To say living with a mild form of Bipolar is exhausting is most definitely an understatement. To go from being insanely happy and content, to wanting nothing more than to stay in bed, feeling heavy and glum with a mind that seems like it’s about to melt out through your ears. It’s a tough thing to live with.
Currently I’ve got the diagnostic of Cyclothymia, however my doctor, my family, and my close friends all know that it will eventually turn into full-blown Bipolar, however, it may very well stay stable and not develop into full-blown Bipolar. At first when I heard this, I was truly scared. There’s a lot of prejudice and misconception surrounding these disorders and I would hate to think that my future and my achievements would be judged solely based on a condition I have. A lot of people fear hearing the words ‘Depression’, ‘Bipolar’, ‘Schizophrenia’ more than they fear cancer or other terminal illnesses. And why is that? At least with cancer, you can physically see the side effects of it, thus showing people you really are ill and do need that extra bit of help. With mental health issues such as Depression, Bipolar, Cyclothymia and such, they’re far less visible. Many people become doctors and give the most fantastic piece of advice to those of us that are suffering which is ‘Just cheer up! Life could be so much worse!’ – Um, hello? If it was that easy, do you think people who are suffering badly would just, you know, stop feeling that way and in turn, stop their suffering? If only it was that easy!
Not only do I aim to help those that are suffering with anything that I am, but I also aim to educate those that are a little wobbly on this subject matter. This is what it’s like, for me, to live with Cyclothymia and the challenges that come with it.
I’ve been suffering with Depression for about 5-6 years now. When my journey with mental health issues only just began, I was thrown right in there amongst the prejudice and the stigma that surrounds it all. I was told by teachers to ‘build a bridge and get over it’ – this was after being bullied for years, self harming, and one or two suicide attempts. Because that’s just something you can build a bridge and get over isn’t it? Life was utter hell during those years. My mood swings were getting increasingly worse. My downs were close to horrific. Little things would send me flying off the handle, screaming, crying, wanting to die. It could be anything that would set me off. My step dad touching my shoulder while I read a book, my mum not paying attention to something on the telly… anything. And I’ll admit, it’s very embarrassing to actually come out and say that. At the time it was the most embarrassing thing in the entire world. Not one person my age that I knew of did anything like that. Why was I different? It continued to make me feel isolated and misunderstood, so by the time breaking point came, I was consumed in being labelled as that ‘Freak’, ‘The Emo’, ‘Clinically Insane’ – but that’s not who I was. I was still Lily. I will forever be Lily. It took me a long time to come to that realisation, which is rather silly when I look back on everything. Who else am I going to be?
Finally the idea to actually look up mental health issues linked with Depression crossed my mind. I did a few of those quizzes the NHS post online to try narrow down my search. First off, I went straight to Schizophrenia. It was the one disorder that I understood the least, but during the period of being bullied that’s what I was being labelled as. Straight away it indicated that I had very little symptoms to even suggest Schizophrenia was in fact what I was suffering with.
After scrolling through and finding disorders that I’d never heard of, I finally reached one in regards to Bipolar. Before the quiz started, it informed me that there are two main types of Bipolar (Bipolar | and Bipolar ||) however, there was another cheeky type, a lesser known type of Bipolar called Cyclothymia. I took this all in and continued with the quiz. And lo and behold, this was the first time anything made sense. The symptoms they listed, I related to. Excessive spending? In my opinion, yes. Drastic mood swings? Definitely! Periods of feeling confident, happy and almost ‘high’? Of course. Episodes of Depression? Yep! Sleeping can be an issue? Most definitely! I won’t list them all, but you see where I’m going with this. The idea played on my mind for a few years, but I couldn’t figure out if I was just one of those people who looked into it too deeply, or if it was actually me. There came a point towards the beginning of this year that I just had to ask my mum what she thought. To my complete and utter surprise, she’d been thinking the same as me. I was shocked, I didn’t think it was that obvious what I was going through. But apparently it was. So in January 2016, I finally got diagnosed with Cyclothymia. The apparently very common yet lesser known type of Bipolar.
It was beyond a relief to finally understand what was going on with me and my mental health. I came to terms with it shortly after the diagnostic, and slowly the fear of having that misconception, prejudice and stigma surrounding my condition didn’t bother me anymore. I knew that I was Lily. I knew that I was still a person who deserved respect and validation. I wasn’t some ‘untouchable’ creature that should be shunned by society. I was, and still am Lily. I am a sister, a friend, a daughter, a cousin, a creative, bright young lady that has a future, who also suffers with Cyclothymia.
Even with a more positive outlook on my diagnosis, living with Cyclothymia is hard. It’s exhausting in ways you couldn’t even imagine unless you have it. When you’re in the middle of an episode, Depressive or Manic, all you can do is watch helplessly as your personality crumbles and you become a stranger. All you can do is sit and watch as everything unfolds. I know my episodes don’t just affect me, but also my mum. And that’s something I hate the most about my disorder. My mum doesn’t have Cyclothymia yet she’s the one that also suffers with me when my episodes erupt. Sadly, with all mental illnesses, just like physical illnesses, it affects the people you love and are the closest to the most. The love and kindness that my mum has shown me throughout my lifetime has given me a standard of the love and kindness I should show every single person I come across. She sees the person, not their mental illness, skin colour, race, religion etc. She’s my hero and she’s the real reason I keep a positive outlook on my life with this disorder.
