What is ‘stable’? After 6 years of constant ups and downs I wouldn’t know what euthymia was like if it slapped me in the face.
I was diagnosed with unipolar depression when I was 20 and up until 22 (when I was re-diagnosed with bipolar), I thought I had been cycling in and out of depression and euthymia on a yearly basis.
I would spend the better part of autumn and winter in a depression and in spring and summer I would be back to my old self – making grand plans for everything such as travelling, writing music, going above and beyond in my academic work and catching up on social opportunities I had missed while depressed. Everyone thought that the old Sally was back and the increased energy was due to the months of depression, that I was making up for lost time and preparing for the next round of depression. I thought I felt so damn good because I was no longer depressed.
It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with bipolar that I found out those times when I thought I was ‘stable’ were actually times of hypomania, that my psychiatrist thought I had had a brief manic episode the previous year which went unnoticed because no one thought to look for symptoms of mania and that was the reason why my depressions kept cycling back around.
Since my diagnosis 18 months ago, I still haven’t spent a prolonged period being euthymic. I’ve been in hospital three times equating to a six month period in total. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that I stopped taking my medications a year ago which led to a psychotic manic episode.
I’ve recently come out of an episode of major depression for which I was treated with ECT. For the first time in 6 years, I can say that I have felt stable for the past few weeks. And I’m not sure if I like it. I honestly feel a bit jibbed that I haven’t come out of this depressed episode into a wonderful hypomanic/manic one, something that I have come to expect over the years. The feeling of euthymia is a foreign one. There is no impatient urge to start new things, plans still come but not as fast, ideas don’t have that particular manic shine to them, my ambition and motivation has dimmed and I can’t muster the unrelenting enthusiasm about EVERYTHING that I get when I’m manic. It’s like I have horse blinkers on that are narrowing my vision and view of the world, (although that’s better than the dark blindfold of depression).
While I currently don’t like being euthymic I know it is only because I’m not used to the feeling. Over the past 2 years my bipolar mood swings have taken a toll on my life. I’ve lost friendships, it’s taken me twice as long to complete my thesis, I’ve had to resign my position as a nurse in the emergency department, and I’ve had long stints in hospital.
Even though there are times where I would choose a life without medication and to be swept along with my mood swings (especially the manias), I have worked hard to regain normality. I have only recently returned to work and study, I have applied to volunteer for a mental health promoting organisation, am looking into further study, I want to do more travelling overseas and for the first time in two years I can actually concentrate enough to finish a book! These achievements and aspirations have taken six months to accomplish. I am realising that even though I think I can accomplish a lot only when I’m manic, the reality is I’m too distractible, disorganised and disorientated to be anywhere near productive. I am learning that I can only reach my full potential when I am euthymic – a lesson that I am slowly coming to understand.