Category Archives: Hypomania

PokéMania

I remember waking up early on a Saturday morning before my parents were awake to play Duck Hunt on the NES as a child. I wouldn’t call that my introduction gaming induced mania, but it certainly had me hooked on gaming.

By the time I was a teenager and my mood had begun to destabilize (even though I didn’t know it was bipolar disorder at the time) I found that the power I felt beating my teenage boyfriend at Mario Kart 64 on vs. mode 82 times in a row was obviously feeding something, and I didn’t quite know what it was or how to stop it -but then again I didn’t want to. It felt incredible.

By the time Everquest was in full throttle in the early 2000’s I was able to limp our computer and dial-up to a place where I could play it, and I discovered some very important things.

  1. I didn’t want to stop. Not to pee, not to eat, not to shower. Heaven forbid any of my family members needed to make a phone call, that was outrageous.
  2. The main reason I didn’t want to stop was because of how miserably depressed I felt in my daily life, and when I played Everquest I found myself feeling like a million dollars.
  3. Constantly choosing the sleepless mania of gaming and feeling good also seemed to have negative consequences in all other aspects of my life, but for a while I was feeling far too great to care.

After that blew up in my face I went years without playing another substantial game, I swore off of anything more rigorous than Wii bowling or Zelda. I hadn’t really displayed the ability to make good choices when engrossed in a fantasy world (particularly a social one) so I figured it would be best to let it lie.

But then, as an adult, I started dating a gamer. I started out trying to be careful, but before long I was being swept up by the Xbox 360 and then the Xbox One, feeling overwhelmingly tempted to stay up until 3 am because, well, everyone else was.

I wish I could say that the release of Pokémon Go this week didn’t rattle me, but the original debut of Pokémon landed right in the age-range sweet spot for my sister and I the first time around. We played the games, we watched the show, and our binder full of cards probably weighed a metric ton.

I knew it might be a slippery slope for me, but I had an easy out. With a windows phone I couldn’t download the Pokémon Go app, and my brand loyalty to Microsoft started out feeling like a blessing until I was sucked down into a vortex of depression. After two days of not being able to play the game everyone else around me seemed to be playing I felt miserable, and the safety of going without this game somehow transformed into a wretched despair over missing something potentially profound.

That night I couldn’t sleep, I could hardly eat breakfast, and as soon as the clock struck nine I was out the door headed to the mall. Before I had time to think, before I had time to react, really, I’d signed up for a brand new phone and spent the next eight hours setting it up so I could play Pokémon Go.

In hindsight it is hard to say if manically buying a new phone to play a Pokémon game is more or less embarrassing than last week’s manic interlude (after all, catching socially acceptable pretend creatures is probably less alienating to people on the street than collecting the dead corpses of real ones) but after the jolting, humming, rush of ecstasy subsided a day or two later I’ve been able to be a little more objective.

After spending the last five years getting to know my brand of bipolar disorder intimately and getting a grip on some of the things that trigger it for me I think I’m able to do a better job of regulating something I know can amp me up if I’m not careful. I intend to follow all of the rules I’ve set for myself playing any videogames in order to avoid issues with triggering hypomania and mania, things like:

  • No games after 10 pm (11 at the latest on weekends). Part of the reason games can trigger mania for me is that I lose track of time, and without having a set time in place for me to detach myself from the games and work on winding down before bedtime I wont be able to sleep. I’ve found that anything after 11 (and I try to be safe and stick to 10 pm) only makes me more alert and is huge for triggering insomnia for me. Guess what? Insomnia breeds mania!
  • Play at set times. I like to have a routine, to have structure in my day to make me feel less useless (since I’m just at home alone most days). My boyfriend and I play Xbox in the evening after dinner before we watch tv and I try to limit my Xbox time to that window (even if I am not always successful). Likewise I’m trying to limit Pokémon time to specific times of day (lunch time, walking home from an appointment (not to it or I’m likely to lose track of time), waiting for the bus, etc).
  • Limit my interaction with others. Ok, this might sound odd, but if I am starting to feel amped up and then I begin talking to other players who are equally amped up, I can easily become hypomanic or manic. Being aware of my mood state before interacting with people online or in person has been really important to help me understand how much I should interact and when to just be silent.
  • Food Food Food Food. I need to eat, and I need to eat more than candy and chocolate. I have to keep eating on my regular schedule, and not settle for eating a few handfulls of stale fruit loops becuase I am not willing to walk away from a game. If I don’t eat my mood gets all out of whack, and it doesn’t always mean a date with hypomania but that is one of the (less sucky) outcomes that could occur. Limiting caffeine is also huge, it has also triggered hypomania for me in the past as well as insomnia if I have any too late in the day.

