Spiritual awakening? Mania? Anxiety? What is it?
I was mid writing another entry about spiritual awakening when I realized how much it sounded like I was describing a manic episode. I had to pause. After some thought I decided that writing this entry needed to happen before going forward.
Mental illness and spiritual awakening are not mutually exclusive, one can occur with the presence of the other. However, differentiating between the two can be tricky.
My husband is often confused by me...and I honestly don't blame him. He's confused by the moods I swing through, which one is what and what one is which.
He'll point out that I'm acting manic and I'll snap and say, I'm not manic, I'm anxious.
He'll ask if I'm anxious and I'll say, I'm just on a high vibration today.
He'll see me busily doing things for days and ask if I'm cycling and I'll say, I'm just inspired.
He'll notice I'm not sleeping well for nights on end and I'll explain, I'm hypo-manic right now and my sleep is terrible.
Truly, his confusion is warranted. How could he possibly tell the differences in my internal experience by what he sees externally? I am not referring to depression here, which, for me, does look very different and is pretty obvious. I'm referring to hypo-mania, high spiritual vibration and anxiety...
It took me years to differentiate between the three and I'm the one living in this body! So I definitely don't expect him, or anyone else, to be able to see the nuances.
I'm not the only one living with these different states that could be all dumped into one bucket because of lack of awareness. All people live with varying states that may seem incredibly similar, especially people with bipolar.
Why is this so important to differentiate?
Because it is disempowering to be constantly associated with illness. Most things I do are NOT based in bipolar or ocd. Most things I do are based in the authentic ME, the Divine ME. It can also be limiting to associate all that we do with pathology. If I'm constantly questioning if my decisions or actions or thoughts are based in my illness, how would I confidently navigate the world?
It is imperative as a person living with mental illness to know when we are functioning in a state of mania/hypo-mania, when it is anxiety without hypo-mania and when we are simply being ourselves in a high vibrational or awakening state. This way we will know when to take assertive action and when to hold off because our thinking maybe skewed by out-of-balance chemicals in our brains.
First, let me give a micro-description of what I mean by a spiritual awakening. It really isn't something that can be summed up easily and it also looks different for all of us. However, for the purpose of this entry, what I'm referring to is a sudden shift in a person's perspective of themselves and their intrinsic value. In other words, the sudden onset of knowing our Divine worth and our importance in the Universe. This realization can cause a person to begin behaving differently, shift life long goals, no longer engage in "toxic" (for lack of a better word) relationships or situations, seem detached and even euphoric.
***NOTE - This description is profoundly lacking. To determine if you are someone that is experiencing a manic episode or a spiritual awakening, you will need to be assessed by a seasoned professional with experience in this area and the diagnosis of manic/psychotic illnesses.
DO NOT use this as a means of self-diagnosis if you are concerned that you might be experiencing a manic episode.
Hmm...sounds a like like mania doesn't it.
Mania and Hypo-Mania.
In brief, mania is a more severe experience of hypo-mania. Mania can include psychosis, destructive or violent behavior. Hypo-mania doesn't typically include psychosis, however, can still be severe. It usually entails varying degrees of heightened energy, extreme creativity, agitation or rage, flightiness or, conversely, hyper focus and possibly an inflated sense of self.
Mania and hypo-mania could resemble a spiritual awakening in many ways.
But here is the vital caveat.
A spiritual awakening is based in love...love for the self and love for others. It is a calling from Spirit to become a servant to growth for ourselves and for our fellow humans. It is not based in grandiosity. We understand the Divine worth of ALL beings. We are not feeling more important, more powerful or more gifted, we are simply understanding the importance of us all.
In addition, a spiritual awakening doesn't go away. It's permanent. You cannot un-know what you know. While our emotional experience and perspectives of awakening will change, we have been graced with permanent, Divine knowledge.
Mania and hypo-mania are temporary states that will eventually give way to another phase of the bipolar illness. Grandiosity (thinking we are more powerful or more important than others) will disappear as the illness cycles and often shifts into shame or worthlessness.
How is anxiety different from hypo-mania? This is a tricky one because phases within hypo-mania can include anxiety. However, hypo-mania is not interchangeable with anxiety. The agitation, hyper energy, rage or the attempt to control these phases can cause anxiety. However, we can also be within these elements of the illness and NOT feel anxious.
Anxiety includes irrational fear and/or obsessive worry. It is also somatic. It manifests in the body typically as gastrointestinal problems and physical tension. I can feel anger or rage without these, but it usually does arrive after the rage passes. I can also feel hyper and happy without any anxiety at all. Agitation can occur as annoyance with anything and everything, but that doesn't mean I'm worried or afraid. I may simply be agitated.
Now that we have differentiated the three.
Honestly, it is up to US, the ones living with bipolar, to help others understand our states, to have compassion for others' confusion and to have compassion for our own confusion. Living with bipolar is complex and extremely overwhelming in it's active phases. We simply might miss the cues and find ourselves lost in anxiety or hypo-mania or questioning our spiritual state.
This is all totally okay...and understandable.
So what to do? This is a continual state of mindfulness and Svadhyaya (self-study). Self study might includes brief meditation (meditation may be contraindicated for some manic or anxious states...that's another topic for another entry), journaling, tracking phases or cues (symptoms), Yoga asana practice, psychotherapy or all of it.
How to navigate an awakening state with bipolar disorder?
This is no simple task even with all of the above. The best way to navigate a spiritual awakening is to find a guru (teacher) and follow their guidance along with Svadhyaya. Sometimes we have the opportunity to work with a guru in person, however, sometimes they are someone we know of. We can read their books, listen to their podcasts, practice their meditations or watch their videos.
I have a guru, a fellow light worker and the author of Skinny White Girl, Stasia Minkowski. She is a talented spiritual counselor and guide who I value deeply.
If you are interested in more guidance, I'd be happy to help you sort through your experiences.
Here is my initial guidance to you...compassion, compassion, compassion. You are going through a lot, you may misunderstand yourself and others may as well. This is okay. It takes time and a lot of practice.
In closing...I hope this helps to more deeply understand these different states. Now I will resume writing my previous entry knowing I've provided some clarity.
Thank you for reading and All Good Things!
Sarah is a psychotherapist, spiritual teacher and Ayurvedic nutritionist in Halifax, MA. Learn more about Sarah and her practices.
Contact Sarah by email.