The other night I was awakened at 3:30 by a sudden influx of good ideas. This was after I'd spent the better part of a day cataloging ABC items and making a master list of what was still needed. Apparently, having four hours of sleep was the just the right amount of time for my brain to process the day's project because from then until 7:30 my brain was busy coming up with a new ABC items it hadn't thought of before or remembering items I had previously noted down but had neglected to transfer to my cleaned-up lists. I mean, my brain went, "Hey! You forgot to list 'macaroni' as one of the 'm' food items!" and when I pulled out my notebook, lo and behold, it was absolutely right. It was right on with every other error and didn't produce a single duplicate among the new ideas. I was writing the ideas down as they came--at the rate of a new idea every ten seconds or so--in hopes that if I got them down on paper, I wouldn't feel like I had to try to remember them and therefore I would be able to relax and go to sleep. Alas, that only seemed to make room for more new ideas. I tried all of my going-to-sleep tricks, from bowls of cereal to adding tighter and tighter pajama layers (why this helps is a topic for another post) to trying to occupy my mind with more innocuous lullabies, but nothing worked. I might have given up on the notion of falling asleep altogether and simply taken dictation for four hours, but if I don't get a lot of sleep, there's hell to pay from the migraine standpoint during the day. I should have known it was futile. After all, this has happened many times before.
A few weeks ago, the 3:30 to 7:30 stretch produced a lengthy list of macro photos I wanted to take. The time before that, it was FIFTY great ideas for treasuries to make on Etsy. (See My Treasuries) Several of the final poems for my children's book on colors were handed down during the wee hours. If I have a great idea, it almost always shows up in the middle of night. Of course, if I'm not consciously or subconsciously ruminating on some creative topic, my brain is happy to spend those hours just rhyming (it loves nothing better than rhyming in the middle of the night, much to my dismay!) or coming up with detailed lists on non-useful topics. As annoying as it is to be kept awake by good ideas, it's even more annoying not to be able to sleep because your brain is insisting, despite all of your "turning the mind" exercises, on thinking of all the supplies you'd want to have on hand to survive a zombie apocalypse or something equally academic.
I'm hardly the first person to be awake thinking in the night, but one of the things that bugs me about it just a little bit--in addition to not getting my necessary sleep--is that I recognize the hypomanic elements of this bombardment of ideas. Hypomania, for those not well-versed in the characteristics of bipolar II, is essentially mania-lite. Instead of the out-of-control, impulsive, and sometimes dangerous behavior that categorizes a full-bore manic episode, hypomania usually manifests as a period of more productive and more social behavior. I was extremely typical in that my hypomanic phases were times of tremendous creative productivity. I was more relaxed, more extroverted, and happier when hypomanic, too, but never to a degree that anyone would ever have suspected mania, a factor which makes bipolar II much harder to diagnose. Hypomania, unlike mania, is generally very enjoyable, sometimes to the point that people with bipolar II will decline treatment. (Since I spent roughly 75% of the year in the crushing grip of truly awful bipolar II depression, I, for one, was grateful for treatment!) I've found, as my psychiatrist promised, that having my bipolar II treated means I am more productive more of the time, so I don't feel like I've lost anything, and it disturbs me to sense these hypomanic overtones in the my unbidden and unstoppable early morning brainstorming sessions. On the occasions when my bipolar II has definitely gotten off-kilter, usually due to interference from a medication for some other malady, I've noticed that I do become a compulsive listmaker and obsessive rhymer. I find it quite uncomfortable to literally be unable to stop a behavior, mental though it may be, and there's generally a keyed up, voracious, hyperalert sensation that goes with it that is so unlike my ordinary self that I find it unpleasant to be hypomanic, even if it does produce some great results. My Etsy Store was the product of an unusual, as yet unexplained, six week hypomanic period last fall, and while I realize it would have taken months to launch it otherwise and am grateful I was able to get the work done (my migraines are now intertwined with my moods, so I experienced fewer migraines during this period as well), I'd really prefer to stay balanced all the time. (It should be noted that this productive phase was followed by six weeks of now-uncharacteristic depression and far worse migraines, a most definitely nasty trade-off.)
So as deliciously seductive as productive hypomania may seem, I know that there can be no hypomania without eventually tipping over the other side and plunging into darkness. It appears that full control over my mind is out of reach; perhaps, in fact, these periodic overflowings in the wee hours are actually a necessary purge of extra thinking. Beneficial or no, the bottom line is that these long nights of brilliant ideas serve as a reminder that it is not a floor anchored to a foundation on which I stand, but a raft. The seas may seem calm for now, but I would be foolhardy to take my secure footing for granted and must always remain vigilant in case of unexpected waves.