As the case has been with everything lately, I’m working hard to try and find a sense of balance in as many areas of my life as possible. I want to be able to enjoy the things I want to enjoy (like catching them Pokémons) while remaining as stable as I can. It can be a tough nut to crack, but I’m hopeful that a little extra effort I can do it.

Big Change Bringing Optimism; 10 Years in Seattle

Today is my ten year anniversary of the day I moved to Seattle to go to art school.

The funny thing is that moving here was never something I aspired to, in fact I thought the city was dirty and full of all kinds of sad and frightening things. Frankly, I really just think I got lucky when my depressive stint in a cold house in the middle of the woods on an island was interrupted by a phone call from the school with an open invitation to come down.

I already had been to college once and dropped out after a mixed/manic episode and I was already familiar with the burden of student loans. Still, the offer was too tempting to resist, and swapping the dark and quiet island for loud, bright city streets also meant swapping my depression for hypomania.

The sudden shift in my emotional state taught me a few things, even though it was something I really didn’t understand at the time. Learning that the excitement and insomnia that came with being in new places made me feel quite spectacular, and that my depression could temporarily be outrun led to a lot of attempts to shift gears and outrun that depression in later years. Unfortunately no matter where I ran, it always managed to catch up with me.

The biggest thing I remember about this day ten years ago was laying in bed awake trying to sleep while the streetlight poured in and the fire station only three blocks away emitted what seemed to be a constant siren. It felt like the epitome of the opposite of where I had come from and it took several sleepless days for me to become tired enough to sleep through it.

This change, though not one I expected, coming to me with all its sense of newness and opportunity, produced a two year period of almost uninterrupted hypomania (with the exceptions of a few mixed and manic nights), something I have not experienced since. While I’ve learned that trying to outrun depression is something that acts as a temporary fix for a more permanent problem I face, knowing that opportunities for growth are something that can help me rise above it (even just temporarily) has been wildly invaluable.

And the city? A big portion of the original area downtown where I moved has been gentrified, and the run-down convenience stores and bars have been replaced with shiny new condos and rustic taprooms. A lot of the homeless population has moved on to other parts of the city, replaced by people who work in technology often having more money than they know what to do with. Sometimes it is strange to me to think of the way the neighborhood used to be with fondness and find myself feeling like the distrust I have for this shiny new version trumps any negative feelings I had about the dirtiness and sadness of the way things used to be. At least before I felt like the city was being real and honest, instead of trying to hide the unfortunate business of homelessness and those of us who still live from paycheck to paycheck.

The reality is that the city I moved to ten years ago has become an entirely different city, and while I feel lucky to have lived there in a time where it was a place I really did feel at home, it has changed as much as I have.

At any rate, there is a dream of the next place, wherever it is. I don’t know how long it will be before fate comes knocking and I find myself terrified by how dark and quiet it is while I am trying to sleep.

In the meantime, thank you Seattle for 10 years.

Is That What Color it is Supposed to Be?!?

Fall has landed. Cool crisp air here with clear skies, crunchy leaves on the sidewalk, and… oh, yes. Hypomania.

Something about fall makes me feel excitement, energetic, and purposeful.  Only, you know. Times 10.

I have pondered why this happens, and I can’t rule out the weather. The temperature finally reaches a level where I feel comfortable here in Seattle, but more than that I also wonder the message that fall brings.

Winter is coming!

