When you mention mood swings, particularly in the context of mental illness, people think of bipolar disorder and nothing else. Yes bipolar is characterised by mood swings, but I don’t think many people realise that
* Mood swings can come in many different forms
* And that bipolar disorder, and the conditions which come under the umbrella bipolar (bipolar I, bipolar II, schizoaffective disorder, cyclothymia) are not the only mental illnesses that have mood swings as a main trait
When I am talking about mood swings, I don’t mean a bit happy one minute and then feeling sad the next. It is the extremes of those.
So here are some of the terms I may use and I’ll give a brief explanation of each (these explanations will be relatively basic but should give you an idea)
* Mania/manic- heightened mood (euphoric or irritable) impulsive behaviour (could include, spending money, sex, binge eating etc) , rapid and creative ideas running throughout your mind, talking faster and taking more, increased energy, descresed need for sleep, delusions of grandeur and psychosis
* Hypomania/hypomanic-similar to above of mania, however without the delusions of grandeur and psychosis, and the other symptoms likely to be less severe than mania.
* Depression- low mood, feeling hopeless, low self esteem, irritable, lack of motivation and interest, reduced enjoyment, anxiety, thoughts of self harm or suicide
* Severe depression- as above with depression but symtptoms more severe generally
* Mixed episode- where both symptoms of depression and mania or hypomania are present simultaneously.
So if you don’t have mood swings you’ll wake up and you may feel relatively ok, or maybe depressed (maybe depending on what is currently going on in your life, or if you have depression) but that mood is likely to be relatively similar throughout the day. Unlikely that it is completely static, and obviously life events can dramatically have an input. Yet when you wake up you kind of have an idea of your mood for that day, that week, maybe longer if nothing out of the ordinary was to happen. It’s relatively stable and you are aware that this is how you feel. And when I say stable I don’t mean in terms of ones mental health being stable I mean moods as in mood swings, as obviously one maybe very depressed or anxious and that is not stable, but that depressed mood will be relatively the same for that day, week etc.
Now I want to explain my days or weeks to you.
Today I woke up depressed, severely depressed in fact and suicidal, I didn’t want to continue. I just lay there in bed, absolutely exhausted, not wanting to face another day. I eventually got out of bed to get a drink and then was back in bed. Then suddenly my mind was racing, I felt euphoric, I felt as if I had a future, as if everything was good, suddenly I had energy, even though I’ve hardly slept the last few nights. It lasted 1.5 hours maximum and then I was depressed, but not as severely as I had woken up. Then within a few hours I was hypomania again, I had motivation and concentration and I felt bouncy and full of energy. I managed to concentrate on some programmes on catch up TV I wanted to watch. However, then there was depression also, suddenly I had energy and a mind full of ideas, but I no longer felt motivated, I felt depressed, full of self hate, yet my mind still going at a rapid pace that I could hardly keep up.
It’s not even 9pm (as I write this, it may be gone 9pm when I post this) yet and I’ve had a severe depressive episode, a depressive episode, two hypomania episodes, and a mixed episode. I call that a relatively calm day in terms of my moods. Yet it really isn’t calm.
When one moment you are in some form of mania and full of energy, you say yes to doing things, to going to places, you start doing things in your home, you come up with loads of ideas, often telling people about them, you’re impulsive.
Yet a split second later and you can be severely depressed, you can’t finish or continue with whatever you were doing in your home and so things are even more of a mess than when they began. You think to yourself ‘why the fuck did I say yes to going out to some event which will be packed with people and horrible’ the ideas you had which you told people about suddenly are impossible (some of them actually impossible, some of them impossible to a severely depressed you) you have to tell people you can’t do x,y,z. You feel as if you’re letting people down and your guilt ridden depressed brain tells you, you’re a failure to everyone.
Life is chaotic with mood swings, especially when they are as rapid cycling as mine (meaning each mood episode can last as short as an hour or two, or could last longer)
Hypomania and mania and not the same as being happy, just as depression is not he same as being sad.
