The up’s and the down’s

 Here I am. Sitting in my room on a Friday night trying to write another post for my blog but seem to have writers block after only writing two pieces. The energetic creative streak has gone. That confident voice inside my head that assured me people will actually want to read about what I have to say has disappeared. The anxiety that I’m writing about things that are way too personal and shouldn’t be aired in public has hit me hard. The hypomanic stage is over and it seems I’m on a downer.

  The changes in my mood still surprise me. Even with the medication and the awareness of what’s happening, there are no obvious warning signs or triggers, at least not to my knowledge. It’s all a guessing game. I never realise I’m hypomanic until it has worn off and I’ve calmed down. The depression can either creep up on me slowly or just suddenly be there, whether I like it or not. (trust me, the answer is always not.) There’s no organisation! Might be why I’m so unorganised in real life. The fact that the changes happen so quickly is the worst part. I go from thinking I’m pretty much the best thing to walk the earth one day to wondering why nobody likes me the next. Sounds crazy? Well, that’s because it is.

  I have to admit, I do enjoy the hypomanic stages. It’s better than any drug I’ve ever been on. The feeling of self-worth is amazing. My confidence is through the roof. I can’t do wrong. I automatically look and feel better. Unfortunately, it does come with its down sides. Turns out you can have too much of a good thing. The money that I’ve been trying to save is spent on the next exciting social activity or the new clothes that I have to have because I look amazing in them. Any man around me is instantly a potential person I can sleep with. Alcohol and drug intakes go through the roof. My impulse control seems to disappear. I’m out for instant gratification and I don’t care where or who I get it from. It sounds exciting and fun, and at the time it is, but when that feeling wears off I feel cheap and feel like I’ve somehow betrayed myself. All those times I’ve tried to save up for something and have to start all over again. The amount of friendships with guys that I’ve ruined. It’s a horrible feeling when you feel like you’ve lost yourself.

  Then you’ve got the downers. At best I just feel a bit rubbish. I’m not the most entertaining person to talk to and I probably come off as quite boring or just really tired (the most popular excuse of all time.) My anxiety increases and all the irrational thoughts flood into my head. I become quite needy and fixate on a person to get attention from. At its worst, I’m in bed all day and don’t move. I’m happier when I’m asleep so why bother waking up and facing the real world?  Day to day tasks seem to take a ridiculous amount of effort. Trying to have a shower whilst depressed takes the same effort as walking 100km (trust me, I’ve done both.) Eastenders is actually comforting to watch.

  I guess the only thing to do now is look out for the patterns or triggers that I might be missing. Have a plan of action for when each mood strikes and try  to make the most of it and just go with the flow. Oh, and blog about something interesting. Maybe.  

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You just need someone that will listen.

  It’s hard to see how badly someone is being effected by a mental health illness, because it is all in their head. Unlike a physical illness there’s nothing to measure quantitatively. No blood tests, no X-rays, no outside help other than your general observation, which is never going to be anything but incomplete because you can’t follow a person 24 hours a day. People can also put fronts, hiding whatever is really happening.

  When I started telling people about having difficulties, I found the common response to be quite dismissive. People listened to what I had to say but would somehow make it all sound like normal behaviour. I would have some of my closest friends telling me that it was all circumstantial. No job, no prospects, of course I was going to feel that way. The attempt to take the large amount of paracetamol wasn’t so bad because they knew someone that had actually gone through with it. The self harm was fine because they knew people that had needed stitches, whereas I hadn’t. Sleeping with as many people I could find was normal for a girl of my age with a libido. Everything I would say would be compared to a more extreme response and used as proof that I was fine.

  I remember being angry and annoyed. How could the people I’m so close to not believe me?! Then I realised that I had done it to people in the past too. It’s so much easier to tell someone close to you that it’s a bad patch they’re going through and that they’ll be fine. If you generalise it and make it something everyone goes through, it makes it less scary. It means your best friend, sister, brother, mother, girlfriend will be ok in the end. If everyone else on the planet can get through it, so can they. It’s an accidentally selfish response. If there’s no underlying problem, they won’t be suffering for long and they’ll be back to their “normal” happy selves in no time. It makes you feel better because no one wants their friends of family to suffer. All of this is understandable. It’s human nature to care for those close to you with an added bit of optimism that everything will be alright.

  I did understand. They’d come round eventually. All that mattered was that the professionals listened, because that’s when I would get help. Unfortunately, the same thing seemed to happen there as well. The problem with Cyclothymia is that it can easily get diagnosed as depression and this is exactly what happened to me. I already knew that I didn’t think it was depression. I had seen others around me have depression and I seemed to only fit in with that behaviour part of the time.

