There are other versions I experience from time to time, including one where I feel very much like I’m crawling out of my skin and the feeling is so intense I can barely sit still. The only time the awkward pain is pushed to the back of my mind is when I’m moving, so I wind up writhing my way around my apartment. The sensation is so extreme and unpleasant I can easily say that it is my least favorite state to be in, period.

For me, depression is agonizing… but usually I’m not in nearly the amount of risk I am in while experiencing a mixed episode. At any given time, the worst parts of depression are paired with the worst parts of mania or hypomania, and the result is an intensely uncomfortable and unruly character. The feelings themselves feel like cruel and unusual punishment, and the result is that I tend to turn around and dole that out to others.

So call that irritability if you want, but it feels like a whole lot more to me.

18 responses to “Cruel and Unusual Punishment

  1. Cabin Fever with co-morbid Agoraphobia.
    Claustrophobia while sitting next to the emergency exit at 37,000 feet.
    Reading out-loud a beautiful piece of prose, with amazing annunciation and tonality, taking an English final.
    Who says you can’t make omelets from hard-boiled eggs, I’ll show them. what do they know anyway.
    If I can just……

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Wow that was a powerful post to read & I’m somewhat annoyed at myself for typing wow 🙂

    I agree what you just posted goes way beyond irritability. I won’t claim to fully understand what you go through, as I don’t think my own bipolar is that extreme, but I do find your strength inspirational. Hope the count down is going well.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Thanks Graham,

      I’m glad to hear you haven’t experienced something like this, as it has led to me making a real mess of things at times! I’m lucky when I can stifle it enough that just “irritability” is what shines through.

      The count has reached zero, however it’ll probably be a couple of days before I can bob back into a range of normalcy. I’m just glad at this point for that journey to finally be beginning.

  3. Hi Sarah,
    I agree with Graham above that you have a remarkable talent for conveying your thoughts into the written word.
    As you know, my own “diagnosis” of cyclothymia is relatively recent, and I’m still skeptical about the whole process. Interestingly, for me, it’s those days when I have no clue where to place the dot on the mood diary that concern me the most, because I feel so high and buzzing, but so low at the same time. It happened twice last month, so for the sake of fairness I put one occasion’s dot in the “very high” box and the next occasion’s dot in the “very low” box.
    Apparently, cyclothymia is ruled out if there is evidence of “mixed episodes” – so I’m buggered if I know what’s going on.
    I can relate to the “crawling” and “writhing” around the room thing too, because more recently I get this overwhelming compulsion to sit on the floor/pavement when my head fills with noise. The writhing, I suppose, is a potentially comical looking (from the outside) attempt to resist the compulsion on my part.

    And you’re right – irritability and agitation are understatements.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I have similar issues with my mood charting and have just stared splitting the line on my chart (I do a 24 hour daily chart, I’ll have more info on that next week for CHART WEEK) to go through both the high and low points at the same time. I am a little bit at a loss for anything else to do in those situations!

      Also, from what I’ve been told, cyclothymic-like episodes can accompany typical bipolar episodes, or episodes of bipolar level severity (though not duration) can happen in a cyclothymic timeline. At that point, it morphs into bipolar disorder with cyclothymic features (pretty much just a combination of the two). Though I don’t really know my current diagnosis in that area, I have a suspicion that might be the case for me. It is tricky business, I know I also have a lot of seemingly contradictory symptoms going on, but there are so many more types of episodes and experiences that don’t classify as anything in particular that there has to be a “Not Otherwise Specified” category to catch them all.

      I agree with you entirely about the writhing. It is practically all I can do to keep from throwing one of those fits I mentioned.


  4. It was only today that I was fortunate enough to find your blog. Wonderful flow and beautifully exposed. The courage and ease with which you discuss dark times and places is nothing short of moving. You’re very brave.

    I am crazy girlfriend. On a seemingly endless journey of cause and effect. Perhaps not otherwise specified?

    Thanks for doing what you’re doing. Your doing it well. Ohemgee.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Thanks for your comment, you know I was having a handful of second thoughts about this one after posting it… I guess I wasn’t expecting so many people to jump back, heads a’ shaking, arms a’ waving, saying, “woah there!” Sometimes I forget that the skeletons in my closet can be shocking, having lived with them (and made them far less intimidating by dressing them up and having tea parties) for so long.

      I’m glad you could appreciate it, though I’m not sure glad is the word I’d use in pairing crazy girlfriend with anyone who has experienced something similar. An unfortunate and wild ride, to be sure.

      Thanks for coming by!

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  6. Jill McKenzie

    I believe I’ve experienced this type of mania. More than once. The worst was last year. I had a major melt down at work. I was agitated all weekend. Monday my husband upset me over something stupid. I said screw it all, I quit. I took a lot of meds and drank some wine. I wound up in the psychiatric unit. When I’m not hyper or agitated I’m really depressed. The weight of it is so great I feel I cannot bare it. Sometimes I cycle back and and forth between extreme agitation and depression. I don’t have a diagnosis yet. I mentioned this to my therapist. She looked back in my record and sees a pattern. I have to do a sleep journal. Also what triggers what. Once that is done it will be reviewed with my psychiatrist. This piece was very enlightening. Do you always have trouble sleeping? Just curious. Thank you

  7. just somebody

    Thank you so much for sharing this!! I’ve been having a really hard time figuring out exactly how I feel, and your crazy girlfriend list exactly describes me right now. I am the crazy girlfriend. (Fun fact, I had a Freudian slip writing that… my fingers typed “crazy girlfright”.) It’s really rather frightening but knowing why I feel this way will help me control myself… hopefully. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, I just slipped into the crazy girlfriend place a couple days ago, and being aware of it helped me not take it out on others. Hopefully that awareness helps you too!

