If you are diagnosed with a mood cycling condition, such as cyclothymia or bipolar disorder, you've probably at one point or another heard someone describing another person as "bipolar" because their mood changed quickly or they were a little temperamental. You've probably also wanted to call them an ignorant SOB and tell them that they should get their facts straight before they start diagnosing people with mental illness. Ok, maybe that's just me that wants to do that. The point is, society seems to be ok with taking serious health conditions and brain disorders and using them to describe every day moods and activities, almost as a cliche. Quite honestly, this pisses me off.
So let me tell you what it's really like to be hypomanic, at least for me. You wake up with literally at least twenty things going through your head at once. You fervently make notes, set alarms and reminders, tell someone to remind you, tattoo it on your arm, to make sure that you don't forget. It could be anything from "don't forget to pick up milk" to "don't forget to pick up your loved one at the airport" and each one is, or feels, of equal importance and urgency. Why? Because if you don't pick up milk you won't be able to make that dish you planned to for the dinner gathering and everyone's expecting it and then you'll disappoint them and you hate to disappoint anyone because maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg and you'll be a disappointment the rest of your life. And the person at the airport? Well they're relying on you, and what if you forget, and they're standing there for hours, in the freezing rain, and they catch pneumonia. Can you imagine their fear and hurt and anger that you've forgotten them? They must be so cold (it doesn't matter that it's 60 degrees and sunny out), how awful! Then you put yourself in their shoes in this created scenario and make yourself feel even worse because now you're thinking of how you'd feel if that happened to you. Do you see where I'm going with this?
Now before I continue, let me point out - we are not just "glass half empty", negative, drama queens or kings. These scenarios truly, genuinely seem feasible, even likely, because the hypomanic brain is constantly on overdrive. Logically, I know it's not likely, but that doesn't matter. The "what ifs" are torturous. Think about it this way: if your boss at work were yelling at you that if you don't refill the coffee pot now, you'll be fired (and sounded serious about it), it probably wouldn't matter how ridiculous this seemed - you'd probably not want to chance getting fired and would move "coffee" to the top of your priority list. Now, imagine this happening with everything that crosses your path - any task, anything anyone asks you to do, any thought that suggests a potential action. Not only do these things all seem to require serious attention, but they require it now. Prioritization takes a ridiculous amount of effort, and I often find myself double (or triple, quadruple) checking and doubting myself. Days when I'm hypomanic are truly exhausting, despite the extra energy one tends to have in this mood state.
What's particularly frustrating is that people don't understand. They tell you to just relax, chill out, calm down. They'll call you over-reactive, dramatic, hyper, annoying, and a whole host of other things. They think that you, for whatever reason, choose to be this way, and that if you just put your mind to it, you could change. Honestly, given what I just described above, who the hell would choose to feel this way? I can't even imagine.
Maybe, with a lot of practice, I could learn to stop and take a breath and say "logically, nobody is going to die or leave me or kick me out of the family if I don't get milk today, and no matter how urgent it feels, I have to remember that it's not". Maybe. With A LOT of practice. Maybe I need a buddy system, someone to seriously text and say "getting milk today isn't urgent right? Or is it? Please confirm this for me," just to make sure I'm accurately assessing this. I'm not sure. What I know is that every single day I work and I struggle to learn how to prioritize, chill out, "calm down" (my least two favorite words in the English language), but I don't feel that most people see this. They don't see all of the times that I don't react as I usually would, and they don't see the tremendous effort. They only see the times that this effort fails.
I hope this post offers a little insight into what my brain is like in hypomania. I'm not offering this up as an excuse, but simply as an explanation. It's my belief that the more we try to understand each other as people, the less conflict, confusion, and miscommunication we'll have with others, and even in my jumbled brain, this seems to make sense.
As the subject indicates, this is a part 1. In the next blog, I'm going to discuss what I call the "fixing" compulsion - the inability to walk away from or let go of issues or difficulties that is so prevalent in hypomania.