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. 🙂

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.