Loopy, Lonely and Lost

Cyclothymia.

Posted on: September 27, 2008

Oh, cyclothymia. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Easier to put up with than pronounce (for anyone who’s found this post by searching ‘how to pronounce cyclothymia’, it’s something like ‘sike-luh-thy-me-a’, or /ˌsaɪklɵˈθaɪmiəˌ/ for those of us with the pleasure of knowing the IPA). It’s mild bipolar. Consisting of dysthymia – mild depression – and hypomania – mild mania. Sounds like a total walk in the park.

Cyclothymia is probably what people think of when they think of ‘good’ bipolar disorder. Mood swings. Temperamental. Creative. Quirky. A bit grumpy sometimes.

So why, in reality, is it so perpetually shit?

Mild. It sounds like a sneer, doesn’t it? “Oh, you have a mild psychiatric condition? Then why on earth are you complaining? I expect it’s rather fun, isn’t it? It’s not like it’s a problem.

I don’t know if it’s because the word ‘mild’ is used so many times when describing this condition, which makes light of it, or if it’s because I’ve only been diagnosed with it because I underplay my symptoms, but I assure you that nothing about this illness is mild.

I know that people have it worse than me. A lot worse. And trust me, I’m thankful that I don’t have to go through what they’re going through. I’m in no way trying to suggest that my illness is the worst possible thing ever and that everybody else is having an easy time of it.

I suppose it’s like going to a country that’s just had an earthquake of 5 on the Richter scale, and telling them to count their blessings because some other country just had one of 8. It’s meaningless. If your life’s been destroyed, thinking about how other people’s lives have been destroyed more, or more severely doesn’t help at all.

The only scale of comparison I have is my own experience.

And believe me, I’ve experienced mild mood swings.

I’d say that most of my life from my earliest memories until I turned 18 was spent in a mild swing one way or the other. More extreme than other people’s moods, but I was certainly still functioning. They became more obvious at high school (when I was 11-16), and again at college (16-18), but they were always there.

I would go weeks or months being the life and soul of the party. The centre of attention. Being cheeky to my teachers, correcting their spelling in front of the whole class. Making people laugh, all the time. There’s a path between the college I went to and the main road, and I spent weeks, every day, skipping down it, singing. I was loud, I was quick-witted, I was happy. I sat on a stool in the middle of the social area and pretended to be rowing a boat, just because the idea of it made me laugh. I was funny, I was sarcastic. I was faster, sharper, smarter than anybody.

Then, I’d go weeks or months being withdrawn. Falling out with people because I was too sensitive to their comments. Sitting in corners pretending to read. Quiet, meek. Almost invisible. If I’d had a particularly bad day I would go home and cry, and sometimes, vaguely, think about suicide, although I never planned to do it. I stopped speaking when I didn’t need to. I didn’t seek people out anymore. Every few weeks, I’d fake an illness to get me a few days off school or college.

So, you see, I’m no stranger to mood swings. I’m no stranger to mild.

But this…this is destroying my life. This is destroying who I am.

Now, I have a few days of high mood. Hardly sleeping, hardly even stopping to think. Going out. Talking too quickly. Laughing too loudly and for too long. Making strange associations between things. In a good high mood, I am magnetic. I talk and people listen. I dance around, I talk nonsense, I hardly even know what I’m doing. In a bad high mood, I am angry, irritable. Paranoid, sometimes. Frightened.

Then I have a few days of depression. Proper, debilitating depression. I stop eating, I stop washing, I stop dressing. I stop leaving my room if I can help it. I cry and cry, or I stare at the wall. I think about suicide non-stop. I unplug my phone, I turn my mobile off. I lock my door and pretend I don’t exist.

It’s not dramatic. It’s hardly even interesting. Most of the time, I can pass for reasonably sane. Eccentric, yes, but sane.

But I don’t know how much longer I can cope with it.

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18 Responses to "Cyclothymia."

