As a neuroscientist, I am fascinated by mental health, consciousness and perception, as well as the psychology behind human relationships.
Hypomania Often Goes Unnoticed
Hypomanic episodes frequently go unreported; in fact, many bipolar II patients wrongly receive diagnoses for unipolar depression. This is problematic as bipolar patients often require specific mood-stabilizing drugs. To add insult to injury, regular SSRI anti-depressants like Sertraline are dangerous when given to bipolar-spectrum people. As they increase serotonin levels, this can trigger mania in someone prone to it.
Why Do People Fail to Recognize Hypomania?
The answer is simple: Hypomania feels wonderful, allowing you to be very sociable and complete a lot of tasks that you have been putting off for weeks. Bipolar II patients actively enjoy this state, hence recall of hypomanic episodes in patients is notoriously low.
Our brains are wired to take note of negative moods and states, not positive ones. Thus, bipolar II patients often only reach out for help when depressed, ignoring or failing to notice their mild manic symptoms. A good psychiatrist will probe to see if they also experience hypomania, giving them the correct bipolar diagnosis.
I have Bipolar II and have become very astute at noticing when I am straying away from normal joy and into the territory of an abnormally elevated mood. Here are nine clear behavioural or emotional signs of hypomania.
1. Music Sounds Amazing and Intricate
Your ability to enjoy music is often extremely heightened during hypomania, due to the actions of serotonin and dopamine on receptors throughout the central nervous system.
When I am truly hypomanic, listening to my favorite music makes me euphoric; it sounds beautifully sharp and the bass reverberates, resulting in an almost tactile sensation of the song flowing over my skin. I also find myself very in tune with the complexities of the particular track, often fixating on an instrument that would never normally stand out. I can do nothing but listen to my iPod for four hours and be in pure ecstasy.
Now, it is normal to find music pleasurable, but the feeling I have described above blows regular enjoyment entirely out of the water. The intensity that it entails can only be experienced in a hypomanic state.
2. Exercise is Surprisingly Easy and Painless
In hypomania, serotonin and dopamine work in synergy with adrenaline to:
- greatly increase your energy levels
- decrease your perception of physical exertion.
Many non-bipolar people 'borrow' this state through regular consumption of black coffee before hitting the gym: It gives them the burst of optimism, motivation and physical energy required to power through their session.
We all experience some energy fluctuations, due to hormones, diet and sleeping patterns, but anything exaggerated is abnormal and mania-indicating. Exercise, especially cardiovascular, is very taxing on your energy budget and is meant to feel strenuous at times.
If you notice that you sometimes find the gym paradoxically 'effortless' for your fitness level, or that you are occasionally able to run miles without feeling any lethargy or pain, it is worth bringing this up with a doctor.
3. You Gravitate Towards Magical Thinking
In addition to enhancing your enjoyment of emotive stimuli, the hypomanic state often manifests itself in strong magical ideation. An affinity for spirituality is inherent to the human state and the basis of religion, but many individuals with bipolar disorder notice an undeniable correlation between their hypomania and their degree of interest in such realms.
If you find yourself occasionally extremely attracted to concepts such as the Law of Attraction, the Twin Flame Theory and other belief systems that assume a causal reaction between thoughts and physical affairs, this may well be noteworthy and reflect your position on the bipolar spectrum.
This is something that you should especially consider if you notice yourself losing faith in such phenomena when your mood is more 'level'. There is a marked difference between being a spiritually-inclined person who adheres to the Law of Attraction mentality and someone with unpredictable mood fluctuations who starts to see eerie synchronicities only when they are feeling 'high'.
4. Everyone Seems Fascinating (Even People You Dislike)
In the midst of a bipolar emotional upswing, the world seems to span out in front of you like a puzzle. As you are in a receptive state in which prefrontal cortex activity is heightened, you will be particularly drawn to analyzing people and effortlessly notice similarities between you and others. Being immersed in this cognitively-accelerated state is conducive to wanting to socialize and form deeper relationships with those around you, and people who normally play minor roles in your life may suddenly take center stage and seem like 'kindred spirits'.
As with the manifestations of any state that we, in this society, label as 'mental illness', such a phenomenon enriches your life experience as much as it detracts from it. Bipolar-leaning individuals (particularly those with bipolar 2) are often considered intriguing, charismatic and verbally quick, as hypomania will have you talking to your peers with an animated demeanor and remembering all conversational details.
However, the flipside to a tendency that so deeply embodies the concept of duality is as follows: many bipolar 1 and 2 sufferers regret their temporary hyper-social behavior once their mood flattens again. Some wish they had held their tongue and not spoken rapidly and excessively to acquaintances, others lamentably reach out to exes while 'buzzing' and some organize large parties that they, later, realize that they are too busy to attend.
