October 23, 2017

Mental Health Monday: Recognizing My Hypomanic Symptoms

Shortly after Jerry and I got back from Portland, I noticed my mood was changing--just a little. I felt excited and more energetic. I figured the vacation did me some good!

More recently, however, I am showing symptoms of hypomania. Whenever this would happen before I was diagnosed, I just thought my depression was lessening and I was having some good days/weeks/months. Now, however, I feel like it is glaringly obvious that I am in a hypomanic state.


(Edit to add (important): I've been meaning to mention this ever since my diagnosis, and I keep forgetting about it! Whenever I write about my bipolar disorder, I tend to get several emails from people who, after reading, feel like they probably have it, too.

When I was studying psychology in college, we learned about "medical student syndrome", which could also be applied to learning about mental illnesses. Basically, when students are studying diseases of the body and/or mind, they can start to worry that they have every condition they are learning about. If you tend to Google your symptoms and wind up on WebMD, your symptoms could be one of hundreds of conditions/diseases! That's why it's best not to self-diagnose.

So, when I write about my bipolar disorder, and people read about my symptoms, it can cause a lot of questioning of whether they may have it, too. The truth is, so many of the symptoms of bipolar can be linked to LOTS of other conditions. There are many symptoms that I have or have had in the past that I don't write about here--either because it's embarrassing or just too personal.

Usually, those symptoms are the biggest indicators for bipolar, and the reasons for my diagnosis. Bipolar is much more than just "mood swings". I just want to make this clear because I don't want the severity of bipolar disorder to seem insignificant, or that bipolar disorder is common and "no big deal". It damaged many parts of my life from the time I was a child.

So, I encourage you not to self-diagnose anything, but especially mental illness. It took me 10 years and five mental health professionals to finally get me to accept my diagnosis--the doctors saw symptoms that I did not recognize or that I thought was normal, which is why I never accepted it. Okay, sorry for that long edit!)


It started with decreased need for sleep. At first, I kept trying to go to sleep at my regular time and just couldn't; it drove me crazy! I know I need sleep, but I feel totally energetic even without much sleep. I just don't get tired. Last night, I was up until almost 3:00 AM, and even then, I had to force myself to go to bed. I have to get up at 6:00 AM with the kids for school, so I knew I needed sleep. Even sleeping only three hours, I woke up before my alarm and was wide awake.

Next, I started losing my appetite a bit. Nothing drastic, but I wasn't as hungry as I used to be. Being on vacation had thrown off my routine anyway, so I just assumed that was the reason behind it. Besides, I was too busy being productive with things to want to stop and eat more than a quick bowl of cereal.

Then I started getting irritable. This is the worst part about being hypomanic--everything, especially noises, make me irritated. I recognize it when it's happening, and now I am much more aware of what's going on, so I do my best to control my reactions. It's very challenging! But now that I know it's temporary, it's a little easier to manage.

Still, though, I wish that noises weren't so bothersome. It's hard to concentrate when there is a lot going on.

Another symptom that snuck up on me is the impulsivity. On Friday, I decided I wanted to get a new piercing. And a few hours later, I went to a tattoo/piercing shop with my friend Andrea. Even in the parking lot, I wasn't sure what I was going to get pierced!

[I'm straying from the topic, but I'm sure some of you will be curious about what I chose. I actually ended up getting TWO ear piercings, both in my right ear--a rook piercing and a conch piercing. (The rook is the one on top, the conch is the one in the center of my ear.

rook piercing conch piercing

rook piercing
The rook wasn't terribly painful. It sucked, but I didn't gasp or anything.

conch piercing
This was the conch--on a scale of f-bombs, it was a three-er. Ouch!

I went to a place called Steel Addictions in Toledo, and the guys there were fantastic. The last piercing I got was my nose, and that was 10 years ago, so this felt new to me. I told one of the tattoo artists about the ladybug tattoo on my toe and how it made me completely turned off to tattoos in general (he asked me why I don't get a tattoo). I explained to him that I have gotten dozens of emails over the years from readers telling me that I should get my "mole" looked at, hahahaha.

I started covering it with a bandaid or wearing socks when posting my weigh ins, because I had to explain every time that it was a bad tattoo I got at 18 years old. The guys at the shop tried talking me into getting it redone, but I am just not a tattoo person at all.

