Is It Mania or Are You Just Living Your Best Life?
Last week was Word Bipolar Day!
It is no secret that the owner of this blog is a bit qualified to talk about mania. After all, the blog itself is called “MANIC Pharmacist”.
This post may seem useless because mania can be pretty obvious. However, mania doesn’t necessarily hit out of the blue: sometimes, what starts as a bit of out-of-character giddiness can quickly spiral out of control. Additionally, hypomania, which is “lighter” than mania, is usually harder to spot.
So I thought I would give some personal experience advice on how to tell in advance whether you’re starting an episode or are simply happy and excited about life. Because this post is based more on personal experience, there won’t be as many scientific resources as usual.
Keep in mind that this post does NOT qualify as medical advice or a diagnosis. When in doubt, or if you need help, please reach out to a professional.
- What’s Mania?
- How Can I Differenciate It From “Healthy High Mood”?
- Healthy High Mood
- You feel confident, but reason, logic, morals and laws still apply
- People are entitled to their opinion
- You still function like a normal human
- You are aware of your thoughts and can process them as usual
- You are aware of your (and reality’s) limits
- You are aware of reality itself
- You are as responsible as usual
- The Bottom Line
Here is a brief explanation of mania:
“excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood
specifically : the manic phase of bipolar disorder“
So what is it exactly? Mania is the “high” polar side of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by high perceived energy levels, racing thoughts, restlessness, grandiose thoughts and ideas, feeling invulnerable, insomnia, and some other symptoms (I’m citing these from memory of my own episodes.) There can also be a detachment from reality, as mania can be accompanied by psychotic symptoms.
There is also hypomania, which is, for lack of a better explanation, a “lighter” form of mania. It often goes unnoticed and is otherwise often chalked off as the hypomanic person “just being giddy”.
But… What is Bipolar Disorder, and Why Is Mania the “High” Side of It?
The same website defines bipolar disorder as follows:
“any of several psychological disorders of mood characterized usually by alternating episodes of depression and mania
— called also bipolar illness, manic depression“
That says enough to understand, but let’s dive a bit deeper.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. Mood disorders include all types of depressions and bipolar disorders. They are mainly characterized by an alteration of the… mood, obviously. That does NOT mean “sudden mood swings” as in going from happy to angry to sad in a blink, like I used to think before my diagnosis (yes, even I have false beliefs about mental health…) In the case of this disorder, it manifests itself in “episodes” of high mood (mania/hypomania) and low mood (depression).
“Any of several psychological disorders”, “all types”? Well, yes. There are three types of bipolar disorders: type 1, 2 and cyclothymia. Let’s briefly go over them so we can move onto the difference between normal high mood and mania.
Bipolar disorder type 1 is the one with mania, while type 2 has it replaced by hypomania, which is less severe. Both also have depressive episodes, and only one manic episode is required to diagnose type 1. As for cyclothymia, it also causes episodes of high and low moods but less intense than the former two.
There’s a lot more that could be covered, but if I did cover it, this whole post would be about defining bipolar disorder and not what the title says.
How Can I Differenciate It From “Healthy High Mood”?
Well… Let’s define “healthy high mood” first. I should specify that it’s not an actual medical term (nor a popular one, I just made it up). A healthy high mood is a mood where you feel energized, strong, confident and maybe even euphoric but not in an excessive way that may be dangerous for you or for others. When in a healthy high mood, you still have logical judgment, accept others’ input (even if you don’t follow it!), and even if things are a bit faster-paced, you still follow. However, when manic, all of that isn’t all true… Things that you would never have dared to do suddenly sound like the idea of the century; everyone is against you, too dumb to understand or jealous of you; and your thoughts are running around like unsupervised kindergartener: too fast and too numerous to catch, and babbling too quickly and too loud to understand if you did.
If you’re mentally healthy, this post is probably of little interest (unless a loved one is bipolar or you’re just very curious). However, for my dear diagnosed and undiagnosed readers, a quick checklist can’t hurt to recognize in advance a slow-cooking episode. If you manage to identify your telltale signs from this, I’ll be happy to have helped.
