Rollercoaster climbs instead of falling: and how I don’t talk about it with anyone

3:08am

Hello darkness, my old friend.

rollercoaster-speeding-4427719319_9933701109_o

I expect sine waves[1]:

1024px-Simple_sine_wave.svg

But I’m more like bouncing along at the top of that wave, doing a smaller sine wave between and high and “moderately high”. High being my highest points of hypo-mania and “moderate” being “appears normal, if positive and productive” to the outside world, like I mentioned in “That Guy with the Energy”.

I keep coming back to the fear of changes in my symptoms. It’s been a few weeks now and this is I think the third ride up the wave where I thought I was headed down to “normalcy” / flat / plateau and instead there was another kink in the roller coaster and back up we go[2].

rollercoast-skip-group-climb


 

Well, not “we”. “We” don’t go up and down. That’s just me – not those around me. It’s just you, not your friends. Not your family. If your friends and family even know.

I don’t talk about my cyclothymia with that many other people[3]. I probably should. At the very least, I should have a good therapist.

A friend is working with a therapist to work through grieving the loss of an immediate family member. When this was mentioned, all I said on the subject was: “I’ve thought about going to a therapist”. I’m sure it came off as trite or dismissive. In reality, I meant it with all sincerity and envied that he had taken the step to do it (for different reasons than my own need) and that he was finding it helpful.

A different friend struggles with depression regularly. But, recently, has been sharing more about his efforts and his successes and how he tackles it. When this was mentioned, all I chimed in with was: “Yeah, I’ve experienced some of that”. I know that my friend understood more, but I still haven’t done a full deep dive with him. I may in the next while.


 

Before the time when I used “cyclothymia” as my lens for viewing my symptoms, I was with my family for some holidays – that is, my immediate “siblings and parents who I grew up with”. I had been very stressed at work for many months, I had been experiencing a lot more symptoms and was generally starting to be appear that I was dealing with some mental health issues. But I had no idea what those were. I didn’t have a name for them. I didn’t have any kind of short description or list of symptoms. I didn’t understand it very well yet.

I was at the early stages of learning and it was a bit like spelunking in a large cavern and I was just in the mouth of the cavern and no one had turned on any lights. I could tell that I was in a kind of place that was new – the echoe-y sounds, the cool moist air – but I didn’t know where I was or what it was like. I had no idea where the walls were.

“Crazy” I called it. “My particular kind of crazy”. I wasn’t particularly ashamed of it[4]. I realized that we all have our particular eccentricities and when, over dinner, I just exploded in a fit of anxiety – over nothing that should have caused it – and had to leave the table to get some space to think, I ended up explaining it as my struggles with anxiety and “my particular kind of crazy”.

* crickets *

That was some lonely silence. It wasn’t the sort of topic “to be discussed” and it seemed clear that no one else could relate at all. But I had had an outburst that needed explaining, it wasn’t as though I could pretend I had left the table coughing. Something needed to be said as to what had happened.

I imagine that scene going differently now. First, I’m way less likely to have my anxiety get out of control, so it is a lot less likely to happen. Second, I would explain it better – because I understand it better. A short description and then I’d have a lot of more information if any questions were asked.


 

But I would still feel weird about it.

And so, mostly, except with a few people or in some round-about ways, I don’t talk about it.

Do better than me. And I will work to do better as well.

This is an illness, like other illnesses. I’ve never been embarrassed at having the flu or a cough. But this public stigma is a whole different topic for another day – a future day when I’m more clear on the topic.

 


 

[1] Or, really, smoother siney-looking waves of changing heights, like that diagram I mentioned previously.

[2] Though I’m starting to realize that maybe this “regular” shape isn’t “regular” to my experience and maybe I should adjust my expectations.

[3] That’s why I am talking to you, dear reader. That’s why this blog exists.

[4] Though I was embarrassed by my actions.


Photo Credit: Tom, Wikimedia, Melanie Holtsman

 


 

 

…and you thought I was going to include a Simon & Garfunkel reference. Nope. I’m not here whispering in the sound of silence.

