Yesterday I had a revelation.

I am rapid cycling.


It happened last spring too. I think I rapid cycle in the spring. I think I maybe always have. I think I probably didn’t have words for it, until they gave me the diagnosis, creating a whole new lexicon of pathology, whereby I could describe my moods in terminology bound in language found in the official manual of the crazies, the DSM-IV-TR. It maybe didn’t have the TR when I was officially diagnosed.

Today, I am doing well. Coincidentally, it is beautifully sunny outside. It is a new day, a new mood, a new chance to have a new experience. There will be no tears. There will only be hope, a paper written, work done, productivity maintained. I am under control, a nice, white straitjacket laced over my moody mind.

But the manic depression reigns underneath. I feel it there, lying in wait. I am restless, I fear when the shift will occur. I am a bit on edge, I am a bit fearful, I am a bit anxious. I know I can be set off at any minute. I am furtive, like a wild animal caught in headlights, scampering; no one should see me in this particular light, the light of spring.

I spoke with a friend last night who witnessed my downward descent into rapid cycling last year. It was an insane year last year. Filing for divorce, coming out, repeated behavioral crisis at work and rapid cycling. I numbed it all with Franzia box wine, packs of Parliament lights and frantic text messaging. I drive when moody, drive through the back roads of rural Dane County, my music loud and wild, allowing the pulse to beat my emotions out of me, to pummel the racing thoughts out of my brain. It is relief.

She said: Of course you are rapid cycling. Look at nature right now. And we laughed. She is a salve for my aching soul, this woman. Her non-emotional response to my overemotional psyche is the yin to my yang. It is grounding. I need to be brought back into an intellectual space about a very unintellectual experience that is manic depression. Mania, depression: when in their throes, there is no logic. It is all raw, pure, tragic emotion. To have someone legitimize it on an intellectual level, to not shy away from it on an intellectual level, and to bring me back into an intellectual space, is healing.

But with that, I begin to question, to doubt my ability to assist my own self in these moments. What have I done to help myself, I wonder? How will I pull through? What did I do last year? The year before? What patterns did I follow? Did I rapid cycle last year because Daylight Savings Time occurred earlier, or because I chose not to go tanning in order to save money, and perhaps the lack of additional UV rays tipped me over the edge? Or were there too many environmental triggers and that tipped me over the edge? I become a scientist, probing for the cause of my most recent acute episode. I am my own psychology experiment, my own life in the balance. I blame the weather, but I look for more controllable factors, knowing that I cannot speed up time, I cannot harness the sun. What can I do to save myself, to buoy myself? Where does my responsibility lie? What is within my control? What is me, and what is the illness? Is there even a line anymore? Or have we danced together for so long that we have now become one, intertwined  fully, our waltz timeless and endless?

There are many who don’t understand the nature of bipolar disorder. There are many who further don’t understand the nature of rapid cycling, or perhaps what I experience, which is ultradian cycling. Family members have tried to brush it off as: everyone is moody. Ha! Moody indeed. My moods, that is a story for another time. Ultradian cycling, however: that is the phenomenon where a person will feel wonderfully grandiose and euphoric for a few hours and then crash into a dysphoria or deep depression immediately afterwards for a few hours. Rinse and repeat.

Yesterday, I began by feeling depressed and flat. Thanks to the miracle that is zoloft, I do not feel as horribly depressive as I would without it. But the depressions, which seem to only occur in ultradian cycling, are still frightening. Thoughts of self-harm occur. Thoughts of suicide occur. The hopelessness comes back. I being to think: I will not go to school this weekend. I will not finish my research paper for class. What is the point? I will not call back my partner. She does not really love me. I will not go to work. I don’t care about that job. Depression is insidious. It lies to you. It steals away the things that are valuable to you because it tells you that you don’t matter, that the things that matter to you really don’t. Within a few short hours, I could throw my life away simply by listening to the woeful loon call of depression. And it physically hurts: Depression feels like a punch in the stomach.

By the afternoon, depression had left me, and I was in the throes of a mild hypomania. I was planning for the future. Wouldn’t it be nice if N and I opened a ranch out west for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder and abandoned animals and the children would be responsible for caring for the animals and they’d all bond over their joint abandonment? I was joking with co-workers. I was intensely productive at work. I paid a bunch of bills. I had thoughts of writing long letters to people about how sorry I was that I was being selfish right now because I was in the midst of rapid cycling and I wasn’t being a good supportive person and I would be better.

