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Living with Rapid-Cycling Cyclothymia

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with rapid-cycling cyclothymia. It’s like a milder version of Bipolar Disorder, complete with hypomanic and depressive cycles, but I can cycle several times within a week, or even a day. (read: Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment, Effects)

No two days are alike. I realize that it’s difficult to understand. Things change so quickly that it confuses me, let alone an outside observer. There is so much misinformation “out there”, that it’s tough for people to piece together an accurate picture of this condition. So I thought I’d take the reader on a journey of what a day could be like when I’m especially rapid-cycling.

What Does Rapid-Cycling Cyclothymia Feel Like?

I wake up depressed. It’s a numbness. Like something has taken me over and sucked out all of my emotions, except that I don’t know why. I’m used to extremes, but nothingness is downright scary. What's it like living with rapid-cycling cyclothymia? Get an inside look at what rapid-cycling cyclothymia feels like.I’m grateful that I work for myself, from home. Looking presentable would require too much energy. I have zero motivation, so it takes a while to do more than make a list of things I should be doing. I take my morning dose of medication, hoping it doesn’t make me more depressed – a potential side-effect.

By my second cup of coffee, I feel more like a productive member of society. Sadly, that doesn’t last long. By 1 p.m., I’m hypomanic. My brain can’t focus. I have twenty ideas for projects that I have no idea how to start. They’re not fantastical; I simply can’t focus enough to know where to begin. It’s beyond frustrating. At 2 p.m., I welcome my second dose of medication, hoping it slows my brain. Instead, it makes me nauseous, dizzy and disoriented. I can’t see straight. I apparently haven’t eaten enough beforehand. I must lie down for about an hour. Mental note – bigger snack tomorrow.

I’m ready to crawl out of my skin until about 4:30, when I can finally focus. The evening varies. I could level out, have another hypomanic episode, or slip into depression. I’m exhausted from emotional tug-of-war. I’ll probably stay home in case I cycle. Let me dispel a myth –I’m not Jekyll and Hyde, suddenly switching between highs and lows in mid-conversation. I feel it coming on gradually, and generally nobody else notices, thanks to medications and therapy. But I feel terrible, so I withdraw.

Drained by 9:30 p.m., I take my triple dose of meds before bed. They may prevent late-night hypomania, which causes insomnia. I toss and turn, trying to sleep, hoping that tomorrow my brain feels a little less like a ping-pong ball.

This article was written by:

Maya Northen on living with rapid cycling cyclothymiaMaya Northen is a mental health awareness enthusiast who was born with rapid-cycling cyclothymia, and finally diagnosed at the age of 29. She blogs about her journey with this condition, runs a mental health support group on Facebook, and has begun organizing fundraising events for mental health research and treatment. She believes fully in raising awareness through telling our stories, and plans to work helping youth and teens who are diagnosed with mental health conditions. You can also connect with Maya through her blog and on Twitter or Facebook.

To be a guest author on the Your Mental Health Blog, go here.

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19 Responses to Living with Rapid-Cycling Cyclothymia

  1. Tanika says:

    Wow that sounds a lot like me. It’s especially hard with lack of support and with people around (spouse, child). Cannot quite give encouragement as I am probably suppose to now but I can definitely relate.

  2. chris in sc says:

    That is so much of how I feel. I am going to print this out for my therapist. Thank you for giving me some way to explain myself to her.

  3. Patricia Foil says:

    Know what it’s like. Just wish my family would understand how it feels. Takes a lot of tongue biting, teeth grinding and counting quietly to keep from yelling and taking my frustations out on them. But it could be worse is my motto. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

  4. I’ve received umpteen different diagnoses over the past 10-15 years, and this is the most recent one I believe. I’m waiting to be called back in to see my doctors for next steps re medication and/or therapy. I feel pretty well all the same things as you’ve described feeling. I’ve been off work for over two years and I’m not sure what the future holds re when/if I’m told I’m o.k. and to go back. Before I was put off work, the accommodation to allow me to work from home was requested. It, along with other alternatives surrounding accommodation,wasn’t accepted….even though working from home was something that for a while was going to be the norm for all employees. I agree that being presentable, especially if it’s for the early part of the day, is a major challenge. I used to juggle it all..kids-by myself as a single parent, career, studying, maintaining a house & yard, etc. Then….I hit a wall….

