Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year

Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year - Cassandra Stout.com

The new year brings new beginnings and a sense of starting fresh. Everything is fresh and full of potential. What better time than the new year to start looking after your mental health?

January is Mental Wellness Month in the U.S. It’s part of a public health and awareness campaign set up by the International Association of Insurance Professionals (IAIP), an educational organization created for insurance professionals. Mental wellness focuses on prevention of further mental health issues rather than the treatment of what’s already there.

What You Can Do to Celebrate Mental Wellness Month

Taking a proactive approach to your mental health can help you nip problems in the bud. There are many things you can do to celebrate Mental Wellness Month, the foremost of which is looking after yourself. But you can also raise awareness of mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Here are some other things you can do during Mental Wellness Month:

  1. Get a mental check up from your psychiatrist and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Set up an appointment with your psychiatrist today for a mental-health check in. If you don’t have a psychiatrist, ask for a referral from your primary care physician.
  2. Plan out goals for the new year. Setting goals is a great way to challenge yourself. If you set a mental health goal like, “I will do self-care three times a week for eight weeks,” then you can look forward to taking better care of yourself.
  3. Start a gratitude journal. Listing what you’re thankful for on a daily basis elevates serotonin, a feel good chemical. Start a gratitude journal to try to remind yourself of what you actually have, and don’t focus on what you don’t.
  4. If  you have bipolar disorder, you can start tracking your moods. Charting your moods when you have bipolar disorder is a helpful bellwether. If you track what you feel for a few weeks, your doctor will be able to read the data and make a better plan to treat you. You can also figure out your triggers for mood episodes. For a post on how to get started tracking your moods and why, click here.
  5. Destress from the holidays. Prioritizing self-care during the holidays is difficult, which can make your mental health go down the toilet quickly. Getting back on track and making sure that you destress from the holidays is so important. Try meditation, a bubble bath, or eating a one-ounce square of dark chocolate.
  6. Attend a therapy session to discuss your hopes and dreams and current struggles. Therapy is crucial for most people’s mental health. If you have a therapist, try to attend at least one session in the month of January to celebrate Mental Wellness Month.
  7. Post about mental health issues on social media to raise awareness of mental wellness issues. Most of the time, I advocate for leaving social media behind, and not engaging more than you really need to. But, if you are going to browse social media and don’t want to give it up, then you can post about Mental Wellness Month and other mental health issues to raise awareness.
  8. Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. Communicating with our friends and loved ones gives them a chance to help us, or manage their expectations of us. You don’t want to ask them to manage your emotions, but help cleaning the kitchen or taking the kids for an afternoon so you can get a nap in is a perfectly fine idea.
  9. Make a commitment to eat better. Our diets affect our moods. I’ve written before about how plant-based, whole foods diets and Mediterranean diets can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Make a commitment to eat better for a month, and see how you feel at the end of it.

Final Thoughts

Celebrating Mental Wellness Month doesn’t have to be difficult. You can celebrate as little or as much as you want, publicly or privately. If you prioritize taking care of yourself during the month of January, that’s all the celebration you need.

Happy Mental Wellness Month!

What will you do to celebrate Mental Wellness Month? Leave me a note in the comments!

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Mental Wellness Month: How to Look After Yourself in the New Year – Cassandra Stout.com.

 

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition

My questions about your week, and my description about my own hellish one.

Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition!

How are you? How have you been sleeping? Well, I hope! How’s your holiday planning going? If you have kids, how are they? How has your week been? Please tell me! I really do want to get to know all of you.

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My Hellish Week of No Sleep

Well, last week was good, but this one started off on the wrong foot and stayed awful. Last Saturday night, I stayed up late messing around on the internet and inhaling articles about how to grow my blog traffic. Quickly becoming obsessed with making my own website (which I did eventually–it’s coming soon!), I realized I needed to sleep, and shut my laptop at 10:35pm. Then I laid awake in bed until 3am with my mind spinning. I ended up having to take a sleep aid, which I loathe. I wasn’t able to wake up at 7am to hang out with my son, as I’d promised him the night before. He seemed to understand, but I hate disappointing him.

