living with a mood disorder

For a long time, I thought I had “ordi­nary” depres­sion. It was ter­ri­ble at times, though I man­aged to func­tion. My first bout of it was in fifth grade, and I would deal with it every cou­ple years after that. I would cry eas­i­ly, think dark thoughts pret­ty much con­stant­ly, and find lit­tle joy in activ­i­ties. I was hos­pi­tal­ized once when the med­ica­tion I was on proved inef­fec­tive, but I quick­ly found a med­ica­tion that I respond­ed to well and stayed on for the next ten years.

Dur­ing col­lege, after my hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, I thought I had it worse than most, but look­ing back, I can see that think­ing this was just arro­gance (look at me suf­fer!). Many peo­ple deal with crip­pling depres­sion to the point where it impedes any sem­blance of every­day life. I man­aged to still do well in class­es and main­tain most of my friend­ships (with a few notable and ter­ri­ble casu­al­ties), and after grad­u­at­ing, showed up to work and most­ly got things done.

I was put on a mood sta­bi­liz­er while in law school, with the sus­pi­cion that I might have bipo­lar. I was­n’t giv­en any rea­sons for why he thought that, but the med­ica­tion evened things out and made the depres­sion eas­i­er. From then on, I took meds that were geared at the depres­sion in bipo­lar, and those have been great. I still did­n’t think I had the mania side of bipo­lar though. I’ve nev­er had sleep­less nights or peri­ods of intense pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and focus. I’ve nev­er turned psy­chot­ic or phys­i­cal­ly destruc­tive.

Some stuff about six months ago made me recon­sid­er the mania piece of this. With­out going into (any) detail, it’s been posit­ed that my mania man­i­fests as risky behav­ior. It near­ly cost me my near-per­fect mar­riage. Had I under­stood more before, some of it may have been pre­vent­ed, or at least mit­i­gat­ed. My hus­band and I spent some time read­ing books about bipo­lar, learn­ing what we could, and though pieces res­onat­ed, it just did­n’t seem to fit me. I accept­ed the idea that I might be bipo­lar, but was­n’t entire­ly com­fort­able with it. I raised the issue with my psy­chi­a­trist, who said she did­n’t think I was bipo­lar in a strict sense.

The cur­rent think­ing about my mood dis­or­der is that it’s cyclothymia — most­ly depres­sion, with some risky behav­ior or oth­er hypo­man­ic ten­den­cies thrown in for good mea­sure. It seems to fit how I’ve been for most of my life. The depres­sion can get REALLY bad, the risky behav­ior can start to get out of con­trol some­times but does­n’t turn into psy­chosis.

My mood dis­or­der is con­trolled with ther­a­py (some­times intense, some­times just check­ing in), med­ica­tions (3 of them), mak­ing sure I get enough vit­a­mins, and (try­ing to) exer­cise. I know not every­thing works for every­one, but I am a very strong believ­er in ther­a­py. Hav­ing a neu­tral per­son whose pur­pose is to care for your well-being can lit­er­al­ly be a life­saver. Med­ica­tions get me to a lev­el where I can process things in ther­a­py, and vit­a­mins and exer­cise give me ener­gy and improve my mood. All of them are inte­gral to my well-being.

I ful­ly acknowl­edge that I am real­ly lucky. I have the means and access to skilled treat­ment, I am sur­round­ed by peo­ple who love me and lis­ten to me and care for me, and my ill­ness has rarely got­ten to a debil­i­tat­ing point because of these two things.

In spite of those things, the dark­ness is still very dark, the tears are still numer­ous, and the sad and some­times scary thoughts are still very dis­con­cert­ing. I haven’t felt the months-long abject hope­less­ness since I did in col­lege, but I have very bad days that not only leave me cry­ing in bed, but won­der­ing if I’m done being hap­py for anoth­er long stretch. I know that it’s in me, that my brain is capa­ble of doing that, and it’s like I’m con­stant­ly wait­ing for the oth­er shoe to drop.

I’ve learned how to deal with my mood dis­or­der. Life isn’t always good, and it does­n’t have to be. But this is part of who I am, it’s part of what makes me human and vul­ner­a­ble and empa­thet­ic to oth­er peo­ple’s suf­fer­ing. And on those very dark days, remem­ber­ing that I’m not alone helps. No one is alone.

Comments are closed.