N-Acetyl Cysteine: A Neuroscientist's Favorite Supplement
I am extremely cautious when it comes to recommending supplements to individuals with bipolar disorder, as many substances (stimulants, sugar etc.) can precipitate mania. However, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is incredibly effective at reducing manic and depressive episodes and calming the brain inflammation that underpins bipolar disorder.
With anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity, it scavenges harmful free-radicals and stabilizes abnormal glutamate activity. We have left behind outdated psychiatric models of disease that only focus on dopamine and serotonin; aberrant glutamate signalling is implicated in all cognitive and emotional dysfunction, and NAC is known to effectively regulate it in ways that conventional medications do not do.
I highly recommend that you try it on its own or as an adjunct therapy, alongside your current medication. Stay away from quick fixes, whether they be high amounts of caffeine to improve your depression or tranquilizers to smooth out your mania. You only want to be ingesting substances that will work to reduce inflammatory biomarkers.
5. There Is an Undertone of Grandiosity
Naturally, a sparkly and confident mood can go hand in hand with delusions of grandeur. When marked and unrealistic, grandiosity can be considered a form of magical ideation; we have all heard of bipolar 1 patients entering states of mania and believing themselves to be invincible. However, as the biological basis for such thinking is complex, with a multitude of genes and neurotransmitter systems implicated, grandiosity can present itself in different degrees.
While a strong sense of self-worth confers you with an advantage in life and actually render you more 'sane' than those crippled by doubt, hypomania often exceeds this fine line. Since the state also entails rapid speech patterns, racing thoughts and lowered inhibitions, you may find yourself steering conversations towards your successes and going overboard with boastful anecdotes. Being prone to acting this way (and later regretting your words) is a strong sign that you may be dealing with unaddressed bipolar disorder.
6. Time Is Flying By
Once past the dopamine-rich, carefree years of childhood, we find our lives filled with obligations and occasional dull moments. This need not be depressing, as we appreciate our playful moods and days off more when they are not so abundant.
When experiencing a 'high' mood, most people with bipolar disorder find that the hours race past them almost artificially. Rather than intermittently finding their mind wandering, individuals will find themselves constantly in a flow state and experience a consequent, fluid distortion of time. Productive weeks of exquisite music-listening, enlivening conversations and limitless cardio on the treadmill coalesce seamlessly into months.
I used to experience this when studying my undergraduate in neuroscience; during this time, I was consuming high quantities of coffee and, unknowingly, pushing myself into hypomania regularly. "This is too good to be true," I used to think, as life seemed even richer and lighter than it had felt when I was a child. It turns out that it was too good to be true, as there is no biological free lunch; what goes up must come down. None of us naturally perform at 100% constantly, nor does anyone mentally stable experience time 'whittling' past them and leaving goosebumps on their skin as if they were on an amphetamine.
7. Spending Money Is Attractive
As mentioned in the introduction to this article, hypomania commonly passes unreported as it can be extremely difficult to dissociate abnormally elevated moods with positive personality traits. Type 2 bipolar sufferers may find that their depressive episodes are mild, dismissing them as emotional volatility. For this reason, it is essential to track your mental state in an objective way; one way to do this is to consider whether there is a causal relationship between your highest moods and the amount that you purchase.
8. You Suddenly Want to Take On Many Projects
Whether this takes the form of sketching up risky business endeavors or planning to publish an unfeasible amount of online articles, enhanced productivity is a hallmark of hypomania. There is nothing abnormal about tending to work in accordance with your natural energy spikes, but if you find yourself either unmotivated or so driven that you cannot choose which project to pursue, you may be alternating between depression and a degree of mania. Most people experience all degrees of this spectrum, with their baseline falling somewhere in the middle.
9. You Crash and Slip Into Depression
A prerequisite to a bipolar (1 or 2) diagnosis is the eventual 'crash' following a period of sharpened, elevated mental activity. From an outside perspective, this can present itself in different ways, depending on the direction that your mania typically takes you in.
Some people find themselves temporarily enthralled by esoteric and mentally-taxing activities, such as deriving obscure mathematical formulae or researching the extensive history of a celebrity. When the neurotransmitter activity associated with this unwavering and indiscriminate focus is inevitably altered, a depression is assumed and the individual loses all interest in what previously gripped them.
Bipolar sufferers live exhausting lives, as everything is golden and glorious during mania yet bleak and devoid of joy when the natural neurochemical decline follows. Do you find yourself the 'life and soul of the party' for a week, before suddenly becoming averse to engaging with other humans and leaving hundreds of texts unopened?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Lucy
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 27, 2019:
This article is so revealing. Never seen or hear this discussion before. Thanks for the information and insights. It is very helpful in understanding some bipolar behaviors.