How I Deal With Hypomania?
One of the symptoms of my illness is rapid cycling. This means that I can go from a severe depression to hypomania seemingly overnight. Sometimes I will cycle several times in the same day. It all depends on what is going on in my life and I definitely think there are triggers that cause both the depression and the mania. I just haven’t quite figured out exactly what triggers either yet.
I was thinking this morning (after a cycle overnight into hypomania) that I should really try to put into words how I handle this cycling and how I use my hypomania to my advantage. To do this, I have to first have a mental handle on the fact that I have become hypomanic. If I notice that I am feeling extremely overwhelmed by the amount of things I need to get done, mentally making long lists of things that need to be done that I have been neglecting, and feeling jittery, shaky, and irritable, there is a really good chance that I am hypomanic. Once I realize this about myself, I can put the extra energy to good use in trying to accomplish some of the things that do not get done while I am depressed.
So, I have put together a list of things that I do that help me to focus my hypomania into productivity and take advantage of the energy I know will not last.
- Make a List. This may seem like a simple thing, but when I get overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I need to do/could get done, it really helps to make at least a mental list of all of those things. A paper list is even better, although sometimes I don’t have a good enough focus on all of the tasks to actually write them down. If I have a physical list of everything I would like to accomplish, it is easier to focus in on one thing at a time instead of running around doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that and irritating myself to no end.
- Be Mindful. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be in the present moment, especially when I am feeling somewhat manic. With all of this extra energy and ideas flying through my mind, I believe that I can accomplish much more than is reasonable in a day. Also, because I have fibromyalgia in addition to bipolar disorder, I have to physically pace myself if I don’t want to pay for my extra energy tomorrow by being on the couch all day. Thinking about exactly what I am doing at the present moment (meaning not focusing on all of those things I am going to do) really helps me to follow through and get tasks accomplished. I still find myself side-tracked into other jobs that seem to magically appear. I can be looking for a letter and notice that I can’t find anything because my desk is so disorganized or I notice that the sheets and towels need to be washed and realize on my way to the laundry room that the garbage needs to be taken out. But trying to stay in the present moment and remember what it is that I was trying to get done really helps me to focus. If I have made a list, that is even better because I know the list will still be waiting when I get this one thing done first before moving on to the next job.
- Breathe. Sometimes when I am feeling scatterbrained, overwhelmed, and disorganized, I have to remind myself of this basic function. Often we are so stressed that our breathing becomes shallow, leading our muscles to tense up and all sorts of other bodily reactions that are not good for us. When I have forgotten what exactly it is that I was going to try to get done, just one task, if I stop to take a few deep breaths, it is easier to keep myself on track and get whatever it was I started finished.
- Go Ahead and Do That Other Thing. Today I woke up with a list a mile long of everything I needed to get done. I needed to balance the checkbook and pay the bills, which had to be first. Then, there were two writing assignments, along with following up on two manuscripts I sent out months ago. I decided to write to the publishers first, but to do that, I had to first find out who I had sent the manuscripts to, which involved locating the addresses on my new external hard drive. It also involved locating the rejection letter from one publisher so that I did not send a follow up to that one. I ended up on the floor beside my bookcase, going through several notebooks, my desk drawers, and the pile of documents that needed to be filed that had been sitting for months. I finally located the rejection letter in a file folder in one of my desk drawers, but not before I had gone through the pile of documents and tossed most of them in the trash, gathered up the trash from the rest of the upstairs, reorganized my desk drawers and the in-process manuscripts that are piling up, put away all of the things I had pulled from the bookshelves, and organized my desktop. There was no way I was going to be able to just sit there in the piles of crap that had accumulated and get those letters written, so I gave myself permission to clean up a little bit. After that was done, I was able to go back and write the letters and get them ready for the mail. I feel much better because one of the jobs I had set out to do was done, along with some cleaning and organizing. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to get off track just a little to get something else finished. And a lot of the time, it seems like one job flows out of another and you can’t get back to the original job. That’s okay too, because if it’s not something critical, like a bill that has to be paid today, there is always later or tomorrow.
- Take a Break. If you are at home and are feeling overwhelmed by the housework and childcare, go out for a breath of fresh air or a walk (take the kids if they’re little!). If you have a job, take advantage of a few down minutes to walk down the street to the store or just step outside for a few minutes (don’t forget that breathing). I often find that if I am getting jittery and feeling out of sorts because it feels like I am getting nothing done, just taking a few minutes to go out onto the back porch and sit on the swing and enjoy the birds at the birdfeeders or toss the ball for the dog can refocus my energy. Sometimes I get back to what I started and sometimes I don’t. What I have finally learned that is unless the job is something that is absolutely critical that it gets finished today, there will always be time to do it later. Although I started life as a Type A personality, I am leaning more and more towards being more laid back about things as I get older and discover that this is the only life I am going to get. If my list doesn’t get done today, I refuse to stress over it. There are very few things in life that, if they don’t get done today, won’t be there tomorrow.
