afraid of happy

I am afraid of happiness.

See, having a bipolar diagnosis has struck fear in me that each time I’m happy I’m going to end up in some manic crazed state – so happiness is a frightening emotion now. One which I’m forever chasing, and then backing away from as soon as I reach… in fear.

I’m learning valuable lessons about this disorder, and one of which I keep repeating to myself is “you can still visit hypomania, you just don’t need to stay there.” This is a huge key in my recovery at the moment.

To those unfamiliar with the diagnosis, hypomania is:

Hypomania is usually described as a mood state or energy level that is elevated above normal, but not so extreme as to cause impairment — the most important characteristic distinguishing it from mania. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for hypomania and mania are almost identical… The decreased need for sleep that you describe is one of the hallmarks of hypomania. Some people who are hypomanic sleep only a few hours a day, and yet they say they feel rested. At the same time, many creative people are energetic and while they are in the “flow” may need less sleep than normal. That does not necessarily mean they (or you) are hypomanic except in an informal, descriptive sense.

The formal DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for hypomania require at least three of the following symptoms for at least four days: inflated self-esteem or grandiosity; decreased need for sleep; increased talkativeness; racing thoughts or ideas; marked distractibility; agitation or increased activity; excessive participation in activities that are pleasurable but invite personal or fiscal harm (shopping sprees, sexual indiscretions, impulsive business investments, and the like). For mania, the symptoms are mostly the same, except that theDSM-IV specifies that they last at least one week, lead to hospitalization, or include psychotic symptoms (a break with reality)….

Harvard Medical School gave me that description of hypomania, and from my personal experience, it’s pretty right on. Being able to sit down and write three blog posts in one hour? Piece of cake. They make sense, don’t need much editing, and I feel a strong sense of accomplishment. However, I don’t have the normal filters others do. Many close to me read my writing and tell me they like it, I have talent, but I reveal so much; much more than they would be comfortable with.

I see it differently. I see my writing as a way to conquer and hopefully end some of the stigma which surrounds mental illness. I speak up for those who can’t, or won’t, for fear of repercussion, be it from their jobs, community or even regret from themselves. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness, even in the health care field. Our society, as advanced as we may think it is, still has a long way to go in acceptance of mental health issues. I can tell when I come up against a nurse or doctor who still believes in the age old beliefs surrounding bipolar disorder; it’s apparent in their mannerisms, and the textbook way they respond to me as an individual.

Back to the happiness piece. Hypomania? It’s a great place to visit. To create from, to dream up the best plans… but not to live. Burnout comes quick, either going too far up to full fledged mania, or dropping back down to depression. This seesaw hurts my soul. Not knowing if I can trust my brain to make the simplest of decisions is a terrifying place to live from.

Family and friends witness this on a daily basis. Something as simple as what kind of coffee I’d like can send me into a tailspin. Keeping up with the mundane responsibilities of life is incredibly difficult when on this seesaw ride. Every choice seems as important as the next, and I cannot sort my pro and con list to make sense of which life choice is most imperative to success.

I have hopes and dreams, many to be precise. One of my therapy assignments was to come up with a list of things I’d like to do in life. So far, I’m up to 35 things… from a family trip to Hawaii, to stargazing on the local beach. This list has been instrumental in my dark moments. Having something like this to reference helps; no matter which side of the seesaw I’m riding. It’s an accomplishment too – to have it all in one place, where I happen upon it a few times a day.

I worry my fear of happiness is making those around me unhappy, or worried. I’m hoping with more stability will come more acceptance of “happy” without the excessive worry it may not end well.

These days are short. Happiness is fleeting. I’m learning to hold on to this ride, and enjoy each moment.

Be well.

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