One of the unexpected benefits of being on antipsychotics is that I’ve not had a hangover since 2011. Being that bizarre hybrid creature “an extravert with a degree of social anxiety”, in the past I often used to find myself drinking more than I meant to at parties or on nights our as an attempt to allay my nerves. I can’t do this now; anything more than a couple of units of alcohol begins to mix with the quetiapine in a very unpleasant way which has put me off having more than one drink in any given evening.
After those occasions when I’d have one, and then another one, and then another, I’d go to sleep fairly easily but at some point in the early hours I would jolt awake, palms sweating and pulse racing, feeling like Uma Thurman in that scene in Pulp Fiction when she’s given an adrenaline shot to the heart. From that point, I would be consumed by a sense of doom. Things I had done or said that at the time had seemed witty, interesting, or fun now looked like the behaviour of an embarrassing “mature” woman who should know better. A sense of sick horror about the way I had conducted myself mingled with the inevitable nausea, pounding head and craving for bacon, and it would often take a day or more to stop beating myself up about my drunken behaviour. And every time I was in the grip of a hangover I would make fervent promises to myself that I would never put myself through this again. (You can guess how that went.)
Today I am suffering from a different kind of hangover. I am consumed with the same kinds of guilt and shame, a sense of horror at how I’ve behaved, and a bunch of recriminations and promises to do better next time. Only it’s not drunken behaviour I’m regretting – it’s the things I have said and done while I’ve been hypomanic.
I was hypo for most of last week and at first it was very pleasant. Recent dread about Christmas (is it just me, or have the Christmas adverts kicked in even earlier this year?) had seen me crying to the Home Treatment Team nurses about how I couldn’t even cope with the idea, but now this miraculously lifted. Suddenly I was ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS. In November! I knew intellectually that the big day was some weeks away but I felt very driven from within to shop for it, and to shop for it now. I scoured charity shops in two towns looking for suitable fabrics for some Christmas craft ideas and searched Pinterest for inspiration. That wasn’t going to be enough, though; I had a strong sense that I must also shop for ready-made decorations because my Christmas tree must have a whole new look this year. Before I knew it, I had spent at least £75 on baubles and ribbon and the like. While I was in shopping mode I also bought a new-to-me sparkly charity shop dress for the Mind Media Awards (of which more later).
Most of the time this shopping was lovely. I felt a huge sense of reward every time I found a decoration or a bit of fabric that was exactly what I wanted. Everyone that dealt with me was pleasant and congenial. I found myself popping into places for a straightforward purchase and lingering for ten or fifteen minutes, chatting to staff. I was tremendously satisfied with all my purchases, right down to the bag for life that protected my new glass baubles.
Whilst in this buzzy mood I had been thinking a lot about the Mind Media Awards. Although I ended up enjoying my first Awards I had found arriving at the very noisy and crowded foyer of British Film Institute quite overwhelming and had almost run away. This got me thinking about people who might be coming for the first time and/or on their own and how to make arrival easier than I had found it. I was also keen to connect with a number of online friends and perhaps meet them beforehand so I didn’t have to walk in by myself. And so I took it upon myself to try to organise something. This, dear reader, is the story of my hypomanic life. If there is something to be volunteered for, I will stick my hand up. If I see a gap, I will undertake to fill it. If someone is struggling, I will want to rescue them. And so I tried to make myself a kind of focal point for people on Twitter to connect in real life, inviting various people I knew were likely to be there to join me for a light meal immediately before the Awards.
There had been a slight irritable edge to this hypo all along, but as the week wore on that unpleasant aspect become more and more prominent. I snapped at poor Tom after he’d had a crappy day yet still managed to get the supermarket to fetch dinner, provoking a needless row. In one charity shop the volunteers refused to see me an item for £1 despite me having picked it particularly because it was on the one pound rail. What started out as a calm assertion that consumer law said they were obliged to sell at the advertised price quickly escalated into me haranguing them about their need for training, the pathetic nature of their understanding of consumer law, and a threat to report them to Trading Standards whilst telling everyone in the borough never to shop there. Overkill, much?