 

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Rollercoaster climbs instead of falling: and how I don’t talk about it with anyone

Steady River

basecamp-coming-down

If the usual sub mania is the rush of white water rapids, then the last couple of weeks have been a steady river.

From manic periods, I usually come down into a level plateau and then eventually am down, mildly depressed, can’t work. But this time has been so different from any experience that I recall.


 

So far, there is always a big disclaimer on what I remember of previous manic/depressive experiences, since I’ve only started to view my experiences through the lens of cyclothymia for the last 18 months. Before that time, at best, I would think of long periods of “crazy productivity” and times of being “somewhat down or depressed.” So any recall of up/down and the changes is limited since I wasn’t actively remembering experience in the those terms.[1]


 

This time, I haven’t quite plateau as normal – more like descended from the summit of my hypo-mania into one of the basecamp: the flat ground is still thousands of feet lower.

Which feels nice, if I take the feeling at face value. I’m productive, without having overly-rushed brain[2] and without having it impact my life in a negative way.

But as I expressed elsewhere, any change is scary. Will it get worse? Will my symptoms become unmanageable? Some percentage of cyclothymia goes on to become bipolar. That is a scary thought.

 


 

[1] That being said, once I starting thinking of myself as cyclothymic I had the common experience of re-casting previous memories in this list and seeing how well it explains a lot of my experiences. Whether it is remembering periods of being super-productive and having rushed-speech (now I know that’s a hypo-manic period). Or periods where I would just go-go and do so much only to crash for multiple naps a day in between the insane activity. In particular, these are activities that I now know “drain” me quite a bit so I see why I would just go at 1,000 miles-an-hour at these activities only to then find the nearest couch or bed and sleep for an hour or two before going right back at it: a bit like race cars and pit-stops: either full speed or stopped and refueling: no middle ground.

[2] I’m pretty sure that my natural state is “slightly rushed thoughts” – that has always felt normal for me.


Photo Credit: Andrew E. Larsen

Steady River

Sleeping Again: That Guy with the Energy

zebra-at-work-coffeeshop-flickr-3231240180_560762c9c1_o

Ah, the joy of sleep. After nights of waking at two, three, or four am – sleeping through until six feels more normal. Waking up at two, I can’t make it through a whole day, I’m going to have to get back to bed at some point or take a nap later. But five am is “an early start” and I can make it through a day.

Coming down this time feels different. There is still a lot of that “overwhelming optimism” symptom and my thoughts are definitely at an accelerated pace – but not the full “facing thoughts”. So this is a “very subdued mania”. If I wasn’t watching myself for symptoms of mania I would think of these days in that way.

It is subtle enough that I might not have noticed it. If I hadn’t just come off an obvious – and, for me, more pronounced than is common recently – manic period, then I might have read the symptoms as “productivity” and just some particular mix of increased energy. But I did just come off a really strong sub-manic period[1], so I know this isn’t just a boost of energy translating into productivity that came.

This is the level of hypo-mania that is almost nice. Because I know the double-edged sword of it[2], I can’t just being blissfully ignorant of the downsides of this.

Let me describe it as: someone who seemed to need about six hours or fewer of sleep, felt energetic upon waking up and through the whole day[3], felt exceptionally clear-headed and whose boundless optimism seemed to attract luck and reciprocal good feelings from others.

Someone who goes out for drinks with you, comes home and works while you can’t even, catches that last work email from the boss and then goes to bed later than you only to bounce out of bed several hours before you and has read and responded with alacrity and insight to the client document before you’ve found the coffee as you stagger around grumbling.

Isn’t that someone who you’d envy a bit?[4] And I’ve certainly had my time as the grumbler staggering around seeking more coffee.

As usual, this post brought to you by our sponsor: coffee. Now let me go find some.

 


 

 

[1] Even in this stronger/more pronounced manic period, I’m still confident it’s “sub mania” or “hypomanic” and not full on mania as clinically described. My symptoms just aren’t the same as described for full mania. I am so thankful that I only have the level of symptoms that I do and I can watch and handle them – along with help from friends and family who know what to look for and help tip me off sometimes.

