Years ago, when I was first diagnosed as bipolar II, and I was reading everything I could find about the illness, I quickly learned there was a lot written about mania, but every little written about hypomania. In my local library, I picked up a video about being bipolar, and when I started watching it I began crying.
The interviews with four bipolar people were so depressing that I was overcome with sadness. As I remember it, and I'm not sure this was all on the same video, one bipolar man talked about some sort of money scam he'd run when he was manic. A married woman talked about buying an entire living room of furniture (in one day) that put her family in financial jeopardy. A mother discussed how she'd strike out at her children for no apparent reason. And a married man talked about taking a woman he barely knew (not his wife) on a trip to another country.
Years later, I read about Sol Wachter, the Chief Judge of the New York State of Appeals, stalking a former lover (he was married at the time), by writing a series of explicit letters and making menacing telephone calls, and ending up in prison. And there have been so many other stories about uncontrolled mania, and the havoc and heartbreak it causes.
The bipolar people in the video, Judge Wachter, and so may others seemed to suggest they had no control over their behavior, and their bipolar illness was to blame. I, who had only experienced hypomanias, found it difficult to believe.
When Wachter's prison memoir came out, I remember being so upset about it that I discussed it with my psychiatrist. "Do you truly believe that Judge Wachter couldn't help himself?" I asked. "He's writing that everything he did was against his moral code and yet he blames his undiagnosed illness, for which he didn't seek help, and self-prescribed medication."
All these years later, I don't remember my psychiatrist's exact words, but he reassured me that he didn't believe Wachter's bipolarity was to blame. And neither did I.
Since I've only experienced one "manic episode" that was medication-induced, and my doctor immediately took me off Zoloft and put me on lithium (which didn't work but I still returned to "normalcy"within a few days), I don't have any idea what full-blown manias are like.
During my brief manic episode, all I remember is that I had too much energy, which I tried to dissipate through exercise, I diligently cleaned my house, played a lot of video games with my son (who was about five years old at the time), and flattened two tires on my mini-van because my judgment was slightly impaired, and our driveway is narrow and steep and has a concrete lip off the fireplace that is problematic at best (although I'd never hit it before). There was some other slightly "off" behavior, but I did nothing that was inconsistent with my morals and values.
What I decided early on was that unlike the bipolar people who blamed their untoward behavior on their illness, I would take personal responsibility for mine. (more to come)