That lack of sleep a set the tone for the rest of the day (and week). I was irritable, still obsessed with my blog, and tired. I couldn’t sleep during the rest of the week, either. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I took a two-hour nap while my preschooler was making Christmas artwork at school, and felt loads better–during the day, at least. At night, I stayed awake until 2am. Ugh.

On Thursday, I attended both a psychiatry appointment and a therapy session, which always help me re-center myself. My psychiatrist and I decided not to adjust my meds and to meet in three months. My therapist suggested that I take the sleep aid at 10pm for the next few days, so I’ll be asleep by 11pm when it kicks in. On Thursday night, I took the sleep aid at 8pm, fell asleep by 9pm, and slept for 12 hours. Friday morning, I was still tired and groggy, but feeling less manic.

I’m still obsessed with growing my blog, but the frantic, urgent nature of the obsession is blunted. I hope I’ll be able to better manage the work/life/mom balance in the future. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition

The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition – How are you? I’d like to get to know you, so please stop by!

Hello! Welcome to The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check In: Sleep Edition!

How are you? How have you been sleeping? Well, I hope! How’s your holiday planning going? If you have kids, how are they? How has your week been? Please tell me! I really do want to get to know all of you.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Check In: Sleep Edition - How are you? I'd like to get to know you, so please stop by!

My Hellish Week of No Sleep

Well, last week was good, but this one started off on the wrong foot and stayed awful. Last Saturday night, I stayed up late messing around on the internet and inhaling articles about how to grow my blog traffic. Quickly becoming obsessed with making my own website (which I did eventually–it’s coming soon!), I realized I needed to sleep, and shut my laptop at 10:35pm. Then I laid awake in bed until 3am with my mind spinning. I ended up having to take a sleep aid, which I loathe. I wasn’t able to wake up at 7am to hang out with my son, as I’d promised him the night before. He seemed to understand, but I hate disappointing him.

That lack of sleep a set the tone for the rest of the day (and week). I was irritable, still obsessed with my blog, and tired. I couldn’t sleep during the rest of the week, either. By Wednesday, I’d had enough. I took a two-hour nap while my preschooler was making Christmas artwork at school, and felt loads better–during the day, at least. At night, I stayed awake until 2am. Ugh.

On Thursday, I attended both a psychiatry appointment and a therapy session, which always help me re-center myself. My psychiatrist and I decided not to adjust my meds and to meet in three months. My therapist suggested that I take the sleep aid at 10pm for the next few days, so I’ll be asleep by 11pm when it kicks in. On Thursday night, I took the sleep aid at 8pm, fell asleep by 9pm, and slept for 12 hours. Friday morning, I was still tired and groggy, but feeling less manic.

I’m still obsessed with growing my blog, but the frantic, urgent nature of the obsession is blunted. I hope I’ll be able to better manage the work/life/mom balance in the future. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.

Do You Have Bipolar Disorder? You Can Still Thrive This Holiday Season

Bipolar? You can thrive this holiday season – Tips on how to manage mania and depression during the holidays.

This post was previously featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website (ibpf.org), here.

The holidays strike fear into many hearts, especially those of us with mental illness. But they don’t have to. People with mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, can thrive during the holiday season.

Don’t Neglect Basic Self-Care

You won’t be able to enjoy the season if you neglect basic self-care. This applies to whatever episode you’re in. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, get your heart rate up for 30 minutes, drink enough water, get outside, and socialize every day. These six suggestions are the basic tenants of self-care, first outlined by Sophie at WellandWealthy.org. If you often do all six, you will feel better.

But how do you manage that during the holidays, which can upset your daily routine? Planning. You can plan to bow out of conversations if you’re overwhelmed, plan times to take your medication, and plan for downtime by yourself to recharge your social batteries.