Mild – it’s an awful word. Makes you feel like what you are feeling isn’t worthy of anything.

Don’t give up hope – stay strong.

1. Anything mild when it’s chronic is going to be difficult and painful.

I have a friend who got very sick in her early 30s and was given days to live. Amazingly and happily, she recovered and is healthy now. You know what though? She thought it over and decided she’d rather that than what I have, being just a little bit sick but all of the time. Yeah of course that made me feel horribly guilty but, at the same time, it’s an interesting choice.

2. It doesn’t sound all that mild.

I hope you feel better soon, Laura. Take care.

If you’re downplaying your symptoms to your doctor or therapist, you need to stop – keeping them in the dark only makes it less likely you’ll get the proper treatment. Even a ‘mild’ form of bipolar disorder can be devastating enough, as you point out … I don’t think the labels are meant to imply that the condition is itself less of a psychiatric illness, but rather to give psychiatrists a frame of reference for which medications and at which levels to start them. Cyclothymia is as much a psychiatric illness as schizophrenia.

Echoing La, I hope you feel better soon.

Sounds to me that you have it worse than I have. But am just posting to say I understand how you feel and yes it is shit.
But, the way I see it, the main reason it is shit is because the world doesn’t accept people of our temperament, so you have to cover up your weak days, so that no one will label you…it doesn’t matter how brilliant you can be on a good day, the normal world just wouldn’t trust us, if they knew about our lows, so this makes it a shitty place to be.
Best wishes,

i’ve just put the pieces together and in a sense its eased my mind. i now know why i feel the way i do and how nothing is steady, why i feel like theres no hope, and then dont have a care in the world. the day i was informed of this, was the start of a better future. knowing that you’re not the only one, that there is a treatment, and that its in fact, curable. that in itself, makes it worth holding on. life is going to through obstacles at you, and though its horrible, and you wonder constantly, why me? it makes you stronger, and you will one day be free of it all. 🙂

Thats what i tell myself almost daily, one day it’ll happen. Keep strong.

Thankyou so much. I just stumbled across this by accident and you just described my life ! Its reassuring to know I am not alone. x

Hi Laura – just wanted to say that I sincerely hope you find some peace. I struggle with a mood disorder which I am beginning to think might by cyclothymia and a stable tranquil place in myself from which to meet the world sounds like heaven.

hey, I happened to stumble across your page. This isnt MILD for me either. It sucks I was diagnosed a year ago when i was 19 and to this day i have no control. I lost my medical and things went down hill from here. The most annoying part? Im on a strict mood cycle and every 4-5 days BAM! im a different person. I completely understand….i jsut wish other people understood too

I’m sorry to hear your having a hard time with the depression side of this disorder. I was diagnosed with cyclothymia last year but first started having symptoms about 8 years ago. I used to struggle with suicidal thoughts during my down times to and that caused me to seek help, well that and explosive outbursts of anger during my bad hypomanic episodes. And there is nothing mild about this condition at all, I read in one study that during times of very high stress, the symptoms of cyclothymia can equal the severity of bipolar disorder except for a shorter duration, which from personal experience seems true. Have you tried medication? Meds have helped a lot in keeping my mood more stable and I no longer get the deep dark depressions like I used to.

there’s nothing fking mild in the least about mood swings. There’s nothing fking normal about moods swinging. Going through multiple high-low cycles is tiring. It’s fking tiring. It drains you.

Cyclothymia is not commonly known. Perhaps one reason is because symptoms are often not so severe that one will seek treatment.

Cyclothymics, like those diagnosed bipolar, alternate between depressive and manic phases. Actually, with cyclothymia true mania is not reached. The proper term to describe this phase is hypomanic.

During the depressive phase, cyclothymics experience low confidence, fatigue, negative thoughts and loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities. During the hypomanic phase confidence returns in excess, though mood may be irritable, sleep difficulties may be present and there are reduced inhibitions.

