Tag Archives: hypomania

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.

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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.

O is for Overwhelmed

In my mood tracking book the notation ov stands for feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t written because notation has been gaining momentum in my life for two weeks now, and there is something about feeling overwhelmed that particularly cripples me.

In my experience, ov tends to show up in a period where I am quickly shifting from hypomania to depression, though it isn’t too high and mighty to show up in a mixed state or the deepest reaches of a long, suicidal depression. The only reason I can really couple the feeling of being overwhelmed with the hypomanic->depressive fluctuation is because I am generally moving from a period where I have  been overexerting myself (making plans, starting projects) and the energy and motivation I had been experiencing from the hypomania has quickly been pulled out from under me.

Suddenly finding myself without the drive or energy to finish the half dozen projects I’ve started or continue showing up to the week’s worth of commitments I’ve made can make some serious problems, especially when the commitments involve promises to family and friends or the projects are work-related or deadline specific.

Initially, in hypomania, I feel over-capable… so my list of projects and commitments seem miniscule compared to my drive to complete them.

In depression, however, I am flooded by this long list of things to do, a long list of obligations when all I can think about is how much I want to be sleeping and how completely ridiculous it seems to attempt to finish these things now my trajectory has become broken.

Feeling overwhelmed is only one part of it. I often also feel a lot of guilt for potentially scrambling (and failing) to complete these things or for cancelling plans with others. Trying to explain to people that the “car” I’ve been speeding in has suddenly stopped and thrust itself into reverse is… confusing, at best.

Often I try to continue on like nothing has happened, and this is seemingly the worst thing I can do. My defunct abilities are wildly noticeable to the people around me (even if I think they’re not) and becoming overwhelmed and trying to continue having social engagements has led to blow ups, resentment (on my end) and generally wanting to dig a hole to curl up in so I can be alone. When I feel too overwhelmed to be around people in a healthy way, it is obvious. I become distant and curt and have even ended relationships and friendships when people have felt the need to try to comfort me by getting closer. Anyone or anything that adds to my feelings of being smothered are often eradicated from the situation. Period.

The continuation of activities after hypomania also tends to flood me after suddenly dropping into depression and I am overstimulated by even the smallest things. Last night I told Corey it felt like I was an egg, and the noise, the light, and the energy of the world around me were trying to pierce my skin and eyes and ears like a million little microscopic sperm. It left me waving my arms around me, like light and sound were bugs I could scare off. All my mind seemed capable of was tripping the “escape! escape!” alarm as my chest tightened up and I couldn’t breathe.

In these periods, living in the city is extremely challenging. Our technological way of life is extremely challenging. Not running for the mountains is… extremely challenging.

Things that potentially help? For me, the big one is nature. I haven’t been able to experience much of that lately due to the location of our apartment and the surgeries I have had this year, but I find that being in a quiet place in nature is one of the only things that helps me combat the feeling of external stimuli becoming physical.

Sometimes the best I can find is a dark quiet room, and (like last night) inquiring minds around me want to know why I am sitting in a dark quiet room.

My therapist told me I might need to tell the people close to me that I need extra space sometimes, and that there is nothing wrong with asking people for a little extra space.

In all of this, that is my greatest challenge… when the weight of all things are pressing down on me it can be hard to remember what words to use or even that words exist at all. In the end, I expect using words are likely to be far more effective than waving my arms around, insulting others, and sitting in a hole.

(Snippet)

My new therapist seems to be working out. I have only seen her three times, but she has a face that closes tight like a brick wall when she is listening. Frankly, that is exactly what I wanted… I hate watching people pass judgement on me or my situation while I am talking to them.

I have been having trouble writing for a myriad of reasons, I think I may have been traversing some hypomania last week or the week before but the energy and activity associated with it has taken a toll on my body (that is still healing from surgery). This week has been the physical crash that follows, and my 13-14 hours of sleep followed by exhaustion during the day has not leant itself to much motivation or productivity whatsoever.

My optometrist suggested I have been having ocular migraines -honestly I didn’t know that was something that even existed. I am pretty tired of heaping physical health problems on top of already crippling emotional ones… but such is life I suppose. If it isn’t one thing it is another, I am just glad I can eat relatively normally again.

 

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!

