I’ve finally had a formal assessment for my mental health. Even though I feel the jury is still out on Cyclothymia, my psychiatrist has confirmed the original diagnosis of Bipolar 2, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder.
To be honest, I am not worried. I am still ‘relearning’ about Bipolar 2 and how it differs from Cyclothymia, and will probably post more about it at some point. Suffice it to say that I am getting help, seeing big improvements since starting medication and am feeling more confident about my future.
So the journey continues 🙂 Below is my original post regarding my mental health journey, and while the diagnosis label may be different, my experiences below are still the same; they are still how I experience life on a daily basis.
So I live in one of those little ‘estates’ where you might think you’ve stepped into a Stepford Wife movie set. It’s clean, safe and quiet and people make an effort to keep it that way.
One thing I particularly love is the seated areas where I can just sit and soak in the sunshine, breathe in the fresh air and feel more at peace.
Yes, I can still hear lawnmowers and cars; a couple of babies cooing and the far off sounds of a vacuum cleaner but it’s an environment that feels warm and safe so I don’t mind the external white noise.
Anyway, I am sitting on this bench today having made myself go for a walk. It’s a Busy Brain day and even though I slept all night, I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mac truck. I’d really like to switch the mental dialogue down to a dull roar but today it’s on auto and I just have to manage it as best I can.
Sitting here penning my thoughts got me to thinking that I’d like to start sharing what it’s like inside my mind because so many people tell me they have no idea what it must be like to have little control over how their mind functions day to day.
Many don’t have first-hand experience (thank God!) of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression and many more have no clue what rapid cycling mood swings are like, let alone know what Cyclothymia is. Here is a great article explaining it in more detail.
But what is it like? Most people have heard of Bipolar, and may even know someone who lives with the illness, and so this is often where I begin explaining what it’s like being me since Cyclothymia is a category on the Bipolar spectrum.
The best way I can describe Cyclothymia is to use a dimensional model. I describe my days as 2D, 3D or 4D and each one of these dimensions is determined by a set of factors.
Using a visual descriptor like this seems to help others understand more fully and even though I didn’t have a diagnosis before, I’ve been using this analogy for years to try and explain why I am feeling how I am feeling on a particular day. Following is a more detailed explanation of what my dimensional model looks like, for me.
A 3D day is a typical day – generally, I feel what others would call ‘normal’. I can have a few days in a row, even up to a couple of weeks feeling pretty much 3D. My mood feels fine. I feel hungry at regular intervals and I can stay focussed on my tasks and maintain a rational outlook even on the busiest of days. Basically, I am more than capable to achieve my goals, face challenges and deal with the stuff thrown at me, just like anyone else.
You could say that if you met me on a 3D day you’d never notice the signs – the anxiety and depression would seem nonexistent and my emotional roller coaster would be difficult to trace. You might find it hard to even believe that I suffer from a mental illness at all and wonder if it’s really all just in my head.
A 2D day, on the other hand, is laced with cloudy thinking, slowed reactions and an inability to process thoughts at a normal pace. It’s like I know my rational thoughts are there somewhere, but I can’t reach them because there’s this big heavy opaque cloud surrounding me, suffocating my thoughts and controlling my actions. I feel like I am walking in slow motion uphill with a drained battery.
These are the days when I find smiling physically hard. I find it very difficult to hold conversations, tend to isolate and forget to eat. I will probably crumple into a heap of silent tears if you ask me if I am okay. I probably won’t be able to explain anything either and this makes it even harder to manage as I know you’re just trying to help.
Now, what’s a 4D day like then? Imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – the colours, the whacky ideas being put into place and the absolute confidence that he has to carry out each one.
Imagine what it feels like to grasp an idea and see its entirety: it’s fulfilled outcome and understand how to make it come to pass.
Imagine waking up with an enormous idea and feeling completely confident in carrying it out.
It’s hard to put a 4D day into context because they’re all different but the primary markers are increased mental and emotional processing speed, increased thought intensity, higher physical energy capacity and a tangible sense of urgency to get this thing done. Now. Today.
When I am experiencing a 4D day I am often unaware of how my behaviour is affecting those around me. I generally push all my other plans aside, including client work, and hyper focus on this new idea I am chasing.
I’ve written thousands of words in short time frames. I’ve recorded, produced and released CDs in a week. One in 48 hours. I’ve rearranged entire rooms in a few hours. I’ve sorted years worth of receipts, in chronological order and done nothing else with the day.
I have spent a whole day reorganising my clothes and then made outfit arrangements out of them and then photographed each outfit so that I can help myself spend less time worrying about what to wear. You can see my crazy antics here, where I posted all about it. Because you really wanted to know, didn’t you? Haha.
I forget to eat at times and often lose track of time. My kids and hubby have regularly had to work out dinner, deal with washing I started doing and forgot about and manage without me because the truth is that I am just not present on a 4D day.
The truth is that I’m elsewhere. I’m in my creative flow factory developing ideas and living in a very different world to the one I actually live in.
And when I am there I feel like the best version of me times ten. And this is great for me, at the time, but significantly detrimental to those who do life with me.
I lose track of where I am, who I am with and what I was planning to do, instead, hype focusing on this incredibly important thing that can’t be ignored.
The hardest thing to deal with is the rapid pace at which my moods change. I’ve called these changes days because for the most part I do experience swings from one day to the next. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and I can experience multiple swings across the spectrum in one day.
Some may read this and think that what I am describing sounds like most people’s lives and there are certainly elements to my different days that seem normal.
The difference is that unlike a person whose mind is relatively healthy, I struggle to control these swings.
It is often late morning before I am even aware of which kind of day I am having and to alter my thoughts in order to shift gears is a gruelling and exhausting process.
Sometimes the struggle is just too hard and I end the day the same as it began. Out of control and unable to get off the roller coaster.
I have been working on managing my unique brain and have little systems in place now that I generally work through every day. It’s helping, albeit slowly.
I start with a quiet time, first thing in the morning. I have a folder with pages in it that I’ve made that remind me what my different days are like. I start the day thinking about how I am feeling, recognising those feelings, energy levels and thought processes and I structure my day around those outcomes.
So what does having a mental illness do to my day -to-day life? Well, just on the surface, I am tired most of the time. Sleep patterns are usually highly inconsistent and sometimes I don’t even sense what I am going through, feeling like I have to start from scratch on pretty much any goals as I realise the following day what I have been through the day before.
It means that a normal work life is currently out of the question. It means that sometimes I will have to reschedule my day entirely just to recover from a frantic day just gone and it may mean that I seem to go underground sometimes without warning.
And it means that I am still on the journey – where the path finally leads, I am not sure, but I am moving forward to a healthier future, that much I choose to believe.
I hope that my little expose on my inner workings has been interesting for you. Maybe you know someone like me who could do with a few encouraging words? Feel free to share this post and maybe also the post from last week, where I explain what life is like with Cyclothymic Disorder.
The truth is I hate that my brain is not functioning in the way that it was created to function but I also understand that this is a season of my life. I believe in prayer and healing and know first hand the power of these two things and I believe that God has healed and is healing my mind every day.
Why I have not experienced complete healing yet I don’t know. I believe for it. I ask for it daily. I do my best to live in the truth of it. But until that day, I see that this is a partnership. Me, God, my medical groupies and currently medication. We are working as a team and for today, this is how it rolls.
Cheers for now,
p.s. Do you live with mental illness or support someone who does? It can be really isolating. Please touch base in the comments, join me on Facebook or Twitter or write to me about your journey. I would love to hear your heart and support you on your journey.