Anyway, enough of that tangent. I am glad I got the piercings, because I really like them--and I'd been wanting one for a while now.]

Another example of my impulsivity: Yesterday, I jumped out of bed at 7:00, even though it was Sunday and I could have slept in. I was very springy. I got right to work on cleaning the bathrooms. As I was cleaning the bathrooms, I suddenly had the idea that I wanted to paint the living room, dining room, and kitchen. I got all excited about it, and was talking to Jerry a mile a minute about the improvements we could make on the house. I wanted to jump in the car and go right to Lowe's for the paint.

It was then that I realized what was going on. This wasn't normal behavior. I was showing signs of hypomania.

So, I told Jerry that I wasn't thinking clearly and that I needed him to make some decisions for me. If it was up to me, I would have gone right to Lowe's and start painting immediately. Jerry was much more rational, obviously, and said we can do it--but we need to wait a while first.

I have also spent a lot of money--nearly all of the allowance I had saved up over the summer--with impulse buys. Another classic symptom of hypomania. I have enough control not to use the credit card, and stick to our budget, but now I have very little allowance left for extra stuff that I want.

So, I need to talk to my psychiatrist about what to do. A couple of months ago, I started taking a higher dose of my medication (at my psychiatrist's instructions, of course), but I developed acne on my forehead, chest, and back. After talking to the psychiatrist, I went back down to the previous dose, and the acne went away. I may ask him if I can try again, and see if maybe the acne was a coincidence--although I'm pretty sure it's not.

I was trying to figure out what could have triggered the hypomania, and I wonder if it was the change in my routine when I went to Portland. In my everyday life, I thrive on routine; and while I love vacation, it throws me off. Since the symptoms started shortly after I got home, it's possible that the vacation was the trigger.

I just hope it doesn't last long. My hypomanic episodes (in retrospect) usually last anywhere from a month to five months. What I'm feeling now is definitely milder than I've felt in the past, though. And I was able to rationalize my thoughts by asking Jerry to make the decision about painting the living room, rather than just going ahead and doing it. The awareness of my thoughts and actions is actually really helpful in staying in control.

I keep reminding myself that having a mild episode doesn't mean that my medication isn't working; I just have to get used to a new normal, which will likely include mild episodes of hypomania as well as mild episodes of depression (God, I hope not, though). Only one third of patients on medication never experience mania or hypomania again.

Anyway, once I had the "Aha!" moment (realizing that these symptoms are actually hypomania), I felt like I'd conquered something important. This is the first time I've recognized this for what it is, and my whole diagnosis keeps making more sense. Now that I'm seeing the symptoms, and I know what to look for in the future, I feel like I'm already doing better than I ever have in the past.

Now we'll just have to see how this plays out! hahaha


18 comments:

  1. Hi Katie.
    This may or may not help, but there is a soap, Cuticura medicated soap, that works wonders for acne. I understand the medication may be causing, but maybe it might help. I'm in my 50's and have used this soap since I was 12. My husband has back break-outs and this has helped tremendously. My teenage son at the time went through high school with just a few pimples. You can order from the company, Amazon or Walgreen's. Walgreen's tends to have the best price. It might help.

    Thank you for your honesty and sharing your new journey with us. The piercings look great!

    Sherry

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    1. Thank you, Sherry! I may end up having to increase my bipolar meds, in spite of the acne that flared up--I really hope that it was just a coincidence and a one-time thing. But if not, I will definitely look into the Cuticura! I appreciate the suggestion.

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  2. As soon as I started reading this I was like, wow! It has to feel good that you recognize what's happening and understanding your diagnosis must help. I suffer form anxiety with bouts of mild depression, but it's more situational. I think I have had it most of my life, but it got progressively worse during a high stress time and I finally saw a doctor for it. Once I got that diagnosis (and the right medication), I have to admit it made life a little easier. I can't control what's happening when my anxiety or depression kick in, but understanding what I'm feeling sometimes allows me to just slow down and take it in stride. I haven't had a panic attack in quite some time, and that feels like progress. I am anxiously awaiting your next Monday post so I can see how you are doing. I'm cheering you on Katie! You may not realize it, but your candor here helps those of use dealing with our own mental health issues. Just talking with other people makes me realize how wide spread it is, even with people you would never expect are dealing with it.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! Having anxiety and panic attacks are the worst--that's fantastic you haven't had a panic attack in a while, and that you were able to get on the correct meds. I agree, life is easier when you at least know what's going on and are able to think a little more rationally :) Good for you!