Also, don’t be afraid to communicate your needs. Figure out your needs ahead of significant social events and prepare yourself to ask for help. (For a post on how to communicate with your family during the holidays if you have a mental illness, click here.) And try to avoid alcohol, especially if you’re taking medication.

What to Do if You’re Manic

If you are manic during the holidays, you may feel like partying and socializing 24/7. But mania borrows energy from the future, so there’s a crash coming if you don’t manage your enthusiasm. You need to pace yourself, not only for your own sake, but for those around you who might not be able to handle your verve.

When you’re at a party, check in with someone you trust on a regular basis to see if your behavior is edging out of control. Set a timer on your phone every thirty minutes to take breaks outside the main party area. Use this time to take stock of what you’ve been doing at the party.

In addition to taking care of yourself at events, keep in mind that overspending frequently accompanies mania. Spending too much on gifts can be quicksand. Before you search for them, set a budget, and be vigilant about sticking to it. Limit presents to one per family member or loved one.

One of my manifestations of mania is crafting, so I get obsessed with painting, baking, and stitching stocking-stuffers and other gifts. Because I’m rushing through the projects, they always turn out sloppy. Once I’m no longer manic, that’s obvious to me (unfortunately, it’s also obvious to everyone else when they open the gifts). Don’t follow my lead; if you must make homemade gifts, limit yourself to one project at a time, and budget enough time to complete them well.

What to Do if You’re Depressed

If you’re depressed during the holiday season, don’t worry, you can pull through this. Most people with depression hide away from the world. But being around others can help. If you’ve been invited to parties, make an extra effort to go.

When going to a party, make sure to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Take a shower. Drink some water. Psych yourself up, and plan out what to say if you need to bow out of a conversation. Try to talk to at least two different people. Don’t stick your head in the ground like an ostrich, as tempting as that is.

If you’re spending this holiday season alone, cities and churches often host free holiday events that you can attend. Try volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter. Burn through your Netflix backlog. Drink non-alcoholic eggnog. And if you can afford a change of scenery, go!

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how your mental health issues present, there are plenty of strategies to help you thrive during the holidays. Don’t neglect your basic self-care, don’t isolate yourself, and do keep an eye on your budget and energy levels. You can do this.

Have Bipolar? You Can Thrive During This Holiday Season - Tips and tricks to manage mania and depression during the holidays

Related:

Bipolar Disorder and Insomnia–And What To Do About Sleep Disturbances

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A sleeping baby. Credit to flickr.com user
Petr Tomasek
. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Unfortunately for many bipolar disorder sufferers, insomnia is a common side effect of the illness–as well as a trigger for manic and depressive episodes. Sleep disturbances not only plague people dealing with mania or depression, but persist between episodes as well. In one study, 55% of bipolar sufferers between episodes met the criteria for insomnia.

For three out of four people with bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation kicks off mania. Close to 65% of bipolar sufferers report insomnia symptoms before entering manic episodes. In some people with bipolar disorder, jet lag can also trigger these episodes.

Some bipolar disorder sufferers may not miss sleep the way other people would. However, lack of sleep can make its presence known. For example, you may:

  • Have increased anxiety
  • Feel sick, depressed, or generally tired
  • Vacillate between moods
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Find making decisions difficult
  • Take risks
  • Raise your risk for accidental death

Treat the Insomnia

So if sleep is so crucial to managing your mental health, how do you keep yourself from staring at the ceiling all night? Like other symptoms of bipolar disorder, The first recommended step is self-reflection. Try to figure out what’s impacting your sleep, and discuss these issues with your doctor. You may keep a sleep diary, and track the following:

  • How often you wake during the night
  • How often you sleep all night
  • When you take your medication
  • Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine use
  • How long you take to fall asleep
  • The length and occurrences of exercise

Establish Sleep Hygiene</h@>

Sleep hygiene is your daily practices that are necessary to enjoy a full night of good quality sleep and daytime alertness. Good sleep hygiene is paramount for maintaining your mental and physical health. To improve your sleep, try:

  • Build a calming retreat for your bedroom, including low light, gentle colors, and silence or white noise
  • Stop stimulating activities like computer and television use before bed
  • Exercise regularly, but don’t exercise leading up to bed
  • Establish ironclad bedtimes and wake times, making sure you get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep
  • Don’t drink caffeine or eat sugar right before bed
  • Create a bedtime routine which allows you to wind down before sleeping
  • Limit napping
  • Jot down thoughts that might be keeping you awake
  • Try relaxation tapes or techniques
  • Avoid alcohol right before bed

Final Thoughts

Like many other bipolar disorder symptoms, insomnia can be treated and managed.
Your doctor may prescribe a night in a sleep lab in order to discover your pattern of sleeplessness. Medication may also work for you. Trust your treatment team, and practice good sleep hygiene, and you’ll be on your way to catching those forty winks in no time.

Related:

Does Inflammation Cause Bipolar Disorder?

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A rope-wrapped, rusty pipe bent at an angle with small nails driven into it. Credit to flickr.com user jurek d. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Inflammation, or swelling, is a very important medical condition that affects many parts of our bodies, including our brains. It’s the body’s protective response to infection. In some autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, the body’s immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no bacteria or viruses to fight off. This means that the immune system damages normal, healthy tissues, as if they are somehow infected.

But what does all of this mean for bipolar disorder? Several things, actually.

A 2013 study conducted in Denmark posits that mood disorders could be the brain’s response to inflammation. Researchers found that people who suffered from an autoimmune disease were a whopping 45% more likely to develop a mood disorder. The report found that people who were treated for inflammation also had improved moods, and that the effectiveness of antidepressants in these people increased.

Similarly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroinflammation found that high levels of quinolinic acid, a byproduct of inflammation, are associated with suicidal tendencies and chronic depression.

Even lithium,  the gold standard in treating bipolar disorder, might have anti-inflammatory properties in the brain. No one knows exactly how the drug works, but recent studies point towards lithium reducing inflammation.

Similarly, there is some evidence that other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may improve the effect of bipolar medications, at least in bipolar depression. Mania doesn’t seem to be impacted.

All of this is interesting news, but the causal link between bipolar disorder and inflammation has yet to be fully established. No one knows if inflammation causes bipolar disorder or if bipolar disorder causes inflammation. And mania doesn’t seem to be affected at all, just depression, and no one knows why. There are several possible causes of bipolar disorder, ranging from genetics to environment to childhood trauma. The true causes of bipolar disorder are multi-factorial, meaning that there are many reasons why you might develop the psychiatric condition. Inflammation is just another piece of the puzzle.

So the answer to the question of whether inflammation causes bipolar disorder is a solid maybe. Inflammation is related to bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, but no one knows exactly how yet. While reducing inflammation is generally a good idea to promote optimum health, it won’t cure your bipolar disorder.

Ways to reduce inflammation include taking turmeric capsules, eating a healthy diet including plenty of vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and getting plenty of exercise. Talk to your doctor before engaging in any dietary change or embarking on an exercise program.

I wish you luck in your journey.

National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes

The week of May 12-18 is National Prevention Week, so I’d like to talk about how I try to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. Because I was diagnosed at twenty-two and started medication and therapy, I have a decade’s worth of experience in managing my bipolar disorder. Read on for a roadmap discussing how to tackle the prevention of mania and depression head on.

Fight Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is when you have absorbed the negative, inaccurate messages about your mental illness around you. This affects your perception of your mental illness and your need to treat it, which in turn affects your behaviors and actions in terms of seeking treatment. In order to face taking medication every day for the rest of your life, you need to fight stigma, especially self-stigma. The way I fought it was to recognize that I needed to be my best self for my newborn son, which entailed taking medications and going to therapy. I needed to treat my disorder so I could properly mother my son. It wasn’t just about me.

