My Experience Of Cyclothymia Hypomania



What Is Cyclothymia Hypomania?


Hypomania is an abnormally elevated mood state. People who suffer from cyclothymic disorder swing back and forth between an abnormally low mood (or a depressed state) and an abnormally high mood (presenting symptoms of hypomania). Describing what symptoms of hypomania look like in someone who suffers from cyclothymia, however, is tricky. 

Firstly, symptoms manifest differently in different people. For example, not everybody who suffers from cyclothymia has the pleasure of experiencing the more "euphoric" symptoms that come with a hypomanic state. Some people get the rough end of the stick instead - like the overwhelming racing thoughts, the irritability, and let us not forget the dreaded rages. 

Secondly, many of the symptoms go unnoticed because they get attributed to a person's personality or passed off as character flaws. 

And thirdly, symptoms can be very subtle, appearing to be similar to what people experience through normal emotions that may be linked to stressful events, difficult interactions with people, or the influence of alcohol and caffeine.


What Are The Symptoms Of Hypomania In Cyclothymia?


The Cyclothymia Workbook by Prentiss Price provides a good list of the symptoms of hypomania:

  • Elevated, overly gregarious, or irritable mood
  • Increased self-esteem, grandiosity
  • Reduced need for sleep, feeling rested with only a few hours of sleep
  • Increased talkativeness, feeling pressure to keep talking
  • Racing thoughts, a continuous stream of ideas that may be fragmentary
  • Being easily distracted
  • Increase in activity that is goal-directed
  • Being overly involved in pleasurable activities that are potentially risky or could have painful consequences

You might find yourself thinking - but these are things that everybody experiences, aren't they? Well, you are quite right! You don't have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to find yourself up working passionately on a project into the early hours of the morning, or feel like your head is going to burst because you have so much to think about.

One of the main differences is that people who suffer from cyclothymia experience many of these symptoms simultaneously, and often not in context with what is happening in their life. This can make their responses or behaviour appear irrational, dramatic, or strange. 

There is also the cycling nature of these symptoms and the fact that they do not truly represent that person's "norm". This means that the mood is likely to interfere with their lives and their interactions with people in a negative way.

For example, you may be a naturally confident and sociable person who loves the sound of your own voice and enjoys showing off, spending money, indulging in risky activities like gambling, and generally living life to the full. This doesn't mean that you are hypomanic or that you are suffering from a mental illness like cyclothymia. This is because these are all characteristics that are consistent with your personality or temperament. They are your "norm"... 

...A person with cyclothymia, on the other hand, may turn into this type of person periodically according to which way their mood is swinging, but it is not who they naturally are. This may make their behaviour seem out of the ordinary to the people closest to them, whilst causing problems in different areas of their life. 

Don't forget that at some point this person is going to come off their "high" and experience the opposite end of the mood spectrum, with symptoms of depression. Swinging back and forth between different mood states without warning or reason can be disorientating and destructive. If left unmanaged or untreated it can have a serious effect on a person's life, affecting their sense of self-identity, self-esteem, and other people's willingness to trust or rely on them.


My Experiences Of Cyclothymia Hypomania


It can be interesting to learn about how hypomania affects people differently, so I thought I would share some of my own experiences. 

For me, hypomania tends to be more destructive than depression. Depression can feel like hell, but hypomania is what causes me to lose control of my life so regularly. I have lost jobs, feuded with family, destroyed my romantic relationships, and lost my sense of self-identity over and over and over again because of hypomania. 

It can feel positively amazing, don't get me wrong, sometimes I feel invincible and super happy. But it can also be an excruciating experiencing, causing me to behave very badly and hurt the people I love or care about, often without meaning or wanting to.

The problem for me is that my moods swing back and forth so frequently. My mood swings also tend to speed up and intensify when I am exposed to stressful situations, which can make me feel like I am going crazy. 

When my mood lifts after a particularly difficult depressed state it can feel like such a relief, but that is rarely a good thing for very long. Such a sense of relief is often so strong that it can lead to me spiralling off out of control into hypomania territory before I have had the chance to realise it is happening and take precautions. 

This is when I can end up experiencing such intense emotions that I become irrational and reactive very quickly. People have described it as me going straight from zero to ten out of nowhere. It is very easy for me to fall out with people when I have so little control over these intense emotions. I behave unfairly, make poor decisions, and generally end up in the realm of total self-sabotage.

It is so sad when this happens because you can't explain to people why or how a situation escalated, especially without it sounding like you are trying to avoid taking responsibility for the damage you have caused. Before you know it you have been fired, dumped, or blocked on social media. You feel like a terrible person, having failed at functioning like a normal human being. You know that you have messed up, made people feel angry or hurt, but there is nothing you can do about it except try to make them believe that you are truly sorry. 

