A Pain in the Energy Drain

First, I’d like to note that today’s post will be my 200th, which feels somewhat exciting (though it is nothing more than an imaginary milestone). Still, 200 posts feels like a lot, and even though the concept of this blog has sometimes fluctuated in my head I feel a bit proud to have stuck with writing here for 200 posts.

Aside from that, I would really like to address the energy drain. 

There are times when I am walking around, minding my own business, when suddenly it feels like the energy in my body liquifies and gushes out through my sneakers onto the asphalt and evaporates. Suddenly I’m stuck feeling like I am trying to walk through the ocean. My limbs are heavy and not quite as responsive (as if met with resistance), and it is as if every part of my body is sinking.

Maybe someone turned up the gravity intensity knob?

I was pretty happy to hear about the addition of fluctuating energy symptoms being propsed for the new version of the DSM (if you’re just joining us, that is the book that contains all of the criteria for psychiatric diagnoses in the USA), because originally bipolar disorder was just thought to be about mood. 

I’ve been getting increasingly upset about these energy drains, sometimes they last for a few minutes, other times for a couple hours. I can easily recognize that this awkward sluggish feeling is one that I’ve experienced in the throes of depression, but I also know there are times where the energy drain happens without any sort of mood fluctuation.

Are these pockets of physical depressive symptoms occurring on their own? Are they a sign of impending depression? Are they unrelated and simply created when my blood sugar crashes or when the caffeine wears off?

Many questions.

I just started tracking this phenomenon in an attempt to learn more about it. I am charting it on the same graph as my mood (and a handful of other things, pain, anxiety, etc.) so I can watch the full range of energy -both increases and decreases.

What I’ve found so far is that some days, my energy level remains level. Other days, I have fluctuations that don’t coincide with mood changes. And on other days, I see the fluctuations lining up with mood changes. When my mood changes, the energy change has (so far) changed within a 5-60 minute window (before or after) the mood change occurs.

So now I’m just looking at other factors, I am particularly interested in the energy shifts that are happening independent of mood changes. Of course, tracking this means paying attention to many other factors, when I’m eating, if I have caffeine, rigorous physical activity, etc.

I spoke to someone who also has bipolar disorder about it yesterday and they said they also experience energy shifts that appear independent of mood changes. At least, in the draining department.

Honestly, any increase in energy (even without an elevated mood) is something I’ve attributed to hypomania. Would it be safe to conclude that a decrease in energy may be related to depression, even when the mood doesn’t appear changed?


I am very interested in knowing if anyone else has these sorts of symptoms (energy fluctuation independent of mood change) or if mood changes are always present in the event of an energy fluctuation.

For me, these symptoms go beyond,

“I’m feeling sort of tired,”


“I’d like to sit down and rest a minute,”

The shifts are almost always very extreme, requiring something of a struggle to continue to my destination or prompting laying down with immediate sleep necessary after having been active (normally) only minutes earlier.

Sound familiar? Leave a comment, or shoot an email to host@thebipolarcuriousblog.com

14 responses to “A Pain in the Energy Drain

  1. I experience the energy fluctuations as well. Although, I’ve always attributed my sudden drain of energy to the 3 kids & working nights, so getting less than 7 hrs of sleep.

    But I also attribute any bursts of energy to a hypomanic episode trying to peek through. Either way, with less energy or more, I don’t have a noticeable change in mood. Nothing out of the norm, nothing I would label an episode.

  2. Congratulations on your 200th Post! That’s a fantastic achievement!

    I’ve also struggled with energy issues, feeling perpetually tired, losing energy etc. I’ve had periods where my mood has recovered and I have felt what feels like a “normal” healthy mood for me, the only thing lacking was the energy to really carry on with life properly. I was very surprised when my psychiatrist suggested that these persistent low energy levels were a lingering symptom of the depression. It unfortunately has been the most ongoing and persistent of all the symptoms that I have experienced and while I can go long periods before it seems to drag down my mood, it does inevitably take down everything else.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I have heard something similar, in regard to physical symptoms of depression remaining after psychological symptoms are alleviated. Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

  3. I agree with you, there is definitely an energy component to bipolar mood shifts. When I am in the midst of a dysphoric episode it feels like the energy is tearing me apart and I can’t release it fast enough. Then I inevitably crash, and the ensuing depression feels like extra gravity, pulling me underwater. Sometimes when the mood shift is not as severe, I just lose all energy and I have to sleep for way too long, maybe most of a weekend if my schedule allows. If not, I struggle to stay awake and feel like I am just dragging myself through the day. Unfortunately I am mostly depressive, so I rarely get the “positive” burst of energy that some people love so much.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I wish I could say I love that energy burst, but I don’t seem to get ones that are “fun” anymore. The level is always so out of proportion now that it feels much more uncomfortable than it does helpful because I can no longer sit or lie still.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. Woo Hoo! 200 posts is a great accomplishment! You should be very proud of yourself!

    I have those drains in energy exactly as you describe, but mine seem to be primarily independent of mood shifts. In fact, when I first started getting the feeling of trying to walk upright in a swimming pool of Jello was when I had mononucleosis (glandular fever).

