I know all about how it feels to have depression. For dozens of years, that was my diagnosis and my daily companion.
In the last dozen years or so, however, I have had to come to grips with the idea that I am actually bipolar — bipolar type 2, specifically. And that I sometimes have hypomania.
It was quite a revelation. I didn’t believe I had ever felt manic in my life. I couldn’t recall feeling anything but miserable, despondent and worthless. Although objectively, I was doing well in school and in college, had a few friends, and was never suicidal, in fact I was a depressive mess. Later, as I learned more about mania, I was able to identify some manic, or at least hypomanic, episodes that had occurred during that time, but that I had never noticed when they were happening.
When I was hypomanic, I thought I was just feeling what everyone else described as “normal” – happy, able to enjoy activities, functioning pretty well. They didn’t last long, but I didn’t realize how very tenuous and brittle those good feelings were — how they could be shattered by the slightest bump, plunging me back into the old familiar depression. It was even more depressing to think that I couldn’t even do feeling good right.
I struggled along under these circumstances for years, until at last one-half of my problem was diagnosed — the depression half, of course. It certainly was the most noticeable half, the most troubling, and the most disruptive of the problems that plagued me.
My doctor prescribed Prozac and I remember it working pretty well when it kicked in after about six weeks of taking it. I can remember feelings of calm, contentment, and enjoyment. It changed my life, and probably saved it. Prozac didn’t alleviate all my problems, but it did let me glimpse a world in which they were not the only things that existed. It’s not too extreme to say that I rejoiced.
But, unknown to me (and my doctor), I was not purely unipolar. What was happening to the lurking hypomania during while the depression was being treated? Did it disappear? Did the Prozac take care of it too?
No. With the depression more or less at bay, hypomania found new outlets to express itself. As anxiety, for example. I had a spell of being alarmed in the cereal aisles of grocery stores. There was a time (not yet completely gone) when I thought other drivers were swerving into my lane, even when I was a passenger. (That one alarmed my husband too, when I would fling out my arms and gasp or cower, shaking in my seat, at the thought that a crash was imminent.)
My psychiatrist later explained to me that these were manifestations of hypomania that came out sideways, as anxiety instead of euphoria, ambition, desire, exaltation, and assorted addictive or destructive behavior. Trust me to have the less-fun alternative. (Although somewhat less life-wrecking.)
Since that revelation, I have tried to harness my hypomania and use my power for good. I channel my hypomanic binges into writing, for example. I can’t say that it’s always good writing, but at least I get words on the screen that I can fix up later. I usually have several projects going at the same time, so I can switch among them as needed. That may be hypomania too.
Sometimes I can even use my hypomanic fits to enjoy myself — have a pleasant lunch out, read a book, do a puzzle, have a conversation with my husband or another friend. Of course, these activities do not always fit in well with my hypomania. At times, instead of simply enjoying these activities and sensations, I am too twitchy and nervous to relax and enjoy them.
I must admit that two of my strategies for controlling my hypomanic spells are naps and anti-anxiety pills, not necessarily in that order. But at least I am getting better at identifying when the anxiety, which I used to think of as free-floating, is actually a form of hypomania. Then a combination of hot tea, silence, cat-petting, reading and Ativan can bring me back to some kind of stasis.
If not, I just have to accept that I’m having a hypomanic episode and try to stay away from things I can buy using my PayPal account.