What is Hypomania?

During hypomania, as I’ve explained in this original post, I am still fully functioning as a “responsible adult” (or at least, as much as I am any other day. *see meme*)

1. First main experience that happens in hypomania: lots of ideas

I usually recognize that it’s hypomania when I start to get a lot of ideas coming all at once. For example, this morning I was awake at 3 after some restless interruptions to my sleep thanks a to an adorable 3 year old who sometimes wakes up randomly in the middle of the night (solidarity to any fellow parents who’ve experienced what I’m talking about). Most other parents, statistically speaking, don’t experience the same urgent consequences of a lack of sleep as I do, however. But that’s a different story. Anyway, At 3 am I find myself having a hard time getting back to sleep, and so I start thinking. I think about what to eat for breakfast. Then I think about ideas for setting up some play dates for the week. Then I think about a couple other things on my to do list that I should try to do today. Then I get the idea to write this blog post. Then I think that I could also make a video about it to go with the post. Then I think about how I could go through my current YouTube channel and look at the videos I have up and see if they are all still relevant and take down any that don’t make sense anymore. Then I think about posting the blog post that I’m thinking to write on Facebook. Then I think about posting a video of my daughter on Facebook of this funny laugh she has been practicing, so friends and family can enjoy that. Because it’s really funny. And after about 2 minutes I have my day mentally planned with a lot of ideas to spare. And it’s still 3 am. That is how the thoughts and ideas start pouring in.

2. Another experience in hypomania: fast talking, rambling, and distracted thoughts spilling out in random order

When I’m hypomanic, I have a lot of ideas, and they come to my mind all at once and not in any particular order. It makes sense then that my talking (and writing) during hypomania comes out as very fast speech and a lot of rambling. In hypomania I am easily distracted by my thoughts, so I will frequently begin with one thought and interrupt myself with another thought that comes in the middle of the first thought, and then repeat that process when a third thought comes, and then a fourth, and so on. It results in a rambling chain of connected thoughts, few of which ever reach their full conclusion. I know a lot of people have probably experienced this concept at some time or another in some form. In hypomania, this just happens all day long all the time, and every conversation I have includes fast talking and a lot of rambling. If, during hypomania, I am able to organize a single thought, finish it, and do it in a timely manner, it’s basically super impressive. And very rare.

3. Another experience that happens during hypomania is starting projects and completing lots of tasks.

Completing lots of tasks

During hypomania, I have a lot of mental energy, which probably translates to a lot of physical energy. I have a big capacity to do a lot, and quickly. I do things the way I think things – fast, all at once, and moving from one task to another, frequently interrupting a first task to begin another, which then after a bit is interrupted by another, and so on. Because I do things (the same way I think things) so quickly during hypomania, it doesn’t take me long to finish tasks, and even if a task is interrupted, I often circle back to the original task and complete it (eventually) during the course of the day. A lot of tasks remain incomplete, but a lot of them get finished, which means at the end of a hypomanic day I have done a LOT of things. As well as started a lot of other things that aren’t done yet.

If I’m focused during a hypomanic day, I can use the day to finish a lot of important / necessary tasks. On the other hand, if I’m pretty distracted or unfocused during a hypomanic day, I can use the day to start a lot of random projects and ideas that don’t get finished later, when I’m more level / at baseline and realize they weren’t really essential and aren’t in line with my big picture priorities in more regular-paced life.

At this point you may be thinking, what’s the problem here? That sounds great! Sure, maybe your productivity is disorganized and a lot of things are left unfinished, but if you are getting so much done and you are feeling positive and energized and confident, how is that a problem? Give me some of that magic hypomanic juice!

4. Another hypomanic phenomenon: SUPERPOWER MODE

This (above ^^) perspective is what brought about “superpower mode” as a fond nickname for hypomania. Superpower mode is very fun. It means I get a lot done, and quickly, and it means I feel creative and have a lot of ideas. Superpower mode is probably why some noteworthy figures who are considered creative “geniuses” were able to be so creatively prolific (producing a TON of creative work over short periods of time), including Vincent Van Gogh, Ludwig von Beethoven, Winston Churchill, and Isaac Newton.

(Quick side note: I have had people ask me before, “How do we know people like Van Gogh and Beethoven had bipolar disorder if the diagnosis as we know it today didn’t actually exist in their day and if they weren’t personally psychoanalyzed by a professional during their lifetime?” My answer to this question is that it is pretty much just as accurate to describe Vincent Van Gogh as having bipolar disorder as it is to describe Katie Wilkie as having bipolar disorder. The reason I know and my family knows and my psychiatrist and psychologist know that I have bipolar disorder is because of specific behaviors I have exhibited on an ongoing / regular / predictable basis during my lifetime. There isn’t any kind of blood test I have taken that has said “bipolar disorder present.” Unfortunately. 🙂 If diagnosing mental illness were that simple, I think a lot more people would be able to get treatment and perhaps these diagnoses would be more widely accepted as “real” and acceptable, and treatment would probably be more accepted and less stigmatized. And it would probably be easier for a lot of people living with mental health conditions and symptoms to live with these things. But! Alas, the diagnosis of these disorders relies primarily upon understanding of behavior and mood experiences. Because we can understand a lot about someone’s behavior and mood just by reading their writing, and the writing of other people describing them a few hundred years later, “diagnosing” some individuals from history isn’t actually that difficult. Maybe the diagnoses aren’t always super accurate due to lack of full information, but then again, that happens in modern day as well, due to the nature of the diagnosing process. I will briefly add that even if diagnosing mental health conditions may seem a bit haphazard, in a lot of cases — mine included — it’s quite accurate. And *because* I have been accurately diagnosed, I am able to receive treatment and to have the knowledge I need to manage my condition with a ton of success. So I’m extremely happy I have a diagnosis and that I know all about what I’m dealing with. Okay, side note over. 😉 Oh! Quick side note to the side note. If you are interested in learning about these historical figures and their mental health diagnoses, you can do some basic research on the internet and find some cool and interesting information about them. There is usually at least a little controversy over exactly what type of mental illness various historical figures dealt with, but if you read enough sources, eventually you will find a general consensus. Van Gogh, Beethoven and Churchill all pretty decidedly dealt with bipolar disorder. Newton is believed to have lived with bipolar disorder as well as possibly schizophrenia and possibly autism. There are a lot of other noteworthy figures who lived with mental illnesses other than bipolar, such as depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety/panic attacks.)

