By: Danielle Workman
The best advice I had ever gotten in regards to my diagnosis came from my father. It was a dark and gloomy day, in those long months between winter and spring. “You need to spend less time fighting your bipolar and more time working with it.” He said. “It’s how you would work with a difficult person, you could make that person work for you - why not your diagnosis?” He asked. I remember sitting back into the seat I was sitting in and settling in to those new thoughts. ‘Why not my diagnosis?’
To give you a clear idea of what I’ve been working with, I am a rapid cycle mixed Bipolar 1, that with medications and therapy am down to what my psychiatrist and I have decided to call a stable Bipolar 2. As I’ve written about many times before, coming to terms with the diagnosis and the process of getting well took a really long time, but in the moments that followed my father’s advice I knew he was right. I had to decide to like my symptoms. I had to chose to work with my mental illness. Which is why whenever there is a flare up, I make my hypomania work for me.
The first indicator that I am going to swing into a hypomanic phase is that my senses are insane! It’s easiest to identify this during a phase where the seasons are changing. When the flowers smell better, the leaves brighter, or the sun simply feels more gentle - I can tell I will be hypomanic in no time. When I can tell the vibrancy of the world around me, the sweetness of living, I know an episode is on its way.
To take control of this symptom I instead choose to embrace it and capture everything I adore about the seasons. My time is spent finding seasonal inspiration, journaling, and finding craft ideas. Long walks, gardening and anything that will allow me to enjoy and embrace the feeling, I do it. Not only does this allow me to work with my bipolar, but it also allows me to be a better mother to my little one as we explore the seasons.
The thing that follows next is a sensation I can only define as ‘wild’. Usually, after a long day on my feet at work the last thing I want to do is go for a run, or deep clean my home. During these phases however, I find that I am able to do all of those things, and even when I close my eyes they’re still moving rapidly behind my eyelids. During this time little movements take over my entire body, from bouncing my knees, picking at my cuticles, and popping my knuckles. It’s a very easy and obvious symptom to catch on to.
Taking control of this one is actually really easy and potentially can be really healthy. If I feel like burning energy off - I burn it off! Often if I feel like I’m going to run a mile, I put on my running shoes and do just that. Things that I’ve done that I love and work well for me includes running, deep cleaning and dance parties in the kitchen with my little one. This not only helps me when I’m in those moments, but also when I’m in the inescapable depression that will follow (and the weight gain that can happen in those depressive bouts!)
For some of my friends that suffer from Bipolar disorder, it’s hard to tell if they’re mood shifts are due to episodes (in either direction) or simply good or bad days. For me though, its a little easier. Generally my baseline is very dry and sarcastic I’m quiet and when I speak up, it’s out of conversational necessity. At baseline I prefer to watch people and listen. Hypomania makes me boisterous, chatty and opinionated. I like to talk to people, to learn about them. I ask questions I wouldn’t usually care about, research and become exceptionally social
This symptom took a lot of time and energy to work into but I have had to learn to utilize it like crazy. By being social and creating friendships when I’m hypomanic means that I’ll have a little more support when I’m depressed to help me through those darker days. Not only does it help during the down times, but the support of friends can help you keep sane and stable from skyrocketing into mania. So, when the mood strikes me as happy, chatty and social - I tune in, turn on, and show up socially.
Less Need for Sleep
We all know the feeling. Lying awake in bed at night, staring at the ceiling while your mind is racing. Even with your night meds and even sedatives you know there will be no sleeping. When it finally comes, you find that you only get an hour or two of sleep, and don’t need any more sleep. Suddenly, you have so many more hours in your day. Sounds great, right? Truly, this is the worst of the hypomanic symptoms in my opinion.
The best advice I ever got for sleeplessness came from my college psychology professor. He told us that if we could not sleep to get out of bed, keep the lights dim and to quietly clean something. I do just that, taking time to dust, hand wash dishes and to tidy up papers and mail. Usually, within an hour I’m ready to go to bed and when I do so fall asleep quickly. I also love waking up to a clean house, and when the crash from sleeplessness comes I can have peace of mind knowing that my house isn’t in total shambles while I recover.
If sleep is still elusive after cleaning, I make sure that I only allow myself to indulge in educational media. If my brain is going to be a jerk and keep me from being healthy, I’m going to at least grow my mind and be educated. Documentaries, books, podcasts and audiobooks are all things I’ve used to keep my mind busy while it refuses to let me sleep.
These are just a few ways that I’ve had to work with my brain instead of against it. There are so many parts of our diagnosis where we fight; we fight for our lives, fight for our sanity, fight for our bodies and homes and families. Maybe, just maybe we can work with our wild minds for just a little bit and make our Bipolar work a little better for us.