Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘mood’

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:
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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.

Peering through the black cloud

Today is the worst day I’ve had in a long time. There’s no reason why it should be; it’s no different to yesterday or any of the days before. But for some reason today is a black day.

I woke this morning and spent 45 minutes trying to find the energy to move. I don’t just mean that I was physically tired, although I am. I just wanted to sleep, to hide under my covers and shut out the world; I couldn’t find the mental strength to force myself out of bed. Luckily my wonderful husband is more than capable of looking after the children and by the time I eventually made it out of bed DD was almost ready for school. I explained to her that I wasn’t feeling well (how else do you explain a trough like this to a 4 year old?) and she gave me lots of hugs and kisses before cheerfully heading off to school with DH.

It’s now mid-morning and I’m curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas and dressing gown. I don’t want to eat, or watch tv. I’m struggling to play with my chirpy, bouncy toddler – I just can’t muster the enthusiasm. I can do kisses and cuddles, and luckily he’s happy with those, but for all the use I am today he may as well be playing on his own.

It’s hard to explain this kind of mood to someone who’s never experienced it. I’m sure there are people who’ll read this and think I’m just being lazy or wallowing, that I just need to pull myself together and get on with things. But days like this are unbelievably hard. It’s like wading through treacle; everything just takes so much effort, I have to spend ages gathering the energy to do the slightest thing. I feel as though I’m wrapped in a black cloud, only catching the occasional glimpse of normality.

On days like this I’m incredibly grateful for my smartphone and social media. I don’t feel so disconnected when I can dip in and out of conversations on Twitter and Mumsnet, even though leaving the house and talking to people is beyond me. I can sit huddled under my blanket and chat with strangers, acquaintances and good friends I’ve never met. This connection is vital to me, keeping my mind active and penetrating the miasma of lethargy and apathy.

In the past there were occasions when I would be bedridden for days at a time by this kind of misery, the depression weighing me down. I’m fortunate that thanks to a combination of my caring and uncomplaining husband, my cheerful children, medication and online chat, this cloud should pass fairly quickly, hopefully in a day or so.

An analogy that I often use to explain my depression is that it’s like the beginning of the Wizard of Oz film; everything is drab, shades of black and white and grey. It’s only when life bursts into glorious technicolour that I realise quite how gloomy things were. Today I view the world in black and white but at least I know that the technicolour bit is ahead.

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