If you have a reason outside of yourself, awesome, but if you don’t, you still deserve treatment. You are better than your disease. You are a human being, a precious individual. Caring for yourself, especially in the pit of depression, is one of the hardest issues you’ll ever face. But you deserve proper care, even if it’s mostly self-care for a while.

Medication

I can’t recommend medication enough. In combination with therapy, medications saved my life. When I was first diagnosed, Depakote toned down my psychotic mania, and two years later, lithium lifted me from the black sucking hole of suicidal depression. Now I’m on Risperidone and Wellbutrin, and the combination has enabled me to be stable for over six years. Taking my medication daily has prevented the dizzying spin of mania and the pit of depression. Part of this is my fighting self-stigma, as I said above.

Therapy

Another tactic that has helped me remain stable for the past half-decade is attending counseling sessions with my therapist. Therapy has helped me learn coping mechanisms to handle my day-to-day life, including emergencies. I’ve been able to treat my manic and depressive episodes, and learn how to flourish. I am thriving, and I wouldn’t have thrived so successfully without those weekly appointments with my therapist.

Sleep

Proper sleep is crucial for managing your bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances trigger bipolar mood episodes, especially mania, and too much sleep triggers the crash of depression–usually following mania. Problems with sleep are a common symptom of bipolar disorder; in a future post, I’ll be looking at how common insomnia is for this specific mental illness.

To ensure I sleep as well as I can, I practice what’s called good sleep hygiene. I don’t drink water or caffeinated beverages right before bed. I wind down before bed, taking a bath every night. I wake up every morning at 8:30am, if not earlier. I try to go to bed at the same time. I wake up frequently in the middle of the night with a racing mind, but I try to calm myself by praying or meditating. Generally, that works, and I’m able to get back to sleep within fifteen to thirty minutes; I recognize that I am lucky in that manner. Try to practice good sleep hygiene, and you, too, might be able to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes.

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A picture of a smiling woman next to a frowning woman, in black and white. Credit to fliclr.com user Jessi RM. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Final Thoughts

Fighting self-stigma, getting proper treatment for your disease (including medication and therapy), and sleeping properly are some of the best ways to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. If you’re looking for a post on how to manage the most common bipolar triggers, click here.

You can do this.

Related:

How to Talk to Someone Experiencing a Bipolar Mood Episode

Trigger Warning: This post contains a brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

Bipolar patients suffering from mood episodes often make no sense. If they are depressed, they may say things like, “I’m a failure. No one loves me. I want to die.” On the flip side, if they’re manic or hypomanic, they might say things like, “I can fly! Let’s deep clean the house at midnight! It’s all so clear now!”

Telling the depressed person that he or she is not a failure and that people love him or her may fall on deaf ears. Similarly, trying to engage with the manic person’s delusions might be futile. So how do you talk to someone suffering from these issues?

Let’s dig in.

How to Talk to a Depressed Person

In order to talk to a depressed person, you need to address the root problem: the illness. You need to offer sympathy, understanding, and possible solutions.

For example, one thing you can say in response to his or her negativity is this: “I hear you. I understand that you’re depressed. This is normal for your bipolar disorder. I know it sucks. I’ve seen you like this before. Maybe you could take a long, hot shower; we know that helps you feel better.” This response addresses the real issue and communicates that you are there for the depressed person.

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A woman with very red lips on a cell phone. Credit to flickr.com user Anders Adermark. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Depressed people may also suffer suicidal thoughts, which are dangerous. If they express these thoughts, you can say something like, “Thank you for telling me. You mean a lot to me, and I am here for you.” Then suggest that the depressed person call his or her treatment team and let them know that he or she is suffering from these thoughts.

How to Talk to a Manic Person

Similar to talking to someone suffering from depression, when talking to a manic person, you need to respond with patience and understanding. He or she will try to talk over you, and will not be able to stop talking. Be careful about being swept up into the conversation, as it can be overstimulating for everyone.

