Riding the high

Sometimes, when I’m in a bit of a hypo-mania, I just lean into it for a few minutes or a few hours where I know that some stimulus (extra caffeine, or positive music cranked to a high volume) will push me into a particular state of near-bliss. It’s such an enjoyable feeling, sometimes it’s an indulgence.

I don’t do this often anymore with caffeine, I know the long-term ramifications. A particular high achieved through caffeine for a few hours I may end up paying for for several following days with broken up sleep and other problems. And the brief high may even trigger a low period lasting longer. It’s way too much risk. Music is a briefer and less potent high, but also dramatically less risky.

Riding the high

I’m going to miss coffee


Here I go again.


I had stayed off the mania portion of the cycle for a good long time[1]. I hadn’t been particular up, mostly even with brief dips lower[2]. And, Murphy’s law, today is particularly inconvenient day for this – time commitments in place for later this day that will be more difficult now that my sleep is interrupted.

Without any great solution visible, I’m going to try taking stock of the usual elements and see how they compare.

Caffeine: I was on caffeine for a longer period than I prefer to be as I was trying to get a work project down. As I my mood trended down, one of the changes I made was to take a really long break from caffeine. Initially this didn’t help my mood: I was in a longer down period recently. But my body adjusted to it. And it’s possible being off caffeine helped me level back out.

And then, I allowed myself a small amount of caffeine. Really tiny amounts, like a quarter of a cup of coffee before noon only. It had the obvious productivity boost, and may have boosted my mood. That has been more or less where I’ve been for the last ten days.

And then, I had more and a bit later the last two days.

Hmmm… this could easily be the cause. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Diet: Again shifting my diet. I had spent a lot of the down time eating “less well” and as a positive outcome of being more up I got back into a better groove. The last few days have been different. Timewise, that correlates positively with this shift but I’m not sure that is the cause or part of it. Interesting data point for future reference: shifting to eating less well correlated with an up period.

Interaction: Unsurprisingly, I spent a lot of the down period without a lot of interaction. And, even while being more level and up over the last few weeks, I haven’t resumed a normal schedule of external interactions. Last week more interaction, this week (including today), far more interaction. Again, positive correlation with the hypo-mania. A data point worth noting for future reference.

Exercise: I’ve been less regular, but doing reasonably well at getting a bit more regular exercise. No particular changes over the last week or so.

Stress: For the first time in a long time, I noted a particular sense of stress a few days ago. I chalked it up to a combination of being tired (hadn’t slept well: possible initial mania coming on[3]), the most caffeine I’d had had in a while (and part of the anxiety was just caffeine-induced), and then a few more unclosed loops – particular around social items and also some lack of tracking things well[4].[5]


Aside on caffeine and sleep. The above caffeine log and my lack of sleep would, for most people seem ridiculous. But this is how I think about caffeine more now: a mood booster. So, it isn’t caffeine’s well known effects as a stimulant on sleep. Since obviously have a quarter of a cup of caffeinated coffee between noon and 2pm today isn’t what “woke me up” directly.

However, as an additional element of pushing my mood into the “up” areas, kicking a hypo-manic period, that is how I think caffeine may be part of the problem. And the hypo-mania has as a symptom, being awake in the middle of the night.

As has been increasingly often, I am thinking of caffeine as a double edged sword: I like it and it can be positive to boost my mood when used wisely. But it seems like it is particularly dangerous.

And it might be particularly difficult to modulate when used regularly. Other than as an occasional boost to mood, it may be best to leave it alone. Not just temporarily, forever. As medicine, it’s useful when used for a specific application, but not something I should ingest regularly.

I’ll probably keep experimenting, but the above paragraph seems like a rational approach.

Not sure why, but this is the music in my brain this morning.

[1] Checking this diary, looks like it’s been the better part of a month since I’ve struggled with a hypo-manic period that robbed me of sleep.

[2] The dips were often less than a day.

[3] A few nights of waking up too early, though not in the dead of night, and without the “instant on” feeling that, together, are symptomatic of the hypo-manic sleepless period. Like tonight. And so many other nights.

[4] leaving generalized anxiety around having to do some tasking but not doing a good job of tracking the state of thing. In GTD terms: unclosed loops where the task then repeats in your brain and you don’t have the “mind like water” state.

[5] Some low-level exercise completely resolved this stress and even bounced back to a great state of contentedness.

