There’s not much worse than knowing a low is coming and throwing all your energy at trying to avoid it.
At a glance, it might seem like the low itself is the worst part. But in the midst of a low, there is only the low. No real belief there was a before, very little faith there will be an after. It is, as Sylvia Plath so memorably termed it, a bell jar. Suffocating, inescapable, sealed. Not desirable, by any stretch – but it demands and enforces absolute immediacy in your relationship to it.
By contrast, the period before a low comes crashing down is marked, for me, by panic as I try and rearrange the things I want to do, and cling desperately onto the last rays of hypomania or baseline-mood. This period is increasingly characterised by me frantically trying to hang on to the good feelings; a task as hopeless as holding water in your hands. No matter how closely you grip your fingers, it’s going to run away from you eventually.
I am a control freak. I schedule my work and life carefully; I plan social stuff months in advance, I always have a to do list. My organisation in packing and filing is legendary amongst my friends and colleagues. I completed a PhD, despite cyclothymia, through relentless planning and organising. I have the past 10 years of carefully recorded personal budgets saved in Excel. I genuinely think storage solutions, year planners, week-to-view diaries, filing and planning are fun activities or items to enjoy on a quiet afternoon.
There’s a significant degree to which I struggle to accept I can’t schedule my moods, or rearrange them to suit a larger timetable. This has been exemplified in the last week or so, in which I’ve attempted to run from this mood, with varying degrees of success.
Perhaps most foolishly, every time I manage to alleviate or defer (or perhaps I should call it ‘drown out’) the low mood on the horizon, I think I’ve cracked it. Believe I’ve finally achieved just the right combination of beta blockers, cigarettes, social activities and work. This makes the resurfacing of the low mood all the more discouraging and distressing. I become not only depressed, but angry with myself for not being able to turn back the tide. In this context, it’s not just a low mood: it’s a failure.
Living with cyclothymia is a constant tightrope; how hard should I fight and push back against my moods? How much should I accept my mood changes and aim to work around these largely unpredictable fluctuations? When I do work to manage my mood – doing things that take me away from day-to-day stresses or actively fleeing the places and people that I associate with negative moods in favour of fantastic escape – where is the line between ‘restorative, boosting well-being and net gain’ and ‘borrowing too much energy for a short term boost’? The latter being what that I find myself facing down now, with a deep ache, a sense of loss for the mood I could not cling on to and must now live without for a while.
In terms of the length of the extremes of mood, cyclothymia is fleeting. It’s getting to the point where I spend longer running from, and dreading, and pouring energy into avoiding, these moods than I do actually living through them. And that certainly isn’t living with cyclothymia, it’s fighting an unwinnable fight. I’m just not sure if I’m too stubborn, too much of a control freak, to accept I need to let go a bit to get back some sort of control.