We don’t get much snow here in the emerald city but it can go for months at a time without a dry day. My instinct is always to hunker down in constant pajamas, gnawing on a pot roast watching my favorite movies on a loop… and fall is the last opportunity I have to get out. To get things done. A last jolt of energy before the power plant inside me shuts off for the winter.

Naturally this means I am creating lists of lists and doing far too much.

I know the danger that hypomania precedes but it is almost a relief to have it, even if just for a little while. I am monitoring my sleep carefully to avoid this energy lifting me off the ground like a hot air balloon swiftly into full-blown mania.

I haven’t had much hypomania the last year or so, only tiny blips of it. A few hours, maybe, at a time. Needless to say, the subsequent resulting mood has been depression, so when I started lunch yesterday and looked down to notice I hadn’t swept my kitchen floor since moving in over a year earlier, I dropped what I was doing to sweep it…

…only to realize the floor looked a little dirty under the crumbs and dog hair. Obviously I hadn’t mopped it in over a year either, and judging by the rest of the place it is debatable that it had been mopped before moving in either.

So I mopped. I mopped, and continued to mop until the floor became a color I had not encountered.

Wait, is that what color it is supposed to be?!?

At any rate, any amount of motivation is a welcome change. “Crazy Girlfriend” made a guest appearance about a week ago and I can tell you that the results were not good. Any singing or dancing I can do now on my own behalf is very seriously needed, and having the energy and motivation to complete even a few simple (much needed) tasks can hopefully help me balance out the months of inactivity.

the mania/insomnia symbiosis

I am no stranger to insomnia. I’ve experienced the overactive brain induced insomnia, the straight up fear and adrenaline based kind (airplanes are notorious for producing that for me), even insomnia formed by a series of horrible nightmares and my body and mind developing a fear of sleeping.

Typically, though, the type of insomnia that tends to really sneak up on me (and especially in the summer) is the kind where I’ve missed my sleep window and can’t reclaim it.

My energy level is very rarely a straight line, it is more often a series of peaks and valleys, and their intensity seems to be associated with my mood swings, diet, and anxiety or excitement, among other things. I have found that for my situation, going to sleep in the evening at the first sign of tiredness has typically been the only way for me to ensure I get to sleep. The problem is that this energy trough might occur at 6 pm (right after I’ve eaten dinner) and the best case scenario would put me in a position to wake up the next morning at 6 am. Once that energy lull passes, I can find myself wide awake again -thus unable to sleep.

I’ve always needed a lot of sleep. More than most people. 12 hours tends to leave me in the best emotional position the next morning, but 10 hours can be manageable.

Missing my sleep window because of anxiety or outside forces (loud neighbors, hot apartment, unfavorable reactions to medications, etc.) might mean I only get 7 hours, sometimes less. That might be sustainable for a day or two, but the longer I go without sleep, the more symptoms of mania I begin to acquire. The more symptoms of mania (even hypomania) I acquire, the less likely I am to be able to sleep the next night.

This fuel might be racing thoughts, or a huge spike in energy, or euphoria (where feeling good seems to counteract the idea of sleeping) among others. Regardless, these traits begin to mix with an increasing fog that sets in from insomnia. My actions start to feel like they matter less, since the fog distorts any of the negative consequences that might be on the horizon… leading to impulsive and relatively irrational decision making. That poor decision making might include missing my next sleep window, when one (rarely, with hypo/mania) occurs.

Keeping my mood under control begins to feel less important, as my sudden frequent crying spells also begin to alternate with fits of hysterical laughter can’t contain… and though there is an audience at the grocery store as I have a laughing fit so severe I am crying and sitting on the floor, it just makes me laugh harder because their concerned faces look increasingly hilarious to me.

Insomnia makes me feel like I am doing a better job of managing my mood swings even though I have had several outside opinions that this idea is not true. While I definitely become more reactive and my swings can land in rapid succession (as they do normally for me, many in a day) my perspective on this situation varies largely from an outside opinion. An outsider might argue I am more difficult to manage (since my brain seems too tiered to bother with trying to negate my impulses triggered by mood swings… well, and the fact that I begin to express everything that crosses my mind, even to strangers) but the euphoria I experience makes me feel that I am doing a great job of taking care of myself, and the fog that has come from not sleeping makes every moment that isn’t the present seem long gone. Out of sight, out of mind.

