One way or another..

It’s impossible to describe what it’s like having a mood disorder, mainly because it will vary depending on your mood. I’ve written before about this, but make no apologies for doing so again. It’s something I feel compelled to think about and explore, while knowing that I will never properly understand it.

Most people’s moods vary – we all have bad days, and days when we feel exuberant and on top of the world. We wouldn’t call that illness. But some of us experience a wider range – for example I experience terrible depressions and less disastrous highs. Some people are unfortunate enough to experience highs that lead to catastrophic spending, risk taking and loss of reality. I don’t think there’s any doubt that when people are at either end of this spectrum that there’s something seriously wrong. But what about when these same people experience what we might call ‘normal’ ups and downs? How do we know when it’s going to become something different? It’s very hard to know.

Personally, I have had times when my mood has been beautifully stable, but it’s more often what I would call mildly hypomanic or mildly hypodepressed, often for longish periods. The former is probably the most pleasant and productive of all, and I spend much of my time reaching for it in vain. I remember telling my partner that my ideal mood state would be 6.5 (scale of 1-10), and I needed to work out how to achieve this myself. If I could take a pill that would enable it – I would. At these times my mood is sunny and rich, my thoughts are fast and productive, and I write a lot (and think it’s all very good). I have managed to do three master’s degrees as a direct result of believing in my own cleverness – and also to prove I was not brain damaged by ECT. At times I have spent far too much money and didn’t care. It is wonderful to feel happy, though irritability can spoil things somewhat.

But the problem is that these don’t last. I am left, usually hypodepressed, trying to finish all the work I have committed myself to, afraid I have upset and offended people and terrified of a worse mental jump into psychotic depression.

I have, in the past, often felt I must be making my illness up, that there was no earthly reason why I was feeling or behaving like this. During my most recent depression, I think I did have some more awareness that I was ill. I would think about my thoughts – for example that my partner was going to die, and then I myself wouldn’t be able to go on living. On one level I knew that had I previously thought this, I would have been able to deal with the fear, and the fear of being left alone. It would have been an awful thought, but somehow I would have managed it. In my depressed state, however, I did not think that this more positive thinking would return, and I thought I was ill, terminally so. It is terrible when all your thoughts rise from this low mood. At times I could lift myself enough to see people briefly, but the thoughts didn’t go, and afterwards I would collapse back into my fear and torpor.

I know that I am better now, but my mood, as always after such a severe episode, is very up and down. The ups are lovely, the downs less so, but both are within a range that is acceptable. The only reason that it worries me is because of my history of a severe mood disorder, and I am, at the moment, particularly terrified of my mood dropping. As a result, I am probably reacting too quickly, worrying too much and generally being a pain to friends and family. But the difficulty is that my thoughts seem to be secondary to my mood, and therefore not very consistent. In itself that can make me doubt myself as a person – how can I be sure of my identity if my thoughts are at the mercy of my mood? People talk about, and denigrate, the idea of a chemical imbalance, but something must be wrong in a state that is episodic in nature.

I used to think I had some control over my mood. Now I’m not so sure. Although I do try to appear normal in my sometimes lengthy hypodepressed states, this doesn’t particularly help. And at those times I can’t possible understand how I could ever be hypomanic. It may be comparable to not being able to imagine being hot when cold and vice versa. I do my best to live a healthy lifestyle, in the hope that this will help, but I’m not convinced. It probably does mean I feel better in the periods when I’m well, though.

I think I’m writing this with a mildly depressed overtone. It would have been worse a week or so ago, but if I were to rewrite this when completely well (which I want to be) or mildly hypomanic (I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’d like this even more) I think it would be far more positive and optimistic. So which of these is really me? Am I both? Am I neither? My identity is quite different in different mood states, but when I am, for example, very low, I totally believe in my view of the world. I am convinced of things that aren’t true. Now I say that I can understand my faulty thinking; but what has actually changed, and how can I be sure I’m right now? Optimism is possibly very foolish.

The bottom line for me is that I cannot make myself depressed or manic; it happens to me. The lesser ‘hypo’ states sometimes lead to severe illness, sometimes not. I think what is happening around me does influence it, but I am, like others with a mood disorder, vulnerable to becoming very ill without much warning. I don’t think that will go away – although I might think it would if I was hypomanic!

6 thoughts on “One way or another..

  1. Totally.
    CBT is an interesting therapy in this regard. Much promoted. Feelings, thoughts and actions supposedly are all inter-dependent. Alter one then you alter the others. But what if one is dictated by chemicals? That means the other 2 can’t change even if you want them too? My reason for believing I can’t think myself out of low mood.

  2. This all makes good sense. Are the good constant things around you (for example the love of your partner, the kindness you show others) the clue to your identity wherever you are on 1 – 10 ?

  3. As someone also living with a Bipolar 2 diagnosis I can relate to so much of what you say! And hearing that you also have had ECT is weirdly validating for me. I’m currently using Internal Family Systems therapy and this has helped me to start meeting and learning about multiplicity. We all have “parts”. I happen to have depressed parts, hypomanic parts and everything in between. Our parts all serve a role and all have good intentions, even though they can wreak havoc in our lives. So getting to know all of my parts, being curious about their purpose, their fears, the somatic or body-felt sense of them is helping me to better “regulate” and stay further away from either extreme. It’s really cool!

  4. I have suffered from chronic depression since the early 90s and since a major worsening 3 or 4 years ago have had to rely on a max dose of velafaxine. If I forget to take it just once my mood nosedives immediately. I’m lucky to now have weekly psychotherapy sessions to try and find the source of my illness (if there is one – which I believe there is)
    From your writings I assume you believe that your treatments work but only to a certain degree. Is it your belief that chronic mental illness is incurable and the best we can expect is to try and control it medicinal and talking? That thought depresses me further

    1. I don’t think I know – not for me or anyone else. I’m reasonably well between episodes which is comforting. But I’d also say – many illnesses are controlled by treatment rather than cured, and is that so bad?

      1. I think that my psychiatrist would probably agree with your view about illness being controlled as tolerable. Not sure if the psychologist would agree but maybe. Finding the source of an illness won’t necessarily get rid of it I suppose. The idea of control versus cure never seemed enough but you may be right and I should look for middle way. Thank you for your reply.

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