Day 1: Why do you blog?
For nearly the first almost three decades of my life, I thought that I was allergic to red food dye. That was my diagnosis, at the age of two, when I started having "episodes". The doctor told my parents that the red food dye in the cereal I'd eaten (I want to say Captain Crunch but I may be wrong here) made me "hyper", and I was to avoid red food dye. I spent the next 28 years doing just that - admittedly, not a tough feat, unless you count the cherries in Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. But though the "episodes" calmed down for a long stretch of time, in part due to intense gymnastics training that helped with a lot of the extra "energy", in part writing them off as just being an aspect of my general personality, they didn't stop. They started back noticeably when I was in my early twenties and got increasingly worse, to the point that I'd have someone (my then-husband) hold my arms and legs so I could punch and kick the air to release all of the pent up "energy", for lack of a better word. In between these episodes, went through periods of feeling lost to myself, which grew in frequency. Finally, weeks before my thirtieth birthday, I was admitted to the ER with what I thought were horrendous panic attacks that wouldn't go away. Long story short, I was hospitalized, and upon going back to my therapist afterwards, was diagnosed with rapid cycling cyclothymia, a rare mood cycling disorder. It was this that had actually sent me to the ER.
I had never heard of cyclothymia, and as it turns out, neither have a lot of people - even medical professionals. It's that rare - something like 0.04% of the population is diagnosed. I noticed that there was very little information accessible to the general public about my condition, yet there seems to be a massive amount of stigma. I realized that people don't have to know anything about your condition in order to begin stigmatizing, especially when it comes to mental health. To so many people, it's all the same. In fact, it's the lack of information, and the education, that feeds so much stigma. And so I set out to do my part in righting that. To tell my story, so that others have first hand accounts of what my illness is like, and to offer support to those who also battle, or feel that they may.
What do I want people to know about my condition?
- It is not bipolar disorder. Often I have to choose that from the little drop-down box of illnesses on online forms with health history, but it is a distinct condition of its own, that shares many similarities with Bipolar Disorder.
- I cycle between hypomania and depressive episodes, sometimes as often as several times a day. While many people battle more depression, I battle more hypomania - which is not as fun as it sounds. Hypomania, I often tell people, feels like drinking an entire pot of coffee at once on an empty stomach and then trying to go about your average daily routine. You feel jittery, irritated, unable to focus or concentrate. It's in fact very frustrating.
- I'm not always cycling. Sometimes I'm neither hypomanic or depressed - many times, in fact. Nor do I cycle mid-sentence, like the media would have you believe. I slowly begin to feel the warning signs, which generally only I can feel, and it begins to gradually transition. Again, using the coffee example, the first cup is probably ok, the second cup may make you a bit extra energized, by the time you've finished the pot, the effects are full-fledged.
- I battle anxiety because of my condition. I've developed social anxiety, phone anxiety. This is not uncommon.
- I can do "normal" things and have a "normal" life. I run my own business, work part time at a conference center, own a home and a dog, am in a committed relationship, and have been on several volunteer board of directors. I've also traveled to six continents and over 40 countries.
- Not everything I do or say or react to is because of my condition. Sometimes, I'm happy or sad or emotional or annoyed or angry at something just as anyone else would be.
- My condition does not make me weak. Just because I'm depressed or crying or feeling worthless or hopeless does not make me weak. I, and others with similar conditions, have to be incredibly strong just to get through some days.
- I will always have this illness. It is genetic. I was born with it, and I will have it for the rest of my life. I can't "get over it". It just gets better or worse. I've accepted this. Please do so as well and stop waiting for me to "snap out of it."
- I'm not lazy or over-reactive or not trying to hard or dramatic. I can't just relax or calm down. I can't just think positive thoughts or smile or be grateful.
- Sometimes the best thing I can do is rest. I need that time mentally and physically. Sleep is critical for mood cycling, and my condition is very draining. Doing every day tasks can feel insurmountable at times.