Some people are kind and have a higher capacity for understanding, but most people are permanently damaged by the experience, and won't be able to bring themselves to trust you again. It can feel a bit like you gain a reputation for being something that you know deep down just isn't you. Or at least, it isn't who you want to be.

I also get the euphoric side of hypomania, but in my experience, that can also have awful consequences. Sometimes my increased levels of productivity and motivation cause me to focus on entirely irrelevant activities at the expense of things that are more important. I can passionately develop new interests and become obsessed with new projects. Often I find that my mind is racing with thoughts and new ideas. It can be difficult to keep up with them. 

I have been accused many times of being "flakey", having "whims", and not taking life or work seriously. The irony of it is that during a hypomanic state I really am taking things seriously. Like really, really seriously! The problem of course is that I am taking the wrong things seriously - like a new business venture that has materialised out of nowhere, but which feels like I have finally found my calling... only to discover after my mood has dipped that it was a stupid idea, has created a massive dent in my wallet, and distracted me from a looming deadline related to my real job!

I really do want to and aim to take life and work seriously, but my illness seems to sabotage my attempts to get anywhere with anything. I multitask until my actual productivity becomes completely diluted and I am overwhelmed. Projects end up unfinished and abandoned. New business ideas trail off after I have spent hours working on creating websites or blogs for them. I end up attracting lots of new work or making too many social plans, that I find I can't see things through once my elevated mood changes. I have to cancel the arrangements and extend the deadlines.

Impulse control is also a thing with hypomania. This can reveal itself in spending habits, eating or drinking habits, not sticking to healthy daily routines, and staying up until the early hours of the morning absorbed in some project or activity. Cyclothymic hypomania might generally be described as getting very carried away, with all manner of things, without really knowing it.

Let's not forget the anxiety and feelings of remorse that follow. Coming down from a hypomanic state can sometimes feel like having a hangover. Do you know that feeling of dread where you start to recall all of the drunken things you did? I get the same sense of guilt and when I realise that I have overspent, buying things I didn't need or really even want. 

There is anxiety, remorse, and humiliation when I recall being so full of myself or convinced of something that I behaved recklessly, selfishly, or with a sense of self-righteousness or misplaced justice. I am often mortified by things I have said in the aftermath of arguments when at the time I felt that all of my points were valid, and like I had the right to speak my mind and tell it as it is, regardless of who I might be hurting or offending.

Sometimes I just feel a bit stupid, embarrassed, and exposed, because I was excitable, hyperactive, and may have behaved like a child or talked too much. Often people don't think much of it and they just enjoy my company thinking I am extra happy, interested, or just in a really good mood. But after the event, I know better, and I have to try and believe that I didn't make a fool of myself.

When you suffer from cyclothymia and you experience hypomanic symptoms it's like reverting back to being an adolescent or a child. Everything; emotions, feelings, thoughts, and experiences feel heightened. The leaves on the trees have a glow about them, my imagination is soaring, the voices in my head are all talking at once, and I just want to break out into song and dance. Yet on the flip side, I feel restless, I can't focus on anything, I am irritable and tense and snappy, likely to fly into a rage or have a meltdown and break out in tears. 

Bedtime can be the worst because there is no getting to sleep with so many thoughts racing through your head - random snippets of songs, conversations, daydreams, ideas, inner-monologue, mundane reminders, to-do lists, memories, and much, much more.

I may tell you in more detail about some of the things I have done and regretted whilst hypomanic, but they will have to wait for another blog post. If you're interested and want to read more, don't forget to subscribe to the blog for new post updates.


Share Your Experiences Of Cyclothymia Hypomania


I am sure that I probably haven't covered everything about Cyclothymia hypomania, so why not share your own experiences of it in the comments below? 

Are you or the people in your life able to recognise when you are getting hypomanic? How are you able to help yourself by managing your moods? 

As always, I will look forward to hearing your stories!


What To Read Next...


My Experience Of Cyclothymic Depression


What Is Cyclothymic Depression?


A lot of people want to know what the difference is between a normal low mood, major depression, and cyclothymic depression. So I thought I'd write a blog post to describe my own experience of depression in cyclothymic disorder.

If you don't already know, cyclothymic disorder is characterised by fluctuations of mood, consisting of what the professionals like to call "mild symptoms of depression" and "mild symptoms of hypomania". 

(For an in-depth look at why I argue that cyclothymia is not a "mild" mood disorder, you can read my other blog post - What Is Cyclothymia?)

A person diagnosed with major depression does not have any episodes of mania or hypomania. Sometimes major depression is called "unipolar depression", as opposed to "bipolar depression". If you think of mood disorders as being on a spectrum with two poles; depression and mania, then uni-polar stays down one end having only episodes of depression, and bi-polar swings back and forth.

