Seasonal Mood Swings Or Something More?

Sudden warm weather tends to make me absolutely ecstatic.

But the last few weeks in Nashville have brought some wild weather, from terrible thunderstorms to beautiful 70 degree days, to a dramatic drop to an icy 20 degrees, all within two weeks.

I tend to forget the serious impact that weather changes can have on mood. But this bout of insane weather gave me a big reminder of the reality of seasonal impacts on both depression and hypomania.

When the sun appeared out of nowhere last week I found myself suddenly in an almost manic state — cleaning my house, getting all my projects done, starting new ones and feeling almost euphorically confident. Then as the rain and cold set in days later, I became withdrawn, unmotivated and struggled to finish my work or post the blogs I wanted to. I went to my psychiatrist wondering if I was having bizarre several-day-long bipolar episodes. Thankfully, she told me the answer was more likely my mental health responding to the changing weather.

I was so glad to have this clarity about my last few weeks. But with another couple months of potentially temperamental weather before summer, I need to make sure I am prepared to deal with the mental impact on the seasons.

So here’s what I’m doing to stay sane. To start, I’m looking into buying a special seasonal depression light, which helps mimic the effects of the sun on your brain while you’re at your desk. I’ve also found that I need to make sure I get out of bed early and kickstart my day with caffeine on the colder and drearier days. Honestly, if I don’t force myself to get working, I may end up lying in bed for hours doing nothing while it rains. On the sunnier days when I suddenly feel like superwoman, I’m making sure to take time for mindfulness and meditation, to help balance out my suddenly hyperactive brain.

Most importantly, we all need to have a little grace with ourselves during this time when our mental health may be a bit less reliable.

What do you do for seasonal mental health? Let me know in the comments!

Bipolar II: How to Control Hypomania

The first time I experienced hypomania (the kind of “high” that comes with bipolar type II) I honestly thought I’d hit the lottery. All of a sudden I was finishing projects I’d put off for months, organizing everything around me without being prompted to and sleeping less but feeling more alert during the day.

I honestly thought I’d been cured somehow. I’d kicked ADD to the curb!! Woohoo!

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the fun to stop.

I couldn’t turn my brain off. It felt like I was chasing a tennis ball around my brain about 100 times a minute. I was so scattered I didn’t even make sense half of the time. I made spreadsheets to organize everything in my life. And I hate spreadsheets.

Thankfully, my therapist identified my behavior as hypomania and diagnosed me with bipolar II – a really important breakthrough in my mental wellness.

(If you are unfamiliar with bipolar or would like to learn more, I suggest reading “Bipolar Breakthrough” by Ronald R. Fieve.)

So after going through spurts of hypomania a few times, I figured out the signs that I’d missed going in. So last week when I stopped sleeping and started rampantly cleaning, I knew I was headed back down the rabbit hole. While in some ways I know I have to let it run its course, here are three tricks I’m using to try to keep it from growing into buying-wifi-on-a-plane-because-I-cant-handle-being-sedentary-for-more-than-20-minutes (true story.)

  1. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

This has been the most important thing for me in combating hypomania. If I work to get my sleep schedule really regular it noticeably calms down the circus in my brain and gets it out of my system faster. Check out my sleep blog for my full list of tips on how to get to sleep faster and stay asleep.

  1. Take time to breathe.

Since my brain is so scattered I have a hard time calming down in any capacity. So it’s been really important for me to designate time to breathe and not fixate on getting anything done. If meditation is the trick for you – the Headspace app has proven to work well for me. If you have an Apple watch, the breathe function is also a great way to discretely pause your brain whenever you need it.

  1. Time yourself when working

Being so scattered, I can’t help jumping from project to project. So my therapist suggested I set a timer for 20 minutes and make sure I work on the task at hand exclusively for that time. After my timer I can jump around for a little while and then need to set another timer to work on another project.

How do you deal with hypomania? Let me know in the comments!