Am I Feeling Better or am I Hypomanic?
This is an interesting question that was recently posed to me by a reader: Am I feeling better, or am I feeling hypomanic? Feeling better, of course, is the goal. Feeling hypomanic, of course, is not. One can be something to celebrate while the other can be something to be afraid of. So how does one tell the difference between plain wellness (or happiness) and hypomania?
What is Bipolar Hypomania?
Bipolar hypomania is a mood that is elevated beyond the average mood but it not as elevated as bipolar mania. Bipolar hypomania actually has the same symptoms as bipolar mania; the difference is simply the degree. Bipolar hypomania doesn’t typically put the person’s life at risk as a manic episode would, but it can easily put a lifestyle in jeopardy. And by lifestyle, I mean things like financial, personal and professional wellbeing. It’s not uncommon for hypomania to cause spending sprees, gambling, hypersexuality and other harmful behaviors accompanied with lack of judgement. While people sometimes think of this as “no big deal,” certainly anyone who is drowning in credit card debt or who has lost a marriage might disagree.
And to complicate matters, some people feel really good while all of this is happening. This isn’t the case for everyone but many people actually find hypomania quite pleasurable and desirable. And if it comes after a depression? It’s like breathing oxygen for the first time after being violently strangled for months (or longer).
Are the Meds Working or Am I Hypomanic?
So, if the meds are working you feel better and if you’re hypomanic, you might be feeling better too, so how’s a person supposed to tell the difference?
I think it comes down to behavior. I always say that mental illness isn’t a problem unless mental illness is a problem. In other words, if your behaviors aren’t causing problems for you, then you probably don’t have a problem.
Of course, I said probably. There is also the worry that hypomania can just be the start of a manic episode so it’s important to take note of even unproblematic behaviors as they may be warning signs of the danger to come.
So then, it’s important to know your own prodromal symptoms (symptoms that happen before the episode). It’s important to pay attention to what the cycle is for you as symptoms are individual. Maybe the biggest sign for you is a lack of sleep. This is incredibly important to notice. This is incredibly important to pay attention to. This is incredibly important to act on and not to just sweep under the rug.
So my best advice is to:
- Watch for your personal prodromal symptoms
- Watch for behaviors that indicate a lack of judgement
And if you see either of these things, make sure and discuss your concerns with your doctor.
All that being said, hopefully you aren’t seeing these things. Hopefully you really are feeling better. Hopefully the medication is working. Hopefully you’re worried about nothing.
And remember, while watching for warning signs is important, it’s also important to carefully celebrate the wins. Don’t sabotage your wellness by looking for sickness. No one can live that way.