On Bipolar and Being Manic

As I write this post, I am stuck in a state of mania, where my hands cannot stay still and my mind races. Before my schizoaffective (bipolar type) diagnosis, these were the moments where I would subtly sabotage myself. I'd make grand purchases with money I didn't have. I'd buy gifts and send money to people that I thought were my friends. I even went as far as to spontaneously start up different business ventures.

Only to crash, burn, and realize how much damage my behaviors were causing.

But in the world of being bipolar and manic, these events would be the rare times that I felt good about myself.

Confidence. Lack of social awkwardness. Thinking that I could do literally anything in the world.

And with mania being the state I'm in 80% of the time (I chart my mood swings) it's difficult to not leave a path of destruction in my wake.

What does being manic mean in the context of bipolar disorder?

Dr. Steve Bressert of PsychCentral writes:

The symptoms of mania include: elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, difficulty maintaining attention, increase in goal-directed activity, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities. These manic symptoms significantly impact a person’s daily living.

What is a manic episode? A manic episode is not a disorder in and of itself, but rather is diagnosed as a part of a condition called bipolar disorder.

A manic episode is a mood state characterized by period of at least one week where an elevated, expansive, or unusually irritable mood exists. A person experiencing a manic episode is usually engaged in significant goal-directed activity beyond their normal activities. People describe a manic mood as feeling very euphoric, “on top of the world,” and being able to do or accomplish anything. The feeling is like extreme optimism — but on steroids.

In my world, manic bipolar looks something like this:

  • Starting new goals, like weight loss, blogs (eh hem...), planning parties, attending parties, talking everyones' ears off, being "busy."

And don't confuse being "busy" with being "productive."

The worst episodes I would have is when I don't plan for it.

If you are living with bipolar disorder and have bouts of mania, here are some ways to prepare for it:

1. Chart your mood swings.

This is one of the most important parts of preparing for mania. I use an anonymous mood tracker app where I write down how I am feeling once or twice a day. Eventually, I noticed a pattern with my mood swings. I would be manic for 3-5 days in a row and then crash to a near-suicidal depression for 1-2 days.

Having this information ready, I was able to prepare myself to know when I will experience my next mood swing.

2. Pay attention to what you do when you are manic and remind yourself that this is a good idea now but a terrible idea in the long run.

For example, when I am manic, I like to splurge on food. On things. Then when I'm out of my state of mania, I wonder where all of my money went.

Mania can make you feel like you're on top of the world. You might gamble. Binge purchase things that you don't actually need. Give away things that hold a lot of meaning to you. Start up various grand projects (and pay for all the supplies). 

One of the things I like to do is pull out a set number of dollars. Then I lock my debit card away in my safe. I also won't save my card information to things like Paypal or Amazon, so I am forced to jump through hoops if I want to make online purchases. This forces me to put everything in my shopping cart, first, and I can make decisions to buy or not buy, when I am out of mania.

It's important to stick to these routines when you are manic, rather than giving in to the impulsive spending.

3. Find a repetitive hobby.

These hobbies could be writing, binge listening podcasts, knitting, or even exercising. The extra energy that you have during a state of mania, needs to be burned off. Doing something repetitive with an end goal in sight, is a great way to do that. Be wary of picking up a new hobby that will clearly cost you a lot of money or would require you to make a grand purchase, because you are likely to abandon that hobby once the mania wears off.

4. Talk to your therapist about it and stay on your medication.

There is no shame in getting help for mania. I always ask my therapist for a second opinion, because I feel like she is my voice of reason.

"I feel like starting up this new project-"

"Fiona, you're manic right now. Is that a good idea?"

"I want to adopt another cat-"

"But can you afford another cat and will you keep up with it?"

These are also times where I feel so great about myself that I am convinced I don't need my medication. In truth, these are the times when I need my medication the most. If you're on medication, stick to it. If not, and you're ready for medication, it's worth having a conversation with your doctor about it.

5. Sleep.

This is nearly impossible when manic, but you will feel worse if you don't get some sleep. I've been known to be so manic I sleep only 3-5 hours in a 72 hour period. That made my hallucinations and mood swings even worse. Eventually, I get on medication that helped me sleep and I keep a stash of melatonin in case I need extra help falling asleep.

It may feel like you need to stay awake to complete projects or that you're not tired, but you need the rest. Your mind needs the rest. Talk to your doctor about options to help you go to bed, or if your doctor approves, take some over the counter melatonin.

And prepare for the crash

Mania doesn't last. Hopefully you've been keeping a chart of your moods, so you can pinpoint exactly when your crash will come. When the crash happens, keep yourself prepared. Drink water, eat healthy, take your medication, and give yourself some time to recuperate after the mania.

If you're living with a form of bipolar disorder and experiencing disruptive bouts of mania, you're not alone. Be sure that you keep taking care of yourself and don't give in to the manic impulses. You got this.