by Huang Feng Ying
It can seem like I am alone. I live with a mental illness that no medications are approved to treat, an illness that is hard to identify, often misdiagnosed as borderline personality disorder (BPD), and only estimated to affect up to 1 percent of the U.S. population. It’s likely something you have never heard of; this illness is called cyclothymia.
Cyclothymia may be regarded as a “milder” version of bipolar disorder; it is basically when an individual bounces between dysthymia (“mild” depression) and hypomania (“mild” mania). I put “mild” in quotes because the concept of “mild” might suggest it is not severe and is manageable. However, I will tell you from my own experience, this is hardly manageable. Imagine living in a world where you lack stability: one week you are feeling as high as a kite, and then the next you are hardly able to get out of bed.
Living with this illness is complete hell for me. I can be fine, or feel really good, but then again, I always know the depression is going to come back. It’s like planning your life around depressive episodes and making sure you budget your energy knowing you will crash. Because only up to 1 percent of the U.S. population struggles with this illness, I’ve found it often gets overlooked in mental health awareness videos, online forums, research, medical services and by mental health professionals. In my experience, struggling with this has left me feeling alone, lost and confused. It seems like everyone knows what depression, anxiety, BPD, PTSD and other mental health disorders are, and oftentimes people seem more than likely willing to support people who struggle with those on their journeys to recovery.
But for me, there is no one. It’s as illness that many people ignore; they seem to think, because I am a young adult, it is just hormones. They tell me I will grow out of it. It’s OK, I will get used to it, or I just need to keep working on it in therapy. But I think there comes a time when you have to accept your reality, perhaps not get used to it, but learn to accept and live with it. It means I need to find people who will listen to how my illness is affecting me. But I want you to know…
What is my Cyclothymia like?
Periods of deep, unexplainable depression that come in waves.
Periods of feeling great, like I have finally “recovered” from my depression.
Periods of living in agony knowing my depression is coming back, just waiting to struggle again.
Periods of pain when the memories come flooding back.
Shame, loneliness, self-doubt and pain every time I start to slip. It’s always the voice in the back of my head: “If only you worked on your therapy more,” “If only you went out today,” “If only…” you name it. The voice that tells me my depression, cyclothymia, episodes, patterns are my fault.
Living alone because I have had this likely my entire life and no one knows, not even my parents — and I’m in college.
Living with having to explain to so many people who think I have depression what cyclothymia is and why I don’t have depression.
Living with an illness there aren’t specific medications for. SSRIs have been known to make it worse, and bipolar medications can be too strong and have adverse effects.
Living with the precursor to bipolar I and bipolar II.
I think the hardest thing about living with cyclothymia is the lack of awareness. People see me as someone with bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, a hormonal woman — but I am none of that. I am a 21-year-old female struggling with cyclothymia. It’s not my fault. Therapy helps, but for my friends reading this, here is how you can help:
Ask me what my limits are that day. Do I feel up to going shopping at the mall all day? Do I want to stay in and watch a movie? Maybe half a day out and half a day in.
Ask me how I am doing. Ask me if I am in a depressive episode or a manic episode or none. Ask how you can help for whichever episode I am in. Be there for me.
Just listen. Don’t tell me it’s a phase. Don’t tell me it’s hormones.
When I am in any episode — remind me I am loved. The hardest thing can be to accept love because of the emotional instability. Love me even when I cannot love myself, even when I cannot accept love. Love me when I am depressed or manic or nothing. Just love me.
Hugs. Hugs are amazing — they calm me down; they remind me I am loved. Hugs help me slow down my racing or dragging thoughts to hear you.
Talk to me. Tell me about your day, tell me about your job, the dinner you had. Talk to me like a normal person.
I am not asking anyone to “fix” me. Research knows that outcome, but just be there. Be a friend. Know it’s not my fault, it’s not your fault, it’s no one’s fault — but know that I do deeply care about you. I love you, I think about you all the time, I thank God I have a friend like you in my life. I just need help sometimes.
Are you struggling with cyclothymia? Are you willing to share your story with us? Send us an email! We'd love to hear it.