Wired and Tired: Untangling the “Mixed Features” Episode

Last Updated: 30 Aug 2019

Experiencing an episode with “mixed features” can be especially confusing. You might ask yourself, “Am I up? Or am I down?” And, sometimes, the answer is, well … BOTH.

A woman of color rests near a sunlight window. She is seated and looking away, gazing outside thoughtfully. A cup of coffee and a book rest on the windowsill in the background.

Doctors can classify particular bipolar episodes as having “mixed-features” (the jargon is “Mixed Features Specifier,” or MFS, for short). The qualifications for this distinction are to experience at least three symptoms from “the opposite end of the pole” for most of the duration of a primarily (hypo)manic or primarily depressive episode.

Well, that might sound cut-and-dry on paper, but an MFS episode is a truly mystifying experience to behold. Having bipolar already feels like living in a “Fun House”: the floors sway, the mirrors bend, and there are optical illusions everywhere. An MFS episode just adds another layer of confusion to that experience—it’s like being in the Fun House in total darkness. Scared yet? I can tell you a bit about my adventures with MFS episodes. Read on, if you dare …

It’s Like Being in The Twilight Zone

Electricity in the Veins + Sleeping Like a Log

Sometimes late at night I feel like I’m filled with the white-hot fire of a thousand bipolar suns. It’s like I’m a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed early bird—ready to get the worm . . . Except, I already got all the worms for today, and now is not a good time to go looking for more worms. It’s too dark. And I can’t forget what my grandpa once said in regard to my high school curfew: “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.”

So, on a good day, I’ll tell myself, “Lie down, you’re hypomanic! At least TRY to go to sleep at a reasonable time!” … And then I proceed to lie down, fall quickly to sleep, and stay asleep for 8–10 hours.

Wait—hold on! I thought late-night unexplainable energy indicated hypomania. Why is this lengthy sleep happening when I have so much to do and so much energy to do it with?!

Fervent Activity + Cognitive Impairment

I occasionally lose my emotional intelligence; I’m exiled from my natural ability to connect/communicate with others, including my kids. Anhedonia sets in, eliminating my emotions, my sense of enjoyment … making me a robot. Even cognitively, I’m slowed down. I can’t take phone calls, answer messages, or even trulyhear what’s happening around me. The conversation, the television, and the questions all become a muffled soup of sounds. It’s like when you lose the signal from a radio station you were listening to in the car.

Is it catatonia? No. Because while I’m ignoring the radio static of life buzzing in the background, I obsessively focus on some inconsequential project. And by “radio static of life,” I mostly mean my three preschool-age children. Floral design, embroidery, writing, cleaning, video games—these are a few of the black holes I’ve been completely vacuumed into, with no foreseeable way out. It truly feels like I have a cognitive disability. My husband is good at recognizing when I’m feeling this way, and he’ll give me a nudge so I can try to rejoin regularly scheduled programming.

Extreme Fatigue + Surplus of Brain Activity

Then there are times when I feel quite worthless and depressed. I have no energy; I feel sluggish and isolated. Simple tasks become mountainous—even basic hygiene and eating practices. I have no bandwidth for anything.

But I can’t sleep, because inside my mind there’s a grand finale fireworks display of thoughts. Some of them are about the past, some are about the future, and some are about horribly tragic accidents happening to my loved ones—complete with unspeakable graphic imagery and a racing heartbeat. Intrusive thoughts, much?

It’s impossible for me to focus on one thought for very long, though; they spin around and around on a huge Ferris wheel that I can’t seem to switch off, slow down, or get away from. It’s brutal and exhausting. Metaphorically, it’s like each car of the Ferris wheel whacks me as it passes, until I eventually collapse.

What’s fatigued a person to do when the mere idea of sleep creates anxiety, worry, and fear? Best I can do on these days is to try to get immersed in a TV show or a repetitive task, like folding clothes. Because you can run (from yourself), even if you can’t hide (from your brain chemistry).

These are a few of my Tales from the (Mixed-Episode) Crypt. What about you? Have you experienced an episode that deserves the WTF—I mean, “MFS” stamp? 🙂

About the author
Brooke Baron has a B.A. in English, a Minor in Philosophy, and a lifelong obsession with language. Although born and raised in Alabama, she has been a proud California resident for 10+ years. During a professional stint in Silicon Valley—in both the corporate and private business sectors—she handled internal and external communications, office design and construction, photography and graphic design, executive assistance, and functioning on very little sleep. Brooke now specializes in ‘New Human Orientation’ from her home in the suburbs. She has a young, loving, growing family of five and is fueled by that love and coffee. In addition to caring for the rest of Team Baron, she enjoys writing, reading, researching miscellaneous topics, and funneling manic energy into creative projects. With so many balls in the air—including Bipolar II Disorder—balancing her life is like balancing two kangaroos on a see-saw.
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