Let’s move on to the main differences. We’ll do each of the mania and healthy high moods separately.
You suddenly crave doing something you wouldn’t normally dare do
And I don’t mean working up the courage to do something you’re normally just too shy to do, but your whole moral compass going MIA without prior notice. Things like stealing when you have the means to buy the item, for no other reason than the idea sounding fun and making perfect sense in your mind. You don’t question it, and if you do, your chemically imbalanced brain convinces you that it’s a great idea and perfectly acceptable.
Whoever doesn’t agree with you is wrong
Your ideas are the best, why would anyone disagree? Either they’re stupid, stuck up or they hate you. Or all of those options at once. Better give them the hate back tenfold.
Back when I was manic, I could last several weeks on 2 to 4 hours of sleep per night (I like to joke that I was born with insomnia because I was hard to put to sleep as an infant.) How can one sleep when there is so much to be done! (And there is often actually nothing to be done aside from sleeping.)
Your thoughts have the zoomies
Much like a cat at 3 in the morning. You have no idea what they’re doing and you can’t catch one for long enough to understand it before it claws its way out and bounces on the walls of your head again with the others. It can get to a terrifying point where you just can’t form any coherent thought and keep it for long enough to get essential things done. That is when it gets really bad, though.
Nothing can stop me, not even what actually can
This title is confusing, but what I mean by it is that you feel invulnerable to even the things that can harm you. You feel bold enough to put yourself in dangerous situations, some of which may pose a threat to even your life.
I am going to Hogwarts!
Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but some manic ideas are straught up delusional. I’ve had them, I know what it’s like. As I said in the first sign that it’s mania, it just makes perfect sense to your chemically imbalanced brain. So… things like sending an application letter to Hogwarts sound perfectly logical, simply because you want to go there (I haven’t done it, but at some point I firmly believed that I had a special bond with all animals, like a Disney princess. I was 18.)
Oops, where did the rent money go?
Manic buying is a real problem. It’s part of the impulsive behaviors that are tied to the episode itself. It’s not just with money; it gives you urges that are hard to resist in more than one field: spending, drinking, eating, having more-than-friendly “sleepovers”… It can really be anything, and to destructive extents.
This list of signs is not exhaustive, but we’ll now move on to the healthy high mood.
Healthy High Mood
You feel confident, but reason, logic, morals and laws still apply
You might feel confident enough to ask for a raise, ask your crush out, or heck, even travel to the other side of the globe; but you would do things within reason (for example, you wouldn’t send yourself into debt for that trip).
People are entitled to their opinion
You may still think “screw their opinion”, but at least you have an open mind about it.
You still function like a normal human
That means sleeping and eating normally.
You are aware of your thoughts and can process them as usual
You’re not necessarily mindful of every single one, but you can isolate one and understand it if you try.
You are aware of your (and reality’s) limits
That means you don’t fantasize about going undercover and dismantling a drug cartel by yourself. Being manic doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily do it, but you’ll probably seriously consider it if you are (again, I’m only speaking from my own experience and manic contemplations.) And, of course, you may still daydream about if if you’re not, but you’ll know that it’s not possible and very dangerous for you.
You are aware of reality itself
That means not obstinately trying to communicate with a nightingale or sending a letter to Hogwarts in hopes that they realize their mistake of not sending you yours.
You are as responsible as usual
If you usually aren’t, you can still use the other tips.
The Bottom Line
While this article focuses on the negative aspects of bipolar disorder, and more specifically mania, it does not mean that people who have it are necessarily “crazy”, dangerous or untrustworthy. In fact, many people with bipolar disorder are hard workers, creative, smart, and so many other positive things while managing their symptoms. Sure, it’s never easy. But it’s not all crazy highs and lows.
If you’re interested in bipolar disorder and would like to learn more without spending your day reading scientific papers and websites, I recommend Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir: An Unquiet Mind (non-affiliated link, but I really loved that book. I think it’s a must-read.)
One last thing: if you have the disorder and struggle with your symptoms, do not hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. You may think that it’s a hassle, that you’re doing “good enough”, that it’s nothing serious, or other thoughts that prevent you from doing it… but you should stay safe.