[2] The cycling and also, because even in my current optimism, I know that there is a “down” coming from this “up” – I can start to feel it lurking and am a bit scared of it and what it will entail.

[3] I like to think the even energy all-day is also partly nutrition that I take care of. But certainly having a (temporarily) limitless of energy supply helps.

[4] I know I envy that person when I’m not that person. When I’m down, obviously anything that is more positive would be nice. And when I flatten out for long-periods then I wish for the productive, energetic days. This was especially true when I didn’t recognize that as part of the broader cyclothymia.


I just realized that I didn’t wake up with music in my head. Makes me wonder if music in my head is a symptom of my manic periods as well.
(Not that I can’t have music in my head at other times, but maybe the racing thoughts often spawn music.)


 

Photo Credit: Marco Raaphorst

Sleeping Again: That Guy with the Energy

Coming Down (again)

It is a cyclical thing, this experience. And coming down is such a relief this time. Three nights running of way too little sleep – but yet being unable to sleep – was taking its toll.

I feel like I learned two new, subtle, signals of a coming f”up” / manic period:

  1. Not being tired. This one may seem obvious, but it manifests in some ways I hadn’t noticed previously.
  2. Flurry of thoughts but not “pressured speech” or “rushed brain”. Again, the concept seems obvious, but the subtleties are new to me.

 


1.

Waking up in the middle of the night is a non-subtle symptom. But “being less tired than I’d expect” is more subtle. It’s easy to miss: you just move along through your day just without being really tired.

But if you stop. And add up the hours of sleep you actually got. And think about how little caffeine you actually ingested. You realize, “I should be tired”.

Sometimes it’s just “I should be tired”. But sometimes, like yesterday, it’s “I shouldn’t be able to stand up – I haven’t had the caffeine or the sleep or even the food to sustain this level of activity and alertness”.

Which is why I think realize this might be helpful to me in the future. If it’s not sleep or caffeine or food driving my energy, it must be something else. So what is that? Well, it’s whatever chemical process drives the mania. And so if that “energy that shouldn’t exist” is present then it may be an early warning of coming mania.

I’ll watch for this in the future and maybe it helps me expect the coming flurry of energy, activity, and disrupted sleep.


 

2.

I realized that I spent some time before my manic period* where, in retrospect, my thoughts were already moving abnormally quickly.

Again, this is subtle. It isn’t the non-subtle feeling of “I can’t talk or type fast enough to keep up with all these genius ideas that are sparking in my brain”.

If I had sat down at the end of a day and tried to recollect how many “great ideas” or “possibilities” or “interesting connecting ideas” I had thought of that day, it would have been maybe several multiples more than usual.

I don’t know a good number. But let’s say that, depending on the day’s activities and who I interact with maybe 5-15 is the normal range. Probably around 5-10 all day. Whereas the days leading up to the mania, each day there were several hours where it was 5-10 in that hour – so easily 25-40 for a day and the range is probably 25-75. I’ve compared it to a feeling of “Jason Bourne blue pills” (from the movie: The Bourne Legacy).

For comparison, a day of mania is probably a similar feeling just accelerated further: the active hours are 20+ / hour and the biggest difference is that instead of an hour here and there in a day, it’s 4-10 hours mostly sustained with few breaks of slowing down**.

At this point, those numbers are guesses, but they feel approximately right. I’ll definitely watch for them going forward to have a better sense of what the numbers actually are so I can better identify what is happening as it happens.

 


 

I’m counting the number of “ideas” because that is a large part of how this manifests for me. (And probably why one of my possible “triggers” is new ideas and the situations and conversations that spark them.)

I wonder if for others it isn’t ideas, but other things.


 

 

* I’m counting the first day of awakening in the middle of the night as the start of the manic period. I don’t know how else to signal it, count it, or measure it. That is a clear moment that I can use as the signpost for “started”.

** The feeling that you have 200 “great ideas” in a day I’ve learned can make the coming down periods worse: if you remember even a portion of those, you feel like a failure for doing so little about all the possibility you once saw. This reinforcing cycle feels like a very common part of cyclothymia for me.

