Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder: What it is and What You Can Do about it

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She said, “You’re fine and then you’re sad.  Then you’re up and then you’re depressed.  Then you’re fine and then you come back and your anxiety is out of control.  Then you’re fine again and then you’re sad.  You are a rapid cycler.”  When my doctor summed me up in that way I couldn’t help but feel deflated, almost hopeless, and at the very least, more ill than when I walked into her office.

Then I realized I’ve been dealing with this illness my whole life and the ups and downs have been such a part of my daily living that I hardly think twice about them.  To someone like her, observing from the outside with a critical eye, I must seem extremely unstable, but to me, everything feels completely normal, and believe it or not, my life does not have major disruptions due to my mood swings.

This is not to say we aren’t always trying to achieve stability because we are.  Tweaks to medication and coping skills are constantly being made.  It is a dance of fine tuning that takes the skill of a seasoned and caring specialist and the patience of a willing and compliant patient.  She said there are some people she sees with bipolar disorder who go three or four years without needing a medication adjustment.  She adjusts my medication several times a year.

According to WebMD, rapid cycling is described as having four or more episodes of mania, hypomania or depression in one year.  For many people, this is devastating and wreaks havoc on their life.  For me, it’s just another day in the life of me.

You get to the point of acceptance after living with an illness for so long and you learn that it is not going to kill you and it doesn’t have to control you either.  It doesn’t scare me anymore.  I know what I need to do to deal with my symptoms and I know that I won’t have my symptoms forever.  It is the very nature of cycling: the symptoms are constantly changing.  I think the vigilant tweaking of my medications keeps my symptoms from getting too far off-balance, so I am fortunate in that respect, but the cycling is still there.

Do you rapid cycle?  What does that look like for you and how do you cope?

As an aside, I just received news that Write into the Light was selected by Feedspot’s panelists as one of the Top 100 Bipolar Blogs on the web.  What a nice surprise!  I always thought you had to pay to be on those lists, but I was wrong. 🙂  Check out the list at https://blog.feedspot.com/bipolar_disorder_blogs/

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Impulsive Decision Making in Bipolar Disorder

block-party-pacific-beach-bike-jumping_w725_h544I try to make healthy decisions regarding my lifestyle. Things like eat well, take my meds, get proper sleep, limit caffeine, don’t drink or smoke. Some things are harder than others.

Today, I threw away my only pack of cigarettes with a new resolve to quit once again. I had plans to download a quit-smoking app to keep track of my days quit and to get active on the online smoking cessation forums which were a great support to me in the past. A half hour later I was retrieving the pack out of the trash and lighting one up.

Yesterday, I decided to start counting calories. My goal is to lose ten pounds. I lost more than this last year and have kept it off, so I know I can do it again, but by last night I was baking, and then eating way too many, chocolate chip cookies. My calories were blown for the day.

Impulsivity is running rampant in my life lately, and quite uncomfortably I might add. Initiating too many impromptu social visits is leaving me stressed and fatigued, but I can’t seem to curbed the impulse to do so. Shopping sprees are rampant under the guise of procuring Christmas presents.

Following these impulsive acts comes guilt and shame, plummeting self-esteem, and the beginnings of self-hatred. Up then down. Up then down. The wonderful life of bipolar disorder.

It helps to remind myself, however, that this cycle is not my fault. It is not a character flaw, a punishment, a sin, or a weakness. It is a biological, chemical, brain disease of which impulsivity is but a symptom.

I found a recent study where researchers looked at euthymic patients with bipolar disorder who were not taking antipsychotic medication and 20 case-matched controls performing a roulette task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. The controls showed higher brain activity during safe reward prospects while the bipolar patients showed higher brain activity during risky reward prospects!

The bottom line is impulsivity is part of bipolar disorder. Accepting this is what we have to do. It does no good to beat ourselves up over something we can’t control. Does this mean I am going to give up trying to quit smoking and losing weight? Absolutely not!

We must never give up trying to get better. We have to keep fighting our symptoms whether it be through medication management, lifestyle changes or both, all the while remembering that they are just that – symptoms, not who we are as a person, but just symptoms of a horrible disease that we didn’t ask for and don’t deserve. A disease that we do have and will continue to deal with the best that we can.

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