Posts Tagged ‘hypomania’

I’m manic, no doubt about it.  After almost two weeks down (some of it pretty rough, but nowhere as bad as it often has been), six days ago I came up – and I have come too far up.  I’ve been missing a lot of sleep, but I’ve not been irritable, not making big errors in judgment, not spending too much money. I’ve been feeling good, having a good time at work, being very productive.  Let’s call it a manic-depression 4 – significantly expanded.

When I’m manic, expanded, the work is grounding.  Here’s one way I worked on that this morning.  i was at my Sunday morning ecstatic dance, having a great time.  And something happened there which sometimes tends to happen when I’m manic: I started to smile – big smile, big shit-eating grin that just stayed there for a minute or two at a time.  i was just that happy, that benevolent, that much liking myself and the other people around me.

Some smiles can return us to a state of innocence.

Some smiles can return us to a state of innocence.

So what’s the problem, right?  Well the problem has to do with being ungrounded, with getting too high.  This ecstatic state (and yes, it is ecstatic dance) can kind of blow the top of my head off, can be too dizzy – it doesn’t get integrated.  But this morning I came up with a strategy that worked pretty well: I focused on my feet on the floor.  This created a wonderful little energy loop – a connection between my head (where my smile was) and my feet, my high energy and some groundedness.  This made me trust the smiling happiness more – and made me realize that it was tending before to have a little out-of-control quality, even a little scary.  This groundedness allowed me to move in and out of dancing with other people in a kind of seamless way – enjoying their energy, their dancing, without losing track of mine.

So I was grateful for the smiling, which tends to not happen much when I’m depressed – and grateful for the grounding, which tends to more come out of my depressed state.  It was a genuine complex healing state (see the page above) – a real state of relative balance even though I was still mostly manic.  It was sweet, precious – and to be savored.  Tomorrow I may be depressed, but I still had this.  It was real – actually more real because it was grounded, less in my head.


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There was a time when I had no awareness of when I was getting manic – I just knew that I felt good, so bring it on!  Over time, I have become sensitized to more and more subtle cues that I am “getting high” – and I know that it has lots of risks.  Mania has some genuine gifts – as does depression – but the more ungrounded you get, the more risk of errors in judgement (spending too much money, starting unrealistic projects, etc.), interpersonal damage and the inevitable crash.  So grounding is key: how to keep your feet on the ground when the adrenaline starts to surge.

When you've been really low, all you want to do is to come up. Keeping your feet on the ground is both a skillset and a discipline.

When you’ve been really low, all you want to do is to come up. Keeping your feet on the ground is both a skill set and a discipline.

There are many strategies for grounding, from sitting and walking meditation to gardening.  I’ve tried lots of them, with more or less success.  Some, like walking/swimming/dancing, psychotherapy and talking with my friends are just part of how I regularly operate.

But I’ve got a new one: getting sick!  A couple of weeks ago, I came out of about two weeks of being down and started to come up.  Day 1 of being not depressed looked pretty balanced – call it a 6 (Peaceful State) on my Mania-Depression Scale.  But knowing the way my energy state tends to swing, I was watchful.  Then on Day 2, two things happened: I started to tip into mania (call it a 5, “slightly expanded”) and I came down with a cold.  And getting sick grounded me!  It turned out to be a nasty cold, which went on for ten days, getting worse for the first seven or so.  My up cycle lasted about eight of those ten days.

During those eight days, I frequently said to friends things like: “I physically feel like crap, but I’m not manic.  I’m not depressed and I clearly have tipped into the up end of the continuum.  My spirits are good, but I’m not speedy.  All in all, getting sick has not been a bad trade-off. ”

It felt great to not be emotionally down, but being physically down kept me from getting high - which itself felt pretty good.

It felt great to not be emotionally down, but being physically down kept me from getting high – which itself felt pretty good.

What’s the takeaway from this?  “Don’t try this at home?”  My current lesson from it is: Life is always working on me.  It’s trying to get me balanced.  It will use whatever strategies it can to teach me how to stay grounded when I am high and how to pull myself up to the surface when I am low.  I don’t want to use getting sick as a regular strategy for dealing with mania, but with a little luck I have integrated some subtle balancing capacity – or moved the needle a degree or two.  I’ll keep getting opportunities to practice grounding myself and hopefully I’ll have some muscle memory of what it was like here to be not depressed, but not high.

