From November until the beginning of May, I was stuck in a severe depressive episode due to my bipolar disorder. It was miserable and significantly impacted my life. I missed work, I didn’t contribute around the house and it took a lot of energy to engage in activities that I previously enjoyed. I spent most of my days in bed and avoided all responsibilities except for taking care of my mental health. I somehow still managed to make it to therapy and psychiatrist appointments. But I was sleeping 11-12 hours a night, I had decreased appetite and I had difficulty concentrating.
However, a few weeks ago, I started a new bipolar medication, lithium. (You can read my initial thoughts on the drug in my recent blog post entitled “I’m Taking Lithium Now: My Bipolar Medication Has A Song Named After It“). I don’t know if it’s actually because of the medication, or because I read an inspiring book (How To Be A Bawse by Lilly Singh) but I actually feel a lot better than I used to.
In the past week or two, I have been waking up at a normal hour and it is extremely easy for me to pop out of bed. Usually, I would snooze for 30 min to an hour (or even longer if I have nowhere to be). But lately, I am just up and at ’em. It’s pretty amazing. I am also extremely productive and I don’t seem to run out of steam too easily. Most days, I work on this website, it’s associated social media channels and other mental health advocacy. I also go to medical appointments and do therapy and I try to exercise when I can. I’ve also been cooking meals and doing laundry and feeling like a contributing member of my two-person household.
This all sounds good, right? However, it all begs the question: am I feeling better (am I happy?) or am I hypomanic? There are also some warning signs that indicate I might be on the verge of a manic episode. Which is why my psychiatrist wants me to wait a few weeks before I re-enter the workforce. Mostly, I am just really energetic and ambitious.
For my 28th birthday on May 4th, I wrote a list of 29 items I want to accomplish before my 29th birthday. While there is nothing wrong with setting goals and it’s quite common for people to create bucket lists, it is possibly an indication that I am starting to get grandiose ideas and notions in my head. People with hypomania are often extremely productive, euphoric and have tons of creative ideas, so it’s only natural that a friend even approached me and said they were worried about mental health symptoms and asked me to be careful. I really appreciated their concern and kindness. However, I’m pretty sure that I’m actually just happy and healthy and that my behaviour is not due to symptoms of my mental illness. Last time I saw my psychiatrist, he asked me a bunch of questions and I answered “no” to all of them. So I’m pretty sure I don’t meet the requirements for a manic or hypomanic episode. I’m not engaging in harmful behaviours like going on spending sprees or gambling excessively. My judgment seems to be pretty stable. I’m not very irritable or hostile. I don’t have a high sex drive (sorry, partner!) and I don’t have an inflated self-esteem.
Even though I have been feeling a lot better, I still need to be careful to monitor my symptoms and take care of my mental health and physical needs. I need to be EXTRA cautious about drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated. I think that is smart to wait a few weeks before I try to integrate myself back into work life. I want to be extra careful that another depressive episode is not on the horizon. I also need to wait for a little time to pass before I celebrate “feeling better” because the high energy might tip into something serious. My last manic episode required me to be hospitalized. (You can watch me discuss the time I was an in-patient in a psychiatric ward here).
It is pretty darn difficult to distinguish right now what my symptoms mean: am I happy or hypomanic? Am I just really motivated or am I on the precipice of disaster? When does happiness become illness? All I can do is track my mood, my symptoms and express myself honestly with my support system so they know if they need to help me. I just desperately hope that this good feeling is a new normal for me and that it sticks. For now, I’m going to try to enjoy how I am feeling. Because I know the darkness and lows that I have hit before and I am grateful for this opportunity to appreciate and savor life.