    Over the years, (since 2001) I have attributed it to fibromyalgia. Of course, I think certain diseases tend to travel in packs. I have far too many conditions for me to think that is just the luck of my draw. I theorize that early trauma effected my immune system development along with genetic predisposition factors made a paved road, if you will, for certain types of disorders, etc.

    Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have a singular disease named after me!

    So while my energy drains are technically listed under the subheading of “fibro” on my Chart ‘o Mess that is my health, I would not discount that it could be in fact related to the bipolar disorder.

    My laundry list of health problems makes it difficult for doctors to treat per condition. Holistic treatment is of course better, but hard to come by in this country. Not to mention I distrust doctors in general.

    In fact, the energy issues could also be related to underlying thyroid issues, or the fact that I have a genetic blood disorder (complicated by the fact that I’ve had a menstrual cycle for a year and a half and am now anemic), or the migraines/mini-strokes I have. But I was also born with only one adrenal gland, so that may also be a factor.

    I know since taking the Cymbalta for the fibro, my energy levels have been a little more stable. Now sleep patterns are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, which are directly related to moods and cycles.

    Do you know if the new DSM is making a distinction between sleep and energy?

    When I am depressed, I sleep even with I am not truly tired. And when I am manic, I will also get technically tired, but not feel like I need sleep.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I think you are definitely right that there are many things that can be related to bipolar disorder that could be causing this problem too. I know my mother is diagnosed with fibro, and I have wondered for several years if I might have it as well, as I carry around a lot of unexplained pain. Like you, I have had a lot of different health problems, and that could make me more susceptible to these drains.

      I’m not sure about the sleep thing, thanks for your two cents though!

  5. Hurray for 200 posts!

    I’m with you on the energy thing. Except it mostly seems to go along with mood swings, and sometimes weather – hot sticky weather makes me feel slow and tired. I can tell when the depression is actually serious, not just by how long it lasts or how quickly it gets to severe stages, but also how heavy and paralyzed I feel physically. Continually exhausted, even with much more sleep than usual. It really contributes to feelings of hopelessness when I can’t get up the energy to take care of anything.

    BTW, the energy shift component is in the new DSM – hypo/mania definitions note that there should be an accompanying change in energy along with mood changes.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Weather is hard for me too. Here in Seattle I have the opposite problem, it is the cold/wet weather that makes me want to curl into a ball and stay curled until the thermometer hits 60.

      Yes ma’am, I’m glad it is there too. Honestly I don’t ever attribute my mood to a hypo/manic episode unless there is that change in energy… it is definitely the energy that makes it something beyond normal for me, at least at first!

  6. I also experience energy drain. I experience PTSD which has manifested in everything from psychosis to depression, but I find my energy drain comes from being sensory overstimulated. For example, I will feel the energy completely leave my body through my legs (like you described) when I enter a store that is crammed with “stuff”… my senses trying to take it all in and to determine what is threatening and what isn’t. People who experience mental illness are known to have latent inhibition which means we process stimuli that others would just quickly acknowledge as having no meaning to them. It makes us more aware of our environment–we see things other miss–but I find it quite taxing to my energy when I am assessing stimuli all the time–especially in busy, dynamic places.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Yes! I agree with you completely. I also have PTSD, but can remember having problems with overstimulation long before that. I have a really hard time shopping or at the airport because there is so much going on around me (and I think for me it has something to do with the fluorescent lighting too). Great point, thanks for commenting!

    • Really great point about processing stimuli! I have often felt that way, but have not had it attributed to mental illness before (gah, I am so uneducated about these things!). I feel like I am always pointing things out to people and getting upset by people who seem “oblivious.”

      I wonder if that means males with mental illness issues WILL see the milk in the fridge 😉

  7. I’ve only just found this page and this is so interesting! I have suffered with anxiety/depression in the past and still take a very low dose of antidepressant. I am not bipolar but I too suffer these huge energy fluctuations. In fact, I now know that if I have a very active energetic day that the next will often be a wipe out. For instance, two days ago and today I feel as though I can barely put one foot in front of the other. Yesterday, I felt fine and was full of energy. On the off days, I can begin to feel quite anxious but it is really difficult to decide whether the anxiety causes the energy drain or the other way round.
    The stimuli thing is interesting too. I tend to think that many people with mental health issues are over-sensitive to stimuli and when I get anxious it goes through the roof and it’s exhausting. Lack of sleep definitely exacerbates this. Incidentally, a few weeks ago I dramatically reduced my sugar intake to try and address the energy thing in case it was a purely physical problem. Apparently not, but at least I’m shifting a few pounds 🙂

    • Interesting! I have seriously cut down on sugar as well (with the same hope) but didn’t notice a difference in energy fluctuations either. Overstimulation can definitely cause those energy drains for me, but I don’t know that I’ve necessarily considered anxiety specifically contributing to the energy drains. I will have to take a closer look at that, I have been keeping a chart of when the fluctuations occur (as well as a bunch of other things, anxiety included) and I will be sure to pay closer attention to my anxiety levels when they happen!

      Thanks for sharing!

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