The symptoms of depression and hypomania that a person with cyclothymic disorder experiences are never enough to meet the medical criteria required to diagnose an actual "episode", and if they were then the overall diagnosis would most probably be changed to bipolar 1 or 2.

One of the main differences between cyclothymia and bipolar types 1 and 2 is that the symptoms a person with cyclothymia experiences are not consistent over the required time span (a minimum of 4 days of hypomanic symptoms and 2 weeks of depressive symptoms for bipolar 2, or at least one whole week of fully manic symptoms for bipolar 1).

Cyclothymic depression is far more unpredictable and inconsistent. Sometimes it comes on heavy having a more severely negative effect on your everyday functioning. Other times it is just a general gloom or flat feeling that taints your experiences but doesn't necessarily stop you from living your life normally. There are also many other aspects that make up the symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, irritability, negative thought-spirals, suicidal ideation, just to mention a few.

Unipolar depression or chronic depression can also feel like this, but the difference is that the depression will not lift and be replaced with symptoms of hypomania. There is no swinging back and forth between low moods and elevated mood states.

Cyclothymic depression can last for just a couple of hours, a couple of days, or a little longer, often punctuated with periods of time where your mood seems to level off or rise up higher, only to plummet back down again not long afterward. 

Sometimes you experience more depressive symptoms clumped together at once, and other times there may just be one or two that stand out.

You might feel like you know why you are feeling low, but a lot of the time your mood may just dip for seemingly no reason at all. We all have our triggers and red flags, but sometimes a depressed state just comes out of nowhere and seems to disappear without a cause too.

People who do not suffer from a mental illness probably experience similar highs and lows. The main differences are the intensity and the fact that there is no mood cycling. 



A Recent Example Of My Experience Of Cyclothymic Depression


I have just come out of a 4 day period of a depressed state, the final three days of which I find very difficult to describe as "mild". 

It was the kind of depression that completely wipes you off your feet, and feels like it has lasted a lot longer than just three days. In fact, I keep having to look back over my mood tracking chart to check that I am not mistaken. I seem to have lost all track of time this week.

We're not just talking about a low mood, although it started off like that. By Saturday evening I had realised that my mood was not what it was that morning. I felt flat and a bit despondent. I had less enthusiasm for things like watching my favourite program or reading my book. I felt a bit tired.

On Sunday I wasn't ready to admit that my mood was dipping and so I willed myself to keep living life normally. 

I took my dog for an extra-long walk, but I knew that my mood wasn't in a good place because I felt a bit lost, unappreciative, and disconnected from the beauty around me. I couldn't find the usual pleasure and enjoyment I always get from taking my dog to the woods and being surrounded by nature. It wasn't relaxing like it should have been. Instead, certain things were irritating me, like how many other people there were who were also walking their dogs in the woods that day. It was Sunday though, it was to be expected. Chin up girl!

On Monday morning I woke up hopeful, with good intentions to stick to my routine and have a productive start to the week, but when I came to sit down at my desk and start work I realised with a sense of impending doom that I wasn't able to. 

I tried to fight it, but the depression just washed over me. I sat in my chair stubbornly for as long as I could (about 20 minutes), staring at my computer screen until I had to surrender and find my way back to bed because suddenly I was exhausted. 

I told myself that I just needed to get a little more sleep and that I could try to start my day again. Alas, I wasn't able to start my week the way I had wanted to, despite many similar attempts throughout the day.

The stress and anxiety attached to not being able to function the way I wanted to, made me very emotional. Crying, although it is a therapeutic release of tension, just wore me out even more. 

Any attempts I made to do anything at all over the next three days were thwarted with extreme heavy waves of depression that swept over me, bringing me back to bed. 

The only thing I was capable of doing during this time was sleeping, and then using pockets of time in between sleep to do the things that I needed to do, like walk my dog, go to the toilet, make a cup of tea, answer the phone when my sister rang.

Along with the heavy depression came intense irritability, mainly generated by my cat's incessant meowing. There is nothing worse when you are feeling so heavy with depression than someone or something needing your attention. 

The sound of my cat's vocals vibrated through my whole body, which was so extremely sensitive to noise that with every meow I actually experienced a kind of painful buzzing in my head and across my chest. My cat was physically hurting me. 

This lead to several meltdowns in which I lashed out at my poor cat, which in turn lead to feelings of guilt and remorse, which only made me want to bury myself deeper underneath the duvet.

By day 2 I was unable to hold a conversation on the phone with my mother. It was so utterly draining just to listen to her talk, never mind me actually attempt to contribute to the conversation. The longer I stayed on the phone the more irritable I felt until I was sitting with my head in my hands close to tears, desperately praying that she would go away.

