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What Rapid Cycling Can Feel Like on a Depressed Day

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My skin is deteriorating. That is what it feels like, anyways. Everything is getting to me. I haven’t eaten enough today. Traffic is awful. My psychiatry appointment was disappointing. The air in the car feels stale. It’s hot – I’m melting in this cage on wheels.

I roll the window down, but, the noise of construction and traffic blare through
the gap, so I close the window again. My husband sits in the driver’s seat,
running a comb through this beard, as we creep along Interstate 5.

I can feel it starting, a shift in my mind. It is a small swing – mood lability,
almost – and it happens when I have small triggers like I had today. I can feel
the rapid cycling start as a result of my stressors. Stressors can be good as
well as bad. As my psychiatrist says, even good things can be stressful, and
stress affects the brain, no matter what kind of stress.

The world begins to cave in. Things are pressing in on my consciousness, things that normally wouldn’t bother me. I notice the smog lingering over our heads, and it seems to form a cloud above the car. The honking of horns penetrates my skull. The heat inside this car is suffocating. The music on the radio is too loud. I have to get out of here. But, I’m stuck. I can’t go anywhere. So, I do what I have to do to keep myself sane.

I box myself in.

Block it out, I command myself. Put up your walls, Elissa. I keep
coaching myself with internal dialogue. Slowly, the world begins to fall away.
The sounds become more faint, and smells less potent, and the light a little
duller against my eyelids. I applaud myself for doing well, as I try to control
my mind. But, one sound keeps chipping at me…

…the comb running through my husband’s beard.

The sound of that thick mane being brushed through with plastic comb starts
chiseling away at the walls I have put up to hide away from the world.

Lock it up, Elissa, I coach myself, again. I’m struggling to pull my walls around me, it’s like I am holding the sides of a box encompassing me together with ropes, and my hold is slipping on them. My husband is still combing his beard. The sound becomes the only thing I can hear. It is amplified through my brain and it reverberates down my spine. My head aches. My stomach clenches as the sound grows louder, becoming something that is jarring my internal hold on myself. I hunker down in my head, mentally crawling into a hole and wrapping my arms around myself. I feel the axe chipping away at my wall, still.

Steven keeps combing his beard.

I know that if I speak much, my mental hold on my walls will slip. It’s taking
every bit of willpower I have not to unravel. I wait, maybe he will stop in a
few minutes…but, he isn’t stopping and I know if I speak, my walls will fall. I stay silent, trying to reign it in. That comb keeps combing. I look at him, trying to talk with my eyes, and the expression on my face.

Please, understand, my face begs him, even though my mouth is silent.

He keeps combing.

Who am I kidding?

In what world would someone understand how combing their own beard, keeping to themselves, could possibly affect another person this much?

My mind is spinning. My heart is seizing up. I know the world and all its darkness is waiting, as soon as these walls come down. The comb keeps combing.

Stay calm, I command myself. You’re swinging into a rapid episode; he
hasn’t done anything wrong
. But, I almost can’t hear my own thoughts. My
walls begin to crumble, all because of this infuriating, repetitive sound. The world is coming in again. I hear the traffic. I see the smog. The heat is becoming overbearing.

The comb keeps combing.

The pressure builds inside of me, as that sound of that comb rips at me, now – pulling up my skin, and breaking my walls. I want to throw my hands over my ears and scream like a child.

The walls fall.

The depression hits me like a tidal wave, it courses through the neurons in my brain, punching every synapse and darkening every thought. I am flipping and falling in my mind. I close my eyes as I hear every blaring noise and see every bright light. The toxicity of the world swarms around me as filth and grim enter my perceptions. I want to open the door and roll out onto the pavement as it passes under the car. I want to feel physical pain – like when I used to cut myself – anything to escape the numbness that I know is about to follow the chaos. I desperately want to run in the rain and bury myself in the cold. I have to end this madness.

And, then, suddenly, I reach a turning point, and the world softens. An intense emotional pain falls over me and tears begin to form around my eyes. I turn my body away from my husband – who is completely unaware of the war in my mind – and look out the window. I look up at the gray clouds, feeling a
rush of hopelessness and grief. My heart aches, as the tears slip quietly down
my face. Why is this so hard?

I look into the side mirror, and look into my own face. I am disappointed by what I see, though not entirely surprised. My eyes reflect an emptiness that I’ve felt all too often.

I take a deep breath, telling myself this isn’t real. What I am seeing through my own eyes and feeling in my own chest isn’t reality. I am seeing things through tinted lenses. This isn’t the world as it is, this is the world as depression makes
it. The tears stop, as the numbness cascades over my heart. I am no longer angry. I am no longer sad. I am drifting, and I am emotionless.

But, all of this is momentary. None of this will last. As I look at the clouds again, I can find the clarity, even in the emptiness, to understand that this isn’t real, and that as soon as the storm is over, life will come back to me again.

Sometimes, I have to look in the mirror, and tell myself, against all internal reasoning, that my own thoughts are illegitimate. I have to look into my own eyes, see my own perspective, and, against my own will, turn something more powerful than conscientious thought against my own conscience thought. But, how does one do that?

How does one out-think his or her own thoughts?

How does the same mind that tells me something is real, also remove itself from that reality to tell me that it is not real?

And then how do I decide what is the truth?

How does my very same brain both accept and deny the legitimacy of the lens through which I see the world?

It takes practice – removing yourself from your own mind, and it takes some healing. I wasn’t able to do this right away, but with time I have become able to evaluate my mood most of the time, and take necessary steps to lessen their impact and severity. It will always be a battle.

But, once you realize that is isn’t you, and your illness does not define you, you can accept more easily the disorder you struggle with. In doing so, you learn to cope. In doing so, you learn to live again.

Originally published: August 26, 2016
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