Ultimately, I find that insomnia may not be the primary trigger of mania on all of the occasions that I experience it, but it does typically perpetuate manic and hypomanic symptoms for me in a symbiotic way.

The less I sleep, the more manic I become.

The more manic I become, the less I sleep.

 

Summer; Seattle’s Hypomania

Happy Monday! The first thing I want to mention is that things have gotten rather stressful in the span of a matter of the last couple weeks, and that is partially why I have had such a hard time updating (and I’m thinking about last week specifically). Of course, I know you’ve all been there!

It is kind of funny to me how the seasons in Seattle can be such a catalyst for the way bipolar disorder operates for me and many of the people I know. The majority of the year is spent in darkness here and (no surprise) rain, which means there is a big chunk of time spent in depression.

As soon as the summer hits (transitioning from June to July, August, and September) everyone is out in full force. Events are scheduled for every weekend day (and some week days) until the better part of September so that we can fully take advantage of the nice weather.

(Fully take advantage of the nice weather, or fully take advantage of the increased mood and energy that comes with sunshine? Eh? Eh?)

I’m sure it is a little of both.

So my schedule has jumped from occupying myself as much as possible to get through the winter to an explosion of parties, parades, festivals, weddings, and you name it. Frankly, if I were to coin any place as one that operates similarly to bipolar disorder (or at least bipolar type 2) it would be here.

You would think this system would be perfect for me, and in a sense when I was younger it was. Having a chance to “make up time” in the summer for everything I lost during the winter is often how I operate when blessed with a stretch of hypomania after a long depression.

These days though, my cycling is ten times as fast. I can have four (or more) episodes or mood shifts in a month. I don’t find myself blessed with the energy and great mood needed to take on an event a day anymore, instead my mood is coming at me more like an unpredictable jazz riff. It can make the weather and “fun” a bit bittersweet, because I can’t saddle it and ride it through the fall.

Likewise, depression is a bit different for me in the summer, and the sense of being overwhelmed is often met with desperation that is fueled by wanting desperately to be around people (hello codependency) instead of isolation.

At this point? I am definitely overwhelmed, but I don’t plan on reading too much into it; that is a feeling that could change any second. I’m also trying not to look directly into the (completely scribbled) calendar and opting to attempt to take things one day at a time.

Goodbye rain, hello world!

Bypassing the Mood-Swing Middle Ground

This has been a particularly weird week for me, and I don’t know exactly what is to blame at this point. It could be the weather (overcast half the day, sunny the rest), it could be the time of year (things get rather busy in the summer, after all), it could even be the quetiapine (though that is something I intend to explore a little more next week).

In any case, I’ve been experiencing a distinct reduction in the amount of middle-ground I normally experience with my bipolar mood fluctuations. Let me explain.

Normally, for me, I can cycle extremely rapidly (more than one mood swing in a day, sometimes more than one kind of mood swing in a day) in addition to having the more typical drawn-out episodes that last days, weeks, or months. Usually in these situations, there is some kind of transition period… some kind of middle ground my mood passes on the way to the next mood.

For example, moving from:

Depression -> brief period of stability -> hypomania.

or

Depression -> brief period of stability -> depression.

Usually there is enough time (even if it is a matter of thirty minutes) for my mind to teeter through a point of stability, allowing me to poke my head out of whatever mood swing I’m having, look around, prepare myself for whatever is about to come next, and duck back down.

This is generally how I operate on a daily basis, and this small snippet of feeling “okay” is part of what allows me to mentally prepare myself to shift gears, or gain a moment of respite before ducking back into an ugly place. Something like coming up for a breath of air before diving back down to… wherever.

However… there are people out there who have mood swings that operate differently. This week I was one of those people.

