What did it take for me to accept the diagnosis of bipolar disorder? This is part of the talk I give for NAMI in their In Our Own Voice campaign.
After having been misdiagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder for twenty-some years, it was difficult to make the switch to accepting a diagnosis of bipolar. I discovered that many people with bipolar have waited 10 or more years to be correctly diagnosed.
One problem is that there are long stretches of "euthymia," which is a fancy word for regular mental functioning... not Depressed and not Manic. In a mental illness in which there are long periods of dormancy you can see why a diagnosis might be difficult.
When I decided to kick Depression once and for all, I made sure I was very compliant with my medication. I enlisted the help of a Behavioral Psych Nurse Practitioner and a Psychologist. I started a blog. I tracked my moods...
And several of my friends reading the blog commented that they thought I might be bipolar. So naturally, I went to Google University and looked it up on the internet.
I read all the online descriptions of people with bipolar disorder and decided that they didn't apply to me. I took an online screening test (I just did this again, by the way) and the answer always came out "You have little or no symptoms of bipolar disorder."
This is because when I self-report, I downplay or even forget the worst of my symptoms.
And when asked how much of a problem the symptoms are I always say that they are not a problem. Even though this is not technically true. I just don't (still) like to admit that bipolar is difficult to deal with.
Also, I am not taking online screeners when my symptoms are at my worst. I am moving a cubic yard of dirt in the front garden using a toy wheelbarrow. Or giving myself a haircut. Or sleeping 20 hours a day. Or crying uncontrollably for hours at a time.
After four close friends all told me (independently of one another) they thought I might have bipolar disorder, I finally admitted that I should at least look into the issue. They all had personal ties to bipolar-- either a friend or a loved one or they themselves had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Even when I got the diagnosis from the psychiatrist and was prescribed appropriate medication, I had not really entered the acceptance phase.
Acceptance came when I suffered withdrawal symptoms coming off a medication that is COUNTERINDICATED for people with bipolar but works really well for people with Depression.
Acceptance came when I responded well to a medication that works to treat bipolar Depression but does NOT work for unipolar Depression...
And acceptance continues to come and go, depending on where I am in terms of my symptoms.
When I am doing well... when it has been quite some time since I have had a significant "mood episode," I am less likely to embrace my diagnosis.
When I am doing poorly I am forced to admit that there may be some truth to the label.
One of the things that made it difficult to accept the diagnosis was when family members or friends expressed disbelief and doubt. That I couldn't possibly have bipolar disorder. That the doctors must be wrong.
I think they meant to be supportive or... something. But they gave voice to the doubts in my head.
And while family and friends are an important part of my support team, I realized that the single biggest factor in my acceptance (and thus in my willingness to be appropriately treated) is trusting in my mental health professionals to know what they are doing. This does not mean that they are infallible. Or that they will get the right answer the first time.
However, I trust that my Psych NP and Psychologist will more reliably be able to identify signs of my bipolarism than family and friends. Because that is their job. And they are up on the current research. And I tell them more things than I tell all y'all.
Today was day one of my 20mg of lurasidone.
BMI 28.7 (only doing this on Mondays)
Grateful Crap: stone fruits
Eating stone fruits
attempting to get enough sleep
20 mg lurasidone am
300 mg lamotrigine pm
Quaker, teacher, parent,