Moving On From Hypomania

As with every episode, as it comes to an end and I regain the ability to think I start making plans to try to stay well. I reflect on what has been helpful for me in the past or in general. I look at the advice given by others with similar difficulties. I try to do what my CMHT tell me is helpful and not helpful.

It’s a lot. It’s a lot of studying yourself and others. It’s a lot of analysing what perhaps didn’t work so well, and what did.

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I’ve made a plan, which focuses mainly around reinstating a form of routine to my days. Prior to this episode I had routine due to uni and studying for my exams. I’ve lost that and feel it needs to be established in some form over the summer months until September.

My Stay Well List:

  1. Keep engaging with the Headspace app for daily mindfulness practice as well as practicing mindfulness in general such as whilst brushing my teeth, whilst travelling and checking in throughout the day with myself.
  2. Eat well. Whole nourishing food. Start with eliminating added sugar to my hot drinks. Aim for an 80/20 distribution of micronutrient rich food and food just for fun.
  3. Sleep. Try to keep to a routine of waking up at a decent time. Currently aiming for 7:30am – with the view to push it to 6:30am.
  4. Make a routine out of nothing. Busy myself enough so that there is no abundance of unfilled time.
  5. Talk to and work with my care coordinator: even if I don’t particularly want to.
  6. Exercise – follow an outline training plan, which gives routine and predictability to each week.
  7. Create purpose by signing up to volunteering roles to help with routine as well.
  8. Take vitamin supplement with particular focus on magnesium and zinc in chosen supplement. Take it every other day. Also keep taking meds.
  9. Don’t get drunk. Just the occasional 1-2 drinks.
  10. Read for pleasure to keep the mind occupied. Recognise when to reduce stimulus and do it, even as caution if unsure.

That’s a lot! Unfortunately it all feels necessary. Mood swings seem to be accompanied by a lapse in my self-care regime and routine of activities. It can be hard to get the balance of busy enough but not too busy. Engaged enough but not in excess.

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Balance is something that I’ve been working on trying to achieve more of since the beginning of the year. I’m still working on it. I suppose this is going to be quite the journey.

 

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The ‘Restless and Repetitive Motions’ Phase

:The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

The restlessness can become very intense. You want to sit down and chill out but you need to keep moving. It feels slightly compulsive, like if you stop moving you’ll die. However, there is less logic than that painted scenario, and less purpose. There seems no purpose to this need to move other than to channel the excessive energy.
Your heart rate pounds. Your breathing is struggling to keep up. Your GI system seems on fast forward too with the little you’ve been able to eat because food doesn’t even come into the picture. It is like being slightly mutant, you don’t need food or sleep. You are super human in a very human world.
Music can both help and worsen this situation. Having a rhythm to move to helps with the repetitive dance moves that are more of a motion than any dance move. The body feels kind of rigid but unable to stop moving at the same time. After a while, the motions become soothing in some way. They bring a sense of calm amongst the chaos. They bring something that will eventually calm down when I do – a helpful indicator of where I’m at.
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Can I stop? Sometimes I can but it is more comfortable not to. Sometimes I can’t despite my wanting to. Sometimes I can stop and I do stop. This is the most favourable outcome.
Going out can help and walking. I just walk and walk until I’m done. 20,000 steps in the day isn’t even scratching the surface as to how much I can walk. This helps burn and channel the energy in a more purposeful movement. My distracted mind can become occupied with all the distractions there are outside: birds, shops, people.
I try to keep myself to myself if I can. It’s a form of containment. The thing with hypomania is that you don’t always lose insight: which means I know I’m a flight risk of just going on an adventure on a whim, which could include regretful activities. In a certain mind frame, some street drugs seem like the magical answer to unlocking my super powers: that sort of temptation and thinking can get me into a lot of trouble. With this insight, I try to keep myself to myself. It’s a tricky one to call.
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When I’m 100% in control of myself: or I feel that way, odd movements at awkward angles isn’t a problem. My head can stay still and music can travel through my ears without physically jolting my head in a number of different directions.Eventually the restlessness subsides despite how uncomfortable it can be at the time.