  5. John says:

    Thank you. Tonight it is just reassuring to know others also are cursed/blessed in this way.

    Been one hell of a dayweekmonth … but I can still remember the good times

  6. Eli says:

    Mixt episodes are by far the worse. I’ve been having them lately and it’s tearing me apart from the inside out. So much fatigue! I believe that the worse part about this disease is not being understood by your close ones. This is exactly the main reason why tonight i googled and found your page as a form of support, right after i tried to explain to my best friend that these swing of moods are simply unbearable and it’s so hard to keep up with them and not lose it. His reply was that “this is normal it sometimes happens to him : to be in a good mood and have a bad/sad thought for a few seconds before returning to the initial mood”. I wish it was just that. Oh, he will never understand what i mean and how i feel. It’s like being silenced in this case cause words can’t even begin to describe the amount of *@#! one feels in just one day. I am 22 years old and I have been diagnosed with cyclothymia at 21. I now understand myself, especially when i was a teenager and i felt so lost, confused, dynamic, impulsive, never getting a thing done, alone. Why do I have this awful disease? Who would have thought that being normal was such a luxury? (I’m sorry if my comment was too long , but it’s my first time speaking about this with somebody who knows)

  7. Renae says:

    I believe my husband is suffering with this disorder. I absolutely love him but I’m finding it more challenging to deal with as time goes on only because he refuses to acknowledge he even has something going on. I’ve tried talking to him about his constant mood swings and that only enrages him more. I’m at my wits end trying to cope. I’m not sure what else I can do to help if anything. I try to give him as much space and time as he needs to deal with his rapid mood changes but at times it leaves me in a state of unrest and uncertainty. I feel so alone most of the time. Even though my husband has not been diagnosed and I don’t know that he will ever seek help, I understand there’s something bigger than the both of us so I try to be patient and understanding.

  8. SWIM says:

    Great explanation of this disorder. Only those who have it know the insanity and frustration that encompasses it. Don’t even try to explain it to someone, no words do it justice. I was a top executive at a company and as my condition worsened, I slammed into the wall. No work for past year with little hope of returning anytime soon. Tried every med known for past 2 years, fighting through each day… Trying yet another med now. I have a wife and two kids and I do everything I can to act normal with my kids and try to be there for them – some days I simply cannot and that ads to the depression. I’m in constant state of agitation, avoidance, anxiety, tension headaches, self analysis, and confusion/dizziness. I cycle every 3 hours or so, with a lot of mixed states. Sleep is weird. No deep sleep, just constant REM. Sleep study showed this. If you don’t have a strong support system like I do, then do whatever you can to get one, even if just over the phone. It takes all I have to leave the house, but some days I can. I tried the coffee thing, seems to have a very short-term mood effect then makes the manic cycle that much harder to bring down. I was originally diagnosed with agitated depression, but every anti depressant kicked up my mania. Trying to find the right mood stabilizer is what I’m doing now. On my third, I think I’m finally getting positive results on this latest try. I’m 42, so onset was very late for me – like 39. Accepting that you can’t do what you once could is extremely frustrating – but this is the reality. My wife has been understanding, but it does affect our relationship. I try to remain as quiet and peaceful as possible. I try not to schedule more than one thing each day. Hopefully this is something I learn to manage better over time. I also thought I could do this on my own with no meds, it’s part of the condition itself. But when nothing is improving using tons of talk therapy and every cognitive behavioral technique in the book, one must look to medication. At first, no one wants to believe they have this disorder… It’s not until you smash a wall or do something to ruin your life do you wake up and beg for relief. There seems to be this internal anger or more accurately rage that can’t be expressed. If anger is expressed, it will usually trigger a manic cycle – catch 22. There seems to be no restful state of mind, no peace of mind. The body also like to express the stress of the disorder in weird painful acts like neurological and/or muscle pain. That’s just icing on the cake :)

  9. J in AL says:

    Thanks to each of your for writing your stories. My 20 yr old daughter has just been diagnosed with Cyclothymia and I am trying to get a better understanding of how this affects her and her world. Your words are giving me some very good insight.

