Rapid Cycling Bipolar
My psychiatrist once compared rapid cycling bipolar to a ride at the fair: once it starts, it picks up speed and the faster it goes, the harder it is to slow down. She couldn’t have been more right. However, I would add that the faster it goes, the more devastating the effects can be.
What Is Rapid Cycling Bipolar?
About 10 to 20 percent of people with bipolar may experience rapid cycling. It is diagnosed after four episodes of depression, mania or hypomania occur within a year. Some will also experience the dangerous mixed state where depressive and manic symptoms are present at the same time.
Rapid cycling bipolar is more common in women and in those whose first episodes occur in childhood or adolescence.
Some people experience ultra-rapid cycling bipolar, where their episodes change daily, or ultradian rapid cycling, where they experience a number of mood episodes within a day.
Unfortunately, rapid cycling suggests poor treatment response and can make treatment even more challenging.
What Were My Symptoms?
I will say one thing: change is inevitable.
I lived for some time with a dark feeling in my stomach, which I dealt with through an eating disorder and bingeing on drugs on the weekend.
In truth, I was living behind a screen where I felt out of touch with the world. A final intervention from friends took me back to my home town where I broke down.
Looking back, I was deeply depressed but highly functioning. It wasn’t until I was given a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant that something scarier triggered.
I couldn’t get out of bed and my thoughts flashed graphic images of suicide and self-harm. My body felt different and my eyes stared.
I was taken back to the doctor who changed my antidepressant without a safe wash-out period, and this reaction unfortunately triggered serotonin syndrome, a rare poisoning of the nervous system. It was this catalogue of chemical events that my psychiatrist believes fuelled my rapid cycling bipolar back in June 2008.
I became so out of control I was flying from manic episodes to suicidal depression within hours. When I closed my eyes my mind would rest between a state of sleep and awake only to trigger another mood episode. It was like living on another planet.
I couldn’t sleep. At 3 a.m. my mind would be so alive and my body would be bursting with so much energy I would skip in the garden for hours with dance music blaring in my ears.
There was no time to eat and I didn’t consider it. I would speedily talk with ideas about building businesses and if anyone interrupted me I would dismiss them irritably.
Within hours I would be on the sofa and it was as if the weather had radically changed. I struggled to move and cried until I couldn’t see through the tears.