This is a story about viewing the world through the lens of a mood disorder...
When I'm hypomanic, nothing seems impossible. Hypomania brings big ideas and grand ambitions, and the only thing standing in my way is the stupidity and myopia of other people. Nobody seems to have the guts to go for the glory, and nobody seems to be able to keep up with me. I get frustrated at a sense of dragging other people along in my wake, having to dumb things down and spoon-feed people at a painfully slow pace.
Obviously, when I'm hypomanic, I over-estimate my abilities and I'm rather rude and obnoxious about other people. Not exactly a team player. I tend to be pretty disrespectful of other people's opinions, believing that they've had their chance, and have failed to make any significant impact. Why should I listen to such gutless wimps? Why should I listen to anybody not firing on all cylinders, like I am, when I'm riding that hypomanic high?
Another thing that I overestimate when hypomanic is my stamina. I assume that I can continue at breakneck pace indefinitely. I feel like the enthusiasm and passion that I'm feeling will carry me along, despite the huge amount of energy that is being expended. I don't walk, I run. I don't speak, I shout. I don't discuss, I decide and act. It's a blur of activity, in single-minded pursuit of a goal, to the exclusion of everything else. There's no balance. There's no downtime. There isn't a second to spare: rush! rush! rush!
But, I'm not stupid. I've been through enough episodes of hypomania now to know what's happening. So why don't I modify my behaviour? Well, part of the big rush is the fact that I know that I'll hit a wall, and almost overnight, I'll hate everything and everybody, and I'll just want to curl up and die. I will have run out of energy, and suddenly be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, and with no gas left in the tank, I'll realise there's no way I can continue without sleeping off the work binge and catching up on those lost hours of rest.
Instead of trying to work at a steady pace that could last for years, instead I try to pack work into frantic periods of rushed and hectic activity, before I run out of steam and depression hits me like a sledgehammer. Instead of being discouraged from milking hypomania for all its creativity and productivity, I feel encouraged to try to achieve Herculean tasks.
When I'm in one of these moods, lots of stuff gets done, but there's lots of wastage. Instead of planning ahead or hesitating for a single moment, I'll just do whatever I can to minimise downtime and delays. If I unexpectedly need to work through the night, I'll do that and go out and buy a fresh shirt for the following day. If I need to get some rest, I'll book whichever hotel is quickest and easiest to book. If the project I'm working on needs something, I'll buy whatever I need, whatever the price, on the assumption that it would be a waste of time trying to penny pinch.
Can you spot the pattern in my activity? Can you see any trend that would suggest ups & downs? This is actual movement data that has been gathered over a whole year. I would never have thought my mood fluctuations would look this obvious, with hard data.
I used to keep a mood diary, but of course, when you're hypomanic you can't be bothered with the faff of it, and besides, you're not sick when you're hypomanic... at least you're convinced that you're not anyway.
I'm not sure whether I'm mostly suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or whether my Type II Bipolar Disorder has simply become aligned to the seasons. It's virtually impossible to unpick cause and effect anyway. There are so many seasonal factors, such as the stress of Christmas and the fact that nothing much gets done at work during the holiday season between late December and mid-January.
Anyway, I'm locked into this cycle, where I start to emerge from hibernation around March/April time. In May I start to begin to do normal things again, rather than just being completely decimated by a sense of malaise, exhaustion, demotivation and feelings of being totally overwhelmed by mundane trivial shit. By June time, I'm about ready to work again, but in danger of tipping into hypomania at any moment.
At the moment, I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I have a feeling of dread throughout the working day. The continuous anxiety is matched only by crushing boredom and an inability to concentrate. I flit between looking at my phone and making trips to the toilet to look at Facebook and message my friends. I read documents, but the words don't sink into my head. The phrase "what the fuck am I doing here?" is on repeat in my head. I'm struck with regular impulses to commit suicide and end the relentless monotony and unending pursuit of a seemingly impossibly distant goal of my next potential holiday.
By contrast to my hypomanic state, I assume that something is going to go wrong, and I'm going to be plunged back into the stress and pressure of looking for some more work, while the bills pile up and imminent deadlines to pay my taxes and deal with debts that have built up during my winter depression. Everything looks impossible, and boring, and pointless.
When I'm depressed, I'm absolutely convinced that my skills and abilities and experience count for nothing, and that I'm only good for the scrap heap. Even when I get a job, I feel like a fraud and that I'm going to be found out. When I make a mistake, I beat myself up about it for days, weeks even. I grimace and groan at my desk as I replay something stupid I said, over and over and over again.
I sit at my desk, watching the clock, wishing I was busy, wishing I felt useful, wishing that the feeling that life was completely pointless would go away, and feeling like death wouldn't be so bad, because there's no way I'll be able to put up with months and years of just turning the pedals, over and over and over again. The same commute, the same routine, the same colleagues, the same game, the same formula.
