Despite an inability to write on this blog, I remained able to share (sometimes infrequently) on Twitter (@rightingtheshi1). Perhaps the bite-sized nature of that platform better suited my mind’s abilities? In any event, one of my tweets posed a question “Am I afraid to experience joy because I don’t know how to distinguish it from hypomania?” Here’s the tweet:
I initially thought I’d first raise the question during therapy, however since I had an upcoming meeting with my bipolar group, I raised it there. I thought that one or more of my peers might have similar concerns.
Turned out I was wrong. For the most part during the group, I was shot down and, consequently, disheartened. I thought my question had importance. If not for someone else, it certainly had importance for me. Yet the group seemed to suggest that it had no merit. As I said, I was disheartened.
Still, the question stuck with me and, I’m pleased to say, it stuck with the moderators of the group. They did a bit of research and discovered that I wasn’t alone in having this concern. Indeed there are two terms related to it: Cherophobia, where a person has an irrational aversion to being happy; and, Hedonophobia, where a person has a fear of joy.
Please remember that bipolar disorders come with hypomania and mania attached. These moods can cause you to take risks you might not otherwise take or spend money you might otherwise not spend, et cetera. Often, by taking these risks, relationships are lost, debts are incurred, and shame is created. For some, perhaps me, a solution is the development of a pattern of risk aversion, sometimes becoming a psychosis, where the person doesn’t want to experience joy to reduce the possibility of negative consequences from hypomania and mania.
The website positivepsychology.com, suggests that the person experiencing this fear of joy may present the following symptoms, namely the belief that:
- feeling happy or joyful makes you a bad person
- being happy/joyful will lead to something bad happening
- you should not express happiness/joy because it may upset people
- happiness/joy is self-centred which may cause someone to act selfishly which would have a negative outcome on others
- being happy/joyful may bring resentment from others which would result in feeling guilt and the possibility that happiness/joy would disappear
- happiness/joyfulness when others are suffering is morally wrong
- happiness/joy will lead to mania or hypomania or even psychosis
I know that I experienced quite a few of these symptoms.
The good news is that joy is distinct from hypomania and mania. Joy is the expression of an emotion whereas hypomania and mania are clinical states that hinder your functioning in society. Cherophobia and hedonophobia can be treated using traditional psychological therapies. And, experiencing joy does not mean that you will become hypomanic or manic. It is not a cause/effect relationship.
For me, it came down to the daily monitoring of my mood. I use the app Daylio to track my mood, record my activities, and journal what is going on each day. This helps me to see that joy isn’t causal. I can see how joyful activities benefit me without creating hypomania. The proof is there in each entry where I experienced joy but didn’t experience hypomania. And this gives me comfort. It gives me the answer to my question. It tells me, loudly and clearly, that I’m allowed to experience joy. I’m happier for it.