Sometimes I would sleep for too long so that it was physically painful to stay in bed because my body ached and hurt like rigor mortis was setting in. I couldn't bring myself to move though, until my phone rang, and I knew it was my sister. She calls me at least twice a day. Her phone calls really helped me during these three days. There was only one occasion where I was unable to talk on the phone, the rest of the time, talking with my sister helped to temporarily lift my mood. Perhaps this was because she suffers from depression and talking with her about it helped to validate what I was going through.

Sometimes after sleep I would feel a little lighter and be able to do something vaguely enjoyable, like make a cup of tea and watch something, or write in my journal, but not for very long. Other times I functioned only out of necessity, zombie-fashion. There was no showering, no changing of clothes, any food that I managed to eat tasted of nothing, even my tea didn't really hit the spot like it usually does. I walked my dog around the block each day, bought chocolate for the sugar boost, and then came home and crashed. It was three days of hell.

In The Cyclothymia Workbook by Prentiss Price that I am currently following in an attempt to self-treat my illness without the need for medication, there is a section that lists strategies for lifting depressed mood. During my three days of hell, reading a textbook was the last thing on my mind. Looking through it now I almost feel insulted by the list, like it is suggesting that I didn't try hard enough and that my three days of hell was my own fault because I didn't try to "feed bread crumbs to birds" or "surf the internet for interesting topics".

(The book is actually very good and I have found it very useful in helping me to understand my disorder better and track my moods, but in this depressed state of mind I was not able to benefit from it - don't let that put you off buying the book though. I will add a link here and in the blog sidebar once I have written a full review on it!)

The only thing I was able to do for myself during my three days of hell was rest, and not beat myself up about it. I knew that the depression would lift eventually and that I would feel more able to do things again, but during those three days, it would have been a waste of time and energy.

It's difficult when you suspect that others think that you can do more to help yourself. I find myself switching into defence mode in my head - Do you really think that I want to feel like this? That I want to go without showering, without eating properly, without watching my favourite program or reading the new book I downloaded onto my Kindle? If I was able to make it go away by "writing a poem about a pleasant time" don't you think I'd do that?

Depression is just horrible, and often people don't get it.

The weirdest thing is that one of the side effects of cyclothymia is that once your mood shifts and you feel good again, it's kind of difficult to remember or fully relate to the experience of feeling so low. I'm writing about it now, but I can't quite get my head around the fact that two days ago I could barely drag myself out of bed to feed my pets their dinner. In fact this morning I was singing with the same cat I previously wanted to strangle. Singing. 


Share Your Experiences Of Cyclothymia Depression


Sometimes hearing other people's experiences of what you go through is therapeutic. Maybe that is why you are reading this post? 

Discovering that you are not the only one who has gone through something awful and that it really is as awful as you say it was, can be so validating and help to convince us that we are not completely crazy.

So please feel free to write in the comments below about your own experiences of cyclothymic depression, bipolar depression, unipolar depression, or even your normal low mood experiences for those of you who don't suffer from a diagnosable illness. 

How long does yours last? What does it feel like? Do you have your own ways of coping that work? Do you also feel detached from your experiences of depression when it is all over? I look forward to hearing your stories!


What To Read Next...



What Is Cyclothymia?



Cyclothymia is often described as a rare mood disorder or a mild form of bipolar in which a person alternates between low and elevated mood states.

These descriptions are frustrating for people like me who suffer from mental illness because they undermine the experience of living with this awful condition, and they do nothing to help people like you (if you are on the other side of the fence) to understand and empathise with what we really go through on a daily basis.

There is so much more to a mood disorder than just a high and a low mood. So in this post, I want to do my best to explain exactly what cyclothymic disorder is and how it relates to bipolar disorder. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional and that I am speaking mainly from my own experiences and perspective and the research I have done.


Cyclothymia Is Not A "Mild" Form Of Bipolar Disorder


I don't think it is fair to say that cyclothymia is just a mild form of bipolar because it implies that bipolar is the real illness. Many people who suffer from this disorder feel like the word "mild" invalidates their suffering and experience of mental illness.

Cyclothymic symptoms can indeed be extremely subtle, often passed off as personality quirks. For example, "he's in his hermit-mode" or "she's in work-mode" when the truth is that he is experiencing symptoms of depression and she is experiencing symptoms of hypomania.

Symptoms can also go unnoticed by both the sufferer and the people around them because they have developed effective coping mechanisms. For example, taking time off work or staying at home so that a low mood is not visible to friends and family, or unknowingly self-medicating by using alcohol to relax or caffeine, sugary foods, and even sex to provide the brain with a shot of dopamine and endorphins to "take the edge off" and make you temporarily feel good.

