I wrote in a post titled Discipline and Diagnostics that one of the benefits of meditation to a person with a mental illness is the ability to detect episodes early. Well, I’m in one.
It’s been hard to sit at all, let alone for the thirty minutes I do each day. I find myself agitated and fidgety. My thoughts are all over the place. This is not unusual during meditation, but in taking note of the subjects of my thoughts, I can see hypomania creeping in. I’m thinking of buying stuff. I’m thinking of trading stocks. I’m thinking of another career change, discarding good ideas for more exciting, if undoable, ones. All of my thoughts are about getting and doing. Anything. Right now I feel smarter, more creative, and more energetic than I usually do. That might be dangerous, but that’s what I’m feeling, and that’s what I encounter during meditation.
Here’s where meditation helps. I’ve picked-up these early signs of hypomania, so I can work to avoid myself going full-blown manic. During meditation, which I now have to force myself to do, I become calm for a time and clearly see the maelstrom I’ve entered. I give my wife my credit cards. I walk past the corner pub without going inside. I implement the two-week rule for purchases, investments, changing my LinkedIn profile, and publicly flouting new ideas. The two-week rule allows me to note what I want, or want to do, and set it aside. If, two weeks later, it still seems like a good idea, I can act on it. Meditation sessions keep me honest. I note if I’m breaking the rules, or planning anything big and stupid.
This is when meditation becomes a little different. In quieter moods, while focusing on the breath I note thoughts and release them, always returning to the present moment. But when I recognize the signs of creeping mania (or depression), I incrementally change my relationship to my thoughts. As they arise, I pay a little more attention to them as I note them. I investigate what my thoughts are about. Are they fantasies? Is there anger? Am I subconsciously planning? What thoughts keep returning? Are there consistencies, or even deep inconsistencies? As I note repeating and defeating thoughts, I can see how they are affecting my behavior when I’m not meditating. Then I can make what changes I need to make in my day, my plans, and my expectations, and avoid trouble and minimize the impulsivity.
Hypomania. Although it can lead to very bad things, it has its benefits. As I stated, I think it does make me more creative and energetic. By meditating, staying present and responsible, and noting my thoughts, I can both stay focused and harness some of that energy and creativity. Meditation helps me hold on to the good ideas and keeps me away from acting out the bad ones.
Anyone who’s experienced hypomania and felt the energy, charisma, and flush of ideas it often brings, knows that if we could bottle this stuff we’d make millions. But we can’t bottle it. If left to ramble it often becomes grandiosity, poor judgment, and hurtfulness. Through the focused attention of mindfulness meditation, I can harness the positive and work to avoid the negative. This episode will pass, and I hope to leave it with my life intact - and a few good ideas.