Cycle Shorts

As I wrote in a  previous edition of this blog, Laurent Fignon, known as ‘Le
Professor’, winner of the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, failed to win the
Tour in 1989 by the narrowest of margins. One contributing factor in his defeat was the fact that, as he said at the end of the race, ‘For two days, I haven’t been able to sit down.  I have an inflammation of I don’t know what.’  In a much earlier edition of this blog, I wrote about the miraculous recovery from testicular cancer of seven times Tour winner Lance Armstrong.  So, it’s fair to say that the contents of my cycle shorts are a topic of some
concern.

But that’s not exactly what I’m thinking about this time.  I want to explore the fact that people like me, who suffer from a mood disorder, also often experience greatly heightened libido.

Decreased, or a complete disappearance of sex drive, among people who are depressed is common.  One of the signs that we (me, and my doctors,) had missed over the years before I was correctly diagnosed with Bi Polar Affective Disorder with Mixed Symptoms, was the fact that my sex drive remained unaffected.

Some of you may be thinking ‘that’s lucky!’ For me, maybe. However, it causes huge problems for people with mood swings for whom the combination of heightened sex drive and impulsivity (a classic sign of the disorder), can wreak havoc on their personal relationships, as well as unwanted pregnancy and putting people at risk of sexually transmitted diseases.  One of the side effects of some medication – Trazadone is one that I was on for few weeks earlier this year – it can cause heightened sex drive.  So, sufferers are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t (take these kind of tablets).

One of the reasons that I felt compelled to choose this topic for my blog is that it is taboo. And while it remains risky, impulsive behaviour like the kinds outlined above, fellow sufferers have little chance of these symptoms being  tackled if they are not discussed more openly.

Back when I managed a mental health day centre in the heart of the largely devoutly religious Jewish community in north London, one of the service users, a  woman, married for a year or so, had a baby.  Nothing unusual about that, especially given that devoutly religious couples tend to have large families.  Nothing unusual except that the couple were white, and the baby was black.  She had a diagnosis of Bi Polar Disorder, and her promiscuous behaviour had disastrous consequences.

What makes someone from a tight-knit community with a clear moral code behave like this?  It is the combination of impulsivity – with no regard to consequences – and a greatly heightened sex drive.  Impulsivity in people with Bi Polar Disorder is both potentially very dangerous (suicide and sexual indiscretion), and very expensive.  Impulsivity in this disorder often applies to wildly extravagant spending sprees.  Those of us who have a history of chaotic behaviour involving money may include instructions to safeguard our financial affairs, such as a trusted friend or family member taking charge of their credit cards and bank account during manic episodes.

What can people who experience a greatly heightened sex drive during their manic episodes do to safeguard themselves from the consequences of out of control sexual behaviour, which may put them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as unplanned pregnancies?

I think that the first step must be to talk about it.

Asking someone who you think may be experiencing a manic episode about what they are feeling, rather than how they are feeling may sound like splitting hairs, but the subtle shift of emphasis is important.  The ‘what’ question tends to elicit a reply that it focused on current feelings, rather than how they are generally feeling.  It’s important to remember that while ‘living in the moment’ is good advice for managing depression, appreciating the here and now, our immediate surroundings, rather than the low mood we feel during such an episode, the same is not effective for when we are in a manic phase.  Mania is all about the here and now, with no thought to the future or consequences of our untrammelled behaviour.

It may feel daunting to instigate  a conversation with someone we care about when they are behaving in unstable ways, but it is easier than you might think.

One of the ways I have found effective is to start with your own feelings. ‘You seem like you are in a good space at the moment’ is an opening that someone who is experiencing mania will understand as an invitation to talk about themselves – and that is a topic we are happy to expand upon when we are in that kind of mood.  Ask the person to explain what they mean.  This helps to steer the talk away from a question and answer session, and into more of a conversation.

As I have explained in an earlier edition of this blog, listening to people living with mental health challenges is so important I repeat it here.  Keep listening.  A low-key way of facilitating a discussion about chaotic sexual behaviour is to ask about physical symptoms.  This is a side of mental health problems that is often overlooked.  Such a conversation may start with complaints about neck ache, sore shoulders and back pain – all classic symptoms of a person feeling ‘uptight’ – as many of us with mood swing symptoms feel.  From there it is a shorter distance to touching on physical urges (pacing up and down, an inability to stay still and focused on anything for very long, are also classic symptoms that we feel).  That’s one reason that I find such release in cycling – it keeps me ‘on the go’ without doing so in a chaotic way.

Try not to shy away from engaging with friends or family members whose moods and behaviour you are concerned about; we like to talk about ourselves.

Everything passes and vanishes;

Everything leaves its trace;

And often you see in a footstep

What you could not see in a face.

William Allingham (1824 – 1889)

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One Response to Cycle Shorts

  1. Caroline says:

    Nicolas- a great post dealing with yet another taboo topic openly, honestly and sensitively. Many people don’t understand the mania that comes with Bi-Polar and the havoc it can cause in many many ways. I was lucky enough to attend a mental health event hosted by Ernst & Young recently and one of the speakers was Mark Davies, the Director of Communications at Rethink and diagnosed as bi-polar 2. What a talented guy and if you haven’t come across him, well worth looking up as his story is very interesting (special adviser to Jack Straw and Baroness Amos) and he was very honest about the havoc that his manic episodes caused him.
    Well done and keep up the good work……..ps this photo reminds me of the one taken when our rowing team won a gold medal at the Olympics! (Can’t remember which year)

    Like

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