The truth is that cyclothymia is in its own right a serious mental illness that can dramatically affect the quality of a person's life, and it is not a mild form of anything. It is just as dangerous and destructive as bipolar disorder. A more accurate description might be that cyclothymia is a different form of bipolar disorder.

Did you know that there are in fact three main different types of bipolar disorder? There is "Bipolar Type 1", "Bipolar Type 2", and then there is "Cyclothymia". Maybe they should have called it "Bipolar Type 3". It might have made it easier for other people to accept the significance of the illness when we try to explain what we suffer from.

These three variations of bipolar disorder are not just milder or stronger forms of each other, they are three separate diagnoses. Three separate manifestations of a mood disorder. So let's take a look at what makes each one unique.


What Is Bipolar Type 1?


With "Bipolar 1" there is an emphasis on the mania. People diagnosed with Bipolar 1 have suffered from at least one full-blown episode of mania. Full-blown mania can be catastrophic and often leads to hospitalisation.

Only people suffering from Bipolar 1 suffer from full-blown manic episodes, and you only need to have ever experienced one of these episodes to be diagnosed.

Simply put, mania is a severely and noticeably elevated mood, which completely disrupts a person's life. The episode has to last for at least a week, and include consistent symptoms according to the criteria for diagnosis, such as grandiosity, hyperactivity, irritability, restlessness, increased productivity, creativity, racing thoughts, and living life to excess with much overindulgence and often inappropriate behaviour.

It describes an extended period of time where a person loses touch with themself and with reality in an often dangerous and self-destructive manner, and this can go as far as to include psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations. The rest of the time the person experiences long periods of normal mood, and sometimes, but not in every case, depression and hypomania.


What Is Bipolar Type 2?


With "Bipolar 2" there is an emphasis on depression. People who suffer from bipolar 2 never reach full-blown mania. Instead, they experience hypomanic episodes, which is mania with milder, but still consistent, symptoms that last for at least 4 days.

They also more commonly experience long episodes of clinical major depression, and then periods of normal mood in between.

Each episode is distinct and recognisable. This means that medication or treatment can be adjusted to control the episodes themselves, and then medication is readjusted and continued in order to maintain a more balanced mood. This is the case with bipolar 1 as well.


What Is Cyclothymia?


With "Cyclothymia", there is an emphasis on cycling and unpredictability. I'm talking relentless cycling up and down with very little relief in between.

In fact, mood swings can be so frequent and unpredictable that it can be almost impossible for some people to determine where the normal mood phase begins and ends. Others may experience a period of normal mood that lasts no longer than two months at a time.

Rather than call the individual mood states "episodes", they are described as "mood swings" or the sufferer is described as experiencing "symptoms of... (depression or hypomania)". This is not because the symptoms are necessarily any milder than bipolar episodes, but because they don't persist long enough to neatly fit the medical criteria for an "episode". If they did, then the diagnosis would switch over to one of the bipolar classifications.

There are never any full-blown manic symptoms with cyclothymia, so the person still has, to a certain extent, a grasp on reality. I might argue that one's perception of reality when they are experiencing mood swings is somewhat different from that of someone with a healthy mind though, and if you continue to follow my blog and read my stories you will see why.

If you can bring yourself to imagine just how disorientating it is to constantly swing from one mood to another, back and forth, then you might be able to appreciate why I say that cyclothymia is not a milder form of anything. It is a different form of a mood disorder on the bipolar spectrum, just like bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 are both different forms of the same mood disorder.

It is the way in which the disorder manifests itself in a person's life that determines how destructive it has the potential to be. Each variation of mood disorder is serious and destructive in its own way.


Why Is Cyclothymia Sometimes Described As Bipolar Light?


The symptoms of cyclothymia may be considered milder than those that define bipolar 1 and 2 because they don't have the time to develop into something more visible that is obviously out of the ordinary to onlookers, but that doesn't mean that the condition isn't causing havoc in a person's life.

This is perhaps one of the most frustrating things about cyclothymia. Most of the time symptoms are attributed to the person's "personality" rather than the fact that they are unwell. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that so many sufferers of cyclothymia go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed with something else, resulting in it being a "rare" mood disorder due to inaccurate statistical representation.

I may be biased in saying this, but because cyclothymia offers very little relief period, which makes it incredibly difficult to treat effectively because you are not able to treat the individual episodes like you would with bipolar 1 and 2, cyclothymia is perhaps the worst type to live with on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.

Cyclothymia destroys your sense of self. Most of the time I have no idea who I am, what I think or believe or want, or what I am doing with my life because everything about myself changes for me from one moment to the next. I no longer trust myself to make big decisions about my life, become passionate about new projects, or even fall in love.