My oldest son has what we like to refer to as a “lazy” attitude, but I think he is much more of a Type B personality. He simply refuses to get stressed about anything. While sometimes this means that he does not get things done on our schedule, usually he gets it done eventually. I am trying to pick only the most important things like college schedules, grades, and work to push him about and let him figure out the rest of his life for himself. I think in the end, he’s going to be happier because he doesn’t stress. You can really refocus yourself to what’s important by just stopping and smelling the roses for ten minutes.
- Spend Time With Animals. I can’t stress enough how important my pets are to my mental health. I don’t know a lot of people who do not have pets and there is a good reason for this. Pets give us unconditional love. And they lower our blood pressure! Lots of studies have been done about the positive effects of spending time with animals has on our mental health, including studies of how pets help depressed people feel less depressed and lonely people feel less lonely. Whenever I am feeling manic, depressed, stressed, lonely, frightened, distressed, or any other negative adjective you can come up with, spending a little time with one of my animals is extremely beneficial. It calms me down. Which animal I choose will depend on what is bothering me and luckily, I have three to choose from. I find the dog is good for both crying hysterically (because he’s big enough to hug) and also for expending any extra energy because he loves to play. Max, our twenty pound orange kitty, is what I call my “therapy” kitty, because he loves to climb up on me when I am on the couch feeling awful and just lie on me and purr.
- Stay Off the Internet. For me, this means not getting on Facebook until after I finish some of the things on my list (no exceptions). It is so easy for me to get sucked into either reading the 300+ status updates, watching the videos posted, listening to all of the YouTube songs and reading the articles that have been linked, and especially lately, playing Words With Friends. I also am fairly involved with the Ask a Bipolar group support page. I have had to be very firm with myself on days like today, when I am feeling productive, and force myself to stay away from signing into either my Facebook page or my blog (because of all of the blog updates that are out there waiting for me to read). I only have so much time before my kids get home from school and will be demanding my attention and I need to use it to my advantage. If I sign onto Facebook or go into my blog roll, I am going to get nothing done.
I love Facebook and the social opportunities and connections it has given me. I know that my husband believes that I am addicted to it and I don’t know that he is wrong. Being an unemployed, unpublished (except for the internet) writer, I do not have a lot of social interaction. Mostly I am sitting at my desk in my bedroom, trying to get something worthwhile down while the ideas are flowing and not talking to people. I like to talk to people a lot, so if I go onto Facebook, I am going to be talking to people, responding to status updates, and playing Words With Friends and all of a sudden my kids will be home. Just say no to playing online until you have accomplished as much as you think you can for the day. Then you can Facebook to your heart’s content. Since I have an extreme lack of willpower and inability to say no to any social interaction with friends online, it is just better for me to get the writing done before I open up that tab and fall down the rabbit hole of responding to all of my notifications.
I have read recently in The Washington Post that some people have actually gone so far as to put “parental control” programs on their own computers to keep them from surfing the net while they are trying to get their work done. I hope that I am not at that point yet, but if it gets to the stage where I simply cannot do anything else, it will be time to bring in some outside help.
- Go Ahead and Do That Fun Thing. Okay, yes, I know that the mania isn’t going to last and there are a million things that I did not do while I was depressed for the last three months. (My dusty blinds and dirty windows immediately come to mind.) But I still stick to the fact that this is the only life I am going to get. Does it really matter that my blinds are dusty and the windows have nose prints from the dog on them? Or does it matter that I take the dog outside to play fetch or sit down and read the book I’ve been dying to finish on my kindle instead of making the day about all work and no play? If you’ve accomplished a bunch of things on your list, or even if you haven’t, maybe the best thing you can do for your mental state is give yourself permission to enjoy something you’ve been wanting to do, but have been not doing because you’ve been depressed or feel guilty about doing it. For some reason, whenever I sit down to read, I feel guilty and like I should be doing something else. But what better thing can we do for our minds than expand them by reading? I love to write, but my first love as a child was reading and sometimes it’s really helpful to calm myself by sitting in the rocker/recliner and just read for an hour or two. If today was your last day on earth, would you rather have cleaned the windows or read a book?
Because my mania periods are kind of far between and short lived, I have to take advantage of them when I get them. I find that these are the times that I can really get things organized, make progress on projects, and do some of that housework that doesn’t get done on a regular basis. But I try to balance that with some of the calming techniques I have described above and some fun things as well. Because I spend so much of my time depressed, I like to use this time to really live my life and to squeeze in as much as possible before I cycle back down again. These are the times I can actually go out of the house without too much agony, meet a friend for lunch, get things organized, take care of things I’ve been putting off, and feel like I am once again a productive, worthwhile person. Because the depression sucks so much of the life out of me, I have to take advantage of these short periods where I feel like the sky is blue and the leaves are green again. The world has so much more color when the hypomania strikes and I want to live that to the fullest.
And, just to round this list out, I wanted to mention that being a parent with bipolar is really hard on the kids. If I get a hypomanic period, I try to use some of that energy to spend time with my kids. It may not mean going bowling or to the swimming pool, but it’s when I can actually have a conversation with them while I am not lying on the couch in a puddle of tears or sleeping. My kids are remarkably understanding of both of my illnesses. Why not take advantage of those times when I am having a good day to build those relationships if possible?