The ‘I Want It To Stop’ Phase

:The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

At this stage a dose of desperation sets in. You miss relaxing. You miss being able to sit and watch TV. You miss being able to listen to music and enjoy it because too much stimulus goes past the point of being enjoyable, and it becomes painful in an odd sort of way. Your body moves in ways you didn’t command it to. Your mind buzzes relentlessly and you realise you’re on a waltzer with no way of getting off when you want. You can no longer kid yourself that you are in control.

You realise youre at the mercy of something else. Something bigger than yourself. This is when I tend to ask for help. This is when I phone up my team and say, quite literally, ‘this isn’t fun anymore. I’m not enjoying this. I’m want it to stop. ” and you start to beg, ‘how do I make it stop?”

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Relaxation. Mindfulness. Initiate the dive response. The stretching, the breathing, the calming down all feels unattainable alone. With the help of others to guide you, it is possible to slow it kind of, sometimes.

All the curtains are shut because light is too stimulating. You sit in silence because sound of any kind is too much. Reading is too stimulating. Drawing is too stimulating. It’s like being stuck in a cage when you want to go for a walk. All these things you want to do, but they cause too strong a current through your body that if you move you get electrocuted with a surge of excess energy that isn’t productive anymore. It isn’t even unproductive and fun.

It’s now become something else. You start to question, am I brain washed? The only answer that seems plausible is the belief that some external force is at play. Is it someone controlling me? Are they watching me? Have I been drugged? Is there something in the water, the air, the particles penetrating my walls, body and mind? Radiation even?

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Logic dissipates as answers are sought for in a non-logical and mixed up mind. Being reminded otherwise, or a counter argument can sometimes help: last time I was told, “I don’t think your’e the type to be brainwashed. You’re too stubborn. You know your own mind too much to be brainwashed.” Considering my level of genius, this statement was right – and enough to settle my anxieties.

That helped. I don’t know what would help anyone else in this stage – it’s a scary stage and here, I have no answers. This is the part when it becomes quite scary.

The Too Busy to Sleep Phase

I’m sure somewhere there is some wisdom on not sleeping that goes along the lines of, “if you can’t sleep, get up and do something until you’re tired”. This is exactly what I do when I can’t sleep, which doesn’t happen all that often for me.

I am a good sleeper. I always have been. When I go to the higher side of life however, sleep becomes a waste of time. I get up eager to do something, anything other than sleep. At this time, forcing myself to rest despite not being able to sleep is probably the best advice – but the best advice is not always the advice we want to follow. Additionally, it is easy to rationalise the get up and go logic in a world that glorifies the go, go, go of using every day to the max.

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During hypomania getting up instead of resting is essentially a big gust of oxygen on a burning ember at just the right angle and pressure to light a bonfire. Not that I realise at the time whilst I spend the whole night doing a million activities: reading, which feels like I’m breathing oxygen specifically for my amazing mind; playing on my games console which feels like the biggest adrenaline rush I could get whilst staying in as I fight my way through every first person shooter I own; writing, wherein my creative genius just slithers effortlessly out of the end of the pen; smoking because I’m in party mode and the music, the music feels electrifying to my body as I dance and sing ecstatically at 5am.

I should be drunk but I’m not as the activities get progressively more active and progressively more exciting until it’s 6am. I’ve not slept and it feels too late to sort it out because we’re at the start of a new day. Every dawn is a new day not to be tarnished by the last right? – yeah, I probably only follow that 100% when I’m hypomanic too.

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I don’t necessarily realise at the time. I write it off to not being that sleepy, to it being ‘just one night’. This happens a lot with hypomania. I only realise and know in hindsight. In hindsight it is blazingly obvious. At the time I am blinded to it, wrapped up in it and the world is viewed through rose-tinted spectacles wherein there is no way feeling this good could be “bad”.

Sleeping 3-5 hours a night is glorious when there is such an urgent pressure in your belly to do, do, do. It is bloody fabulous in fact because it means you really can maximise and squeeze the fuck out of the potential of every day, every, single, day. Whilst my wee early morning texts reap dead-end conversations as everyone else is a weak human and succumbs to their need for sleep – I however, am more than human. I’m super human.

