Mania is almost always more difficult for me to fight than depression. The signs are harder to recognize, and many times it’s too late by the time I do. The problem with mania is that I’m feeling good, at least in the beginning. By the time I know it’s not just a series of good days it’s out of control. Unfortunately this is a more prevalent feature of my illness, so I really need to work hard to stay on top of it.
Hypomania isn’t always a bad thing. I am happy and productive. This is where I should start worrying about losing control, but I’m feeling so good I don’t think about it. It doesn’t always turn into a full blown manic episode, and I don’t want to bring myself down. So instead of recognizing it as a warning, sometimes I just enjoy the ride. As I learn more about this illness I have started to recognize that this could be the beginning of a problem and try to address it early.
A lot of the early symptoms aren’t that much different from depression. My shoulders get tight, I’m easily agitated and my thinking becomes repetitive and obsessive. Unlike depression however, the focus is more positive, which only makes it that much difficult to deal with. It’s hard to change a behavior which, at least on the surface, is upbeat and happy. But if I have any hope to avoid going into an uncomfortable and dangerous episode, this is the time.
The first thing I try to control is my excessive energy. Just as with the agitation of depression, I use many of the techniques to discharge the stress and release energy. Deep breathing, self relaxation, and meditation all help diffuse the growing tension.
Exercise is also a good release. I’ve got all this extra energy; use it for something healthy. If I exercise hard enough the natural fatigue that follows slows me down. It also helps me get into a rhythm which I find to be calming. This is when I get into a more strenuous routine. Speed walking, time on the elliptical, even heavy weightlifting is a constructive way to burn off energy. Of course I have to be careful not to overdo it. As long as I can stay aware of my own limitations I can avoid hurting myself in the process.
Music is also one of my ways to calm down. I make myself listen to soft jazz and classical music and stay away from the fast pop and rock and roll. If I can just sit for a while and feel the soft rhythms it’s easier to use some relaxation techniques to calm down. I do try to stay away from strong emotional songs. Like everything else, a lot of music has a lot of deep meaning to me, and it’s too easy to get caught up in the emotion. Strong feelings, both positive and negative tend to feed into my elevated mood.
There’s always an element of anger. It usually starts out mildly annoying and can build into a manic rage. When I catch myself becoming irritated I need to step back and recognize that it’s not rational to become that annoyed over something that is usually not a big deal. Getting pissed off because the line at the grocery store is moving too slow for example. I usually don’t have anywhere I need to be in any particular hurry, there’s no reason to let myself get worked up. Hard to do, but something I need to try to remember before I get really angry. Letting go of this anger also releases a lot of stress and energy; I can feel myself calming down by just simply being patient.
Naps are good. When my children were small I used to always put them down for a nap every afternoon, whether they were tired or not. My youngest was usually ready for one, but my oldest would fight it, and I’d lie on the couch and hold her while she watched a Disney movie. Eventually she would calm down, and we’d both fall asleep, feeling a lot better afterwards. Just like a kid’s nap, if I can make myself stretch out and relax for a little while, I can usually go to sleep. It doesn’t help to sleep too long as I’ll wake up irritated and grumpy, but usually an hour does a world of good. There have even been times at work where I’ve spent my lunch hour in the car grabbing a short nap. Of course I would always set an alarm on my phone so I didn’t sleep through the afternoon, but it always helps me feel more relaxed and better able to cope.
Remembering to eat is important too. As I speed up, I tend to start skipping meals. I’ll grab a snack or wolf down a sandwich at my desk so I don’t get too hungry, but I don’t stop whatever I’m doing to really eat a meal. Stepping away from whatever I’m doing breaks up the building intensity. I also find cooking for myself to be helpful. I’m not a great cook, so I really have to find recipes and carefully follow instructions to make something edible. Popping a pre-made dinner into the microwave doesn’t do anything to help slow down; taking the time to create something of my own does.
Hanging out with friends is always a good thing. I know from experience that I can be very annoying and overbearing when I’m on an upswing, but friendships are very important to me and I work very hard to not become a complete jerk. If I catch myself becoming loud and opinionated, talking over everybody and being a nuisance in general I try to force myself to be quiet and keep my mouth shut. It’s not always easy, but I really want to protect my friendships so I do all I can once I realize what I’m doing.
As with every aspect of this disease, working with my Doctor and Therapist is critical. Mood stabilizers help a great deal to keep from getting too high, but sometimes they’re not enough and I need help from my Doctor to make the necessary adjustments. My therapist is usually the first one to notice the change in my mood, and I’ve learned to listen to her as best I can when she starts to see a problem.
Sometimes I just can’t control the mania and find myself in a full blown episode. Part of the nature of this illness is to convince yourself that there really isn’t a problem, or that you have it under control by yourself. But I’ve been down that path too many times before, and I don’t want to go back. I’ve realized that even good behavior can be unhealthy and can lead to a much more destructive place. Accepting my illness for what it is has gone a long way to helping me keep it in check. That may be the most important lesson of all. Now that I know that my feelings and actions are a result of an illness, I have more motivation to stay aware and take the necessary steps before I completely lose control.
Whether depressed or manic, or even periods of stability, I need to remember that my behaviors are driven by a physical disease. Acceptance of my illness brings understanding, and understanding leads to management. Needless to say, I’m not always going to win the battle for control, but with awareness and by being proactive I can at least limit the losses. And each time I do, there are lessons to be learned, and if I look for them, then the next time I can be more prepared. This is a life long struggle, and I’m fighting for my life. I may not always succeed, but there’s one thing I can always do.
Fight the good fight.