It is currently Friday the 12th of October 2012. Two days after “world mental health day” and over halfway through “world mental health week.” As such I thought this may be a good time to blog about mental health and specifically cyclothymia which is a new part of my life, a part I have affectionately named “the bi-polar bear.”
Cyclothymia is mental health disorder which is akin to bi-polar or manic depression disorder. It is a mental health disorder which I was diagnosed with in July 2012.
When I was first referred to a psychiatrist in early July 2012 the first reaction of some of my friends was to doubt whether I had cyclothymia, or at least to doubt whether I had displayed any of the symptoms. This, I feel, was a reasonable reaction. Up until consulting with my local GP I had never before expressed to anyone the issues I had been dealing with, I had never really told people how I felt, or let how my brain was wired that day effect my outward appearance.
Cyclothymia for me was a word which described how I had been feeling for periods of my life for a prolonged period of time, it was a word which gave me a reason for these feelings.
To clarify at this stage, I had never struggled with feelings of depression so low I wanted to self harm or take my own life. I had never struggled with a depression which was debilitating or overpowering. I did and do however struggle with other things.
There are days in my week when I wake up tired. Days when I wake up feeling totally hopeless because of – what have been the day before – trivial problems. I feel anxious and even angry because of situations which have not even come to pass yet and in all likelihood will not come to pass. I am short tempered, irritable, I have no desire to see or speak with anyone and most commonly I feel apathy. I become indifferent to anything outside of myself, I struggle to express excitement or optimism in some of the more exciting and optimistic parts of my day. I find it hard to care.
In the midsts of these feelings I am still expected to speak with and relate to the people around me, I am still expected to show the correct levels of enthusiasm and motivation, I am still expected to care. So I do, to the best of my ability. In most cases this means fighting back the bi-polar bear or at least throwing a veil over him so other people don’t notice him. On these days I stick more closely to routine, I use breaks and transitions in my day as goals to aim for. “Only two more hours at work until I can get away from people,” “only an hour left of dinner until I can stop acting chirpy,” “only 1 small phone call until I can hide in my room.” During my lows this is how I measure my day, before climbing into bed and laying awake for hours still worrying, still anxious and still hopeless.
When you have cyclothymia sleep is not something you get much of. During the lows I am effected by insomnia, I can lay in bed for hours trying to sleep. During the highs I do not desire sleep. I never feel like I need it. Sleep would be a way to waste the way I feel.
During the highs I have no worries, I have a fantastic and often deceptive sense of optimism. “Sure I’m in crap loads of debt, but I’ve got money on me now and I’d love another holiday,” “Sure I’ve gone over my deadline on that essay, but hey ho I can re-sit it some other time!” When I’m high I’m in an unusually good mood, I’m cheerful, I sing to myself and whistle merry little tunes. My thoughts become euphoric, In my head I am king of the world, I set myself future goals which are impractical, improbable or damn right impossible. Do I think I can achieve them? Yes. Do I care if I can’t? No.
I set about work and assignments like a man gone wild, for at least 5 minutes until I see something shiny or remember I own angry birds, minecraft or a bike. During the highs the bi-polar bear is doing a merry little jig, and he’s taking me along for the ride.
On these days to hell with the schedule, or previous plans, the day is what I make of it.
Then there are the normal days. Days like you have most of the time, when I am happy or excited when I should be, when I am worried appropriately. Days when I am myself.
So… how do I keep the “bi-polar bear” in his cage? Honestly I don’t. I don’t think I could if I wanted to. But when he is out, I try my best to throw a shirt and tie on him, I paint a little smile on his face and to this date I just let him go at his own pace down the road I was going to take anyway, hoping to God he doesn’t bare his teeth and scare people off.
A 22 year old Theology student with a pet bear.