 

Coming Down (again)

I hate being right (or, 1 weird trick to get back to sleep)

2.39am

If there is one weird trick to get back to sleep, I don’t know what it is – but I think it’s like a unicornasaurus: mythical.

I wasn’t sure if I was just starting a (sub-)manic phase. Well, definitely yes. There have been several things I would have expected to make me “drop” down out of (sub-)mania, but they have not had that effect. Instead, the (sub-)mania just hums along like an unstoppable* freight train.

So I am awake in the quiet of the night, punctuating the stillness with typing and pushing back the dark with the soft glow of a screen.


Options

I’ve tried several methods to handle these periods. Before I started to recognizing this as a “sub-manic” period that has a symptom of disruptive sleep, I thought of this as a sleep problem: waking up in the middle of the night. I have some sleep problems, this was another symptom. When it inevitably went away it was because I had conquered that problem with the right mix of actions.

Years ago, I didn’t fight it at all. In much more of a “fixed mindset” about myself, I thought: “I just have insomnia.” Which is somewhat true, but even still I can make change and have some effects.

Some things I’ve tried:

  • Fighting the “Sleep Problem”
    This was trying to treat it as a sleep problem. Trying to do things to be able to sleep through the night, or get back to sleep when I awoke.
    Working with lights, timing of going to bed, what activities doing in bed, working on better sleeping habits, evaluating noises, light, temperature and other environmental issues …
    I would try a few things and then the sleeping problem would just “go away” at the beginning of next phase of cycle. So it seemed like a win. But I learned that what “worked” one round usually didn’t work the next time.
  • Medicating
    This is really a sub-category of fighting. I didn’t get into a lot of sleep medications, just light over-the-counter (OTC) solution, but I know there are people who medicate to sleep more or less for their entire lives.
  • When Awake: Relaxing Activities
    I tried various techniques to relax. This was still “treating a sleep problem” but the different here was that it was aiming at the acute “sleep awake” moment. So reading, or listening to relaxing things. I might get up for awhile and read and then go back to bed. Various common methods for dealing with sleep issues.
  • Treating the “mind racing” Symptom
    Since the waking up in the middle of sleep was often accompanied with a mind racing with a million thoughts, I tried to treat that symptom as well. Thinking that maybe that was the root of the problem.
    I had a way to write down the thoughts, so I could deal with them later by getting them out of my head (still a good idea). I tried various methods so I could avoid light while doing this. I tried being careful about my pre-bed activities: aiming for a calm mind.
  • “Roll with It”: Get Up
    Getting up for a period and doing something is straight-forward. If you think of a sleep problem, then this might be accepting the problem or giving in. You might restrict what you do.
    But since I don’t see this as a sleep problem at its core, I don’t stress about what I do or don’t do when I get up. When you’re awake during the daytime, you have ways of deciding what you’ll do – same rules apply here.

 

I think that a lot of the sleep hygiene and training mechanisms are helpful. And sometimes probably some of the awakeness periods can be lessened with such techniques. But it is a bit like treating a leaky hose by applying tape to the leak in the hose. It can be work and you can spend time finding the right tape. But turning off the spigot is a lot more effective**.

 

That last method – getting up – is what I am doing now. I had tried this previously for periods of time but hadn’t been doing it recently***.

I’d like to think that along with “rolling with it”, I’m also trying to deal with it on a deeper level. In the hose analogy above, I’m seeing the leaking hose and thinking: “I really should turn off the water”. And I’m trying to figure out the cause of the water and ways to slow it or turn it off.

 

If you have a method that works for you, I would love to hear it as I need more good ideas to try.


This is the music that fills my head this morning.

 


* For now. I know this is is unstoppable just for now – for this phase of the cycle of the cyclothymia (“sub bipolar” / “sub manic depressive”).

** It’s a metaphor, it breaks down quickly. In this case, even if you turn off the spigot, you have to do something about the leak in the hose. Yes, I know, it’s very imperfect. Which analogy would you suggest?

*** For one thing, I hadn’t been having such strong “awakening” issues recently.

I hate being right (or, 1 weird trick to get back to sleep)