Down in the Valley, the Valley So Low, I Lost my Poor Sweetheart from Courting too Slow — Cyclothymia

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mountaintops and Valleys.” Describe a time when you quickly switched from feeling at the top of the world to sinking all the way down (or vice versa). Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?

“Mountaintops and Valleys” describes my life. I have a mood “disorder” called cyclothymic disorder. It’s a “mild” form of bipolar disorder that’s characterized by rapidly cycling moods. My mom used to say I worried her because my highs were so high; my downs so down. I just felt guilty, like I should somehow change, or defensive like who was she to tell me what I was like…

With cyclothymia, you experience periods when your mood noticeably shifts up and down from your baseline. You may feel on top of the world for a time, followed by a low period when you feel somewhat down. Between these cyclothymic highs and lows, you may feel stable and fine.

Although the highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme than those of bipolar disorder, it’s critical to seek help managing these symptoms because they can interfere with your ability to function and increase your risk of bipolar I or II disorder. (Mayo Clinic)

Too many people have written too much and too well on the topic of mental illness for me to attempt much here. I honestly don’t find it interesting in itself — though in the early 90s when I spun into a clinical depression I was very interested in what was happening with my mind because I did NOT want to be where I was. Not all of the variously labeled mood “disorders” and mental “illnesses” are dramatic. Many of the books and articles I’ve read talk about how to “live with” a mood disorder, but if you have one, it’s your life, the life you’ve always known. I always find these articles strange. The only person writing on this topic I’ve found 100% credible is Kay Redfield Jamison. She’s also the only person to whom I’ve ever written a fan letter. πŸ™‚

I cannot actually say if the highs I’ve felt as a result of this are exaggerated because I’d have to know what other people feel in their highs. I can evaluate the troughs, however, if only because of their stark and gloomy contrast to the rest of my life. I also wonder if there is anyone in the world who lives an entire life in a “normal” mood.

The bottom line with a mood disorder is that a person has to live with the “hand they’ve been dealt.” I “manage” my moods with St. Johns Wort and attention. Now that I know the “facts” of my mental workings, I am able to discriminate between sadness from depression. I understand the difference between “feelings of sadness” and true sorrow. The complementary euphoric states are something to ride in the same joyous way one rides a carnival ride, though more dangerous — there’s no mechanical salvation at the end and it’s — often — no cheap thrill.

6 thoughts on “Down in the Valley, the Valley So Low, I Lost my Poor Sweetheart from Courting too Slow — Cyclothymia

  1. I don’t really know what to say on the subject. It always seem to me that it was the others with the problems and I had to do the diplomatic cures, but probably I have my ticks as well. I just grew up in a family where such problems where there was no consultation.

    • I wouldn’t have known but in 1993/94 I had a nervous breakdown rather publicly… I still don’t know for sure if it was my brain or hormones. In any case, I found myself in a world I’d never known — not just being ill, but the whole thing of shrinks and counselors and Prozac. I was on disability leave from school for 3 months and when I went back, I was treated like a leper. I didn’t feel 100% like myself until two years later when my doc (different doc) put me on hormone replacement therapy. I personally think the body IS the mind and that doc probably accidentally happened on my “cure.” But my brother’s wife was truly bipolar and it was a sad and scary thing to witness. 😦

  2. I have alternately been called bipolar II or severely depressed or depressed with PTSD. I often say I wouldn’t have minded if I’d had a few happy times (euphoria) in the midst of all the down, but it didn’t happen. And I know wishing for it makes no sense to those who have experienced it. I’ve had a year and a half of pretty damn good, and that’s the only reason we have ever communicated. Before the miracle drug, I would never had had a blog.

    I am lucky to have a decent shrink who has worked long and hard to get me to the level of functioning I now have. But living in a valley as deep as the Grand Canyon for most of the last 20 years has not been fun. I’ll take the plateau I reached 18 months ago.

  3. “I honestly don’t find it interesting in itself”: now. You’re right. But then? Gangbusters! No hormone replacement stuff for me. But diet and exercise alone won’t “fix” the mind. So finding the right medication–or herbal substitute–MAY help. But be afraid to stop if something is working. And should you have the “urge” to quit the job, buy that Mercedes or Corvette, or roll up in a ball for a few days under the covers, get some other opinion of what might be going on. Like cancer (to me), bi-polarity cannot be cured: it is in remission. (Don’t let the beast out of the bottle.)

    • Bi-polar is serious business. Nothing I’ve written here applies to it. My situation is still – to me – an open question. I have air of doubts about medicine. When I was 42 I experienced symptoms of the change but the doc didn’t give me a hormone test because I was ‘too young’ then I cracked up. Why? My brain? My ovaries? Cyclothymia can go into major depression but “only” there. It’s a mystery to me. So I’ve learned to examine my feelings against objective reality.

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