Dealing With Bipolar Highs: A Full Bouquet Of Emotions

Photo credit: Alex Perez

I’m learning all over again that sometimes my bipolar highs (aka bipolar mania, or in my case, hypomanias) can be harder to deal with than my bipolar depressions.

If you read my last piece, you might know that I’ve just stepped out of a really long depression. As in three years long. Three dark, numb, fatigued, mostly suicidal years. And now the last of it is finally all gone and I feel like I’ve finally come up for air, surging with life, feeling strong, feeling happy, feeling me.

And yet somehow I wasn’t expecting to swing into a bipolar high

I really should have known better. I’ve been living with bipolar long enough. At first I was just brimming with life and energy and happiness. So effortlessly. It was divine. This feeling of being on top of the world after feeling like the undead for over three years. I was feeling the full bouquet of emotions. But along with that full and heady bouquet also came anxiety. Stress. Fear. All that so much more keenly felt because I had been feeling too numb for too long. But I thought I could totally handle it. More to the point, I wanted to handle it. Because feeling the life in my veins was just too sublime.

At first, bipolar highs just feel way too amazing

They’re like a coke rush. Powerful, creative, energetic, inspiring, moving, pulsing, throbbing with life and ideas and conviction and passion and confidence. Isn’t that the way we want to feel? But they can be too much. Even hypomanias (which is a milder form of mania in bipolar II than it is in bipolar I). They’re also totally unpredictable. Even in the safety of my own home, I can end up writing all over the walls, chopping off all my hair, or cutting myself. I painted an entire bathroom blue once. Including the toilet, the sink, and the bath. And it wasn’t even my bathroom. Once I almost jumped off a ship. And that’s on a good day.

A bipolar high is a lot to handle

It’s like a volcanic fire bursting inside me, rocketing me into the sky in a wild surge of sparks and flames. And it’s been so long since I’ve had a hypomanic episode that I’d totally forgotten how almost impossible it was to control myself. My boyfriend says it’s like being in an off-road rally car, watching trees fly passed the windows. Everything just falls out of place. All the good habits. All the good practices. It all just flies away. When I’m in a depression, I will do anything and everything that I have the energy for to pull myself through. On a high, it’s like total invincibility and recklessness on Mount Olympus.

But I didn’t ask for help until it was almost too late

I was so wrong in that. I was nearing a meltdown, teetering on the very edge, feeling like my mind was sliding down its own walls. And then a friend gently told me that sometimes our boundaries (like depression or feeling numb) are coping mechanisms that should be dismantled little by little, that they can serve a very important purpose in protecting us. He was concerned about me so suddenly stepping out of the last of my depression, and that it was leaving me vulnerable and swinging the other way. ‘Healing, and especially healing mental disorders is a precarious thing that has to be handled in a gentle way.’ he said. And then very subtly encouraged me to seek medical intervention.

And so I went back on the meds

At first I hated them. Some days I felt like a slug, all slow and soggy. Other days like agitated sandpaper. I don’t know if this makes any sense to you at all; they were just the precise words I had in my head to describe how I was feeling on those days. At one stage I was staring at the multiple light switch on the wall for about 3 minutes, just trying to figure out which one was ‘off’ for the bathroom light. And sometimes the meds didn’t even work. Sometimes I still only managed to drag my unwilling self to bed at 4am. On tranquilisers! I felt like some super villain in a movie they just couldn’t shoot down.

I’m slowly finding a new balance

One day I wrote this … ‘There’s this edge, both subtle and sharp at the same time, that I can slip over at any moment, from outrageously happy into delirium. I can feel it. A weird space of altered chemicals that I’m afraid I’ll never come back from.’ And in those moments, when I’m wired from too little sleep, and my heart is beating a little too hard, my blood running too fast, my brain just a little too happy, like I took one too many party pills, and I can feel my world tilting into another dimension and I start to panic, I quietly take one of my ‘as needed’ medications and call myself home.

I’m calling myself home

Like Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz who clicks her heels together three times to get home, sometimes I whisper my name three times. There is such magic in threes. In acknowledging our own selves. And inspired by a psychologist, I sit with my emotions whenever I feel like I can handle them. It’s about experiencing our emotions for better mental health, because, apparently, when we allow them to flow through our bodies, they don’t last longer than a minute and a half. And it helps. Every little bit helps. And more than that, it always helps to soften rather than to fight.

And so I soften

My energy healer and spiritual life coach Suraya Sophia, checks in with me almost on a daily basis, reminding me to ground myself and clear my energies … and so I make it a practice to consciously soften into Mother Earth too and feel her embrace. I feel our earth mother’s warm caress in every surface my body touches, often wrapped in a tight huddle of snoozing dogs and cats, gently beckoning my heart, my blood, my breathing, my fluttering thoughts into a place of deeper stillness, somewhere closer to earth, somewhere nearer to the heart of me.

I don’t always get it right. But sometimes I do. And then I know I’m going to be okay.

Read more about the other side of bipolar