Can’t Stop a Moving Train

About a year and a half ago a bipolar mixed episode with psychosis and delusions wreaked havoc on my career in the fashion industry. My paranoia spread through the company until it got a grasp on the HR department and sent everyone reeling and investigating one another. It wasn’t until I pulled myself from work (for fear of hurting myself or someone else) and spent over a month in depression before I could see the delusions for what they had really been.

At the time I was extremely frustrated. This sort of thing has happened to me fairly regularly while working, I’ve never been able to hold a job for much longer than a year. My entire healthcare team (my psychiatrist, therapist, etc.) suggested I stop working because the stress of it was potentially triggering episodes far worse than I would normally experience.

I remember falling into this daydream-like state, wondering if I could eliminate all stress from my life (and primarily stress due to working) if things would quiet down. If the episodes would minimize, and I could have a stable-ish (albeit slightly boring) life by simply doing nothing at all.

Seems like a simple enough theory, doesn’t it? Remove all triggers and there is no reason for an episode to happen. I don’t know why I believed a move like this would work; I had seen plenty of people on SSDI at support groups who seemed totally out of control all the time (and they weren’t working either!).

My therapist at the time seemed to believe this would “work” (lessen my general episodes) because she, unlike me, believed all episodes had to be triggered by something. I tried to explain to her that wasn’t how it worked, and that episodes of bipolar disorder often seem to come and go as they please, but we were both too hopeful to pay much mind.

A few months ago I was sitting with her, now over a year since we put this plan into action. It was right around the time after my hearing (February) where I was significantly depressed. After all of the time I had put into applying and waiting for an SSDI decision I sat down in front of her and she said to me,

“You know what I think would help you? Working.”

Completely exasperated, I slapped my hand to my forehead and sighed. We had come full circle. Needless to say, my desire to get a new therapist (I start with someone new tomorrow) had been growing for quite some time.

As it turns out, you can’t just wave your hands and expect to stop a moving train. True, going without working is generally one of the things I attribute to not having been hospitalized lately, but it has honestly (at times) been just as stressful as working would be (with a much lower income).

Last week I managed two or three days of stability in a row, and I found myself thinking how great it would be to start working again, to meet new people, to have a task, and to have a little (as opposed to no) money. I’ve been here before though, I know this charade. I know that when I feel stable I generally feel like I can take on the world without any problems, and the truth of what happens when I do gets pushed to the background.

To top it off, even if I wanted to work (I say “work” but realistically mean roughly 10 hours a week) right now, there are some significant roadblocks. Some, like my social security disability application, I put there myself. I still haven’t received an answer after my hearing in front of the judge in February. My attorney has suggested that working (even 5 hours a week) will often return a negative reply from the government, because working 5 hours a week (and I kid you not) somehow suggests I could potentially work 40.

You can believe that if I could work 40 hours a week without becoming totally delusional, homicidal, and suicidal I would be doing it. I have always been an overachiever, and I’ve had several good positions at some very noteworthy companies (making sometimes incredible amounts of money). Why would I ever stop if I could handle it? Why would I ever give that up to sit in the dark alone, teaching myself to make a proper cream sauce for lack of anything better to do?

Honestly, I also found it a bit of a slap in the face when I met with my social security judge and the “vocational expert” for my hearing suggested I become a hotel maid, or a bottle-capper, or a mail-room clerk (because those jobs couldn’t possibly exacerbate bipolar disorder!). It felt rather humiliating that these “experts” were so quick to throw out the degree that I earned (and am still paying for) and my intelligence or goals or interests, simply because I have a mental illness. My attorney assured them that no matter what job, I am not capable of maintaining it (in my current, still unstable state) which I appreciated, though I still left feeling sour.

The other roadblock is the train itself. I am still looking for ways to help reduce my symptoms of bipolar disorder, and without some kind of useful treatment I am likely to become very volatile very quickly in the workplace. I like to believe (especially when I am feeling good or stable) that I am in control. After 10+ years under that delusion, I understand that there is a lot more to it. It appears that the more stress I experience, the less control I seem to have over myself. While I have been working hard to combat this truth with practically anything I can find, I am still doing so in an environment with the least amount of stress possible.

I’ve had a lot running through my mind. Frankly, I don’t know exactly where I am going to go next, and there are still many things up in the air (my SSDI decision, what my attorney will suggest to do next if it is a “no”, etc.). Right now I am putting all my attention on moving, because if there is one thing I want to get right… that one is it.