The book definitions of hypomania and mania seem to make the difference between the two pretty unclear. They generally either list hypomania as “mild mania”, or — the other way round — mania as “stronger hypomania”. Then list the same symptoms next to both.
Here in the Netherlands the definition is a bit clearer: mania requires hospitalisation (or arrest, but hopefully the former). Hypomania is what you can cope with by yourself; mania requires help. While this still isn’t a 100% clear division — how are you expected to know, especially when manic, that you have now crossed the threshold and you need hospitalisation? — it’s helpful, because it gives a clear and understandable difference.
You wake up after 6-7 hours of sleep, feeling energetic and happy. You’re skipping stairs, dancing your way to work. At the office you dazzle everyone with displays of creativity and sheer speed at which you (perfectly) perform your work. After work you have a date, to which you go in your work clothes, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re a fascinating person, you’re fabulous, great to talk to and your smile — never fading from your face — attracts everyone, from the waiter to your date, who is thanking their lucky stars they met someone like you. You don’t drink but you don’t have to, because your inner extrovert is out, and having a field day. When you get home, you write two chapters of your novel before finally going to sleep. It’s a bit hard to fall asleep without a sleeping pill, but you don’t mind, running through the details of your amazing day in your mind over and over.
The perfect storm: the mild hypomania. +1 on your mood chart. You don’t have hallucinations, you don’t do anything scary, you dazzle and amaze. Work is a pleasure. Sunshine feels like it’s caressing your skin. Rain feels that way too, actually, come to think of it. Gods smile at you, and you perform, and create, and attract, and…
Does this scenario sound familiar?
You are walking around a shopping centre, or browsing Etsy, or passing by an Apple Store. Place doesn’t matter. You look around, somewhat bored, when suddenly your eyes focus on something: THIS. IS. IT. Suddenly you can not imagine your life without Item X. How could you have survived until 30 seconds ago without owning Item X? Suddenly it feels like your entire brain has turned into one enormous WANT. You NEED Item X. For… reasons. It doesn’t really matter, why would anything matter when you WANT it so much you could suddenly turn into a 3-year-old and throw a crying strop complete with kicking the floor and hitting it with fists?
You leave the store with Item X in your bag. You already start feeling a little less excited about it, and you haven’t unpacked it yet, but you convince yourself that now your life is complete, after all you wanted it so badly, how could it be anything but the most important key thing that will unlock potential amazingness hiding right inside the box? You get home, not quickly enough, and unwrap the box, and take Item X out, and hold it and kiss it and call it George, and you fully intend to spend the rest of your life enjoying it non-stop.