I notice the sleeplessness first.
I often wake at 4am, no matter what’s going on, but at times like this, it’s different. I wake and am instantly wired. Not as worried as usual, more just awake and buzzing and wanting something to happen….now. Whatever it is, I’d really like it to happen now.
Life can feel very frustrating during hypomanic phases because it’s almost impossible to remember why other people aren’t up and available to talk or hang out at 4am. I want to be sociable when I’m high, for all sorts of reasons. It comes with a longing for connection of whatever kind.
This hasn’t always been such a great idea. So these days I try to keep my head down and spare others the rollercoaster until it passes, because involving other people is unhelpful and unfair – but it’s hard because I never want to do it on my own. There are too many interesting things to notice and talk about and make connections between and… and… and…
Actually, for me, the essence of hypomania is that extraordinary sense that the usual walls have come down. That there is no distance between anything or anyone and that time is behaving in a really strange way. So it’s hard not to want to share it with other people, because it’s cool. And it might look like madness, but I don’t honestly know that it is. I think it might just be more sane than the rather buttoned-up vision of what our culture tells us sanity should look like. But that’s a subject for another day.
Generally, in the absence of anything much happening, I listen to music, loud and on headphones (because it is 4am after all and I still have some measure of insight). It’s great – I find something that taps into the intensity I’m feeling and then I listen to it again and again and again. Time seems to completely disappear in the process. I can suddenly realise it’s 7am and all I’ve been doing in the meantime is obsessively listening to just one song. This time around it’s gospel – because there’s nothing quite like hanging out with a bunch of euphoric people singing together to feel better. Except after three hours I don’t exactly feel better, just a bit exhausted. The compulsion doesn’t go away – I don’t seem able to wear it out. It wears me out instead.
At times like these, my experience of the world is intensified. Anything I might usually feel is bigger, faster, more expansive. So whereas I would usually really like walking, now I could just run. I never normally run. I hate running. But now, I could just start and not stop.
I could have a conversation with someone that went on for three days and covered everything we know and everything we don’t know and lots of other things in between. I’m not sure how much they’d get a chance to talk, because I’d be filling the gaps and jumping from thought to thought and speaking fast. And if I noticed what was going on, I’d probably despise myself for my lack of consideration (because the other me is still present and cringing during all this, just tied up and thrown in the back of the car whilst it drives around, inadvisably fast).
Lots of things that I’m usually ok at, like cooking or doing all those important little jobs that need doing every day in order to stop life from falling apart – they suddenly become inconceivably difficult. Not burning dinner? That’s a bit of a big ask. Because how can I possibly be expected to watch over whatever it is I’m making when I could be over there, metaphorically chasing squirrels. Or actually chasing squirrels.
It doesn’t matter to me personally if I am temporarily unable to make food, because I stop being hungry. Eating is boring. And anyway I feel so constantly, insatiably hungry for stimulus, information, collaboration, meaning, whatever it might be, that actual physical hunger for food is a very small and insignificant feeling indeed.
Being hypomanic is a lot like falling in love. Or at least that’s how it feels to me. Except the intensity of feeling and longing isn’t generally focused on one person, but instead on everyone and everything. Sometimes I’ve felt so connected to… I don’t know, the universe?… that I’ve thought I understood what clouds meant. Not in an “it’s going to rain soon” kind of a way, but in an “I’ve unlocked the meaning of life” kind of a way.
I’ve never thought I was Joan of Arc or anything like that, but I have walked into a room and thought that I knew what people were thinking. And it’s entirely possible, in my mind at least, that I did. Funny really, because when my mood plummets, I can’t read anybody at all. Not even a little bit. That’s probably the most terrifying feeling I know – that appalling loss of insight.
So, after getting up, already feeling tired, I might try to do a bit of work – but it’s almost impossible. As soon as I start doing something, I decide it’s far too boring and wander off to play the piano or daydream or save the world. For example, today, when what I was supposed to be doing was invoicing someone, I decided that what I should actually be doing was setting up a Tumblr account. A space to share writing and pictures and music and video and anything I might ever feel like making. That sounded perfect. But I couldn’t quite justify spending time creating things when I was supposed to be writing my invoice, so I didn’t allow myself to make anything and felt a bit cross instead.
That’s the time when things can start to go wrong. When I notice myself feeling irritable because I can’t do what I want to do right now. Or because the world is turning a bit too slowly. Or because someone interrupts me when I’m really trying to figure out that thing with the clouds. Because if I get irritable with anyone else, I know – from the muffled complaints coming from the back seat – that it’s really nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. But it doesn’t generally stop me from doing or saying things I later really wish I hadn’t. Maybe not really awful things. Maybe no worse than other people might do on an off-day. But once I notice and I remember that I’m doing them because I’m actually a bit mad and they’re not and they really don’t deserve it, then something changes.
Being hypomanic is a bit like being an over-excited kid. It’s great until someone comes out with the line about ‘tears before bedtime’ and then you remember, and start welling up because they’re probably right – even though it could just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, tears suddenly seem likely.
From there, it’s a very small step to the other side.