The following day I found myself unable to ignore one of the frequent email “invitations” I get offering me the amazing opportunity to blog about someone’s non-mental health product to boost their business for free. I was particularly irked by the writer’s purported love of my blog given the fact he’d got the name wrong. I knew it was pointless but I felt compelled to send a scathing response asking him to leave me alone. This resulted in two further emails from him and a eventual blistering response on my part involving lots of profanity and a warning that if he persisted in contacting me again when he had already been specifically asked not to, I would begin a file on his harassment of me. Just after I hit send on my final email I held the door open for my downstairs neighbor, who was talking on her mobile and dragging her little dog along. She didn’t acknowledge me, and I found myself calling snottily after her, “THANK YOU. That’s what it’s customary to say when someone HOLDS THE DOOR OPEN FOR YOU!”
As soon as I got in I realised how overwhelmed and overstimulated I was, and that being hypo really wasn’t fun anymore. Feeling physically exhausted I went to bed quite early but struggled to fall asleep as brightly coloured, constantly-changing pictures kept forming in my visual cortex, a kind of exhausting manic kaleidoscope. I didn’t feel I could take much more.
As it happened, I didn’t have to worry about taking more. Over the weekend my mood crashed, as it so often does after a hypo. And with the crash comes the inevitable hypomanic hangover. Why did I behave the way I did? What was I thinking, spending so much money on something so frivolous and unnecessary? What did I hope to gain by behaving in such a sneering, vindictive, self-righteous way? It certainly didn’t give me any pleasure. Why did I buy craft materials I would now feel guilty about my inability to use? Why did I make myself unofficial organiser of the Mind Awards tweetup? As soon as I got up this morning, I know I couldn’t go and be among all those people. I loathed myself for suggesting the idea, picking a venue and publicising it and giving people my mobile number. What was I thinking?
In about half an hour the Mind Media Awards will be getting started. I’m sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas and a huge cardigan. My special outfit has been shoved to the back of the wardrobe and my hair’s unwashed. Tom’s out so it’s just me, my ready meal for one, and the shame and guilt and remorse and self-hatred of another hypomanic hangover.
This all sounds so overwhelming, and I’m truly sorry you have to go through it. I’m not Bipolar, so have no experience of hypomania (although more than enough experience of feeling low, apathetic and even suicidal) but all I can say in an attempt at reassurance is that you have nothing to be ashamed of. You were displaying symptoms of a pretty dreadful illness and if ‘outsiders’ get caught up in that then they will get over it far quicker than you.
My Mum has a very good, lifelong friend who is Bipolar (or should I say has Bipolar Disorder?). Obviously, when we were very young, we were protected from it as much as possible. All we were aware of was that there were periods where she would take to her bed for weeks at a time, and when we weren’t allowed to visit much. Then, during what I now know were her hypomanic episodes, she would knock our door at 5am, bursting with some news that just couldn’t wait. It’s only now, getting to know you and others via Twitter, that I fully appreciate what this must have been like for her and her husband. They have three children, all ages with myself and my siblings and they remain a close family. As far as I know, her illness is much better controlled now but their eldest daughter has recently been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, so it seems there will be no respite for them.
Anyway, that was all a bit of an aside. I just wanted to let you know that, even at your most ill, you continue to educate and inspire. I really hope you manage to get a handle on your illness soon and get back to the things that make you tick.
Please don’t feel guilty. There’s a huge marketing effort put into making us spend more at this time of year, and having a nice Christmas tree is a noble cause. If some of the money went to charity shops, then it’s all to the good.
Your neighbour should have acknowledged you holding the door. Many people, not hypomanic, would have reacted in the same way.
And you were in the right in the charity shop, even if you argued too forcefully.
We all snap at our partners. You too were having a bad day.
