the cycles of life

i can’t believe how long it’s been. i feel somewhat guilty, but the time away was truly well spent, i promise. i’ve spent the past month getting to know myself better – i battled the monster in my head, finally gave it a name, and have slowly started taming it. that sounds really dramatic, but if you’ve ever struggled with mental illness, you’ll know that this is really what it’s like.

i’ve spent my whole life battling myself, i’ve been my greatest enemy, the one always getting in my way, the person who made me doubt myself, and even sometimes even been a danger to myself. it really hasn’t been easy, and to escape myself i’d throw myself at others – constantly trying to fix everyone else’s problems, never by myself; always on the phone or with someone, and above all, always in a relationship. i’ve hidden from kathleen for years because i didn’t accept her and i almost didn’t even want to.

four and a half years ago, i tried to get right with myself and started seeing my therapist. she’s honestly been a guiding light and i can’t express how lucky i was to find her on the first try! she spent eight months counseling me before she decided that my problems really were chemical, and that i suffered from anxiety and depression. i thought at the time that those two diagnosis alone would be enough, but they were too vague. i felt for the longest time that i still wasn’t quite convinced. i mean sometimes i was depressed and sometimes my anxiety got the best of me but i didn’t feel like i could figure myself out.

i even got on medication, and i felt a lot better! but when i’d dip again, we’d raise the dosage, and i’d be better! but then, again, i’d dip, and we’d raise the dosage. after a certain point i was so frustrated. how medicated did i have to be to finally be normal? how many times would i have to struggle with medicine and my insurance coverage before i could just stop feeling depressed and anxious? it was scary.

when my relationship ended in october of 2018, i felt really lost. i was throwing myself into endless volleyball, forcing friendships, and staying out late drinking to keep feeling alive. despite how much fun i was having, i’d still go home and feel so utterly worthless. i’d sit on the floor of my closet sobbing hoping that in this enclosed space no one would hear me crying. even now looking back at that time, i only remember snippets – it was such a fast-paced yet miserable period in my life that it’s all a big blur.

i remember very clearly, when i started to form real relationships, though. and even moreso, when i found tony. i was finally doing better at recognizing real friendships from the people i’d met and i started drawing healthy boundaries. it was invigorating! and then the light shined and i was doing great again.

but summer came, and i dipped. more counseling, more struggling. by autumn, i felt normal again and i was happy. but then winter came, and i dipped again. what was wrong with me? at this point i’d been seeing my therapist for over three years and i started talking to her about how every winter and summer i seem to get depressed and i didn’t know why. was my body on cycles? is it possible to have depression on schedule?

once january came and my birthday blues passed just like clockwork the monster in my head went to sleep. and i was doing great. i felt like my life was literally perfect. i had been cast in mamma mia, i got a new amazing job, tony and found our wedding venue, i strengthened my friendships further from selecting my bridal party, i was in a good place with my family. i was riding so high and i didn’t think anything could stop me. my therapist even felt that i was doing so well that we agreed to lessen the frequency i saw her and even discussed me graduating.

then covid hit and things flipped upside down – for everyone. and i began struggling again. by summer the monster in my head was roaring and destroying everything and i felt myself falling apart. i started thinking the way i used to. worthless. a burden. why were you born? and my depression spiraled so much further than it had in years. i lost control and i didn’t know what to do.

the work i put in when i was doing well really paid off because the support system i built became pivotal. people who really love me picked me up and helped me. tony, despite how taxing i’d been, didn’t give up on me. my brother gave me some really moving advice, and i was around people who made me feel warm. so i decided to try to confront myself again.

after discussions between my doctor and my therapist, they came to a conclusion that turned my monster on its head. they gave my monster a real name. not a title – not some vague description – a full-fledged name. i was diagnosed with cyclothymia. a disorder that’s so rare that only 1% of americans suffer from it. in fact, it’s so rare that as i’m typing this the browser thinks it’s a misspelling. but it’s not, i assure you, and i have it.

now it seems a bit ridiculous that finding out what it’s called would be so important to me, but i feel like i can finally start getting to know myself. i’ve realized the reason i could never fully love myself is because i didn’t understand myself. i didn’t understand why i’d dip suddenly. i was so frustrated being this “broken” person without any good reason behind it. i was so angry at myself because on the days i felt fine, i couldn’t comprehend why i’d get so bad. and finally i looked in the mirror and didn’t see the monster in my head anymore – i saw myself. i felt free, and for the first time in my life i felt optimistic. i can get better.

i started reading up on cyclothymia like a maniac. anything i could fine – articles, research, and just general health summaries. this one in-particular i really found especially useful. the more i read, the more understood i felt. it explained so many things about me and i grew more confident that i could tame my monster. simple lifestyle changes could make all the difference and once you know about it, you can get specified treatment. after a really happy day, when i’d start to dip again, i knew why and that was so powerful. instead of fighting myself and getting angry at the monster in my head, i gave it a few pets and said, “this will pass.” and you know what? it did. in just a few days i was back to my baseline.

now i struggled with whether i wanted to make this known and if i wanted to share my condition, but i realized that if i’m ashamed and hide this part of myself i really won’t be able to love or accept myself. if learning a name gave me so much already, why should i not recognize it?

as autumn is approaching, i know i will start reaching those highs again, but this time i’m ready. i’m not going to climb so high that i fall too far when winter arrives. and for the first time in my life, i’m actually looking forward to the holidays. each day, as i begin settling into my new habits that are said to really help curb my monster, i can see it transforming and it’s starting to look more and more like the real me.

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