With a clinical diagnosis of chronic hypomania, also known as Bipolar II, I spent the majority of my life living in a chronic manic state that often times can be mistaken for ADD or ADHD or some other condition. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I was properly treated, and was able to start a life free of hypomania. Only now when I look back can I see the symptoms I endured that reflected my hypomanic state, and the people along the way that tried to help me.
People always told me to slow down when I walk and my response was I come from a family of fast walkers so it never crossed my mind that the speed of my strides was a sign of hypomania. People always told me to slow down in my speech, and I would say I just think fast so have to keep up with my mind. People always told me that I was too sensitive, and I would say I’m a human being that just happens to be in touch with my emotions.
There are a lot of things people would say to not necessarily put me down but, to try and check me, or stop me, or make me out to be somewhat of a freak that needed to acclimate to the world. When you are hypomanic that simply is not going to happen so, I found myself living alone in my mind knowing that something made me different but I didn’t have the knowledge or education to know what was causing these distinctions. It left me feeling alone, and I had to navigate through these symptoms on my own. I didn’t expect my parents to get it cause they came from a generation that didn’t talk about mental health which only made things harder, especially as a kid. My Mom said as a baby I never slept. When I entered school I would be up all hours of the night and I would watch my sister (who I shared a room with) sleep soundly. I recall one time she randomly mentioned to my parents that, “Erica doesn’t sleep.” And it’s not that they ignored the comment, they just weren’t witnessing my nightly struggle with insomnia which my sister was privy to on a constant basis.
By the time I entered college I had a full course load, and played varsity volleyball. Our team would travel up and down the East coast and whenever I was paired up with a roommate on the road, they would mention the fact that I wasn’t a sound sleeper. I don’t know how a person can play Division I volleyball without sleep but, somehow I managed to do it.
But things didn’t really get bad till after college. The structure of academics and athletics was helpful in managing my hypomania at the time so, when I entered the real world, the reality of my insomnia took center stage. I recall one summer I was working in Mergers and Acquisitions and I had a friend that I would go out with and, since she lived in Brooklyn and I lived in Manhattan, sometimes she would spend the night at my place. We’d go out late and crash at my place and with a few hours of sleep I was up and running on the Hudson River. When I would return she would rise from the fog of the night before and look at me like what the heck. Did you just go running? Yeah, but working out was always instrumental to my health so didn’t think it was a big deal, or any type of sign of hypomania.
So by the time I got help I didn’t have a clue that I had suffered years of poor sleep, and I recall the first time I took a mood stabilizer. I remember waking up feeling refreshed; like I had actually slept like the rest of the world. I was so excited and relieved, but also disappointed and regretful. Why did I go almost three decades living in chronic hypomania? It’s nobodies fault really, not even my own fault, but, for someone that always knew deep down inside that something was off, and had loved ones along the way like my friend, my teammates, and my sister voice concern about it, was help insight that I just ignored. They were a gift that I wish I had paid more attention to.
I hope if you experience any of these symptoms, or you know someone that does, you find a way to talk about it. And if you find people in your life that drop clues along the way, take note and listen.