I have been jumping back and forth directly from one extreme mood state to the next, which looks a little more like this:

Suicidal depression -> euphoric hypomania bordering on true mania -> suicidal depression

The gradual transition I am used to has been replaced by a sporadic jumping straight from extreme state to extreme state. These jumps are, admittedly, rather jarring, though I’m much less likely to put up a fuss going from feeling suicidal one moment to totally high and euphoric the next (as opposed to the other way around). As I said, I don’t know exactly what is causing this change, but I am going to keep my eye on it for another week (unless things get ugly) before talking to my psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is fairly typical for me when trying new medications (which is a little funny, because they tend to have the opposite effect for me than they do with everyone else) but I am trying not to jump to any conclusions. Again, more time and attention is needed before I make any moves, and who knows? This could be a summer-time fluke that will straighten itself out again before too long.

In any case, I am finding the severe depression much more tolerable when paired with euphoric hypomania. The trouble there is that, as someone with zero income, I can’t really afford to spend too many more days like yesterday, frolicking in the sun buying two dresses, a new purse, a pair of shoes, and four dvds. Normally I don’t have a huge problem with the “spending money” aspect of hypomania, (and what I bought may not seem like much to someone who has had more than $7 in their bank account for the last 6 months) but yesterday’s hypomania was a bit of a doozy.

So happy Friday folks! We’ve made it through another week! Today I’m feeling a little curious; do you (bipolar diagnosees) typically experience a more gradual change in mood, a rapid switch from one mood to the next, or a combination of the two? If you feel like exploring this topic in the comments, I’d be interested to know. As a side note, lets skip any comments about the medication I’m trying because (as I mentioned) I’m planning on coming back to this more in-depth next week. Thanks!

Hypomania and Physical Burnout

Oftentimes for me, having a revved up mind can lead to having a worn-out body. After all, jumping rapidly from a severely depressed, sedentary state into one of intense energy and hypomania has typically meant going from walking zero miles a week to walking 20 miles a week (with no real form of titration).

It isn’t uncommon for people to hit the gym harder than usual when hypomanic, and since we can’t seem to feel the strain or pain associated with working out we assume it isn’t there.

Fast forward a few days or weeks or months and what you’ve got is a total physical burnout.

It can be very difficult to rest (or sit still at all) when in the middle of a hypomanic state. Resting can feel uncomfortable, and for me it is a sure-fire way for negative thoughts to creep back into my life, something that keeping myself extremely busy tends to help block out.

Well, Saturday (in the wee hours of the morning) I went to the emergency room. Though the pain I was feeling was  not a product of strenuous physical activity, I believe my hypomanic fast-paced attitude the last few weeks definitely contributed to my situation.

I have a pretty intense case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, something I normally regulate through what I’m eating and medication I take (errr, am supposed to take) several times a week. As I mentioned above, sometimes when my mind is revved up, I don’t pay enough attention to my body. Not only that, hypomania can often mask the physical pain that lets me gauge how well (or not) I am feeling due to IBS symptoms.

By the time I realized how severely my symptoms had gotten out of hand, I was in a hospital bed at 2 am loaded up on morphine after waking up an hour earlier at my apartment in so much pain I could barely speak or walk. It wasn’t until the doctor asked me how long the problem had been going on and I checked my notes (I keep notes for mood charting purposes on my physical and mental health) and I realized it had been escalating for three weeks and I hadn’t stopped to notice.

Ooops?

I was lucky that even though I was in intense pain, the problem wasn’t life-threatening. Still, as high as I was on morphine, all I wanted to do was kick myself for not taking time out sooner to pay attention to my own body.

Hypomania may make us feel invincible, but the truth of the matter is that we are not. Running our bodies into the ground is a sure-fire way to trigger depression, so taking a moment to rest a few times throughout the week can not only help maintain our physical health but may also help maintain hypomania longer by keeping physical triggers at bay!

I am still planning on going to Florida this week, I am just working hard to rest until then. I’ve already seen improvements in my physical health, and even though my mind keeps saying,

“Go, go, go! There is so much to do and so little time to do it in!”

I am taking my own advice and plopping myself down on the couch for as long as my brain will let me!