There are often times where my hypomanic episodes are useful, where I can concentrate and have good motivation, the ideas that race through my mind can sometimes be really great, useful and creative. There are also times when they are not, when the ideas in my mind are ridiculous ones, that are impossible, the lack of sleep starts to make me feel worse and worse. You can also impulsively spend money.
However mania is a very different story.
Here are a few examples of things I have done during manic episodes:
* Spent hundreds of pounds just impulsively often on random stuff, sometimes it is random stuff I can use, sometimes random stuff I can’t use
* I binge eat
* I very nearly jumped of a bridge when manic, not as a suicide attempt but because I completely believed I could fly and I had to fly right then and there. A stranger walking past grabbed me and pulled me back over the rails of the bridge. He sat me on the floor with my back against the railings and just sat next to me. He said ‘don’t do it mate, things can get better’ I was so confused by him saying that as to me things were amazing and he had stopped me from flying, I felt angry. I sat there next to him for a few minutes and within 10 minutes I was suddenly severely depressed, I was scared and confused, confused as to what was going on and I didn’t want to be outside at 3am next to a stranger, so I told him I was going home. I walked the 5 minutes to my flat and curled up on my bed and sobbed.
* My first stay in a psychiatric ward, one night I became convinced I needed to get to Narnia and that the staff were hiding the entrance to Narnia from me, I paced up and down the corridor of the ward looking at every painting trying to find a way to Narnia. Eventually I walked off the ward, it was December and had been snowing and there were quite a few trees around, I was convinced I had found Narnia. Wearing only shorts and a t-shirt I layer down in the snow for half an hour. I didn’t feel cold until suddenly the depression hit. Suddenly I wasn’t in Narnia, I was depressed, suicidal and freezing.
* Only two nights ago I shaved the back and sides of my hair in an impulsive manic state, well actually manic state and then became quite depressed and had to continue as I couldn’t leave my hair with parts of it shaved and other parts not.
When people ask how I am it is a very difficult question to answer, not just because of my difficulties with expressing emotions due to Alexithymia but because how does one answer that question when I’ve been through multiple different mood episodes in that one day. If I am replying to a message, I could start of by saying I am depressed and feeling suicidal, but by the time I have finished the text I am in some form of manic episode and feel euphoric, so the depressed and suicidal is wrong, but was correct 5 minutes ago!
Often I will respond with ‘up and down’ yet I think often people think the up means a good kind of up, like feeling happy and the down they equate to depression. As you can see from the examples of my manic episodes above the ‘ups’ can be as dangerous as the ‘downs’
Also there is rarely triggers for my mood swings. So often I can be kind of feeling good and euphoric and then suddenly I crash, I become depressed and irritable and want to hide. People ask around me ask what is wrong, but there is no answer, well I’m depressed is the answer, but there is no why usually and no amount of ‘but you were happy a minute ago and nothing bad has happened’ will change I feel.
I can never keep up with my mood, if I wake up feeling full of motivation I can think great I can do things, I’m not stuck in bed depressed, yet within an hour or two I can be depressed.
I do have times where my mood episodes last longer, where I maybe manic for several days, weeks, but usually I am very rapid cycling. With several episodes a day.
Trying to keep up with my moods is honestly exhausting, a challenge and difficult. Trying to get others around me to understand can be very hard.
There are times where I am not especially depressed or manic, yet they are rare, and they are often accompanied with elements of depression or mania and do not last long.
However, I wouldn’t want to get rid of my mood swings completely. I’d like the extremes of my mood swings to reduce, to not be manic or severely depressed and for the mood swings to be less intense, rapid and extreme. My hypomanic episodes can be useful, give me creative and useful ideas, give me motivation and concentration.
I cannot keep up though and am exhausted from not knowing what the next minute, hour, or day will bring mood wise.