  10. David Miller says:

    I work as a senior manager in Health Care. One of my staff has recently confided in me that he suffers from Rapid-Cycling Cyclothymia. I would like to know if there is any specific advice that I can obtain re supporting sufferers in the workplace?

  11. super rapid cyclthymia says:

    I was diagnosed 3 years ago. I think i have a version which is super rapid..i have swings within the same hour – happy sad happy sad. Welbutrin seemed to help a little – mainly the super irritation i would feel occasionally. Ive had it my whole life..After i feel up for a few days – a few days later i get physically ill..sore throat, flushed face..tired..anyone have that.

    Many of the typical drugs reduced the intensity of the swings and help a little with the frequency but i miss the highs and i some came with other side effects.

    Job wise – oddly enough – management is pretty good for us because I have found, I dont have to be “on” all the time. School was near disaster for me since when i was down before or during a test – i would fail! But when i was up i would get an A.

    Just thought i would share. I will try some anti anxiety meds next..i have some hope those may do it for me.

    Being cyclo sucks!

  12. Dee says:

    My doctor diagnosed me with bipolar rapid cycling… Is this the same thing?

  13. Adam says:

    I have rapid cycling cyclothemia I was diagnosed around 3 months ago and am currently taking 200mg of quetapine every night to sudate me and control my mania. I have my first CBT session on Tuesday which is ment to be better than medication. I have been emotionally numb for months I was wondering if anyone else has the same problem?

  14. Adam says:

    I’m Adams mum and even tho I work in mental health I find it heart breaking to see my son distressed confused suicide at times elated flat in mood all within the same day I speak to I’m every day and try to help I’m cope and sort out is thgts and feelings it’s very hard to see some one you love and cherish like this but all every one with this terrible illness can do is keep going I try to keep my son full of posative thoughts he has a loving family and it is hard for every one but I do believe that one day he will see light at the end of the tunnel I have to because I just cart stand the thgt of I’m only just having this I will not let this illness define who my son is he is Adam not Adam with cyclothymia he is Adam who is bright extremely fun loving and caring .who is truly loved.

  15. Brandon Clay says:

    This sounds like my day to a tee. I really don’t know how to stop it. I stopped taking my meds and mood stabilizers about three months ago. I was fine for a week and then The lows and raid cycling kicked back in. When I was in my teens, I was a vibrant, active, loud, silly young man. But now, I am a 35year old hermit. I hate people; and I am a High school teacher for crying out loud. I grew up in a very tough neighborhood in Southern California, and talking about my feelings of hopelessness was not common place. But I am learning to let go of my macho façade, and except that I am cyclothymic. I had been seeing a therapist, but she didn’t have any answers as of late about my condition. Yet after reading this and watching a few videos. Im almost convinced that I have cyclothymia. Thank you for sharing your piece. (First post was full of Typos, sorry!)

  16. Brandon Clay says:

    In responding to swim, I just totally agree. I hit the wall yesterday! I have an underlying anger that consumes my whole life. If I’m not angry, Im sad, If not sad then agitated. Thanks for your story.

  17. Caz says:

    I have given up on medication as it produces so many awful side-effects including being over-sleepy, weight gain and an inability to function, and now just drink to self-medicate (this also sorts my dodgy churning stomach out). I do drink much too much, but find I get massively stressed otherwise and cannot concentrate. Caffeine is a big no-no unless it is 1 cup of coffee occasionally and that is a cappucino with lots of milk. I am trying to drink throughout the day, but dilute with water so I do not get obviously drunk. Eating veeery, veeery sloooowly also helps – I cannot wolf my food down but instead need to take about an hour over a main course (allowing for chatting/ sipping drink in between). It drives my friends mad but I feel so much better for it.
    Seriously though, unless you have this condition, you just don’t know what it’s like. It’s uncontrollable and I honestly feel like I cannot cope at times. Even the tiniest things set me off and plunge me instantaneously into the biggest depression known to man. I was grateful to be diagnosed by a proper psychiatrist who did actually know what they were talking about, as I had had counselling and so forth over the years with no effect. I don’t like to think I have anything wrong with me but it is obvious to everyone that I have much more difficulty coping than most, partly, it has to be said, due to previous lack of support.