And just like that the fire is burning. Raring to go for the next day and the next and the next of my new brilliant super human life. I do not get sleepy again. I do not return to my bed to get a few hours shuteye. This get up until you’re sleeping advice is possibly the worst advice during the sleepless nights of hypomania.

 

I Have a Big Mind, So I Can Keep Dreaming

I have a very big mind. I don’t know if you can quantify the size of a mind seeing as it is abstract. What I mean when I say I have a big mind is that it wanders. I have high ambitions for myself, and sometimes believe in them. I think I’m going to become an award-winning author, a Nobel prize receiving nutritionist (has that ever even happened?). I’m going to run marathons and go on to running ultra’s. I want to play instruments and dance like Darcey Bussell

I don’t just want to do all of this stuff. I strive to do it all. However, one obstacle keeps getting in my way. My mental health. I can be very disabling for me. Sometimes, when I am unwell, I can’t even cook or eat properly. I can’t wash. Going to the toilet feels like a chore. Understanding and depicting between reality and fantasy can be a challenge.

I think a lot. I use mindfulness to tame my thinking – and often my mind may be empty, and still I think a lot. I can switch off, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want all of these things for myself, along with a fantastic relationship, and friends, and above all – learning to manage my mental health.

One thing I still struggle with a lot is knowing how much I can do. I often feel like I want every waking moment of my days to be achieving something – be that studying, learning, writing, reading, running, climbing, art. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I’m not sure.

When I’m depressed though, something I always struggle with is my inability to do very much at all – and learning to reign in my ideals of how I want to live my life. Accepting the limitations placed on me by my illnesses is something I have not fully accepted. I have accepted it more than I could a few years ago: it is a process. At the same time, I don’t want to not live my life because of my illnesses. I don’t want to sell myself short. I think most people can relate to wanting to be the best version of themselves, and to wanting to live their life as the best version of themselves.

So accepting that I can only read a paragraph at a time, accepting that I can’t go out or leave the house, accepting that I can’t run 4 times a week because quite simply, I am too unwell is difficult to adapt to each time I get unwell. Unfortunately, for me, getting unwell is still a frequent part of my life and I wonder if ever I will be as well as I hope to be. I expected to be a fully functioning member of society with a brilliant job after being off work for 6 months. That was 6 years ago. Evidently, these hopes and desires didn’t quite pan out.

There are times when I wish I was someone else. There are more than numerous times when I wish I didn’t have my illnesses. In fact, I wish this most days that I’m affected negatively by them. I think that is natural, right? So here, on that point right there I need to do some more acceptance work. By that I don’t mean stop fighting and give in. By that I mean learn when to pull the reigns in and accept that for a period of time I probably can’t do everything I want to do or wish for.

The difficulty of this acceptance I think is compounded by the highs I experience. During these times, life is bloody wonderful and I’m functioning at 200%. I’m productive beyond measure, goal orientated like a world champion athlete chasing after an Olympic Gold. I’m talented. I’m brilliant. I’m capable of anything and everything I set myself to. This is called hypomania – and the part that gets me the most is the comparison.

When I am hypomanic, experiencing myself at 200% and loving it, producing grand plans and ideas of how I’m going to become successful in every sense of the word makes the contrast between this state and being so low I cannot leave my bed a more bitter pill to swallow – and in swallowing my meds, I am to an extent, forfeiting these periods of my best self.

Overall, I know it is worth it because I get severely depressed much more than I get hypomanic – yet the contrast of the, “but I’m so brilliant” during those times is a difficult price to pay for stability. Over the years I have refused medications and not taken my medication. Slowly I have learned that this is in fact the worst thing I can do because 90% I will go down, down, down. I have learned the importance of taking my meds, and the importance of self-care in terms of sleep hygiene, and keeping calm in my overall performance, because what is the use of functioning and being my best self at 200% for a few weeks once a year or so, compared to a functioning level between 60-70% for the majority of the time? It is an equation of better odds in longevity.

But I have a big mind and I despise not being capable. I despise not being independent 100% of the time. I resent the fact that I am resigned to not working full-time, perhaps ever. At times it eats me up inside that I may never reach my full best self due to my illness – and actively accepting that going to the shop for some milk and watching Netflix is as good as it’s going to get for a few weeks is a painful realisation to find yourself in when you have such a big mind.

