Recovering from Depression feels very much like a whole new awakening. I can’t tell you the point I went from depressed to steady but one day I woke up and the good days finally outweighed the bad.
To be more exact I have a condition known as Cyclothymia. You’ll have heard me talk about it a lot because I was only diagnosed last year. Although I have of course had it all my adult life.
Cyclothymia is often called the “mild” version of bipolar. It doesn’t always feel mild to me but in general my cycles between high and low moods are shorter than those experienced by people with full blown bipolar and my ups and downs less extreme.
From September 2019 to the end of November 2020 I was depressed. This manifested differently from month to month but in general I descended into a puddle and then slowly my energy levels and mood rose.
When I’d read about bipolar in the past (before realising “oh hang on, that’s me”) I imagined the waves from euphoric to miserable to be even on the up to the down. In reality, for me it’s not quite that way.
My normal states and low hypomanias are sustained. Once hypomania intensifies it hits the high quickly and then the crash is also a steep slope. When I transition from one mood to another, I experience mixed states which are rapid switches from mania to depression.
The badly drawn diagram above explains this slightly better. This is just a snapshot of how I typically experience my cyclothymia, I assume it will be different for everyone.
How does depression feel physically?
For me it’s like wading through treacle or living your life through a mist. I notice the sadness, but my main symptoms are physical. I have hardly any energy to do anything. Everything becomes a challenge, from brushing my teeth to eating, to getting dressed. My joints ache, a low rumbling pain which permeates every movement I make. So much so I wondered for many years whether I had some kind of fibromyalgia or EDS. The pain is constantly on the edge of my consciousness and the only thing which stops it is sleeping.
Which I do a lot.
I can sleep up to 16-17 hours a day whilst depressed and I rarely remember my dreams whilst I’m in this mind state.
All the things you’re supposed to do to clear depression seem impossible. A nice walk is the equivalent of a marathon. Reading a book or taking a bath is like doing a day’s work and leaves you exhausted and spent.
In a lighter depressive state, the muttering pain gains a friend, whispering anxiety.
Have you done this? Did you do that? You know that person, well they don’t like you. Did you notice you’re getting fat? And old. And your friends haven’t rung in a while. Did you pay that bill? I don’t think you did.
Whispering anxiety turns to nagging parent-brain
Why are you so rubbish? You know normal people can manage to do a whole day’s work and look after their kids, right? You can’t even do one of those things. In fact, you can barely make it out of bed. What happened to you to make you so lazy? There’s no point in anyone trying to include you is there, I mean it’s not like you ever show up. Bad friend. Bad Mum. Terrible excuse for a human being.
The worst thing for me is knowing how toxic I am. Depressed me is the friend everyone tells you to drop.
I know it every single day and there seems as though there’s nothing I can do to relieve myself from this burden.
All I do is moan, complain, and push people away. The knowledge that this is the case makes me hide even more. No one can help me. There’s nothing anyone can do to make it better and I start to feel as though everyone really is better off without me.
As friend after friend stops trying or is pushed to their limit, I find the loneliness a comforting punishment. I deserved it really. Why should everyone else suffer alongside me when they have enough to do just living their own lives?
Depressed me finds themselves in awe of the rest of the world. People who can do their jobs, walk to work, and tidy the house all in one day.
I feel like a void. One that sucks all positivity and fun into me.
My lack of energy pulls to others and drains them. Even though I realise this is happening I feel powerless to stop it. That spark of life from other people keeps me alive. Without it I’m one big naptime.
Yet I know it’s wrong. So I distance myself from others. No use in all of us dragged low together. They’re better without me.
Every now and again I have a good day.
I wake up and feel a spark of life inside me once more. But everything needs doing. All the things I’ve missed since the last good day hang about me like an endless to do list. Instead of enjoying my good day and reading a book or seeing friends I panic and make sure I do everything.
The day ends in exhaustion and usually tears.
People who suffer from ‘normal’ depression (and I use that term with caution) can also have good days, and in the same way can exhaust themselves within them.
My good day, if I’m not careful can end in a mixed state however.
What are mixed states?
A mixed state or mixed manias are a combination of being both depressed and manic. For me they can either result in ultra rapid cycling between mania and depression, or they can be a combination of both.
What do I mean by this?
Mania fuelled depression.
And Depression fuelled mania.
Depression is exhausting. You can’t do anything stupid because mostly you haven’t got the energy and motivation to see it through. Maybe you want to hand your notice in and set fire to the chair you’ve been sitting in for three weeks, but you can’t, not really. So you don’t. It’s all good. You just shrug a bit and think you’ll do it one day. When you feel better.
When you switch to mania you suddenly have all the energy in the world. But it’s not as part of a mostly upward climb, it’s fuelled by all the anxiety and self hate of the depressive state you’re in. Whilst for many weeks you’ve been wanting to do crazy self defeating things but can’t, today you can. And your manic lack of judgement and no filters means you’re going to do just that.
This is the time I really metaphorically set fire to my life. All those friends who I thought were better off without me really are this time. And I’m doing something about it now. Toxic brain times twenty.
Depression fuelled mania is easier.
On those days I’m basically a Victorian heroine stuck in a corset and female life in a man’s world floating around feeling melancholic and churning out enormous amounts of creative dross.
You’d think the slow movement from depressed to normal through to hypermanic would be like boiling a frog but it really isn’t
There’s no gradual increase of state, it’s a series of days like any other. Some days are good, some days are bad, some are ok.
When you’re hypomanic you still have slow days and tired days and sad days.
When you’re depressed you still have good days.
As I crash from one phase to another I experience mixed states.
Which is why trying hard to pick myself out of depression with quick fixes like too much exercise or overusing the SAD sun lamps or lots of partying is never a good idea for me.
Depressed to hypermanic involves a week or two of mixed states. Manic to depressed creates the same.
The slow way is the best way, with less extreme moods and shallower peaks and troughs.
But when my brain takes the slow route, I can’t tell you the tipping point, the moment the good days outnumbered the bad days. The day when I could do a full week’s work without feeling exhausted or the day when my joints stopped hurting and I enjoyed going for walks again.
But one day I wake up and realise it’s over. Those long days of pain and sleepiness are done.
I look up at the sky and think how beautiful it is. The bath feels soothing and I enjoy the sensations of the warmth against my skin. Dinner tastes amazing. I remember I need to pay a bill and make a note to do it tomorrow without anxiety peeking its ugly head in.
(Then a few months down the line I realise everything feels extra great and everything is just brilliant. I want to do it all right now. Splatter myself with experiences. Hypermania has set in. But that’s another story. Right now, I’m experiencing normal after a long bout of depression so can’t remember or engage with how hypermania feels.)