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I’m running speedy today.  I’m hesitating to call myself manic, because there has been so much exciting stimulation in my life over the last couple of days that someone without bipolar disorder would probably be overstimulated and ungrounded.  But I’m calling myself a 4 – significantly expanded – on my Mania-Depression Scale, and there is the genuine risk of me getting manic.  The scales have tipped from the depressive end of the things and I need to let go of the tools I use to manage depression (seeking out extra stimulation, etc.) and bring in all my strategies for grounding (including somewhat reducing my stimulation, making sure to get enough sleep, etc).  A little bit ago, I laid out on the grass in the sun, one of the most powerful techniques I know for getting grounded.  Now, feel my butt in the chair, my feet on the floor, and breathe.  Let me take a moment to do these things.

After a couple of weeks of being mostly down, I'm ramping up again - time to shift from my energizing tools to my grounding tools.

After a couple of weeks of being mostly down, I’m ramping up again – time to shift from my energizing tools to my grounding tools.

(A minute later)  OK, I’m back.  It wouldn’t have hurt to do that longer, but this post is just wanting to write itself and I feel a need to capture it while it’s hot.  Getting it out will also be grounding.

My life has had several sources of exciting stimulation over the last 48 hours.  Wednesday afternoon, I previewed my 17-minute speech on bipolar disorder (my story – parallel to, but not quite the same as the”My bipolar journey” page at the top of this blog) for my performer/writing coach friend Nina Hart.  It was my first time since writing this piece two months ago to perform it for another person and was very exciting.  I had been manic when I wrote it and – even though it seemed to hold up while I was down – I never totally trust a creative piece I have produced when I’m up.

But Nina adored it – and had some excellent suggestions for how to improve it.  (Her most significant suggestion was, “You are so grippingly honest through the whole piece, then right at the end – when you bring the story into the present, how you are now – your integrity slips a little.  You paint your current situation more rosy than I think it is.  Your story will be less  powerful if you don’t stay equally honest right through to the end.”  Great feedback.  I knew she was right – and will make the changes tomorrow.

Honesty can be hard, but sometimes it's very freeing.

Honesty can be hard, but sometimes it’s very freeing.

I had a job interview yesterday about a job I’m enthused about.  This writing – and the public speaking, teaching and consulting about bipolar disorder that I see coming out of this – is my real work, but I also right now need an artist’s day job.  I think this job may be it, and I’m excited about it.

But more exciting than either of these was a gig I played last night.  Another piece of writing I produced when I was manic was a 6-minute piece of stand-up comedy I wrote four months ago.  When I crashed a couple of weeks later, I didn’t think it was any good.  Oh, I wrote this all up on a post that went up here on September 15 – so I’ll save the rest of that story.  You can go back and read it if you like.

Anyway, I performed this piece at church on September 15.  The title of the sermon was “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”  My piece, which i originally intended to be a sweet poem about the innocence of childhood – inspired by new grandbaby – under the influence of mania came out as this kind of wild comedic ride that I titled, “It’s never too late to have a screwed-up childhood.”  I thought it was strictly all for laughs, but I came to realize after I performed it that getting people laughing about the whole happy childhood/unhappy childhood dichotomy can be a therapeutic act.  Those of us who actually did have a screwed-up childhood may especially profit from the chance to laugh about all that.

So I was asked to reprise this piece at a benefit in a music club last night. I hired a video guy to capture it on videotape: I have a vision of it going up on a website that will help me promote my public speaking/teaching/consulting around bipolar disorder.  This would show my lighter side.

So I had a lot riding on this last night.  And it was a little intimidating playing a club, when most of my other performances have been in the cozy confines of my church.  Big crowds in my church – 200-300 people per service – but they know me and love my poetry.  These would be mostly strangers.

I'm playing a club!  Wow!

I’m playing a club! Wow!

When I first got up there, I was shocked by the stage lights: I couldn’t see the audience!  I had forgotten that this would be the case.  I usually rely on a lot of eye contact – I work the room.  And at first it wasn’t clear how well the crowd would respond.  They were there for music and here we were inserting spoken word near the end of the evening, right before the headliner band.  When I look at the video, I look a little physically frozen – my right arm mostly never moves.  But the crowd did warm up, I did find my rhythm and I finally had a lot of fun.