I know that I need to tame my mind. I may not be able to be brilliant all the time, much to my disappointment – but I can be above good for most of the time when I’m well? Is that a fair price to pay for being 5% of myself, and totally disabled by my mental illness? No. I don’t think so. Is it reality though? Is that just how mental illness goes? Yes. I suppose it is. Do I want to accept that? Not at all. Do I need to accept that? Most definitely.

Many brilliant minds in the public eye are tortured by mental illness, yet they manage to be really quite remarkable. Stephen Fry. Ruby Wax. Catherine Zeta Jones. Demi Lovato. When I see how successful they are, I find myself thinking, why not me? There is an element of self belief required, but the truth is, these people are exceptions. Exceptional minds and personalities with mental illness. They do not represent the majority of people with mental illness. I think society forgets that and that help me to also forget that.

I see a lot of people where I live, and amongst the services and hospitals I’ve been to who experience severe mental illness, and for them, just living in supported accommodation or volunteering 4 hours a week is as good as it’s going to get. Yet I don’t see myself amongst that population. I don’t see myself as higher or better, but I see my mind as bigger. I don’t identify with the people in my living complex who spend all day every day staring into space smoking and drinking – I see myself in the Stephen Fry’s and the Demi Lovato’s: but I just can’t sustain my abilities at a high enough level – and that is something I suppose I need to learn to accept. That is something I need to learn to live with, without thinking I may as well kill myself at the same time. That is something I am sure many of us struggle with, mental illness or not.

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I just wish I could be my 200% for 100% of the time. I can dream. We all can. If I keep dreaming, and keep trying, it might become reality – until then, I need to reign in my expectations of myself again – and the heart wrenching reality of my illness hits me hard in the gut, in my soul, at my very core of what I consider to be my being. This is why I don’t work. This is why many people with mental illness don’t work and that’s OK – I just wish every person understood that without judgement. Maybe one day I too will work full-time, maybe I won’t.  Like I said though, I can dream right?

Food Rule #6: Tasting Good is Important

Often there is an association that because a food is unhealthy it tastes really good, and if a food is healthy it tastes really bad. This really needn’t be the case. Sometimes eating healthier foods can mean exploring new foods, textures and tastes: this can be really fun, and sometimes you’ll find a food that you really don’t enjoy. That’s fine. There are a ton of unhealthy foods I don’t enjoy as well as healthy foods I don’t enjoy. On the other side of the coin however, there are a ton of healthy foods that I do enjoy.

Taste is important because this is one of the ways in which we get pleasure from eating. So just because something is on ‘health trend’ or, deemed as ‘super’ healthy for you, doesn’t mean you have to eat it in order to be getting a well-balanced and nutritious diet. You can live well for example without a kale smoothie ever touching your lips.

The fun thing about changing up your diet is discovering new foods again and breaking our of the routine rut of eating the same food combinations again, and again, and again. Play with food. Food is supposed to be fun – try everything and if you genuinely don’t like it, try something else. Eventually, you will discover the foods you enjoy that also happen to be healthy for you.

Food Rule #4: Eat What You Fancy

On some days I really fancy a piece of cake, on others I really fancy some sushi. By eating what you fancy allows you to enjoy what you’re eating, and to feel satisfied by your food choices.

Imagine this: you pick a ham salad because that is what you feel you ‘should’ pick. You eat it even though you’re not feeling the ham salad today. How do you find yourself feeling afterwards? Disgruntled? Deprived? Unsatisfied? Sometimes a ham salad is your jam, other days it really isn’t.

When I am not quite sure what it is that I fancy I often use visualisation techniques to figure out what I really want. I imagine in my mind the experience of eating different foods and tuning into my reactions to doing so – do I fancy that meal right now? Or am I really wanting something different?

This is about really listening to our bodies, tuning into our desires and maximising the eating experience. By doing so, we are more likely to feel satisfied with our food choices and this may perhaps help with maintaining balance with our relationships with ‘healthy eating’.

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