The Dos and Don’ts of Mastering Your Hypomania ‘Dragon’

Last Updated: 3 Oct 2018

You can learn ways to “train” your hypomania dragon to avoid impulsive decisions that can have lasting impacts on your life.


Last month I discussed how bipolar depression affects my decision-making, specifically in terms of work. Now I’d like to address the impact of hypomania on my decisions and how these affect my relationships.

Mania is characterized by lack of impulse control and increased risk-taking behaviors. It could be buying a brand-new vehicle, or two, and maxing out a new credit card in a matter of days, or selling a successful business without discussing it with anyone so you can backpack in the Andes—even though you’re not much of a hiker and you despise insects.

Mania tends to be extreme, and being less extreme, hypomania is often perceived as its harmless cousin. Bought three pairs of shoes you don’t need? Told your boss off at work? Stayed up half the night cleaning your house? Adorable.

Hypomania is not adorable. It’s dangerous, partly by virtue of seeming harmless. Consider this: You can dig yourself into credit card debt with a spade or a backhoe, but it leaves you in the same dark hole.

Mania and hypomania are different enough to earn distinct diagnoses, but what they share is a capacity for devastation, so please, no peeing contests between type I and type II.

I am way more afraid of my hypomanic episodes than I am of my depressive ones, mainly because I have zero positive associations with the latter. I’ve had my share of fun during hypomanic spells (before the tornado leveled everything completely), mostly because my hypomanic decisions are characterized by lack of inhibition. Why say no when you can have so much more fun saying yes?

It’s important for me to pause here and explain that I’m a fairly inhibited sort to begin with. I put myself to bed at 9 p.m. for most of high school because I didn’t see the point in staying up later if I wanted to get up early. Enough said.

What Hypomania and an Ex-Boyfriend Have in Common

If you can forgive a tired trope, my experience of hypomania is a lot like the charming ex-boyfriend who likes to show up with a fresh batch of promises just when you’re confident you’ve put all the pieces of your life back together. He’s light-hearted and better looking than you remembered, and you know what? This time, it feels different. What could possibly be the harm in hearing him out—over dinner and drinks?

Before you know it you’re at the club together, and then he stays the night, and pretty soon he’s moving in and suddenly you can’t get any sleep because he’s throwing parties that last until the wee hours of the morning. Now you’re late for everything because he takes your car without asking and you’ve stopped laughing; he’s started yelling and telling you what to wear, so you try to break it off. He begs you not to, he cries just the right amount, and when your friend drops you off from work the next evening, you realize he’s taken your car for good and drained your checking account.

Try to recall this when he parks his beat-up Chuck Taylors on your doorstep six to eight months later.

Now if this was a movie, I would have stopped watching ten minutes in. I have no patience for bad boys on screen or in real life, and yet I have been seduced by hypomania so many times because it feels good to throw caution to the wind, especially if you’ve been living in the cave of depression for months.

Not all my hypomanic decisions have the impact of a wrecking-ball, and some of my poorest ones are also the most innocent. The worst decision in the story above? Letting “Mr. Chuck Taylors” inside the door in the first place.

Decisions that Unleash the Dragon

Staying up late instead of brewing some chamomile tea and taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, or having the second drink, can be the thing that trips the switch that leads to an episode.

I am notorious for picking fights the day after I’ve enjoyed more than one alcoholic beverage. Can one or two drinks really make that much difference? To me, yes, and in part because there are usually a few things that coincide with this decision, like being out late, which is a disruption in sleep and the time I take my medication.

Even worse, I may have forgotten to take my pills, and also, I’m probably dehydrated. I was having fun, and now I’m a dragon ready to breathe fire.

It’s usually the people closest to me who get scorched, and these days that would be my husband. I’ve never asked him what it’s like to be married to a dragon, but I have noticed how he handles it. He never confronts the dragon, but when his wife shows up again, he talks about what happened and how it made him feel. Bipolar is not a license to be a jerk, and he’s there if I need a reminder.

Damage Control

Apologies are not my strong suit. I grew up in a family where sorry was something you showed and didn’t need to say, and empty apologies were the ultimate source of disdain, but when it comes to this type of situation, I feel a sincere apology is vital. My idea of the best apology is to never do it again, but given the nature of this illness, the odds of a recurrence are fairly high.

That’s why I need to say, “I’m sorry I took out my anger on you. You don’t deserve that. What can I do to make things right between us?”

My husband is my role model for apologies. He taught me how to give the kind of apology he needs to hear. This one works for him: If you have bipolar, you owe it to your loved ones to find out what kind of apology best helps them cope with the resentment that is sure to arise from repeated run-ins with the dragon.

