Stress over $16,000 bill from USDA? Check. Erratic sleep schedule? Check. More-than-moderate alcohol consumption? Check. Hypomanic episode? Done.
I got back from the concert feeling pretty ramped up. Earth, Wind & Fire were awesome! We had a great time! I felt so full of life and energy, and at 11:30PM I texted my boyfriend, “I’m not even that tired!” A half an hour later I tried to go to bed, reminding myself that I had work in the morning, and as I lay in my bed, head on the pillow with my eyes closed, it hit me. I felt a familiar but unwelcome whirring in my brain, and I knew: I was hypomanic. Uh-oh.
For those not as well-versed in bipolar terminology, hypomanic literally means “below manic,” meaning mild- to moderately manic. It’s how I usually experience the mania part of bipolar, which determines my diagnosis of Bipolar II, instead of Bipolar I, which includes full manic episodes that can cause major life disruption and can result in hospitalization. So that night I had the luxury of knowing that I wouldn’t get out of control along with the dread of knowing I would not sleep that night and probably the next, no matter how tired I was, no matter how thoroughly I cleared my mind, and no matter what medication I took, short of something a hospital might administer.
I knew it was pointless to fight it, but I still felt compelled to run through my mind-clearing meditation and try deep breathing. And actually my mind cleared rather quickly, since I have a good deal of practice in that area. My mind, with all of its musings, plans, thoughts, and analytical ramblings, is under my control with little effort. But my brain is at the mercy of my neurotransmitters.
I used to experience insomnia when I had depression and would toss and turn in bed for hours, letting my mind wander. It took me years to learn to rein it in, to train it to let go of all conscious thought and allow myself to sleep. But during times of depression the neurotransmitters do not make the brain whir, this constant sensation of being switched on, even if you are exhausted. During hypomanic episodes, my tactics of clearing my conscious mind still work, and then I’m left with a wired brain that keeps whirring all night, even going so far as to produce random, racing thoughts that I do not recognize. Words and images flood my brain, and I don’t know where they come from. It’s almost like I’m in someone else’s head, trying to make sense of their day, their memories, when I have no idea what they’ve experienced. And no amount of mind control makes it go away. Prior to my diagnosis and being put on medication a year ago, my brain would go so far as to cause auditory hallucinations during these episodes. Not voices, but sounds that my subconscious knew would disturb me, since I was already unable to sleep. You know, adding insult to injury.
This week was actually my first hypomanic episode since starting my current medication nine months ago, and I figured (hoped) that the medication would keep it in check. I was right – I only had two nights of disturbed sleep (and the second night responded fairly well to some OTC sleeping medication, surprisingly) instead of the usual four nights or more. My brain unwired itself more quickly than before, and I am nearly back to “normal.” I’m also more determined to keep a closer eye on my triggers – stress, irregular sleep patterns, and not keeping alcohol to a minimum. Awareness, as with any difference, leads to understanding.
I can make jokes about it, like making a hypomanic episode sound like an ad, because humor is what gets us through the day, through our often overwhelming lives, but I never lose sight of the fact that bipolar is a typically misunderstood, mystifying disorder that can cause real misery as much as perceived elation. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, the elation is real too, and life is good.