Back to my main idea. We were talking about “superpower mode.” As I said, this may seem appealing. That is why in the past I have given my hypomania the nickname of “superpowers.” This may be a nerdy reference to mention, but if you have ever seen the film Limitless or watched the TV series based on that film, you have heard of that fictional pill called “NZT,” which, when you take it, basically kicks your brain into this high gear that allows you to see, observe, and remember  things with incredible accuracy and intensity, and which makes you incredibly productive over the course of about 24 hours, which is about how long the effects of the pill last before you experience basically the worst hangover of ever.

In that film and TV series, they show the side effects of NZT, which, beyond that hangover, include longer lasting side effects like brain deterioration, physical deterioration of teeth and hair and overall organ failure such that, with prolonged exposure to NZT, you eventually die. So the idea in the movie is that if you take NZT you are in for a crazy, awesome ride of being amazing and brilliant, but if you take NZT multiple times without immunity to the side effects, you will basically be in for not such a good time.

Well! That, my friends, is kind of what bipolar disorder hypomania (and/or mania) is like. It is super awesome while it lasts, but when it is over, the results are not fun. In my experience, every hypomanic episode is followed by its equivalent depressive episode. If the hypomanic episode lasted one day, the depressive episode usually is super mild or maybe doesn’t really come much at all. If the hypomania lasts two days, the depressive episode is usually really short and mild – 1-2 days of light bummed-out mood. If the hypomanic episode is 4 days of full “superpowers,” the depression is often about 4 days of very low-energy, low mood. It all really depends on the circumstance and particular episode. If the hypomania is mild, the crash usually isn’t bad at all. But if the hypomania is pretty ramped up, and there’s a ton of energy and activity, and it lasts for quite a while, the depressive crash, for me, is usually pretty bad and is equal, proportionately, to that hypomanic episode, in its awfulness and ickiness.

So, the question might be: is it worth it?

Is the hypomanic high worth the depressive crash?

If the depressive crashes were as predictable as I’m making them out to be, maybe it might be worth it. But though they do often mirror the severity of the preceding hypomanic episode, they’re not always that predictable. There have been cases when a couple weeks worth of hypomania have led to a couple months of bad depression. Other cases, a week worth of hypomania didn’t seem to end with much of a crash. But the thing with hypomania is that when I enter that “superpower” mode, I’m not just at risk for a depressive crash (which can be debilitating and bad for my health, in cases where suicidality comes into play – Van Gogh is a good example of that risk). Hypomania also puts me at risk for full blown mania, which can also cause me to lose ability to function and take care of my family. Thankfully I understand these risks (through my past experiences and knowledge gained in therapy) and how to mitigate them and manage my experience and symptoms. This makes me able to avoid worse case scenarios and live a normal life. But allowing myself to get hypomanic or manic without intervening with all of my tactics for sleep and with medication and treatment to get myself back to baseline is, in my perspective, kind of like a diabetic not taking his or her insulin. Someone with type 1 diabetes can potentially go without insulin for 7 to 10 days before they would then die. But why would they do that when they know what treatment they need and they can just take the insulin treatment and live their normal life and not die? Seems like a logical “no brainer.” That’s how I view my bipolar disorder. I can go for quite a while without treating my bipolar disorder and can get on a bipolar high and then maybe crash and get on another high later, and then get super manic, and go up and down and just let everything spiral out of control on whatever course – up or down, high or low – it will. There are a lot of risks to living with untreated bipolar disorder. Some of it will be fun and crazy and productive and creative and some of it might seem like genius. But all of it would be risky. So I personally choose to “take my insulin,” so to speak, to live a level life, take care of my family, and contribute at a normal, simple level to society. Maybe I am depriving myself of becoming the next Van Gogh (though I don’t presume myself to be that cool). A lot of people with severe mental illness have accomplished amazing things while spiraling in an episode. But in managing my moods and preventing severe episodes I am also a lot less likely to die. So that’s a plus.

Now, on to describe what happens during a manic episode (different than a hypomanic episode) – what I do, what it feels like.

3. What is mania?


You are reading part 2 of this 3-part series:

  1. Insights into bipolar disorder 
  2. What is hypomania?
  3. What is mania?

1 thought on “Hypomania”

  1. Thank you, great post.

    I too see Bipolar hypomania as a superpower, but something that comes at a great cost. However, I’ve gotten great ideas during my hypomanic episodes – good ideas that I’m still working on several years later.

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