How You Can ‘Train Your Dragon’

And of course, never stop working with your dragon. Mine can only count to ten, but sometimes that’s enough to avert a crisis.

This dragon with the flash-in-the-pan temper is at the heart of my fear of hypomania.

There are times when I feel like I’m carrying out a public service by isolating myself from people. Part of my hypomanic impulsivity is a lack of consideration for the words that come out of my mouth. It’s not in my nature to speak carelessly, or without thought for the consequences, but my worst hypomanic episodes have invariably been punctuated with words I can’t take back.

When I experience hypomania, I rarely pause to play out the consequences of my decisions. If I’m able to recognize my state, I can decide that today is not a good day for decisions, and do what’s in my power to defer any significant choices for at least twenty-four hours. I can use that time to reach out to the people in my support network.

When hypomania begins, it’s like watching a couple of chipmunks playing in the backyard. It’s just lively entertainment. And then twenty-five more chipmunks show up on dirt bikes, and they’re all drunk on Red Bull, and some of them have rabies, and they’re chewing the wires and before you know it your home has burned to the ground.

How did this happen? Again?

I couldn’t keep up with what was happening inside my head. This is the reason I need to step back from making decisions. My head is bursting with ideas, so many ideas that I can’t actually solve a problem because the ideas are soaking up all the power on the grid. There’s nothing left to use to weigh options and consequences.

And I can’t write another word about it because now is truly one of those moments. It’s 90 degrees out and I’m going to brew chamomile tea and fold laundry because I know those choices are safe.

Learn more:
Missing Hypomania and Accepting Sacrifices for Stability
Bipolar Mania, Hypomania, and the Desire to Escape


About the author
Lynda has been living with Bipolar II for nearly two decades and is expecting to receive her award nomination at any moment. She is a language tutor, furniture rehab artist, and founder and owner of Pink Unicorn Revival, a home decor upcycling initiative. She holds a B.A. in English and a diploma in Professional Writing from Mount Royal and MacEwan universities respectively. She lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her partner, one spoiled cat, and one very spoiled dog. Catch her tweets @CocoRubes.
  1. I’ve just been diagnosed and I am having a very hard time understanding what Bipolar 2 is. I’m very much struggling to understand, and have so many things to catch up on that I feel like I don’t even have time to process and just want to get better already! This is so so helpful and validating! I stayed home from work today because I either say something hurtful or I disrupt the office because I can’t contain my energy. This article explains exactly why I chose to stay home today! Thank you so much, this is so eye-opening! As is the rest of your site!

    1. Im afraid I may have been suffering from this and after asking google what was wrong with me, I came across this and can’t help but just cry. I’m to afraid to start anything because I know “my tendencies” and seems that’s when my depression kicks in … I’m a mess and don’t know how to control it… the thought of my kids having to suffer from this breaks me. These non-stop thoughts and non-stop list of tasks I have piled up. Reading a few articles explains so much to me and it makes too much sense. Thank you for this.

  2. Lynda, so beautifully written. Appreciated the part on how to apologize, re birth family and now husband. I liked that you made the comparison of a dragon blowing fire, scotching everything and everyone in it’s path. Sounds dramatic enough. Also the comparison of taking back an old boyfriend and getting burnt. There is a lot in your essay and it is saved for rereading. Thanks, Flo

  3. Thanks so much for your “right on” comments! You let us all know WE ARE NOT ALONE!

  4. I needed to read your bipolar blog. I have been bipolar for over 20yrs. It had been going on most of my life. Back then Drs did not know a lot about bipolar and all his quirks. I have experienced manic most rather than depression. It is so hard to control but I do manage. I want to tell every one who is bipolar that there is a lot of help out there now. With people coming out about mental illness it is just important ad physical illness. Now I feel more open about my bipolar and it is very helpful and informative to help us. I try to think to myself that bipolar does not say who I am . It is just an illness I have. It does describe who and what I am I am doing better day by day. I take one day at a time. That seems to work for me. Thank you again. Take care.

  5. Thank you Linda. Your talent for clearly expressing what you experience is to be commended. I was diagnosed with BP2 Variant last March 18′ and have struggled with a sensible Li dose for some time now. I lost a job of five years due to `expressing’ myself. Half of my family is still in denial that Dad was a BP1 tyrant. The red thread runs through our lives and it is always a good thing when we can take a look at how our lives have been effected my moods, and history, and not make excuses for bad behaviors. Thank you again, GT

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