If the manic person ends up overstimulated, his or her mania or hypomania might worsen and he or she may become agitated. Despite their confidence, people with hypomania or mania are very sensitive in their elevated mood, and may take offense easily. If you are overstimulated, you might not be as effective at helping them remain calm. Make sure that the manic person is in a safe place and walk away for a break.

When you return, answer questions briefly, calmly, and honestly. If the manic person proposes a project or goal, do not agree to participate. You can keep tabs on them during the project and remind them to eat, sleep, and generally take breaks.

In my own experience, I was manic shortly after giving birth. I clapped my hands repeatedly and demanded that we–myself and the woman from church visiting me–clean the house, rather than let me recover. I was focused on getting my projects done, and ended up devastated once my goal was thwarted. Prepare to deal with that devastation–or frustration.

If the manic person tries to argue, remain detached. Talk about neutral topics. If you need to postpone the discussion, say something like, “I see this means a lot to you. We definitely need to discuss this, but let’s do so in the morning after I am no longer upset and tired.” You can also try to redirect his or her behavior, saying something like, “Would you prefer to take a walk or watch a movie?”

Final Thoughts

Communicating with people suffering from a mood episode, be it mania or depression, can be difficult. They often believe things that aren’t true. So taking care of yourself in the situation is paramount. If the manic or depressive person is critical of you, tell the person that you understand that he or she is ill and upset, but that you will not tolerate being spoken to in that way. Then find a way to exit the conversation and reconvene later. Be firm, but kind.

Above all, as with so many strategies for dealing with bipolar people, be patient. They are suffering from a mental illness that they cannot control. It’s not their fault. If they must deal with the consequences of their actions, try to present those consequences after they come out of the mood episode, when they are back to their rational selves.

Good luck!

Related:

What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?

writing
Credit to flickr.com user Fredrick Rubensson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Hypergraphia–where “hyper” means “extremely active” and “graphia” means “to write”–is a condition where a person compulsively writes. The writings may be coherent, ranging from poetry to academic books, or scattered thoughts, with different sizes of texts.

Hypergraphia is difficult to define, as it’s not part of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary of words. The condition was only identified in the 1970s, by Drs. Waxman and Geschwind–the latter of whom has a mental disorder named after him, of which hypergraphia is a symptom. Hypergraphia is often associated with temporal lobe epilepsy, in patients who have endured multiple seizures.

While there are plenty of studies connecting epilepsy and hypergraphia, the link between the condition and bipolar disorder hasn’t been studied and should also be considered. The neurological literature is extensive, but the psychiatric literature is severely lacking. The condition appears to be a common manifestation of mania.

Only a couple of studies have looked at how hypergraphia relates to bipolar disorder. The linked study, by hypergraphia sufferer Alice Flaherty (author of The Midnight Disease, describing her experiences), only examines the link between creativity and bipolar, not hypergraphia specifically.

As far as anecdotal accounts go, author Dyane Harwood extensively describes her experience dealing with hypergraphia in her book, Birth of a New Brain, saying that she wrote so much, she suffered severe hand cramps–and even penned notes while on the toilet.

In my case, I experienced hypergraphia during a manic episode following my son’s birth. A flood of ideas struck my brain, and I was soon writing things down so I’d remember them. In the short span of a week, I felt compelled to handwrite over a hundred to-do lists. Some of the lists overflowed with a hundred items or more, while other lists held only two.

Hypergraphia as a manifestation of mania appears rather common, just unstudied. A PubMed search for “mania, hypergraphia,” shows five hits, only one of which actually relates to the topic. Whereas searching the same site for temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia ends up with 28 hits. Meanwhile, a Google search for “mania, hypergraphia” shows 16,600 hits, and that’s just the websites that use the scientific term.

This means that there are stories out there linking bipolar disorder and hypergraphia. They just haven’t shown up on medical sites yet.

I hope that future studies will take into account the link between bipolar disorder and hypergraphia, a manifestation of creative output and idea generation. If you have suffered from hypergraphia during mania, you are not alone.