My Mood Disorder Metaphor


In order to try and illustrate the core differences between bipolar 1, bipolar 2, and cyclothymia, I have come up with these metaphors. This is only my own understanding and experience, of course, so please don't be offended if your own experiences feel different.

Bipolar 1 is like having a truly gruesome and terrifying manic monster hiding in your closet. It could stay hiding for years before you even know it's in there. Then one dark night it reveals itself, and until it retreats back into the shadows of the closet, you will find yourself completely emersed and living in its nightmare world, unable to wake up and get on with your life. If the bipolar 1 sufferer experiences episodes of depression and hypomania too then they will also relate to the following metaphor for bipolar 2.

Bipolar 2 is like having smaller manic monsters and dark demons of depression living underneath your bed. You always know they are there because they like to kick up your mattress while you sleep, plaguing and tormenting you. Occasionally, in turn, they come out from underneath the bed and trap you in their dark worlds for a while, either leading you on a merry dance all around your bedroom, knocking over everything that lies in your way (hypomania), or laying on top of you completely so that you cannot function at all (depression). Then the monsters retreat back under the bed, letting you escape their nightmare world, and you go back into the reality and daylight of your everyday life for a while.

Cyclothymia is more like having mini gremlins that inhabit not just space under your bed and inside of your closet, but every nook and cranny of your life. They don't just stay confined in the bedroom pulling you into their nightmare worlds when they have the opportunity either. No no, they cross boundaries into your everyday life and follow you wherever you go. They make it their mission every single day to sabotage you, Sometimes they sit on your shoulders all day wittering on in your ear about all sorts of nonsense so that you can't focus on anything at all. You believe everything they say because it's all you can hear. Other days they hang off your body, weighing you down and making everything feel ten times harder. Sometimes they mess with the lights and volume so that everything feels too bright and too loud and you just want to get into bed and hide under the duvet. And then there are those times when they sneak happy-pills into your food and drink, grab you by the hands and entice you into doing all of the things that you really shouldn't be doing - like partying, flirting, spending all of your money on new obsessions and working on all-immersive projects when you should be sleeping or doing something productive or responsible with your adult life. A life with gremlins in it is never your own, even when you think it is. Trust me. Gremlins stay hidden and they turn everyone against you, even yourself.


How Would You Describe Your Cyclothymia?


The interesting thing about mental illness is how different the same disorder can look in people. My experience of cyclothymia is likely to look and perhaps even feel at times very different to yours.

So why not join me in starting a conversation in the comments below this post about how cyclothymia manifests itself in your life? 

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problem, feel free to get involved in the conversation and tell your own stories... I will look forward to hearing from you!


What To Read Next...



How I Got My Diagnosis Of Cyclothymic Disorder: He Wrote It On A Post-it!




You know that episode in Sex And The City, where Carrie Bradshaw was dating that guy, and she's blissfully happy, thinking it's all going swimmingly, but then she wakes up the next morning to find that she has been dumped - on a post-it note? Well, that's kind of what my diagnosis felt like.


Mental Illness & Denial


I guess I have always felt that something was a bit different about me - like when I try to behave, think, and feel like a rational adult, I am basically faking it. 

The truth is that most of the time I relate to being an adolescent with raging hormones, living in a world that doesn't understand me. I am in fact on the uncomfortable side of my 30's, and I know that rationally speaking, I should have grown out of being so damned melodramatic by now.

I tend to hide my melodrama with... er... melodrama. I always have an entertaining story to tell, usually about myself. I find that a dash of suspense and a generous helping of humour helps others to identify with, and perhaps feel more comfortable with the experiences I want to share or talk about. I think it also helps me to feel more comfortable. My therapist often met my jokes in session with a blank face purposefully so that I was not able to detach from how I actually felt about something in the story I was telling her. Very disconcerting!

I have always thought that my life only seems like it is full of drama because of the way I like to tell my stories. I'm a writer, after all, I have a big imagination, I like to embellish. But upon closer inspection, I appear to have in fact told the whole truth, punctuating stories with jokes to make them more palatable perhaps, easier to digest or relate to, and also to disguise my own, for want of a better word, craziness. How else would I get any one of a sound mind and stable world to relate to me and mine if I didn't at least make it all sound hilarious for their benefit? 

I mean, we are talking about ongoing, repetitive failure, and total self-sabotage. Nobody I know has been through as many homes, jobs, or relationships as I have. Sometimes I feel like my life should have been made into a sitcom, and I should be the main character acting out my own distressing sketches with nervous Miranda-style glances at the camera. Even I didn't realise how ridiculous the numbers look until I sat down one day and did the maths. I don't like maths, and I'm not good with numbers, but I'm telling you, it really is as crazy as it sounds. 

