If you’ve ever been accused of being “moody” and wondered if your moods cross the line from normal ups and downs to an actual mood disorder, you may have a condition called cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder. There is no cyclothymia test you can take to determine if this is the case, but you can be diagnosed based on your symptoms. Your doctor will ask you questions about your moods, and may refer you to a specialist to fine-tune your diagnosis, since cyclothymia and bipolar disorder can be similar. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD) may also need to be ruled out.
Symptoms of Cyclothymia
Like those with bipolar disorder, people with cyclothymia experience distinct two mood phases – a depressive phase and a manic phase. Both phases need to meet certain criteria:
- The mood states need to be upsetting, distracting or severe enough to interrupt your ability to function in more than one setting (for example, at home, at work and with friends).
- These moods can’t be explained by some other factor (a medical condition or hormones, the use of drugs or alcohol, or a severe and sudden trauma).
- This moodiness isn’t a reaction to life circumstances, and it is persisting for a long time. In fact, your doctor will look back over the past couple of years with you, identifying patterns of moods. To be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, you will have at least two years of depressive and manic moods with very little time in between each where you just feel “normal.”
Cyclothymia – The Depressive Phase
During the depressive phase of cyclothymia, your symptoms can include:
- Feeling tired all the time or having no energy or enthusiasm for anything, including things you normally enjoy
- Changes in appetite and changes in weight (gaining or losing)
- Feeling sad, lonely, worthless and hopeless
- Changes in your sleep patterns (for some, insomnia; for others, sleeping excessively)
- Thoughts of death, such as thoughts about suicide or vague, morbid thoughts about being dead
- Isolation or withdrawing from family and friends
- Feeling confused, mentally disorganized, or too tired or overwhelmed to think clearly
Cyclothymia – The Manic Phase
During the manic (or if not full-blown manic, then “hypomanic,” which means a less intense version of mania) phase, you may experience:
- Feeling like you have boundless energy. So much energy, in fact, you may not need sleep. Some people in manic phases do not sleep for days at a time.
- Racing thoughts and pressured speech. These two tend to go together – you feel like your thoughts are going so fast you can hardly keep up, and when you try to talk, you just can’t stop. Other people will tell you that they can’t get a word in edgewise.
- Emotionally, all your feelings are intensified and exaggerated. You’re not just happy, you’re jubilant. You may also feel impatient or irritable. Your self-esteem is also intensely exaggerated – you feel capable of anything.
- Impulsivity and risk-taking. This often impacts spending/shopping, as well as sexuality and use of alcohol or other drugs.
Since there is no definitive cyclothymia test, your doctor may ask you to keep a journal, so the two of you can chart your moods over time. You may also find some online quizzes or questionnaires that relate to mood disorders. If you take one, share your responses with your doctor or therapist and use it to better understand your symptoms. All too often, women are considered moody and self-reported symptoms are not taken as seriously as they should be. Medical conditions like cyclothymia can wreak havoc on home life, relationships and performance at work. Getting diagnosed is an important first step.