  After the paracetamol incident I was the lowest I’ve ever been. The doctor’s appointment was just me sitting there, head down, not speaking and crying. I was given Fluoxetine, an antidepressant. At first this was fine. It boosted my mood (after making it significantly worse) to a state where I could think clearly and tell people what had been going on inside my head. The next doctor’s appointment I tried to explain everything I couldn’t explain before. She didn’t really listen, kept me on the antidepressants and sent me for therapy. “Great!” I thought. I was finally seeing a psychiatrist. Someone who would listen to everything I had to say and be able to tell me what was wrong. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I had been sent to a psychologist instead, to try and deal with my depression. That psychologist appointment was really frustrating. He had no expertise in the areas that I had concern about and every time I tried explaining the hypomanic episodes, I was told that these were normal behaviours. “I’ve treated someone with bipolar before and you aren’t extreme enough to have anything like that.”

  I was absolutely crushed. Here were two different professionals that had already made up their mind that it was depression and nothing else. The three days after that appointment, I didn’t go home. I spent the time hopping between the houses of two different guys. Obviously, that was not a completely normal reaction to have. The Fluoxetine then sent me on a hypomanic episode that lasted 2 weeks. Thankfully, my next doctor’s appointment was with someone new. She told me that I was a whole different person to who was described in the notes in front of her and that the change in mood shouldn’t be this sudden or severe having only been on the Fluoxetine for only a month. She referred me to a psychiatrist and has been my doctor ever since. Finally someone had listened! It’s amazing how much better you can feel when someone is truly listening to what you have to say. 

An introduction

   It’s always the deeply personal subjects that most of us are too afraid to talk about, which is a shame because once you put it out there I guarantee you’ll find people who are going through the exact same thing. If not, you’ll just end up teaching someone about your situation meaning they’re no longer ignorant to it. Result! So when it came to my newly diagnosed mental health issue, I wanted everyone to know. Not in a weird way where I’m grabbing people off the street, forcing them to listen and then making them answer a quiz about it at the end, I just  wouldn’t be afraid to drop it into conversation. But when it came down to it, I found myself missing out some of the harsh, upsetting, or just plain outrageous, details. At the end of the day, they still got some understanding but without those little chunks of info that I kept missing out, they’d never fully get it. That is when I decided to write a blog. A blog where I can just write about all the different aspects of my life which have been effected by my mental health. I’ve actually “decided” to write this about 4 times now…. Here goes nothing!

  For the past six years, I had always found myself switching from extremely low moods to extremely high, sometimes in the space of just an hour. When I was at school I had the excuse of being a teenager and having to deal with the stress of school work. At university, I had the excuse of being in a new environment, having lots of things happen around me and of course, uni work. But when I finished university and had a brief spell of unemployment, I ran out of excuses. In a week where I would do nothing at all, my mood would fluctuate rapidly. It scared me. I would be so low that I couldn’t get out of bed and then suddenly so high, all I wanted to do was go out, drink loads and find as many guys as I could to sleep with. Finally, in October, I couldn’t take it anymore. I sat in my room feeling the worst I have ever felt in my life and surrounded myself with paracetamol pills in the vain hope that, if I took them, I would get a break. I wouldn’t say I necessarily wanted to kill myself but I did want to be hospitalised. Taken away from real life and given the freedom to be considered too ill to function normally. Thankfully, I was stopped. My secret was now out there. I couldn’t hide these mood swings from anyone anymore. That is when I finally got some help.  

  7 months later and I’m writing this. I’m on 75mg of Quetiapine a day, with a diagnosis of Cyclothymia. The drugs haven’t completely stopped the mood swings (In fact I’ve just come down after a week of hypomania) but they do help take the edge off of them. They give me a slightly clearer head so I can identify when my mood is changing and think of ways to help improve the situation. I will be starting CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) soon with the aim to be weaned off the drugs when the time is right. This could take up to a year to happen which is annoying but nothing is an instant fix when it comes to mental health. I’m also using the internet to try and help keep a visual graph of my mood that I can refer to, www.moodscope.com, and a safe space where I can talk to others in a similar situation, www.elefriends.org.uk. (check it out if you feel like you need somewhere to talk!)

  Well, there you go! A little introduction for you. I have no idea how often I’ll be blogging so I guess all I can say is watch this space and thanks for reading. For anyone that wants more information on Cyclothymia or other mental health issues, here’s the Mind website: http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z