Does your mania manifest as hypergraphia?

My Manifestations of Bipolar Mania: Crafting and Frugality

Different people have different manifestations of bipolar mania, but they tend to be consistent. Hypersexuality, overspending, not sleeping–all are symptoms and manifestations of mania. When I’m manic or hypomanic, I have two different types that appear most frequently: a desire to craft, and an obsession with frugality, both of which go hand in hand more often than not, but can sometimes conflict each other. Let’s take a closer look.

I love craft projects. Paintings, wreaths, cross stitch–you name it. DIY is my cup of tea.

Unfortunately, I am also bipolar. I’ll bet you can tell where this is going. One of my first signals that I’m going hypomanic is a burst of creativity. I get delusions of grandeur, and think I can handle any DIY regardless of my skill level. I tend to rush through projects, not using the right tools or waiting for paint to dry, and the crafts end up looking terrible. I’ll also stock up on tons of unneeded craft supplies “just in case” I think of a future project.

spray paint
Credit to flickr.com user Daniel Naish. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

That’s how I ended up with a massive shelf of spray paint in my garage, with many, many colors ranging from navy blue to black to forest green. Nobody needs that much spray paint. Nobody.

During a recent hypomanic episode, I purchased four more cans of white spray paint, as well as other painting supplies and a second hot glue gun, for a total of $111. This might not seem like an exhorbitant amount compared to other people’s manic spending sprees, but the items were all unnecessary. I didn’t have a project in mind; I just wanted the stuff.

Another reason I think that’s a large amount to spend is the other manifestation of my mania: an obsession with frugality. I normally read personal finance blogs and keep a tight rein on my spending, but when I’m hypomanic, I’ve done things like Dumpster diving for an infant’s room decor (using items broken beyond repair) and hoarding food to the point of rotting.

I even grew my own container “garden” from seed out of soil I bought at a farm for pennies, planted in sauce cans. While I was manic, I overwatered the plants. After the mania ended, I sank into a huge depression and didn’t water them at all. Nothing grew, of course, except for some tiny, shriveled carrots, which at the time was devastating. Despite my husband’s high-paying job, I was convinced that my family would starve because I failed as a gardener.

All of these thoughts–from my thinking that I can handle any craft project to my worries that we would starve–are irrational. I know that now.

But mania is a hard dragon to slay. I used to get wrapped up in crafting to the exclusion of anything else, like eating. I decided when my second child was born to keep myself from crafting entirely in order to prevent my neglect of her. She’s a toddler now, and I’ve realized that this idea of mine turned out to be a mistake. Crafting feeds my soul, just as much as writing, and I’ve missed it just as much as I’d miss a missing finger.

So what did I do? I decided to try to have both a healthy amount of parenting time and the ability to craft DIY projects. With her in the room, I glued burlap and pinecones to a wreath form. This project only took ten minutes, and I was pleased with the result. The week after that, I wore her in my Ergo front-pack baby carrier

cherry-blossom.jpg
A painting of cherry blossom branches on a teal background, by Cassandra Stout. Protected under a Creative Commons license.

and painted a large canvas with some cherry blossom branches, which took thirty minutes.

So I’ve found a way to strike a balance with crafting. In the future, I’d like to continue to work on projects and be frugal without going overboard. So I’ll set alarms on my phone to take a break every twenty minutes during a craft project. I’ll set limits on how much  I can get done per day. I’ll stop reading personal finance blogs when I’m hypomanic, and wait until I’m on a more even keel to look over budgets. I’ll repeat self-affirmations to control my urges to craft or engage in overly-frugal activities.

And I’ll keep taking my meds, keep a good handle on my sleep, and try to nip delusions of grandeur in the bud, before I commit to buying anything or spending an inordinate amount of time. All I can do is manage my bipolar disorder, and try to prevent hypomanic episodes. Wish me luck.

How does your mania manifest?