  8. Pingback: Bipolar Relationships; Curious and Curiouser | bi[polar] curious

  9. Nobody of significance

    Oh my god, thank you!

    I was diagnosed recently, after years and years of an incorrect diagnosis, incorrect treatment and incorrect medication. Needless to say I wasn’t going well. Then finally this happened! Bipolar II, with some pretty serious anxiety issues to deal with. At first I was relieved, but they warned me that recognising my first hypomanic state could be confusing, and my god it was! I was expecting no sleep, partying, socialising, and fun! Instead I went mad. I trolled the internet desperately searching for anyone that understood, and no one quite got it. I have never felt more alone in my life, until I just stumbled upon this. Finally, someone that can put into words the shit that is going through my head. I finally feel like someone gets it! This is quite exciting.

  10. I also want to thank you for opening up and sharing this. I am 32 yr old female and haven’t really been diagnosed with anything yet (heading to a new psychologist this week) but i feel like i am starting to understand so much more about what i have been dealing with for years. I am also crazy girlfriend – the noise, the fits, the bully, destruction, soul crushing, anger, suspicion, paranoia..almost everything you said is me.
    I just had an episode this past weekend and my husband and I nearly broke up this time. Luckily he is extremely calm and patient and loves me so much. I broke down and apologized yesterday…thinking of all the horrible things I’ve said to him…while throwing random items around our house. wow – out of control.
    It felt like it had been building for a while….with some happiness mixed in some days and then BAM.
    I have these extreme crazy girlfriend episodes several times a year. It seems worse over the winter months as I live in a very wintery climate. I almost have them at work sometimes or in public, but manage to have some control and only let completely loose at home. I also definitely have some sort of anxiety issue. can’t wait to see a psychologist actually.

    Sorry for going on…I just really wanted to thank you for making me feel not alone right now…that is huge.

    • I’m happy to make you feel less alone, I know how volatile the “crazy girlfriend” feeling can be (I’ve been experiencing it myself lately). Hang in there, and good for you for going to see a psychologist!

  11. Hey Sarah,

    Your blog is so moving to me. I have Bipolar II with heavy anxiety, and cycle between dysphoric mania, mixed states, and major depression. I’m pretty sure we’re the same person… haha because I actually have every kind of symptom that you have in those states. Every freaking one. I have found myself physically attacking my loved ones, without even knowing how I got there. Many times the rage attacks are so extreme I become suicidal during them due to hating myself and the behaviors I exhibit. I have wanted and come extremely close to crashing my car. Sometimes I punch myself in the face until I am bloody and incoherent. Often, I would just writhe on the floor, cursing everyone who says “everything happens for a reason”, any idea of a sentient, omnipotent God that is SO EVIL, and pounding my fists on the ground. I lost my voice a couple of times due to screaming for hours and hours. The neighbors have called the police on my house, thinking I was being violently murdered, listening to the prolonged evil screams. Ripping my room to shreds has definitely occurred more than a few times. I know this might be hard to read, but you are not alone in the severity of your rage during this dysphoric hypomania.

    Mixed states are a whole other breed of terrible. Let’s agree that we are both in imminent danger while experiencing them. Antidepressants incite both mixed states, and extreme hypomania bordering on true mania. The only drug I have found that has helped me is Lamictal at 400mg/day. I also take 1800mg/day of Gabapentin to ease anxiety and rage/guilt at myself for feeling this way. Things in my life have truly changed for the better since being stabilized on the medication. The mood swings are much gentler and slower, so I can anticipate them better, and prepare myself and those around me. Six months ago, I was incapable of a job, school, and even holding down any type of relationship with anyone. Since then, I am a somewhat productive and slightly more normal human being.

    I wish you the best of luck in finding an easier way to live with this terrible, terrible disease. Your post was written around two years ago. Hopefully you have found some relief in that time. I’m not sure I’d still be alive if I hadn’t been medicated so heavily, combined with two hours of therapy a week. May the crazy girlfriend be at bay, for as long as possible. When she comes back, please kick her ass out of your life as soon as possible. Nobody deserves this. You seem like a very sensitive, and intelligent woman. It’s a fucking shame that you have to suffer.

    Best of luck,

  12. Pingback: One Good (Manic) Turn Deserves Another | bi[polar] curious

  13. Oh My Goodness… You just described what I struggle to even understand! I just found your blog, I haven’t been diagnosed as of yet (appointments this week) but there’s a suspicion its hypomania. For years it was thought I had depression, treated for depression and at times was asked by many if I had ADHD because of my highly excitable high energy persona. The more I’ve researched bipolar & hypomania the more I recognise the symptoms. What you described I experienced last night, I have no self control and flung my 3 loads of clean washing around my house in a rage, turned my handbag up side and tipped the contents all over the floor, threw a number items around, then crashed on my bed in exhaustion sobbing on and off! I’m currently on anti-depressants but as we have found out, there not really working! Thank you for sharing how you feel and what you go through, I’m totally a crazy girlfriend too (thank goodness I’m currently single lol, mind you the poor guy I’m “chasing” keeps txting even after I let a little crazy out, he may be a keeper 😉)
    Suzette 😘

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