Every year around this time I come out of my hibernation cocoon. I clean the house, photograph the tulips, and feel better than I’ve felt for months. For six months, since the bitter winter and shorter days began. I work to prevent depression through winter, so the joyful spring vibe is a welcome relief. Until it’s not. At some point, I notice that I’m not sleeping well. I’m cooking gourmet meals on instinct. I have sudden and intense bursts of creativity. And even though I’m a middle-aged mom, I’m turning heads. When I connect these dots, I don’t feel good any more. I feel nervous. I wonder if I’m hypomanic (the milder form of mania) and will spiral into another manic episode requiring hospitalization, like I did in 2017 and 2018.
Thankfully, I have been relatively stable for 5 years. It’s not always easy. This is what helps me reduce hypomania, without sinking into boredom or the numbness of depression:
Prevention (early March)
- Tweak my diet. Reduce caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and simple carbs. Increase veggies and water. I can’t imagine a life without chocolate, coffee, fruit, and bread, and I think elimination diets contributed to my mental instability in 2017, so I don’t cut anything out entirely. I do pay attention to how it makes me feel, and reduce portion sizes if needed.
- Prioritize sleep and a daily routine. I wake early and keep a similar structure through most days in terms of when I eat, work out, do ‘thinking work’, and relax. I use medication on nights when my mind is too busy. You can find lots of sleep info on my Instagram (@reesechaell) and charisejewell.com/tips.
- When faced with any decision, choose what is best for my mental health. For example, if I’m concerned that I might be hypomanic, I can’t go out at night. Evening events mean socializing and temptations (food, alcohol, and being the life of the party) which all disrupt my sleep.
- Talk to my support team (psychiatrist, therapist, partner) about any concerns, even if it seems too early. If possible hypomania spirals into full-blown mania, I’m likely to hide my symptoms until it’s too late.
During possible hypo/mania
- Really prioritize sleep. Medication is critical now.
- SLOW DOWN in every aspect of life. Talk calmly or not at all. Reduce screen time and social media. Take less or no photos. Listen to mellow music. No Eminem. Replace high-intensity cardio with walks or yoga. Whenever I start a thought with “I should…,” I have to RESIST that urge to create, deep-clean, plan a party, or book a vacation. If this sounds familiar, remind yourself that you really CAN put off many of the things that feel urgent. Putting a project on hold might even help your next depression because even though you don’t have any motivation or creative spark, you do have an idea to work with.
- Do a self-test. Wondering if I’m manic adds to anxiety/paranoia. When stable, I devised 2 tests to help provide reassurance: 1) read a book chapter and pay attention to how often I have to re-read a paragraph AND how much I retain afterwards 2) when talking with someone, focus on not monopolizing the conversation or interrupting. Active listening and the ability to control what I say is a good indication that I’m not experiencing pressured speech (which is a good indication that I’m not manic).
I am only an expert of my own mental illness. Others may not agree with what I think is beneficial. Please seek medical help if you feel like you’re in danger, and/or if you feel like you’re fine but are running on hardly any sleep. Contact me if you want to talk or have questions.