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Bipolar II Hypomania: The Catalog Sweater That Doesn't Quite Fit

Those of us who have battled Bipolar II long enough know the signs of hypomania.  And since a hypomanic episode happens so rarely compared with depression, when one does occur, it feels like receiving a beautifully gift-wrapped present. We unwrap it with frenzied anticipation, knowing the gift comes with an expiration date. Just what we've hoped for, just what we've wanted, but it may not be exactly what we need, like a sweater ordered from a catalog that doesn't fit quite right. We love the looks and how it feels, but it just doesn't match the rest of our emotional wardrobe. The gift of hypomania, enjoyed while it lasts, ultimately must be returned.

For me, the gift of hypomania feels like electricity fluttering through me, like an endless tickle with a feather just below the surface of my skin. When hypomanic, I have no desire for sleep or food. My eyes are opened wider and my senses feel heightened. Remarkably jovial and talkative, talkative to the point of interrupting sometimes, I feel like I need to comment on everything. Those closest to me say they like me hypomanic, but they are more than ready for me to calm down. Hypomania creates a caricature of myself. Invincible. Bigger than life.

One benefit of hypomania for me is productivity. Once my boundless energy is bridled, I can tackle just about any project. At work, my desk is organized, papers are filed, and exciting new lessons are developed. I never slow down and neither do my students. For middle schoolers, a hypomanic teacher is quite a treat. I talk a mile a minute, cracking jokes and pacing about the room, and we bounce from one activity to the next. Not many papers get graded, and tangential thoughts may invade my lessons, but ultimately, my hypomania, in small doses, benefits my students. Back to School Parent Night, while hypomanic, is a bit dangerous, however. One year, while flying high, I gave a multimedia presentation to parents about my course. I hoped the buzz I was feeling translated to teacher enthusiasm rather than wild-eyed crazy. Luckily, there was no fall out from that evening. No parent complaints, but I realize now that there could have been.

At home, my productivity may take the form of organizing every closet in the house, or cleaning out all of the kitchen cabinets. My family finds this helpful yet annoying, since I see no reason why everyone can't unload all of their clothes from their dressers and get organized too. My hypomania once even inspired me to paint my office. Now that was a mistake. Not only did I choose a yellow the shade of an egg yolk, I painted with such unfocused energy and lack of precision that once completed, it looked as though the sun crashed into the corner of my house and splattered all over my office walls. Needless to say, I had to hire my ex-husband to come and repaint it. Talk about humiliating.

One of the most prominent symptoms of my hypomania is this incredible urge to create something and follow it through to completion to the exclusion of anything else. For example, I may sit at the piano for hours composing a song, and until I am satisfied that it's finished, I will not get up unless I am forced to by the demands of family or work. Even then, while begrudgingly meeting my commitments, I feel a magnetic force pulling me back to the piano. It takes all my strength to fight it. Confession: there have been days where I have gone to work and instead of going straight to my classroom to prepare for the day, I've snuck into the music room and spent my half hour prep time playing the piano before the music teacher arrives. Being creative becomes my primary focus. Then, on those same music mania days, I will return to the music room during my free period and see if the piano is available. Again, I'll play until I have to return to my own class.

Being hypomanic has its benefits but it certainly has its downsides too. The biggest negative hypomania brings is the dread of its inevitable end. We know it won't last forever, but we want it to. We want to feel that electric energy and invincibility just one day more. The dark days of depression glare us in the face too often. We don't want to look at them again. We are willing to risk just about anything to keep that hypomanic euphoria, even if our symptoms lead us to do dangerous or careless things like shop too much or drive distracted or worse. We crave that sense of elation so much we are willing to risk it. Nothing bad will happen to us, right? We are invincible!
But eventually, we know the gift of hypomania must be put back into the box and returned and our days must go back to the darkness that is depression. We'll wait patiently for the next gift-wrapped package of hypomania, while flipping through the catalog and dreaming of that perfect sweater. 

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