Just be kind to yourself. We all have bad days, bad weeks, bad months. OK so you did some things, reacted in a way that wasn’t your ‘normal’. That is very difficult. Your moods are extreme but at least you acknowledge that. I hope that, in time, that knowledge will give you the power to feel more in control.
Oh, Charlotte! I’m glad, yet again, that you can express these feelings so expertly!
You could have been writing about me. What you have blogged here is *exactly* how it feels.
I’m sorry you feel so guilty right now. I know that all too well. I have learned (sort of) how to forgive myself for letting people down, but it sure isn’t easy. In fact the bigger screw-ups I remember for decades; some guilt is permanent.
It ain’t always fun, this bipolar business! Thanks for telling the world how it can be for us.
P.S. Hope you’re feeling better soon!
Oh ouch, this is one of your best. So sorry you missed the Awards again.
Do you know that hole in the sidewalk poem, Portia Nelson’s ‘Autobiography in five chapters’? On that reckoning you’re on chapter three, so here’s to chapter four next time you get high.
I came across your brilliant blog when my brother (serving police officer – poor sod) was diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder. I thought your insights would help me empathise with him and help me understand how I can help him on a day to day basis. So I dip in every now and and again…
Today your blog has shocked me. You have described **almost exactly** my last week; from manic Pinning, online splurges, deciding the tree needs a whole new look, tweeting abuse at online retailers, buying materials to make ‘homemade christmas table-runners’ (I don’t and can’t sew!!) and can I also add – making the 8 year old rehearse for her nativity a few times each day and berating her when she doesn’t get quite the right inflection on certain words! (she only has one line).
PPerhaps it’s not just my brother I should be worried about. Thanks for making me realise I need to pull my socks up!
Thank you for your blog. It is beautifully written.
Hmm, if all this ringing bells it might be worth thinking back over your life and see if there is something of a pattern of periods of high energy, “brilliant” (ha!) ideas, over-optimism/enthusiasm, overspending and becoming highly irritable. If so, it could be that you have a form of bipolar, but I guess then you have to decide what to do with that. If it’s just about manageable and doesn’t cause you (or the people around you!) too much hassle there are ways that you can manage a hypomania of this level without drugs. If however it’s really causing you problems the you might want to think about whether going down the diagnosis and treatment route is for you. Not everyone wants or needs that, sometimes just understanding what is going on makes it all easier to deal with. As you probably know I do take drugs for bipolar but I have also written about the other, non-pharmacological things I do to try and manage hypomania, if you’re interested: https://purplepersuasion.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/sharing-my-self-management-plan/ BW, Charlotte
God, it’s like being suckerpunched in the stomach. I have literally felt crippled sometimes and frozen in stasis at the horror of some of the things I have said. Until my husband points out gently that 99.9% of the time it would have had zero impact on any of the people I have spoken to. But it’s so hard. And with alcohol it is even worse. After a night out I literally cannot move from bed for fear of what I might have said the night before. So I don’t really drink any more (not a bad thing!). It sounds so irrational sometimes and very difficult for people to understand but you have articulated it perfectly. Thank you for a great article.
Reblogged this on Demonic Divas – everything you wanted to know about bipolar disorder, conception, pregnancy and motherhood. Ish. and commented:
Oh my yes this blog post is so spot on.
If ever you doubt a purpose to this awful illness, please be aware that in writing about it, you are helping so many people. It’s hard to read, but at the same time, completely compelling. You’re shining an eloquent light on what it’s like when your brain chemistry plays tricks on you. Thank you!
Hi, Im wondering if I could ask you some more questions about hypomania….I found your blog after googling “hungover hypomania” because I’m writing about how my hangovers shifted into states of hypomania (then a full blown panic attack). I have been sober for 3 years now, but i still get hypomania once a month…I am also on antidepressants. I don’t think I’m bipolar…..but is your hypomania regular? Pardon me for not reading your full blog and finding out myself. Understand completely if you don’t have time to answer a strangers questions! Thanks in advance.