From racing thoughts to feeling on top of the world, we asked three people living with bipolar disorder to explain what a manic episode is really like.
Mania is one of the formal symptoms of bipolar disorder. In short, it’s an elevated mood that can last anywhere between a few days to several months.
There are many ways that a manic episode can impact your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. There are various things you can do to cope with them.
- difficulty with focus
- increased energy
- irritability or easily agitated
- racing thoughts
- a reduced need for sleep
- a surge of creativity
Behaviors you might notice or engage in while manic include:
- body tics
- speaking more quickly than usual
- engaging in high risk behaviors
- starting multiple projects
It can be difficult to understand mania unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. Here’s what people with bipolar disorder say about how mania feels:
Mania feels like wearing a bulletproof vest, says Kimberly Allen, a behavioral healthcare consultant, mental health advocate, and licensed chemical dependency counselor in Austin, Texas.
“During mania, my regard for myself is lessened and I am a bit of a showoff. Mania feels determined, bold, overbearing, opinionated, and cocky. You feel as though all is going to be okay because you will make it that way. It doesn’t cross my mind that I am incorrect or in the wrong,” she says.
She compares mania to feeling like an attorney who is certain they will win before even entering the courtroom, or a skier who’s poised to navigate the steepest terrain — a black diamond — with confidence and finesse.
“When I’m in a manic state, I feel like I have limitless energy,” says Dove Bennett, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager.
“I will also go days without sleeping at a time and I spend money recklessly. My thoughts will race and I’ll be talking faster than usual. It can be hard for me to concentrate on one thing because my mind is moving so quickly,” says Bennett, who owns a marketing, public relations, and production company called Dove Enterprise in Killeen, Texas.
During and after a manic episode, you may experience intense emotions, explains Bennett. “I may feel happiness and elation one minute, and then anger and frustration the next.”
Plus, she adds, what goes up, must come down.
“The ‘higher’ I feel during a manic episode, the ‘lower’ I feel once it’s over,” she says. “Once the episode is over, I often feel overwhelming sadness and regret. I may even experience suicidal thoughts. It’s a very difficult thing to deal with, both for me and for those around me.”
What about hypomania?
Hypomania is considered a milder form of mania, but many symptoms can overlap.
“My hypomania manifests as an uplifting buzz that reverberates through my body,” says Anngelica-Marie Eshesimua, an entrepreneur in Los Angeles, California who was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder amidst the stress of turning her passion into a thriving business, Omekwa Organics.
“Usually triggered by a new idea or breakthrough, my mind races with possibility and inspired action for several days — or weeks. As an example for cannabis users, it feels like when your favorite Sativa strain finally ‘hits,’ and you’re both intensely present yet lifted from reality,” she says.
Sudden mania, also known as a “manic switch” is a rapid mood change with little warning. It’s commonly associated with recreational drug use, like stimulants, or as a side effect of certain medications.
After analyzing more than 1,720 subjects, some 2015 research noted several risk factors for manic switching. These included:
- younger age
- amphetamine use
- a previous history of panic attacks, rapid cycling moods, or severe symptoms of mania
In some cases, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) — a noninvasive brain stimulation treatment option for bipolar, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — may cause manic switching.
If you are experiencing sudden mania, it’s recommended that you reach out to a doctor or find a psychiatrist as soon as possible to determine the underlying cause.
Treatment for mania may include a combination of approaches.
These can include:
- lifestyle changes
- support groups
For Allen, mood stabilizers have been helpful, along with other medications for additional symptoms when they crop up, like anxiety. “I try to take my medications at the same time every day because time-release helps with routine,” she says.
She also incorporates soothing habits into her schedule, like reading, writing, spending time with her dog, and staying active. “Being athletic is a great treatment for me,” she says. “Swimming distance or boxing on the speed bag allows me to breathe in a rhythmic, calm, and private way that takes discipline and relaxation.”
Several self-care strategies may also help you cope, says Eshesimua.
“I’ve managed my hypomania with herbal tinctures that settle the mind, and have implemented daily yoga and meditation practices to help me interact with my deepest desires in a healthy, grounded way,” she explains.
When someone you love is having a manic episode, you may feel unsure about what to do. But there are many ways you can help, and we wrote a whole article about how.
The main takeaways are:
- remain calm
- try to be compassionate
- ask how you can be supportive
- help them seek medical attention or hospitalization
Listen to your loved ones and check in on them frequently, says Bennett. “It’s when we’re alone with our thoughts that we can get into the most trouble.”
It’s also okay to hold them accountable — lovingly, of course. “Try not to condone reckless and impulsive behavior. Instead, gently remind them that their actions have consequences and direct them back to their health regime,” she adds.
What to avoid:
If possible, try to avoid statements that imply that mania is a choice — it’s not.
Bennett says this may include:
- “Snap out of it.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “Fake it until you feel better.”
- “You have so much to be happy for.”
- “Think about the people who have it worse than you.”
If you’re experiencing symptoms of mania, like increased energy, reduced sleep, and impulsive behaviors, you’re not alone and there are many resources to help you cope.
Reading books about bipolar disorder can also be empowering.
“The book ‘Mad Like Me: Travels in Bipolar Country’ helped me learn to accept my condition, and cleared a path toward having a fulfilling life living with bipolar disorder,” says Eshesimua.
“A few resources that I’ve leaned on during my bipolar journey include ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober,’ and ‘The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide’,” says Bennett, along with The Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast and The Balanced Blonde Youtube channel.
Remember: you don’t have to do this alone. You may find it helpful to start your treatment journey by finding a therapist in your area.