This may seem normal to some people. I assure you, it is not. My brain will ping-pong every few hours between these extremes. I have, can and will go from laying on the floor crying my eyes out, sure that I am about to be abandoned by my partner, my friends, everyone in my life, to ready to go out dancing and drinking and laughing madly all within the course of a few hours, and this is while I am perfectly medicated. It is fucking exhausting. For me and those around me. It is a constant battle within my mind: Don’t say that, they will think you are weird, that’s the illness talking. Don’t do that, you are just extra needy right now because of the illness. Don’t act that way, that’s the mania. Don’t be that way, that’s just the depression, that’s not you. It is a duel between intellect and emotion when I cycle so quickly. Hypervigilance is my mantra.

I struggle with the concept of living in the present immensely. I struggle because my moods, at certain times of the year, are so out of control that all I can do is look to the future, hope that something, some day, will get better. There is a type of therapy that tells clients to focus on sitting with their emotions, experiencing them fully in the moment. As a manic depressive, that scares me. I could have killed myself a million times over by doing that. I have sat with these disjointed, intense, vibrant, raging, tsunamic emotions for years. Prior to my getting diagnosed, I had no concept that they would ever abate, that there was a way to control them. I thought I was on a roller coaster permanently. My brain was an emotional Six Flags, every day. What had kept me from killing myself was looking into the future, and knowing that things typically did get better; I now know that I was looking forward to a manic episode.

What I look forward to today is knowing that this period will end. That it will be warm soon. That eventually I will feel the heat of the sun on my skin, and that it will soothe my aching biochemistry like cream to chapped skin. Intellectualizing my emotional experience doesn’t excuse me from having to live it, which means, I’ll be thankful for living it and then getting to leave it.



  1. Charlotte said,

    April 2, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a friend with bi-polar II, and I didn’t know very much about being bi-polar until I stayed all night with her in the ER (she was having problems with her meds). Her experience and your recent posts have opened my eyes to things I’ve never seen before, but were probably there the entire time.

  2. cherade9 said,

    April 2, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I’m going through exactly the same thing atm. I’m Bipolar II with SAD and I was in hospital ten short weeks ago. I know how bad it gets and how vibratingly intensely good it gets too. You’re not alone. Soon the summer will come and we can have four or five months of calmness before the Autumn drops us slowly down into Winter.

    Good luck and I hope you feel more in control soon.

  3. BamaGal said,

    April 2, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Yep…you just described rapid cycling to a “T”.

    It’s not alot of fun living it—but hey at least we are living…..

    It does make it easier to know someone else has been through it and knows what you are feeling. Thanks for putting it into words.

  4. Cindy said,

    April 2, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    I don’t know what would be worse. The scourge of bipolar disorder (rapid cycling is pretty dramatic, too), or the reality that there aren’t any cures. So many people who deal with the illness get worse, even with treatment.

    You’re a really good writer, by the way.

  5. Autonym said,

    April 4, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Yesterday I spent half of my time sobbing, and the other half not sobbing, being out in public, talking to people, going to see a movie. I realized early in the day that I was rapid cycling, which was good – I saw it before I got into the internal monologue of “what the hell is wrong with me?”

    But that doesn’t make it any easier. You really write with eloquence on this, describing your feelings very clearly. And I find that writing about it helps me, but reading about your experiences, some of which are mirrors of mine, helps me too.

    I’ve sent my S.O. links to some of your posts, saying “this is what it’s like in my head sometimes” in an attempt to give him more perspective on it. That I can be me and also have all of this going on all at once in my head.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have to tell you that hearing you write about your medications has helped me think about adding something to my mix to get more stabilized. I’m so tired of whipping through my emotional catalog 20 times a day.

  6. thoughtracer said,

    April 4, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Autonym: I have found it to be so helpful to read about other’s experiences, too. I don’t think there’s enough out there, and that makes us all feel so alone. I mean, we can all read what some shrink has written about what we “supposed” to experience, but we all know that’s not an accurate description.

    I have sent links of stuff I have read to people I care about, saying: here! This is it! This is what I go through! It makes me feel so much better to know that I am not alone, that people are experiencing something similar, or something even identical.

    The older I get, I realize I just want to be more aggressive with my medication management. I don’t want to bother with muddling through. I enjoy my sleep and stability a bit too much, and the more times I cycle, I am able to identify it more quickly and get on top of it more quickly. For me, it’s so slippery. It’s not something I can prevent. I can’t say, Oh, this is what has caused this cycle to happen — all of a sudden I am in the midst of it and then I have to deal with it. I think that is what frustrates me most.

  7. souvenir kattunge said,

    April 9, 2008 at 3:06 am

    In a way I feel better knowing that I’m not the only one that gets looney around this time of the year. I remember crying uncontrollably and wondering why I’m crying uncontrollably on such a nice spring day. I don’t think I can word things better than what you have done.

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