  18. Hunni says:

    I am currently going to school to be a psychologist. I have anxiety, ADHD and cyclothymia. My moods change every few days. On Sunday I was enthusiastic, managed to collect myself and got a lot of projects started and finished. On Monday anxiety kicked in which resulted in slurred speech and worrying thoughts, making ADHD hard to control. Today is Tuesday that i spent depressed in bed in my pajamas, attempting schoolwork, but hardly even mastering enough energy to take a shower. Just like the author, I hope tomorrow will be better. It is ridiculously hard to study. One day it is complete lack of motivation, or even a lack of energy to sit, and I have to lay down, the other day ADHD kicks in and I get distracted every 10 seconds with irrelevant thoughts, and other days I excessively worry that i won’t succeed, worry I won’t understand the studying material, worry about budget, weight, work performance and can’t focus on schoolwork. I keep on developing mental strategies utilizing my knowledge on how to succeed. Right now I really hope I will finish my degree and become a psychologist, and I hope I can help myself, so I can help other people.

  19. umer says:

    i suffer from same sort of cycles every alternate day…i have embraced it and work with it….i am privilaged to be born in a business family…i go to teach at a school in the morning, and then afternoon onwards i spend my time managing a hotel and wedding hall place we own…i get off post 10 in the night…no weekends for me as my off days at school are incidentally the bussiest at my place of business…being married, i have to make most of the off time i get with my wife

    i cope with this routine by managing my mood swings…i have rented a two bedroom space which is mostly vacant except when i visit it for few hours during my off time
    i have also found things that help me brighten up during an off phase…i read and listen to good poetry…i make love to some new beautiful lady…i blow it off on people working under me…eating good food also helps a lot but i mostly avoid it because i have a tendency to get fat very quickly (i am a bit bulky already)…
    one other thing i have done is grow a beard…i have found out it helps me conceal my sulky expressions when having an off phase…plus makes me look more mature so i dont have to explain to people my reasons for giving philosophical replies to simple questions, something i tend to do when i am going through off time
    i have also found out that specifying somethings for yourself to do everyday no matter what, also helps….for me its jogging and praying altough i am never able to maintain it for long before having intervals when i dont do it
    i never take up any extra responsibility that i dont have to…i keep a strict circle of friends and avoid any desire or attempt to socialize with new ones
    at home i have adopted a laid back approach…i never react to anything said or done as i know it will mostly be erratic and angry due to my mood swing…i just smile and put up with my relations even if i dont like anything…when it gets too much and i blow up with my parents or wife, i apologize soon afterwards knowing that the venting out is due to my problem
    i know most of these strategies hinder me from becoming super successfull but i have stopped wanting that…i just stay happy with what i got
    plus i have found out that helping others gives me stabilising ego boost…as i am too moody to maintain constant energy for that, what i do alternately is to share my income…i give a certain part of it to people who i know need it…and i try and do it inconspicuously beacause i know if it becomes highlighted i might stop doing it
    key is to recognize things you are emotional about and trying to avoid and regulate them by adopting attitude and doing things that work best for you…you do not have to kill your problem because that is highly unlikely…you just have to conceal and regulate it properly
    i will like to add that i got enrolled in the graduation program of one of the top institutes in my country but could not complete it…the only reason i survived that was due to my privilaged background
    i had a friend back in university who suffered from the same…but he has been still to date unable to make anything of himself because he lacked the cushion i had in the form a loving family…i have mostly been thankless to them but i thank god a lot for it
    also i think one should be completely self aware of one’s problem but should try and solve it oneself and never admit any weakness openly…that helps one carry a sense of accomplishment which aids in fighting the problem
    when i failed at a few things, i never admitted any fault with anyone and kept a stubborn outlook…but inside i indulged in thorough self analysis and was able to gradually right a lot of my wrongs…its still the same struggle
    i am no success story…but i am living along relatively better

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