For the second post in my Geek Mental Help Week series I’d like to talk about the bipolar condition that I have and how it affects me.
Trigger warnings: I’m going talk about how hypomania and depression feel to me. This may trigger similar feelings in you if you have a related condition.
I was diagnosed last year as having a condition on the mild end of the bipolar spectrum called cyclothymia. It’s a form of mood disorder which means that sometimes I’m high; sometimes I’m low; sometimes I’m in-between. The cyclo part of cyclothymia means that this happens in fairly regular cycles. I tend to cycle from normal to hypomanic to depressed and then back to normal. Unlike full-blown bipolar I neither have full manic episodes (i.e. delerium, hallucinations, etc.) nor severe clinical depression, so I’m mostly able to live a normal, functional life.
For the last year or so I’ve been getting treatment in the form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and an anti-psychotic medication called Chlorpromazine, which I’ll talk about more in a subsequent post. However I thought I would describe below how a cycle feels if left unchecked.
It starts with me waking up in the middle of the night with my mind racing. Sometimes my brain skips from inane thought to inane thought; sometimes it’s fixated on a particular thing. After a night or two of this I start getting up and doing work instead of lying in bed. Despite doing this I don’t feel tired; in fact I feel great, like I’m in the zone. I’ll not lie; it feels pretty amazing. However, on the negative side, I’m also pretty selfish and rude. You might notice me blanking out in the middle of a conversation, or constantly interrupting you, or just making a joke out of every single thing you say. I also get quite irritable because I find it hard to concentrate and sometimes find it impossible to articulate the thoughts that are whizzing through my head.
At its worst (best?), pretty much every thought feels like an epiphany. I feel like I’m special; that those thoughts could only have occurred to me. I feel like I’m buzzing and that I’m connected to everything in the universe. I feel full of love and life. I sometimes also spend ridiculous amounts of money on things I don’t need.
Then after a week at the most, the wheels come off.
I start to spiral downwards. I can’t seem to do anything right. The ideas that seemed genius yesterday are shown to be nonsense in the cold light of day and I feel foolish. I start to get flashbacks of stupid things I’ve said and done over the last few days and I feel stupid and guilty, especially if I’ve bought something I shouldn’t have. I start to think that everyone thinks I’m an idiot, and that they’re right. Doing anything at all takes a lot of effort, especially being around people, and that makes me pretty irritable. I lose focus on what I’m working on and feel dog tired. I just want to crawl into bed and pull the duvet over my head.
At worst I want to walk down to the beach at the bottom of my street and carry on walking out into the sea until I drown. I can feel a physical, heavy emptiness in the centre of my chest and hear a constant stream of deprecation in my head. “You’re useless.” “You’re a piece of shit.” “You ruin the lives of all those around you.” Not actual voices, just unvocalised feelings. I can’t feel any emotion other than hopelessness.
Then eventually, after at most a week of this I start to come back to normal again; the depression hanging around like mist for a few days until the sun burns it off.
After a couple of weeks the cycle begins again.
That’s how it used to feel before the meds and therapy. You may have noticed that I was behaving oddly; then again you may not have. As I mentioned in my last post I haven’t wanted to talk about about this, so I’ve largely slapped on a smile and joked my way out of awkward conversations. Luckily, the combination of meds and CBT seems to be working at the moment and I’m far more stable now.
My next post will be about when I realised that I had a problem and how I went from almost having a breakdown to feeling better than I’ve done in years.