It is possible that cyclothymia will progress into full bipolar disorder. This illness is usually diagnosed in the teenage or young adult years.

just stumbled on this blog… i can totally relate to where you’re coming from. i was diagnosed about two years ago after knowing for sometime i had a problem, although the severity drove me to seek help.

don’t give up whatever you do. you are a gift to the world whether you know it or not.

Throughout the last couple of years I haven’t felt depressed, I just couldn’t stop feeling so disassociated from everything around me. It’s like you’re trying to consciously experience your life but you’re not alert enough to truly feel it, as if you’re stuffed inside your own head and no matter how hard you try to break out you still feel like it’s the hardest thing for you to just be in the moment and really feel it. It’s like you’re nearly half asleep, happy or sad. It doesn’t feel like an emergency situation or extreme, it feels more like you’re missing out on your life. Like your mind is on vacation and still calls and emails your body from time to time to check up on it, but it’s never really there and attentive to it. I hate being so aloof! It’s like when I’m happy, I feel witty, entertaining, ambitious, nearly perfect, nearly unstoppable, I’m almost out of this fog, almost there, and all of a sudden just when I think the light in the end of this tunnel is tangibly at my reach, not just my site anymore, my REACH, those days, or weeks, or months of high hopes that some mildly dismal, even “normal” phase in my life is over, I shutdown again, dread making conversation, feel awkward, irritable whatever. But still I’m withdrawn. I wish I could feel things fully, even if those feelings were bad, at least I could completely vacate myself of them. I want to be able to REALLY feel everything from to really taste food melt in my mouth, the sensation of cold wind and rain when I’m jogging in the winter, my boyfriend’s skin when we’re intimate, enjoy the smell of my mom’s garden, and really be present in a conversation when I’m having one. I’m so desperate to be clear in these moments. What’s the point to live life when you can’t be present for it? This is painful, and I can’t even digest the reality of it. I’m not even sure if I’m in pain or not, all this means to me is that, to some degree, I’m just going through appropriate the motions. Is there a way out??

You hit the nail right on the head. I complain that I’m not present. My kids will talk to me and all I can think of is how bad I feel. I’m not present and I go through the motions of living but am by no means alive. I’m 55 and was just diagnosed last year. I knew something was wrong and now looking back through my life, it’s so obvious. trying a new med starting tomorrow. I’m hopeful some moments and then wham the negativity and hopelessness sets in.

there is nothing mild about it…I suffering from.cyclothymia about 3 years and it sucks…when I’m in the mania I feel like I’m top of the world…so confident,girls would get around me and I would be like mr.popular…when I’m in the depressive state everything sucks…I’m scared to talk to people…especially girls…I would say dumb things…I’m no fun to best with and people will neglect me…right now I’m in the depressive state…I wish my mania would come out cause I’m gonna need it…

I appreciate your blog because you in a non-self-depreciating way tackle the use of the word mild. A mild heart attack is still a heart attack. A mild mental health issue is still a mental health issue. As you said it may not top the scale in comparison to others, and don’t get me wrong, again as you say there are people worse off. But to the person it happens to, to the person that is even grateful to have a diagnosis, it is a focal point. I am grateful to hear someone acknowledge it is not the be all but is also not dismissable.

You have just described myself in a nutshell.

Sorry to hear your troubles, but glad that I found someone who has exactly the same symptoms as me. I think I’m going mad sometimes. Happy, jokey, confident, loud, inappropriate, centre of attention….then…down, down, down. It’s bloody awful! The ‘mildness’ is only by way of reference to other bipolar types as a threshold. Living with Cyclothymia though does not involve anything mild. My mental states are all extremes and my life is played out as a consequence of these extremes. It is very difficult to be ‘normal’ in almost any way.

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Hello

My name is Laura. I was once told that I have cyclothymia. This blog is mostly where I write about living as a person with extremes and instability of mood, and the history of a life that led to the development of those symptoms.

I complain a lot, I'm very repetitive, unreliable, and I tend to contradict myself.

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