Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

It’s time to talk

Today, the 6th February 2014, is “time to talk” day. This is run by the charity Time To Change, which is led by both Mind and ReThink (mental health organisations). The idea behind today is to open up and be honest about mental health, to start a conversation and to help break down stigma. This is my contribution.

I’ve had mental health problems almost all my life. As a child I self-harmed and binged; I’ve had depression since my early teens. My current diagnoses are cyclothymia with underlying depression,and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). But what does this actually mean?

Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder. Where most people’s mood averages out as a straight line with occasional fluctuations up or down, this is what my unmedicated moods look like:

The psychiatrist who diagnosed me explained that cyclothymia often requires treatment with mood stabilisers as the hypomania (the highs) can be pretty disruptive. But because I have the peculiar combination of cyclothymia and depression, my base line is lower than most people’s. For example, at the moment I am a bit hypomanic. But instead of displaying the usual symptoms of hypomania I am what most people would consider to be normal. I’m enjoying playing with my children. I’m getting the housework done, I’m singing along to the radio and I’m able to talk to other parents in the school playground. I still find it hard to sit still without fiddling or fidgeting, my thoughts race and I constantly have new (usually impractical) ideas about what I want to do next. But for the most part I am “normal”.

Of course unfortunately this means that my low moods are lower than the average. When I’m in a trough I struggle to get out of bed, I struggle to interact with anyone and playing with the children is an almost unbearable ordeal. But this is also a kind of normal for me; this is what I’m like when I’m unmedicated and the depression strikes.

Cyclothymia isn’t just having hypomanic highs and depressed lows, though; there’s a reason it’s also known as “rapid cycling bipolar”. Although moods can last for days or even weeks, they can also change in the blink of an eye. Some days I can cover the full mood spectrum in a matter of hours, never knowing how I’m going to feel from one moment to the next. This isn’t in response to anything – I can be having a really good day and suddenly plunge into the depths of depression. It’s unsettling, not just for me but also my family.

Then there’s the anxiety. Mostly my anxiety focuses on my family – I live in perpetual terror that someone I love is in danger or about to die. If DH is late back from the shops he must have been run over. If the phone rings it’s obviously going to be DD’s school telling me she’s had a serious accident. At night I wake up repeatedly to check that 2yo DS is still breathing, and his recent surgery was almost more than I could bear.

The minor focus of my anxiety is quite common: I often struggle with social situations and talking to strangers, which is utterly ridiculous when you consider that I worked in the civil service for 6 years and used to present at high-level meetings and international conferences! But for now that’s how it is at the moment. I recently had to describe my social anxiety to a friend:

“Chatting to people at playgroups, in cafes, even the school run can be torture. When I have to speak to someone unfamiliar in a social situation my heartrate increases and my breathing gets shallow. My mouth goes dry and I feel as though my throat is closing up. If I can’t escape then I usually end up having a full-blown panic attack”.

Obviously this causes problems when it comes to having a social life of any kind! Although I sometimes manage to meet people for a casual coffee, in the last year I’ve only managed to go out with a group of friends once. Just once, to a local restaurant, and even then I could only stay for about an hour and a half before getting overwhelmed and having to leave.

So there you go. That’s me. Mood zipping around like a demented pinball and perpetually anxious. 🙂 I’m happy to answer any questions or comments that you may have, both here and in person if you know me. So come on – let’s talk.


Comments on: "It’s time to talk" (10)

  1. Just reading that (and having no experience whatsoever) what strikes me is that the hardest times are also the times when you can’t really explain.
    You say that ‘chatting to people at playgroups, in cafes, even the school run can be torture’, yet these casual meetings are (again, I’m guessing) not really times when you can explain and ask for understanding. One of the hardest things about mental health problems (it seems from here) is the fact that they are usually invisible. So, Time to Talk sounds like a great idea. Perhaps, if general awareness is raised, individuals won’t have to spend so much time explaining themselves.

    • Yes, there have been times when I’ve been tempted to make a “Please don’t talk to me!” badge but that might make me seem a bit antisocial. 😉

  2. A great initiative. Thanks for sharing. I suffer from anxiety in a very particular situation – a work setting with more than four people seated formally around a table. Such a specific trigger seems most peculiar. That aside, i cannot imagine what it must be like Feeling that level of anxiety most of the time. is there anything at all
    People can do to help out when you are feeling like this?

  3. muminahurry said:

    What a great post. I am feeling pretty low today. Don’t know why. Wrote a post about it. Shortly after that had a bit of a cry and had to go out for a bit for “fresh air”. It can leave you feeling like such a freak particularly when you have no obvious reason for why you feel like that. Its really good to talk about it.

    • I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. Did going out help at all?

      • muminahurry said:

        Yes, it did a little. I splurged at the Clinique counter (was sensible by choosing two cheaper things – rather than moisturizer or whatever) but still a splurge – I do that when I’m down sometimes and today I really couldn’t help myself! Spent the afternoon reading blogs (yours mainly), eating chilli chocolate that I bought from waitrose, and looking at my new purchases!!!

      • Sounds great! 🙂

  4. This is such an interesting post to read, I’d never heard of cyclothymia before but you sound exactly like me! My GP thought I had BPD but I never turned up to the referrals. I guess in a way I’d rather not know and plod on trying to cope. Anyway, as I said – really interesting post. I would love it if you could link your post up to my #projecthappiness / #time to talk linky – x

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