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  3. That is so great that you could recognize the hypomania and stop and check in with Jerry! That must feel so empowering!

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    1. Thank you, Abby! Having Jerry around to help me see what's reasonable has been super helpful. It's nice to have someone to keep me in check! haha

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  4. That is impressive that you were able to recognize what was going on! Kudos to you, and thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thank you, Amy! It's a relief knowing that I can see and predict what's happening now that I know what's going on.

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  5. I started following you because of my struggles with binge eating. But I after reading this you have me questioning my mental health. Just this morning the sound of the tv gave me so much anxiety, I finally asked my husband to turn it down. We joke that I'm OCD...a messy house increases my anxiety greatly. I wonder when it is normal/okay and when you should seek help.

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    1. That's one of the problems with writing about my mental illness--it makes everyone question whether they have it, too! Haha. But there is SO much that I don't write about (for several reasons). The things I share here could apply to just about anyone, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. But if you are concerned, it wouldn't hurt to talk to a doctor about your symptoms!

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  6. It's so important that you recognize your symptoms and don't just sweep it under the rug!

    Also -- how can you stand the pain of ear piercings?!?! It hurts way worse than getting tattooed... at least in my limited experience... (*and I have a rib tattoo)

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    1. I don't know, the piercings hurt, but it's only for a few seconds. And then I love how it looks! The conch piercing I just had was the worst of all my piercings (that I can remember). Aside from my ears and nose, I've had my eyebrow and nipple done as well. The conch was worse than those!

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  7. That's awesome that you were able to identify all of this yourself! Self discovery is a powerful thing! I suffer with anxiety and I know hard to feel in control at times like this but, you are gaining your control back! This is proof!

    Happy for you!

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    1. Thank you, Kaye! I agree, self-discovery has been SO helpful to me in both mental illness AND my body (weight loss/gain/maintenance)

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  8. This is so helpful to me reading about your journey in mental health. I love how self-aware you have come. My life turned around a year ago when I decided to return to the doctor (for good this time, I hope) and treat my depression, anxiety and ADHD. Come to think about it, it was about the same time as when I started following your blog. Surely, there was a connection there. So thank you! I have had the best year of my life since then. I started a blog on the day I started on medication to track my treatment. I wonder at times, when reading your stories, if I might have Type 2 Bipolar. But I usually think what I am doing is good. I only have had one really bad episode in the last year, and I think the chief cause was too much isolation. But I'm eagerly checking in with you regularly to see how you are doing. My blog is babystepstonormal.blogspot.com.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! One of the downsides to sharing about my mental illness is that when I write about some symptoms, it makes people wonder if they have it as well. This happened to me when I was studying psychology in college--every disorder we read about, I was convinced I had it! Haha. But there is SO much that I don't share, either because it's too personal or just irrelevant. So unless your doctor has talked about bipolar, I wouldn't worry about that ;) It actually only affects 2.6% of the population! Anyway, I am so glad that you are doing well. I understand about the isolation--that's been a problem on and off for me all my life.

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  9. So interesting. I've been struggling with insomnia since April. But it's weird. I don't feel tired. The other day I got 3 hours of sleep. And the next day walked around shipshewana all day and was totally fine. I've also recently completely overhauled our kitchen. Not tired. At all. I'll have to look into what you're talking about.

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    1. Well, insomnia is different from the decreased need for sleep due to bipolar disorder. The decreased need for sleep is just one of many symptoms of a hypomanic state of bipolar. And it's been going on since I was a kid--I just didn't know that it was bipolar disorder. But I'm sorry about the insomnia you're dealing with--I tend to have insomnia when I'm depressed, and it sucks!! So frustrating. But it's nice that you're able to get some things done in the meantime! haha

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I'd love to hear from you! I read all of my comments, and if you have a question, I do my best to respond; sometimes, however, I get busy and forget to go back to reply, so if it's important, just email me! :)