For most people, happiness is achieved when one is successful in a career, marriage, relationships, sports, hobbies, or any goal we set while pedaling through our everyday lives. Some find it in another person or material possessions and others find it within themselves. It seems being genuinely happy is more complicated these days, but regardless of our social media profiles, fancy cars, big houses, and high profile jobs, it seems we all continue to reach for this elusive state. We search high and low for that feeling of joy and don’t stop until we find at least some semblance of contentment.
Those of us living with bipolar disorder may follow a different path, but we seek this out as well. It may resemble stability more than anything else. Keeping a job, maintaining a healthy workout and diet regimen, and sustaining balance in our lives could be our answer to fulfillment and joy.
The challenge for me is disseminating the difference between happiness and hypomania. Happiness appears to go hand-in-hand with measurable achievements, but hypomania is not earned by working hard or keeping long-term commitments. It is a state of mind which, if not carefully monitored, can escalate into mania. And being manic is a place that is essentially outside the realm of reality. Mania is dangerous because we can so easily let our behavior follow our rapid thoughts, taking us places we shouldn’t be and doing things we shouldn’t be doing. So, if we are unable to thrive in hypomanic mode, why do I still yearn for it?
Hypomania lures us in, tempting us at every turn. What we are supposed to do—get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, maintain a routine schedule—may seem easily attainable and make perfect sense. But, it’s actually the opposite. Our brains are on fire as we experience a natural high that is sheer euphoria with new ideas constantly pinging back and forth in our minds. If I don’t physically stop myself in my tracks, I get carried away with big-ticket item spending, planning vacations, and even finding the “perfect” new house I need to buy. You name it, I’ve run across it in this bipolar brain of mine.
The tough part is resisting all of those wonderful ideas constantly popping into my thoughts. It’s like someone is offering me something akin to a shiny new sports car or a sparkly diamond ring, but I have to refuse it and instead return to my mundane chores and day-to-day living. It’s absolutely counterintuitive to push those thoughts away and stick to the routine I’ve so meticulously mapped out. Why would I want to do laundry or ensure I am getting a good night’s sleep when I could feel like I’m up in the clouds, invincible? And, on top of everything else, these moods almost always follow a depressive cycle, so I am more than ready to pick up the pace, accomplish as much as possible, and of course spend all that money I saved while lounging around the house for weeks while stuck in a down cycle.
But, that is the irony of it all—once I emerge from a deep depression, I want to celebrate another win. I feel like I deserve it! I travel back into the land of the living with a bang and want to embrace every little idea, even if I risk making some ill-fated decisions.
All in all, living with bipolar disorder certainly requires discipline and foresight. The lessons learned in the past need to be applied to my present state of mind. I must stay grounded when I feel like lifting off into euphoria. I need to remember once again that the higher I go, the further I’ll fall. It’s simple chemistry at work. If I temper the highs, the lows won’t be as deep and drawn out. And, if I pause for just a moment and reflect, I will pull myself out of the sky, planting my feet back on the ground. Because if I don’t, I just might find myself driving off into the sunset in a shiny new Porsche, headed to the beautiful new home I just purchased. And then the inevitable will happen at some point—I’ll fall back into a black mood and have to find a way to dig myself out again…