Nearly 30 different places to call home in my lifetime, for example, and I'm only 30-something years old. At least 10 significant emotional relationships, complete with excruciating breakups. I don't think I can even bring myself to tell you how many pages long my CV is. Moving onto the mood swings. I think that this is where things get real. You can't overlook some of the places my mood swings have taken me. Or maybe we can... yeah let's do that!

My point is that since I was in my late teens I have felt that life shouldn't feel the way it does to me. It shouldn't be so up and down, or round and round. I shouldn't be so flakey and inconsistent, distracted by so many pointless whims, or so moody because "it must be her time of the month again" as my mother would so often say, even though that wasn't always the case. There must be more to my life, and more to me. Surely I'm capable of more?

Sometimes I wish that if it had been recognised early on that there was a problem maybe I could have received the help I needed much sooner. Maybe then I could have understood myself instead of blaming myself for things that I haven't necessarily been able to control because I haven't known what was going on in my brain. 

Maybe I would even be able to take myself more seriously now, instead of lightening the mood and making everything easier for people to digest. Mental illness isn't easy, after all, and it's not even remotely funny, for me or anyone else.


Becoming Open-Minded About Mental Illness


And here we are in my late thirties. A couple of years ago I found myself having to temporarily move in with my sister after a big breakup that left me homeless. It turned into 6 months because I have pets and there are no pet-friendly landlords in London. But during this time my sister had the opportunity to witness some of my ups and some of my downs. She's an observant and analytical kind of person. She also has her own story to tell when it comes to her mental health, so her observations were heavily grounded in what she has learned over the years.

After I had finally moved out of hers and started to settle into my new abode, she brought up the subject in light conversation by mentioning that she had been reading something online and that it had reminded her of me. She said I should look into it. She had actually been reading about BPD or "Borderline Personality Disorder". Many of the symptoms are very similar to those of cyclothymia.

I didn't take her seriously at first. I have always been the sort of person who couldn't use the word "Depression" in a sentence that referred to myself and had to find ways around it to describe how I was feeling. "Gloomy" is one of my favourite words, alongside "fed-up", "tired", and "probably due on (my period)".Upon developing the relationship with my sister over the past few years and learning a lot about her mental health struggles I had become more comfortable with things like that though, and so I found that I could go ahead and read a few articles, take a few online personality tests, and not feel like a fraud for admitting to how many of the symptoms I did actually relate to. But then, who doesn't, right? We all have ups and downs.


Reaching Out For Help With Mental Health


It took a little while for me to think that maybe there was something more to this and that maybe it would be useful to talk to a doctor about it. When I did come round to the idea my sister came with me to my appointment.

I must have been very lucky because I got put straight through for a referral to have a mental health assessment by a psychiatrist. I think this is quite unusual as I have heard many stories about how difficult it is to get seen by a psychiatrist. It all happened ridiculously quickly for me though. I almost feel guilty about how quickly my diagnosis process progressed because I know that most people struggle for years with this kind of thing on the NHS. I was expecting to faff about for long enough with a GP to be able to come to the conclusion that I was mistaken about the whole thing, and that it must have just been a phase.



Preparing For A Mental Health Assessment


A few weeks later I found myself going along to my first ever mental health assessment. I decided the best way to deal with what was happening was to be very prepared! I did a tonne of research. I googled the psychiatrist. I knew what he looked like and even what he sounded like because I found videos on Youtube. I read all of the testimonials. In fact, by the time I had finished researching, I felt like I had known him for years. 

I also created an in-depth study of my moods going back as far as the beginning of the year by wading through old journals and piecing together information to work out what my moods were doing, what was related to what, and if there were any patterns.

If I am honest, I might have been a little bit hypomanic leading up to my appointment. But at the time I absolutely refused to get misdiagnosed and have to go on an epic journey to find out the truth, like so many poor sufferers of mental illness, and I certainly wasn't going to waste this appointment. Preparation was key.



My First Mental Health Assessment...


The psychiatrist was very professional. Perhaps a little too professional. Actually, he seemed a lot colder than I had anticipated from my in-depth research, and I almost felt a little hurt that he was treating me like a stranger. He listened, he made notes, he asked standard questions, he ruled out BPD completely, which annoyed me, as I had put so much effort into trying to understand the condition.

Then he grabbed a post-it note, I kid you not and drew a graph on it. Yes, that graph you see at the top of this post, that's the one. He titled it "Cyclothymia" and briefly explained that the squiggly line represented mood swings. The highest and lowest points of the dips and peaks refer to bipolar disorder. The smaller peaks and dips referred to normal mood fluctuations that everybody experiences. The areas in between that have been recklessly struck out with horizontal flicks of the psychiatrist's pen are the mysterious realms of cyclothymia.

