Last week, I began sharing the story of “Brenda” and “Christine,” mother and daughter, who read one of the five newspapers publishing this column in western Ohio. I have masked their identities to protect Christine, who has been diagnosed with cyclothymia, which a National Institutes of Health website defines as a “mild form of bipolar disorder in which a person has mood swings from mild or moderate depression to euphoria and excitement, but stays connected to reality.” Cyclothymia can become a disability when the person with it is unable to carry out basic life functions.
“A while ago, Christine began having (behavioral and emotional) problems,” said Brenda in a telephone interview. “Some of it was because of her having cyclothymia and maybe some of it because she was just a teenager.”
Last year, she began cutting herself and “she was secretive about it,” said Brenda. “One day, she was mad at me for grounding her and over the night she cut her upper arms where her shirt sleeves could hide it. The next morning, we got into a shouting match about the grounding. For the first time, it was then she said she had been cutting herself with a razor blade. I got her into therapy right away.”
A therapist diagnosed her with cyclothymia. In a subsequent meeting with her pastor, Christine revealed she had been cutting her body to relieve stress by redirecting her emotional pain. Over the following months, she began having more angry outbursts, took pills after breaking up with a boyfriend, cut her body to the point of needing stitches, and even left a suicide note. She was hospitalized for days.
Said Brenda, “We try doing things to boost her confidence because she doesn’t have much self-esteem. We also tried getting her involved in church activities and she just withdrew from it all.”
Not long ago, Christine cut her body again and needed a large number of stitches. Fortunately, someone found her in time and called emergency personnel. Since then, a physician has changed her medication and her mood has improved.
According to a National Institutes of Health resource, 5-9 percent of adolescents in western countries over the last year reported harming themselves. Besides cutting, other forms of self-harm include burning, self-poisoning, hitting or banging body parts or hair pulling. People with cyclothymia or bipolar disorder are at risk for self-harm.