Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Evading the Authorities
In part one of this blog series, I wrote about the general's of cyclothymia –it’s symptoms, it’s prevalence, and how it feels for me when I’m cycling. In part two, I have decided to tell my personal background, from the episodes I experienced growing up to being diagnosed to where I am today. It’s the first time I’ve told some of this, so it took a while for me to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard), write this out and share it. It was emotional and cathartic, and I hope it provides some good insight into my journey.
I’ve been cyclothymic all of my life, apparently. I found out I was cyclothymic right before my 30th birthday – not because I didn’t have previous evidence of this, simply because it was just missed. I suffered signs of anxiety, panic attacks and depression for years – most noticeably since about the age of 18, but more likely even before then. My mom said I that I used to get incredibly anxious and jittery as a child and say to her “mommy, make it stop”. Needless to say, “it” is pretty nebulous, especially coming from a small child and she took me to doctors but they were of no help. Knowing what I know now, I’d be willing to put money on the fact that it was a hypomanic episode. In college I dealt with body image issues, anxiety and some depression. Nothing seemed terribly wrong, but nothing seemed terribly right either. I began going to a therapist at school, a grad student doing her internship (or something similar, I don’t remember the details), who I loved. Throughout the years, I went to different therapists on and off trying to find the right fit, always not feeling myself, experiencing ups and downs, but no one could pinpoint it. My moods were attributed to job stress, pre-wedding jitters, post wedding jitters, “grass is always greener” syndrome and other notions that were untrue (ok, maybe the post-wedding jitters, but the rest really weren’t). I tried anti-anxiety meds, and they just made me sick to my stomach, literally, so I stopped them. They didn’t seem to help much anyways.
When I was 29, I went on mild anti-depressants to help give my mood a boost – I clearly wasn’t feeling like my normal energetic self, I finally gave in to the fact that something was a bit “off”, and gave the medication a try. After all, I’d been working on this since I was 18 and nothing had really helped yet. At first, I thought the meds were working and I was very excited. They just kind of softened things a little bit – life didn’t seem quite so hard and I felt more light-hearted. Then after a couple of months I suffered a serious of terrible, prolonged panic attacks for no reason at all. By prolonged, I mean hours and hours, sometimes days. I ended up going to the ER, where basically they said they could find nothing wrong with me. Long story short, my anti-depressants were upped, assuming that I was dealing with anxiety, which was causing the panic attacks. The attacks got worse. I went back to the therapist I’d gone to briefly after my divorce (see comment above about post-wedding jitters). After a few very intense sessions, she told me what no other therapist in 12 years had been able to figure out: I had a mood cycling disorder. I was confused. I was scared. I was relieved. Yes, you read right, relieved. Finally, finally it made sense. Mood cycling. That’s exactly what I was going through. I think I’d known it somehow in the back of my mind all along. The minute she said it I knew she was right – it just made sense.
I weaned down on my anti-depressants with my therapist’s help. They’d made me worse because they make hypomanic episodes (they were not panic attacks after all) even more hypomanic. If you think about it, it makes sense – antidepressants lift your mood, and if your mood is already in a high frenzy, that’s a horrible combination. I started my new medication. It made me terribly sick. Not in the hypomanic/depressed way. In the “I feel like I just drank a bottle of whiskey on an empty stomach” way – not that I’ve ever done this, I’m exaggerating to make a point. I had to lie down for hours after I took the lowest dose. They made me nauseous, dizzy, disoriented, you name it. Then, by some miracle, they made me feel better. Slowly, very slowly, I started to notice a leveling out. Just in time to up the dose, because with side effects like these you never start with the dose you’ll actually be on, but work your way up. The side effects started again. This time I was more prepared but it didn’t make it much easier. I went through this dose increase multiple times. Finally, I ended up at my current dose. I’ve been on it for about a year and a half now. I hope it stays at this level, but I truly have no idea if that will be the case.
I still go to therapy, as my therapist has to monitor my meds and my moods, and I have to get blood work to ensure that the meds aren’t messing up any number of things these meds can mess up. Plus, to state the obvious, I’m still cyclothymic. That will never change. I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. It’s something I’ve had to accept. In fact, it’s something I’ve become grateful for – there are meds that can make this much better. It’s not ideal, but it could have been way worse. I still have ups and downs, and I always will. I have learned how to recognize when these cycles are coming on, for the most part. I have tricks to deal with them, and most of the times these work. I also have learned to deal with the fact that sometimes these tricks won’t work and I’m going to have a really bad day of ups and downs, confusing and frustrating myself and probably those close to me. I don’t like this last part, but it’s unfortunately one of those things I can only control so much. The good thing is, I know the cycles won’t last for long (per the rapid cycling). There is honestly some comfort in that, if I can think about it logically when I’m going through it – which is obviously easier said than done.
So that, in a bit more than a nutshell, is my cyclothymia story. It’s where I’ve come from and where I am. It’s what I deal with every day. The good news is this: I have a good life. I own my own travel company (how cool is that!); I live in the city with my dog and I love it; I have a great network of supportive friends and family; I am now working to raise mood disorder awareness and education, as well as looking for additional ways to provide support for those with mood disorders. I hope to eventually turn this into something bigger than just a passion of mine, a blog and a small Facebook group. Do I wish I’d been diagnosed earlier? Absolutely. If nothing else, it would have made life easier on those around me who understood even less of what I was going through than I did. Am I thankful that there is medication and treatment that can help me to live a normal and life? Without a doubt. And that, when it comes down to it, is all that I can ask for.