Photo Credit: Daniel Go

I’m going to miss coffee




I was naive enough to think I was doing better. I knew I wasn’t “cured” – I’m pretty certain there isn’t such a thing, this is a chronic, lifetime condition and I’ve accepted that. There is likely something I could learn from other chronic health conditions to apply to my perspective.

But I had begun to hope that I had it well under control.

I hadn’t experienced any low / down periods in some time.

I had managed to level out the up times to be far less intrusive to life. While I still had some symptoms that intruded on life (e.g. sleeplessness), I felt I had it managed and minimized the impact on life.

And then I had another bout of being down. For several weeks. Mostly I managed and it wasn’t too bad[1], though the final week or so was pretty rough and it was difficult to get anything done.

I had allowed myself to hope this was going to happen less often and so I’m still working through the frustration of again being there: down, unable to function well, unable to accomplish much.

In addition to this frustration from being not well again, I’m also realizing how powerless I am in solving this. Not just the various things I was doing to manage better, but more in the moment. I think understanding this, and handling it accordingly, is helpful.

When I’m up, I can just do things. Whether it is sit down and focus on work, or errands, or chores around the house. It’s simply a matter of deciding. And making a decision is relatively straight-forward: evaluate things I want to get done, prioritize, time & energy available, decide, do.

When I’m down, it’s completely different. I should work but I just can’t. I try various tricks I’ve learned to get started working and… still can’t. My brain just refuses to get moving.

When I’m down, even deciding can be crippling. I feel like I have to loop through all options and possibilities of a decision several times, even if that’s just a deciding between going for a walk or going to the store to get groceries. It can be completely incapacitating. Sometimes I just sit down in a quiet place and need ten minutes of quiet to make that decision. And sometimes I’ll make that decision, start moving and any extra difficulty[2] will completely derail my ability to perform the simple task.

When I’m up, there is no internal fight, I can do the things that I want to do and I do them.

I feel like someone who is further along in their journey (quite possibly my future self), will read this and be screaming at the me to go get help.

And I’ve decided that I need to do that. I knew before that I should do this, but I think the helpless feeling is what is really pushing me on this decision[3].

I barely know how to start this process. I feel like it will take months of trying to work with different therapists and that each time it will take a lot of effort to stop and try a new one. And there is a risk that I’ll be demotivated after quitting a few therapists, not having found one who I seem to work with very well[4].

Thankfully, I’m at least in a place where I have the energy to attack that problem. And if I don’t solve it entirely in this period, I can keep trying – there are a lot of years left and room to improve in the future.

Frustrated, just want to scream.

[1] Mainly, just cutting out any “extra” things beyond regular daily life and work was sufficient to manage. Trimming social engagements, reducing any extra promises or

[2] Minor things: I left my keys in the other room as I am about to walk out – and I feel like I should just give up on the whole endeavor. Or, I was maybe going to make dinner in two nights and hadn’t thought about what I’d make, so that feels like my whole shopping list is invalid – and I just want to give up. Sometimes this requires stopping, sitting down, and another five or ten minutes of silent thinking to get back on track.

[3] And oddly, it’s more the helplessness of being up. In that, I have some internal self-talk congratulating myself on getting various things done: “Good for me,” I thought. Then I realized how silly that sounded. It felt like congratulating someone on their height or their hair color. Congratulations may be valid, but there is nothing someone did to be over six feet tall or to have blond hair; that’s just how they are.

And when I get things done while being up, I feel like it’s just nature not something I deserve any credit for: it wasn’t extra willpower, effort, or “pushing through” that got me to do that, I just felt like I could.

[4] Excuse the terrible grammar and odd sentence construction: I wanted to be sure that I phrased it not as the therapist failing me, but that I will be the one doing the work and that the therapist doesn’t jive with me. It’s all on me, no therapist will magically fix something for me.

Photo Credit: Maks Karochkin


Outside View

In chatting with someone close to me, I was completely shocked at their view of my symptoms. In the middle of some honest discussion, I mentioned being up again. They were shocked, “You were up this week?”

I ran through a short list of visible symptoms that led me to this assessment. I had assumed it was pretty clear and would be to anyone watching. These were massive changes from the week previous. At least to me they were.

But to them, they were evaluating different things and assumed that I was not up – still stuck being down.

I’m not sure what to do with this. I can communicate better about how I feel. I feel a bit better knowing that to outsiders, my inner turmoil is likely mostly invisible. I can also take into consideration what other things people use to evaluate emotional state.


Photo Credit: George Wesley & Bonita Dannells

Outside View