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The Hypomanic Edge: The Joys and Risks of Being Above Normal

I have bipolar disorder, and right now, as I write this, I am hypomanic. Hypomania is where the term ‘hypo’ comes from. Wikipedia describes it as: “Characteristic behaviours are extremely energetic, talkative, and confident commonly exhibited with a flight of creative ideas.” Hypomania feels excellent because my mood is up, and I have way more energy than usual. However, there are downsides and the way I experience it is often different for others. With the good of hypomania, there’s always the bad, which I discuss in this article.

What is Hypomania?

Hypomania is a milder form of mania. It’s a state of elevated or depressed mood, with an increased speed of cognitive functioning and an ability to function more quickly. Hypomania is often considered a harmless mood swing where a person’s productivity and confidence increase in both short and long terms. However, in some cases, hypomania can turn into full-blown mania. Mania is where a person experiences grandiose euphoria, irritability, rage and a desire to indulge in self-destructive behaviours like addictions and drug abuse. These are considered severe symptoms of mania and some of what I experienced before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Hypomania symptoms


Who gets Hypomania?

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder can only be made if someone has experienced both a depressive and hypomanic/manic episode. When I sought medical help, it wasn’t when I was in my hypomanic episode; I had a severe depressive episode. After much investigation by three separate psychiatrists, they determined I had bipolar disorder because I had experienced a depressive and hypomanic/manic episode. I learned that most people with bipolar seek help when they’re depressed, not when they’re hypomanic. This is usually because people are more aware of what depression is than mania and hypomania.

But it’s not just people with bipolar who experience it. It is also associated with Cyclothymic Disorder and association with alcohol use, drug use, depression, high stress levels, side effects from medication, and sleep pattern changes.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Experiencing some or most of the symptoms of hypomania and/or mania is normal and even exciting. There are some positive effects, but hypomania is always accompanied by the potential for negative mood swings, which can be amplified by stress. For example, it is normal to feel happy, excited and “blissed out” during hypomania. It’s exhilarating, a feeling you’re not used to feeling. But this can feel like an all-out euphoric mood swing, especially when other symptoms arise and/or intensify.

Hypomania – A Time To Accomplish Great Things

So, why is hypomania a good thing? Not only is it good to feel more confident, energetic and creative, but a hypomanic state is also the best time to accomplish great things. For example, Nobel Prize winner Michael Faraday achieved breakthroughs with his notes on electromagnetism. At the same time, bipolar author Norman Mailer experienced his first two books and his subsequent ones during his hypomanic stage. This would have taken much longer if he was experiencing the sadness and loss associated with bipolar disorder. Although I’m not a Nobel Prize winner or famous author, I can attest to these experiences. As a copywriter, I have produced some of my best work when hypomanic; I make fantastic progress, write thousands of words instantly, have the best ideas and am ultra-focused.


Euphoria to Damaging Delusions

As far as the euphoric feeling goes, it is a natural by-product of rapid mood shifts. The energy you feel can be positive, as when you are excited about life, it can also be damaging. The negatives can include delusions, and people can become more irritable, agitated, and depressed. It’s also common for people to become hypersexual, but this was not the case for me.

As I look back to my life before being diagnosed with bipolar, before I was unmedicated, I definitely had delusions and was probably more manic than hypomanic. This is why my psychiatrists initially diagnosed me with Bipolar 1 instead of Bipolar II. In the end, the latter was my diagnosis. When I experienced my hypomanic and manic states back then, I remember feeling grandiose and invincible. I felt like nothing could stop me, and I believed in things I never would normally.

For example, I spent thousands of dollars on a business I did not particularly like simply because I thought it was a fantastic idea. I bought a brand new car when I didn’t need one simply because I could. I took on massive clients when I didn’t have the capability, engaged in risky driving behaviour, and started to believe in things that went against my normal.

What do I mean by ‘believing in things’? I started going to church and church groups when I was and always had been an atheist. I have nothing against religion; I went to a religious high school, but that wasn’t my belief, and I was going against the grain for no real reason at all.

So yes, there’s the good and the bad. When I go from a high straight back into depression, this is the ugly and inevitable part of bipolar. The other bad is when I absolutely regret the stupid decisions I made and pay the price later.

This image describes the bad part of hypomania perfectly.


Self-awareness is My Key to Normal

Now that I have a bipolar diagnosis, specialist support and the proper medication, hypomanic episodes aren’t gone for good, but they’re manageable. I’ve learnt to be self-aware and recognise the changes in my body when hypomania returns. Yes, I still tend to talk a lot, much to my husband’s dismay. My energy levels are higher than usual; I’m productive and feel good about life. I’m also very alert, ultra-focused and I have great ideas. The problem is, I want to do them all at once, but my self-awareness means I don’t make bad decisions.

Hypomanic symptoms

There are many aspects to hypomania, and every individual will experience it in different ways. That said, understanding what you are feeling is vital to managing it successfully and making the right decisions for you. I’ve talked on my podcast about ‘respecting my two selves’. When I know I’m hypomanic, I’m hyper-aware of my decisions and how they will affect my depressed self.

Self-awareness is key to knowing my mental state and helping me to take care of myself. I make sure I never go too long without sleep, that I take care of my needs, and that I make positive changes in my life when necessary. I’ve learnt to ride the wave, live in the moment, make the most of these fleeting points in my life and brace myself for what’s to come. For me, each time is a fraction easier because when you know what to expect, it’s that little easier to be prepared.

“I know the empathy borne of despair; I know the fluidity of thought, the expansive, even beautiful, mind that hypomania brings, and I know this is quicksilver and precious, and often it’s poison.” – David Lovelace, Scattershot: My Bipolar Family

Eva Lewis