And the video came out really good.  You can view it on You Tube at


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I’m going to give it a manic-depression rating of 6 (in balance) for now, but I’m watching it.  Since Monday, I have been saying that I’m inhabiting a very fruitful mixed state – in some ways still clearly down, but also encouraged about my writing, which leads me to be encouraged about my life in general.  Today is the first day that I am clearly not down.  This was especially apparent walking the dog in the woods, rocking to Ani DiFranco on Spotify on my phone.  When I’m down, I don’t respond to music – it mostly irritates me.  All through my recent down stretch (9 days clearly down, then those 3 mixed), music didn’t work for me – though honestly I didn’t try it during the last 3 days.  But today I was really rocking.

Am I in balance? Or on my way from too down to too up?  Breathe and watch - and trust.

Am I in balance? Or on my way from too down to too up? Breathe and watch – and trust.

I don’t want to be an alarmist – I want to be able to enjoy just feeling good.  I am definitely revving kind of high, but that could be just the pressure I am feeling to get a lot of things done today before I leave early tomorrow for a weekend trip to see my son and new grandbaby in Louisville, KY (about which I am excited – and want to be excited).  I have had way too much mania over the last few months.  The Lithium I started two weeks ago is supposed to help me keep my feet on the ground – but I may not have been taking it long enough or may not be on the right dose.  (I took a blood test a few days ago that’s supposed to tell them if it’s the right dose for me, but I haven’t heard anything back from my psychiatrist.)

So meanwhile, just to be on the safe side, I’m practicing all the tools I’ve learned over the years for grounding myself.  I don’t have time to write all that up right now, but expect a post on it next week.  But one thing I know that i absolutely need to do is to slow down, every which way I can – and get a good night’s sleep tonight.  I’ll be away from the computer for a few days, but will give you an update next week.

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(md rating: i started at a 9, very contracted, state this morning and have come up over the course of the day to a 7, slightly depressed)

When a previously very active blog on the topic of bipolar disorder, written by someone who has self-identified as a survivor of the condition, suddenly goes offline for eleven days, with no word of explanation, it would be kind of natural to surmise that the writer has gotten depressed.  In this case, that speculation would be 100% accurate.

Monday morning the 12th, I drafted a post that I – for reasons I don’t remember – never put up,  In it, I wrote, “As always when I’m not depressed, I worry when the next depression is coming and how bad it will be.  Walking the dog this morning, I was not very responsive to the Spotify music playing through my phone (Steve Earle, who just yesterday was really rocking me).  Is this an early warning sign that a depression is looming?  Or just a part of how mentally preoccupied I am today?”

I wrote that at 10 a.m., still identifying myself as an md 5, slightly expanded.  I actually didn’t feel speedy, but felt too off-center to call myself a 6, in balance.  Over the course of the next couple of hours, I watched myself tumble precipitously into a deep depression, landing at a 9, very contracted.  I spent the next eight days mostly in this 9 state – which, in the mania-depression tab at the top of the blog, I define as “pain in my brain radiates out into the rest of my body when i attempt to function at all.  Movement itself becomes so painful that i wince against the pain, may lean against the wall for support, get very still or immobile to get under the radar of the pain – flee into sleep just as much as possible.”  For periods of an hour or so here and there, I would slip into a 10, completely unable to function – I would sit and stare at the floor.  A couple of days I stayed in bed well past my usual rising time of 7 a.m., but I never spent the day in bed nor returned to bed when I had arisen – things i frequently do when I’m at 10 (but actually have never done for the last year or more).

Mornings tend to be my worst time,  Afternoon and evening brought me little if any relief for the first 8 days of this twelve day stretch, but the last four afternoons my mood has lifted some in the afternoon – like today, to a 7, slightly depressed.  When I was at the bottom of this particular well, I couldn’t picture blogging: not only did I not have the physical energy or mental clarity for this task, I was extraordinarily discouraged about the whole enterprise: “What do I have to say to anyone about bipolar disorder, when my own illness is still so out of control?”

Today I feel like blogging.  Today, I once again feel like I have something useful to say about this terrain.  I’m still showing no signs of ramping up into a mania, still have been spending my mornings back at 9, still am a little depressed at my best moments.  I’ll sure be watching for the subtle signs that I’m tipping into a mania, which requires very different strategies than when I’m trying to cope with depression.  We can talk about this in another post (and I’ll eventually put a bunch of this stuff into a page at the top of the blog).

Meanwhile, it’s a good time for a post-mortem.   I’ll spend the next several posts trying to make sense of the up and then the down (I wrote a few posts about the mania while it was happening), what I might have done differently, what is helping me to surface, etc.  Writing all this may help me in the future – and may also be helpful to you readers of this blog.  There’s no shortage of material here.