The fact I get judged by friends and peers for sleeping a minimum of 10-12 hours a day utterly disheartens me. It’s not that I’m lazy or that I’m staying up until God-knows-when doing God-knows-what. It’s the fact that sleep consumes me. If I don’t have at least 1/2 days free for myself to do nothing at all, I will end up crashing. With uni and work, the chances of having that much-needed me time is very, very slim. I know what most people will say, ‘why not give up your job?’ – the twisted thing about uni is, you get given a student loan but it hardly covers anything. I need a job to keep myself afloat. I need my job to keep me independent. If I don’t have my job, my job that I love and am completely and utterly passionate about, then I will be at a complete loss. Lush has given me a lifeline to be myself, it’s given me access to the help and support I need, when I need it. There is little to no discrimination, prejudice or misconception in my work environment. That’s why I need my job. In a world where there will be stigma around a disorder I so happen to have, stigma surrounding any mental illness, Lush gives me that safe haven where I can be completely me.
The fact I get tired so easily can be a result of the many meds that I take. But it’s also a well-known side effect of Cyclothymia. You will always end up waking up tired, no matter if you sleep a solid 9 hours or a measly 3 hours. The tiredness lasts for what seems like forever. I don’t hate or judge the people who criticise or judge me for it, in fact I aim to educate them. I am practically a 90 year old woman living in a 20 year old’s body. I will be more likely to snuggle up on the sofa with a nice cuppa, under a blanket getting right into the night’s episode of Eastenders, than to be staying up all night, drinking, partying and doing whatever the heck else they assume I’m doing. Sleep is just something I have to do in order to regain energy so I can continue to be myself. To continue to fight for myself.
Oh, and the mood swings! I can’t even keep up with what mood I’m in anymore. For example over the weekend, one minute I was happy and feeling productive with my uni work, and then the next, panic and anxiety took over. I was convinced I wasn’t going to see my parents again. That my house was going to collapse and that I was to die there and then. The tears didn’t stop for hours. It resulted in an argument with my family because I couldn’t find the words to express what happened or how I was feeling. Eventually when that episode ended, all of my energy was zapped. I felt weak and vulnerable and completely guilty for causing an unneeded argument in my household. However, the next day, the previous day’s events were almost completely forgotten. I was buzzing! I went into work, felt confident, felt happy, almost in a ‘high’ sort of way. I made every single customer I saw to laugh, feel comfortable and gave them the validation that can sometimes be lacked in other stores. My sales were impressive (if I do say so myself), and for once, I felt like I was Super Woman. I could do anything that day. I felt like nothing could bring me down, and in all honesty, I felt like I was someone else. I felt like I was the person I should always be. But none the less, it took it’s toll on me, so on Monday, I had no energy left in me to even get myself up for university. It’s not just about having your moods change drastically, or switching from one feeling to the next – it’s the toll it takes on you that makes it all so very tiring. When you’ve started a project you think you can handle, just to realise later on that you really can’t handle finishing it, that makes you feel like a failure. Like you can’t handle the goals you set yourself. But, in reality, when things end up like that, I look back and notice that the goals I set myself were way beyond what I was capable of during that time. It’s that feeling of ‘I can take on anything’ that really knocks me side ways most times. Because I truly believe I can take on anything, but somethings take longer than others. My condition just makes it harder for me to see when I should draw the line.
Having said that, it’s heartbreaking to feel unsure of your own decisions. My heart utterly broke when my mum was consoling me after I had a mild panic when she said ‘it’s okay, I forget your brain doesn’t work as it used to, too’. That made me crumble. Even with a positive look on life, and trying to spread a positive message within the Mental Health community and to educate and help others, that one simple sentence from my mum reminded me how sick I can get. My brain doesn’t work as it used to. It takes me longer to process and understand things. Life is a lot harder these days. Sometimes we all forget about the invisible illness that’s constantly lurking. And that’s okay. To forget, to feel equal – that’s one of the best feelings ever. But then suddenly you’re thrust back into this world where episodes are a thing and there’s a prejudice surrounding an illness you live with. My aim with this post isn’t to tell you what my life is like, but it’s to give everyone and anyone an idea of what life with Cyclothymia and other mental illnesses is like. So we don’t ever have to forget our illnesses to feel equal. We don’t have to be ashamed of our illnesses to feel like we are good enough. Because we will ALWAYS be good enough. With or without a mental illness, nothing can stop us from achieving what we strive for. Brains are weird, each and every one of us is unique and different, so are our brains. All I’m asking of you is to remember, not everyone thinks like you. Be patient.
There is always that worry at the back of my mind thinking about when/ if my Cyclothymia develops into Bipolar | / Bipolar ||. What will it be like for me? Will it really change my life? Will I still be able to achieve my dreams and goals? There’s just so many unknowns floating around about my future with this disorder. But there’s one thing I know for definite, I won’t ever, EVER, give up on being me. I won’t ever let a disorder, illness, my past interfere with my future or achieving what I’ve dreamt of for years. In Fall Out Boy’s words ‘I didn’t come for a fight, but I will fight ‘till the end’ sums up everything I stand for these days. If anything challenges me, I will step up and fight for myself. What’s the point in fighting the stigma and helping others if I can’t even fight for myself and my rights and my future? No matter what happens, even if I’m not mentally prepared for it, I won’t ever give up fighting for myself. I won’t like my diagnosis of Cyclothymia define me. I won’t like Depression limit my abilities. I won’t let my past influence my future. I am Lily. I am 20 years old. I have Cyclothymia, a very common type of Bipolar. I am important. I am worthy. I am capable. I am a survivor. My illness is not who I am. I will have an incredible future despite having an illness.
So if you take anything away from this post, please, please, remember to always send love. Reach out for help if you are suffering. And remember, I am always here for anyone. Friend or stranger, if you need a friend, I will be here. Ready to go on an awfully big adventure with you all. Always.