Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood. Symptoms can include an extremely elevated mood called mania. They can also include episodes of depression.

Bipolar disorder is not the extreme mood shifts that the media portrays where a character is smiling one minute and then violently swinging around or throwing things the next. Periods of mania, hypomania, or depression generally last weeks or months and are generally followed by a "normal" period in-between where no symptoms are present.

This photo was taken while I was eating 🥪
Photo by Erwann Letue / Unsplash

This "normal" period has led me to stop taking my medication on several occasions. When I am not experiencing symptoms I question if what I just went through was normal or if I was just overreacting. Stopping my medication, of course, leads to an increased manic or depressive episode when it should strike next and a long process of getting back on track.

I have struggled with my mental health since my early teens. My first major depressive episode was in the 7th grade. I was on edge, jumping at every sound. My head was in excruciating pain. I was miserable, scared, exhausted beyond belief and had hourly suicidal thoughts.

I was taken to a hospital where I was admitted to in-patient psychiatric care. I have sought this treatment out three other times but have never made it back for fear of losing my job or damaging my image at work. Capitalism ROCKS! 🙄 (I know this is covered by the ADA but let's be honest, is it really? You can't see it and it's difficult to know when I am experiencing symptoms.)

Surprise, Hollywood lied!

For those unfamiliar with bipolar disorder the idea of hypomania or mania may be the most surprising for you. People who live with bipolar disorder do not laugh one second, cry the next, and then start throwing things right after; that is all Hollywood bullshit.

"Characteristic behaviors of persons experiencing hypomania are a notable decrease in the need for sleep, an overall increase in energy, unusual behaviors and actions, and a markedly distinctive increase in talkativeness and confidence, commonly exhibited with a flight of creative ideas." [1]

Being on of the first travelers that can come back to Iceland feels like I'm alone here. :)
Photo by Free To Use Sounds / Unsplash

I first notice a hypomanic episode coming on when I start to function on less sleep. I'm generally an 8-hour-a-night kind of guy. My fiancé generally rolls out of bed before me - I love to lay and think about nothing for 20 or so minutes drifting in between consciousness and a dream like state. I have some of my best thoughts this way!

When in a full hypomanic state I can function on as little as an hour of sleep a night for up to 2 or 3 weeks. The first week is incredible.

The idea of this podcast was approached when I was in a hypomanic episode. Every aspect of our website was done in a hypomanic episode from the creation of the original website, to the updates, the migration to our new website, and even this post you are reading right now.

However, as you can imagine, as the days and weeks drag on and my hypomanic episode continues my body becomes more and more exhausted. 7 hours of sleep in a week that includes 40 hours of work and at least another 50 in side projects/hobbies will begin to tire anyone while also causing mental distress.

Week two usually introduces anxiety. I need to sleep but my mind is so active that there is no use trying.

Young man covered in sticky notes, work overload
Photo by Luis Villasmil / Unsplash

The need to create and learn during these episodes is like a horrible itch that cannot be scratched. No matter how much energy I spend trying to exhaust my mind it will not slow or stop.

On rare occasions I will have an out-of-body experience.

"An out-of-body experience (OBE), which some might also describe as a dissociative episode, is a sensation of your consciousness leaving your body." [2]

I am always behind myself to the left and from slightly above. Generally, I feel as though my body/mind is trying to tell me something that I am ignoring or not aware of.

Every week following the initial wind-up continues the pattern in much of the same way while I get increasingly exhausted & my performance in every day activities drops significantly.

The depression flu

What goes up must come down and this has never been more true than the end of a hypomanic episode. After every hypomanic episode I experience an extreme fatigue. I have just spent roughly three weeks sleeping an hour a night while also burning off more energy than should be humanly possible every single day. I have created so much, probably started at least 2 new hobbies, and have probably spent way too much money. I often feel so weak and tired that I need a day or two off of work to do nothing but lay in bed and stare at my ceiling.

Where I'm at

At the time of writing I'm doing ok. 2020 has been a long year for all of us. Watching the Trump administration regularly attacking marginalized communities and gaslighting an entire country on a daily basis is exhausting.

The global pandemic has been stressful and scary. Spending almost every hour of every day in my house is draining and not great for depression. Luckily, I have David here to keep me company.

If you are living with bipolar disorder know that you are not alone. Medication helps as does learning to recognize your symptoms. Just because you cannot see your mental illness does not mean that it is not there. Take care of yourself.

Did you learn something or do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

SQDGL,
Paul

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References

Hypomania - Wikipedia
1. Wiki
Out-of-Body Experience: What’s Really Happening
Out-of-body experiences are a bit of a medical mystery. Find out what experts believe is really going on and whether they pose any health risks.
2. Healthline