The Destructive Creativity of Hypomania

I am what some call bipolar. Bipolar is not a respectful way to describe my disorder or identity. I have bipolar disorder. I live with bipolar disorder. It is part of me, but shortening a diagnosis to a single word is not efficient or effective. It’s just lazy. Don’t describe anyone as ‘bipolar’

I was diagnosed at age 26, but likely onset was closer to age 13. For 14 years, I was type II. I had depression and hypomania. In 2010, a very nasty but of hypomania bloomed into full mania. So now I am type I.

I take my meds, keep a solid sleep schedule, avoid alcohol, and see my therapist regularly. I also have a serious anxiety diagnosis as well as complex trauma from too many abuses for any kid to endure.

My mood has been relatively stable for awhile. I get a little low, I get a little “revved” but it evens out.

When quarantine began, I expected to struggle a bit. But I have lots of tools and privilege. My therapist began offering teletherapy immediately and my health insurance began waiving copays. I see her 2x each week. My meds have been working well. We can afford copays and drive to the pharmacy. We have a safe, secure home. We aren’t going to lose Laura income or health insurance. Laura is very supportive and we have a rapport to manage crisis.

I have been busy with projects that have a tangible impact. My social anxiety is thrilled to have nowhere to go, a not so great coping mechanism that is helping to survive.

I’ve felt low at points. But I was caught off guard to recognize the creeping symptoms of hypomania. I am irritable. I cry a lot. I’m overwhelmed and simultaneously planning multiple new seeds for great ideas. The compulsion to do all of the things because I am needed exceeded what I could realistically do. I am super pissed. I feel things so intensely, especially loneliness. I am devastated anew to have no family contacting me.

My mind is buzzing and there is no peace. It’s not joy or creativity or happy or anything positive. I can do great things when hypomanic, but they are also terrible destructive dimensions to those things.

I do not believe my best creating comes from this agonizing state of mind. My best work is when I feel at peace and clear. The clatter of fragments of ideas is torment, not creativity. Suffering is not necessary to tap into your potential for greatness.

Last week, I realized what was happening – I was experiencing hypomania symptoms. That self-awareness is important. I asked for help. Also important.

I refer to this as “the edge” – I can feel that pull to let my mind be free of constraints and succumb to the promise of greatness even though I know it’s a lie.

I tried to cope. I could not nap, so I just rested. I ate at meal time. I drank water. I tried to distract myself. I felt like a failure.

Today I was talking with my therapist about this. I explained to her that I had put this blog into maintenance mode.

The blog is 16 years of labor and love, but also bad coding. My web guru has held us together with duct tape and spit, but we both knew the only solution is to completely recode the entire site and move to a more business level server. A solution costing $10k.

So we made a plan to fold the work into other projects, including #AMPLIFY and a planned artist-in-residence opportunity. We developed Steel City Snowflakes.

Then coronavirus came and pushed our plans back by six months or a year. That’s when the bubblegum and spit crashed once again. And the endless loops of code now create endless error messages and anxiety.

So I used a therapy tool called containment. I couldn’t fix the underlying problem now. I couldn’t cope with one more buzzy buzz in my head. So I contained the site in a virtual box and set it aside.

And I came back to it, but I might continue to lean into maintenance mode tools. Because it worked. It gave me room to breathe and remember that I’ve worked quite hard to understand and resolve the core issues.

I felt the shift away from the hypomania. It’s like a click inside my mind. I’m not over it, but I’ve got it under control. The trick is to continue my vigilance to avoid wavering. I can’t afford to slip into a headspace that’s far too lethal and destructive to be tolerated. I’ve learned a hundred times over that when I ruled the world, I was a jerk.

This song by Coldplay is what hypomania feels like. Lots of swelling gorgeous moments, rising and falling, a narrative that’s a moral tale and yet meaningless. It lulls you, but it fades away quickly. It’s creative, but not sustainable.

And the line “For some reason I can’t explain I know St. Peter won’t call my name.” Sigh.

Well, that’s a different diagnosis, a different gut punch, a different blog post.


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