The funny thing about having a mental illness is that sometimes you don’t even realise yourself how you have been feeling. It should be obvious to you if you are ill but things aren’t always that simple. You can easily get stuck in a mood without even knowing it.
Sometimes you get so used to being in a certain mood that you may not realise that you are ill. It took me ages to realise that I was depressed at first. I was a teenager and thought that I was just going through the typical growing up stuff. I thought that I was just starting to see the true nature of the world. I was realising that the world was a nasty dangerous place and that people weren’t as nice as they seemed. I was angry with both the outside world and myself. I didn’t realise that my view of everything was becoming distorted and that these feelings of self-loathing, distress and exhaustion were signs of something deeper.
It took having a panic attack to get me to go to the doctor and find out what was wrong. At this point my family had pointed out to me that I may be anxious and depressed but I didn’t believe it really until the doctor told me. Even then I didn’t really identify with being depressed. I had felt this way for so long that it felt normal. I was well and truly stuck in my mood.
When you become accustomed with feeling depressed you may forget what feeling normal is actually like. Being depressed becomes your new normal. It becomes quite hard to relate to other people unless they are also depressed. You just can’t imagine how ‘normal’ people are feeling. How can they possibly manage to get out of bed each day with relative ease? How can they whistle away whilst they cook and clean? How can they actually look forward to facing the world each day and having a laugh? You wonder where they get all their energy and vibrance from because you can’t relate at all. You can’t see outside of the mood you are stuck in.
The strange thing is that for most people with a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar, the moods occur in episodes. With depression, some people may feel depressed to some level all the time, but usually there are some distinct episodes where you feel far worse than usual. In this case you are not always stuck in the same mood and therefore you should be able to tell when you are slipping in to a deep depression and see outside of this mood. However, things aren’t that easy. The slide into deep depression often happens gradually and you often blame external events. Perhaps you just feel like things are objectively worse in the world and with yourself. You end up very quickly adapting to your new lower mood and are unable to have the perspective to identify it as a deep depression. You very quickly become stuck in this new mood.
You would have thought that the fact that I have bipolar would make it easier for me spot when I am depressed. If you experience both highs and lows then surely the vast difference between these moods would help you to spot a depression. However it doesn’t work like this. At least not for me anyway. I don’t recognise when I am sliding from one mood to the other. Over the last few months for instance I have been depressed and have identified with being so. However I didn’t realise that this had gradually been turning in to a hypomanic (less severe manic) episode. I kept feeling inspired to write new blog posts and had this intense drive to write and share things. I still thought I was depressed because I was feeling tired and negative in many ways but I was also very focused and excitable. It seems then that I am actually in some kind of changing state where I’m both depressed and hypomanic at once i.e. a mild mixed state.
It has taken me quite a few weeks to recognise this change in mood. I think that when you have a mental illness you find it quite hard to look objectively at yourself and your moods. Your whole perspective is coloured by your mood and it is hard to escape this way of seeing the world and imagine how you appear to the outside world. Often a mood slowly grabs hold of you and drags you down. You may only realise you have a problem when you reach an extreme mood level. This lack of awareness means that you may not receive treatment as early as you should do. I think then that learning to spot your mood changes, perhaps through keeping a diary or trusting in your friends and family, is important in keeping yourself well.