Apparently, my mood swings are not within the normal bit, and they are not up and down in the extremes of bipolar depression and mania. I am in no man's land. A place of uncertainty and confusion, belonging nowhere, just floating about in the middle. Purgatory. Waiting for something terrible to happen, and terrible things do happen, but they are not quite terrible enough. Cyclothymia if left untreated can develop into bipolar 1 or 2 according to some sources, but when and if... those are the questions. 

In the meantime, I have to try and explain this to the people in my life. The psychiatrist told me I could keep the post-it note. I was just baffled.



Mental Illness & The Second Phase Of Denial: Resistance


I went home and let it sink in. And then I got mad. 

I stayed up all night crafting a 20-page letter to the psychiatrist in which I went into great detail about everything I could think of in my life that had made no sense to me before, and how it related to the symptoms of BPD, and not the diagnosis I thought he had so flippantly thrown at me. 

I felt that I hadn't explained everything properly, the severity of my symptoms, the bits I was ashamed of. There was no way he could come up with a diagnosis in less than an hour based on the little information I had given him. No way.

After reading my epic email the psychiatrist was very polite but stuck with his original diagnosis. I got a copy of the standard report that was sent to the GP in the post shortly afterwards. The report wasn't even addressed to me, it was addressed to the GP who referred me, who wasn't even my GP. And all I got was a post-it note! I'm sorry, I can't get over that. Maybe focussing on the post-it is the only way I can make this story express how little sense any of this process has made to me.

I think the worst thing was that I hadn't been offered any kind of support to help me understand anything. The psychiatrist had offered a prescription for a very low dose of an anti-psychotic drug, but he made it clear that this wasn't something that he was suggesting I needed, and that the option was just there if I felt like I needed it. All I could think was why am I being offered a drug that sounds very much to me like it is intended for someone with psychotic issues? Am I psychotic? Might I turn psychotic? Oh my God, am I going to end up like my crazy psychotic aunt?!

I vaguely remember the psychiatrist emphasising that the extremely low dose may help to balance out my moods, and then he mentioned something about the fact that the drug would make me feel quite sedated, and that for some people it may cause weight gain. Also that if I did decide to take it I'd have to give it at least 6 months before I decide to look at whether it was helping.

Well that put me right off, didn't it? The weight bit, that is. I couldn't bear to imagine what a podger I'd be in 6 months' time! 

So I basically left the surgery with nothing to fix the problem, and nothing to help me understand it all, except my post-it note. I was indignant. Just like Carrie Bradshaw was when she got dumped on a post-it with "I'm sorry, I can't, Don't hate me -"



My Second Mental Health Assessment...


I couldn't leave it there. I had come too far. I had allowed myself to be pulled into this web and it had hold of me now. I was convinced that I was on this journey for a reason, and this couldn't possibly be the end of the line.

So I contacted the GP and explained that I was very upset and that I wanted a second opinion. I must have really had luck on my side because I was referred for another mental health assessment pretty quickly, this time with a lady psychiatrist. I hadn't asked for it to be a lady, but I have to say that this next experience was SO much better.

Firstly, she actually looked at me when I was talking to her, instead of at her computer screen. That's always going to make a difference. Secondly, I felt like she was actually hearing and feeling me and not just hearing diagnosis criteria. Thirdly, although she did agree with the first psychiatrist that BPD was not an option and that she thought the original diagnosis was most likely to be correct, she actually asked me what I thought, and then she offered me treatments and made me feel like she was actually recommending them, and not just saying well those are the options but it's your funeral. I won't go into the story of my treatments in this post, I think I have waffled on for long enough. 

I should also mention that it has been addressed in later therapy sessions that my reactions to the two different psychiatrists probably had more to do with my own need to be "mothered" through the experience, and not the gender or professionalism of either of the psychiatrists themselves. 

But yes, that is basically the story of my diagnosis. So far at least. My sister is still not convinced that my diagnosis is fully correct. She says that she feels there is more to it, and sometimes I agree with her. But equally, there are times when I also feel like this has all been one big mistake and that somehow I have managed to convince two psychiatrists that I have a mental illness when there's probably nothing wrong with me at all. 

I think it's common for people with a mood disorder to go back and forth a bit, not totally convinced that there is anything wrong until they remember what the wrong bits feel like when they come back around again.



What's Your Story?


I'd love to know how you got your diagnosis, or if you are at the beginning of your mental health journey and have any thoughts, fears, doubts, or questions. Please don't be shy... feel free to leave them in the comments below, and let's have a chat!


Have You Subscribed Yet?

I write about a variety of topics, including mental disorders (like bipolar, cyclothymia, depression and anxiety) but also everyday mental health challenges and self-care tips. Subscribe to my mailing list and never miss a post...