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I’m not integrated today – I’m fragmented.  My concerns about an out-of-control mania have passed: I got seven hours of sleep last night and am not particularly speedy – just enough to call myself a 5, slightly expanded, rather than balanced (the grail and a state in which I spend very little time).  As always when I’m not depressed, I worry when the next depression is coming and how bad it will be.  Walking the dog this morning, I was not very responsive to the Spotify music playing through my phone (Steve Earle, who just yesterday was really rocking me).  Is this an early warning sign that a depression is looming?  Or just a part of how mentally preoccupied I am today?

And i am mentally preoccupied today.  I have a whole lot of writing queued up for this blog – posts that I have unfinished or unedited, dictated in my phone and handwritten in the little spiral notebook I carry with me everywhere.  This is some of the standard fragmentation that comes with running too high, which i have done for a week now.

But even more than that I have the disconnection between the grand vision that emerged for me last week for where I am going with my business (see Depression and Life Purpose, August 9) and the day-to-day reality of my life.  These aspirations for three books and a public speaking business are as yet pretty ungrounded: the first book, my memoir, is only part finished – and the other two books are as yet just a vision.  And the public speaking business is also right now just in my mind’s eye.

This wonderful vision crystallized in part as my response to a 6-month entrepreneurship training that I signed up for last week.  They came together from fragments that have been floating around in my mind for months and years.  They came together with a force that was a little shocking.  Was the mania that I teetered on the brink of last week a result of so much stimulation or the cause of it?  Is this vision just one more manic plan that there is no way that i can in reality make operational?

Aren’t these always the fears for someone who wrestles with bipolar disorder?  Can I possibly reach that mountain I saw so clearly just a few days ago?  How do integrate these two realities i inhabit?  Where are the baby steps that can link my grounded (or even depressed) reality with my bigger vision?

For me today, the baby steps have everything to do with this blog.  This blog is the link between my current reality and my vision of books and a speaking business.  I have posts and pages to write and edit.  I have several ways I want to improve the blog before I start promoting it with mental health professionals, an effort I want to begin within a couple of weeks.

And today I need to not get compulsive or too driven with these tasks: I need to spend time with my friend Badria.  I need to swim, big-time.  I was sick at the beginning of last week, got rained out of a swim another day – and it has been over a week since I swam, which is so integrating for me.

I have work to do, baby steps to take.

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I don’t know what manic-depression score to give myself tonight.  I have been strung out all day from having only one hour of sleep last night.  I’ve been in a pretty good mood, though definitely concerned that maybe my mania is cycling out of control.  I attempt to reassure myself that there are very good situational reasons for running high – I’m extremely excited about three things at once:

  1. this blog, which is on fire
  2. the entrepreneurship training i just signed up for and my new vision about an entrepreneurial future for myself, and finally
  3. this speech I wrote last night (which,  on reviewing a couple of times today, I like a lot) – and which i see as one key to building the public speaking business that is part of my entrepreneurial vision.

So who wouldn’t be overstimulated?  Still, though, I know the risks of going without sleep.  Lack of sleep makes you a sitting duck for mania – and what goes up must come down.

All day long, I have been planning to go tonight to a “Salon” – a gathering of lovely friends to play together and to share creative performances with each other.  I went to the first in the series a month ago and it was a gas.  I have two sweet, fun summer poems to share with the group, which I know they will enjoy.  But I know the risks: I am already overstimulated and strung out.  If I was depressed, it would be really wonderful to get out with such sweet people and have such a stimulating evening – but when I’m already high it may be a bad idea.  Bipolar disorder is really two simultaneous diseases – what’s good for you when you are down is often not good for you when you when you are up.  And, even leaving by 10 (early), by the time I walk and feed the dogs, etc., it will be midnight before I go to bed.  Nonetheless, all day I have been unwilling to let go of it.

But having gotten some dinner in me around 5:30 (supposed to be there around 7), my system has gotten heavy and I am starting to seriously crash.  And i trust it – actually I welcome it.  “My manic energy is running out of gas – this is good news.”  So often, when I feel myself start to come down from a high, I run harder – afraid that I will keep going down and plunge into a depression.  But for some reason tonight i have no urge to fight it – I trust that i will be alright. I don’t know where it will lead: will I really sleep?  Will I wake up super early again?  But it feels super-sweet to just let go.

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