How on earth am I going to cope with feeling so bored and unchallenged, and so uninspired and so lacking in passion and like such a fraud and like I'm wasting away, and like there's no way I can stand even the next few minutes, let alone the next few hours, let alone the whole day, let alone the whole week, let alone the whole project and the whole contract, and the whole career? How the hell am I supposed to keep doing what I do?
I could drink coffee, which aids my concentration and motivation, but as soon as I do that I'll start getting big ideas and getting really bossy and overconfident, and before you know it, I'll be hypomanic again. Coffee always stokes my hypomania up. Also coffee stops me from sleeping, so I start drinking alcohol to get to sleep... and before you know it I'm knocking back copious amounts of both caffeine and alcohol to get through the shitty work.
Once I start drinking alcohol, I start having days where I wake up massively hungover, but weirdly I can get up and go to work. I find it easier to get up with a massive hangover, and easier to sit quietly at my desk getting on with my work, when I'm just about holding down my breakfast and I've got a pounding headache.
I think that drinking lots of alcohol regularly means that I've always got booze in my system, and it works like a kind of anti-anxiety drug. I feel super sick and stuff, but it gets rid of that sense of dread. By the afternoons, I start to sober up and my hangover goes, and I'm really happy and productive. When I get home, then I start to get the sense of dread about going to work again the next day, so I start boozing all over again, and end up going to bed pissed again. The whole cycle repeats itself.
Alcohol and work seem to go hand in hand for me, and it seems to stop me from being such an obnoxious prick and pissing everybody off before finally chucking in the towel on a perfectly good job. I've gotten used to using alcohol to bring my hypomania and anxiety under control. It's a massive crutch for me, and the temptation to use it is massive, when there's such pressure on me to perform and earn money and not fuck up yet another job.
I know that I could quite easily return to a tried-and-trusted form of mood stabilisation, using caffeine to get me moving when I'm deep in an exhausted depression, and alcohol to bring my hypomania under control when my brain is starting to get a bit over-excited, or anxiety and boredom are threatening to make life unliveable. However, these things led me to a massive breakdown eventually, which I'm sure was caused in part by massive amounts of these two innocuous chemicals.
When you're drinking 12 espresso shots during the day and two bottles of wine at night, everybody's chuffed to bits with your work, but surely you're just screwing your body up for the sake of making some money while you're young enough to cope with that kind of beating.
I value my liver and my mental health now, not that I have much of the latter. I'm struggling virtually all year round with a mind that tends towards either suicidal depression or self-sabotaging and career-wrecking hypomania. I've trashed my financial security, meaning I now have extra added stress and hassle that I could really do without, but I don't think resorting to self-medication will be good in the long run.
So, I remain caffeine free and I'm trying to wean myself off alcohol. Today is my 3rd consecutive day without booze. It might not sound like much, but you probably can't imagine the kind of pressure I'm under, with life very much hanging by a slender thread.
My days pretty much start with deciding whether to kill myself or not, and they don't improve much from there. The evenings and weekends are good, when I can see friends, but possibly it's also been the excuse to drink that's also played a part.
I need to get a handle on booze, but I also want my moods to be manageable. However, I also need to earn money and be able to cope with work. It's a Catch 22.
My gut feel is that I'm just going to stick with my harsh regimen of zero caffeine and very moderate booze consumption - ideally no booze at all except on a Friday & Saturday night.
Clearly, I'm just emerging from under the cloud of a very severe depression, especially as I slashed my own arm with a kitchen knife because the sense of hopelessness and relentless anxiety in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against me, was just so unbearable. Things look a little brighter, but now I'm starting to worry that hypomania will suddenly rear its ugly head, and I'll sabotage everything, like usual.
However, I do still refuse to medicate myself, merely to cope with the bullshit life that we're expected to live. I'll play the game as best as I can, but my brain is not for sale. Hopefully one day, I'll be able to better align my needs and my values with my work, but for now, I have to do some stuff that's pretty incompatible with good mental health.
One big thing I've learned from this rollercoaster ride, is to not expect change to happen quickly. Thinking things will change overnight has led to frustration and disappointment, which has either triggered further depression or has spurred me into regrettable actions. Thinking that I can use the blunt instruments of medication, drugs, legal highs, caffeine and alcohol to force my moods to bend to my will, has been very hard on my body and mind, and has only achieved very temporary effects, for horrific long-term costs.
Unfortunately, returning to stable mental health, a sense of wellbeing, comfort, happiness, security and an acceptable standard of living, has always required more luck, more time, more favourable conditions than I've ever been granted. I'm not complaining - we all face the same harsh and uncaring world, after all - but I recognise that modern society does little to allow people who get sick to ever re-enter the game.
Stop the world, I want to get off.
Tags: #bipolar #depression #suicide #mentalhealth #caffeine #alcohol #drugs #addiction #career