All I knew about Bipolar Disorder was from having a teenager with the disorder. At that time, I scoured the internet and asked questions of medical professionals so I could understand what she was going through, and what we might expect in the future. I also learned that Bipolar Disorder rears its ugly head typically in individuals in their late teens or early twenties. I obviously missed the paragraph that says it can also become evident in individuals in their forties and fifties, typically after some traumatic event.
I had always been an optimistic person with sometimes grandiose ideas. I always looked on the positive side and didn’t overthink negative consequences. I had high energy, sometimes to the extreme, and could devote hours to something for days or weeks at a time. This intensity could possibly have been a warning sign. Another of the tale-tale signs, now looking back, is that I often made extremely rash decisions with little thought of consequences. In my mid-forties, several events occurred in relatively quick succession that rocked my stability and removed loving people from my life. My world turned upside down. And on came the depression. On came the suicidal thoughts with a plan and action. I don’t think anyone, including myself, realized how deep and dark my thoughts were until I tried to put my suicide plan into action.
Fast forward and I entered my first psychiatric hospital. It would be the first of four, to date. During my first hospitalization they focused on my severe depression; Bipolar Disorder was never mentioned. After my hospital stay, I attended an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for three months, and it took every day of those three months to get me to the point that I could function — although with limitations. I alienated friends and family and tried to avoid the outside world. Every task appeared unsurmountable, a far cry from the bubbly, go-getter person I remembered. Somehow, I had lost me, I had lost the person I was “before.”.
The “respite” from severe depression didn’t last, and before I knew it, I was back in the hospital due to “unmanageable” behavior. It was at this point that they diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder I Severe Depression with Mania Rapid Cycling. You can not imagine the anger I felt at this diagnosis. I was too old for this! Surely they must have it wrong! For me, this diagnosis meant that I had to reexamine my whole life and analyze my decisions and determine what had been manic decisions, and others just decisions. What actions had been manic (there are many I regret), and what had been reasonable actions.
I fought this diagnosis for several years, although I was med compliant. My husband was kind, gentle, and tried to understand, but it was a struggle for both of us. We both read a lot on the internet, but still, I didn’t believe my diagnosis. I continued to be angry and sincerely believed it was just a way for doctors to explain away my behavior and moods, but that it wasn’t really ME. After my third hospitalization, my husband and I went to see a therapist who bluntly told me, “Until you accept that you are Bipolar, your life will always be a challenge and unmanageable.”. He is the one that recommended I read The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know by David J Miklowitz, Ph.D.
I still have moments where I question the diagnosis (far more often than I would like to admit). Sometimes, I even think that I would be much better if I didn’t take all the meds which have side effects. Then I come to my senses and fully understand and accept that I have Bipolar Disorder. When I have questions, I refer to my book. I feel as though I still have so much to learn about my disorder. I’ve also joined a Bipolar Facebook group where I can read others’ stories (which sound familiar, so we must have something in common, right? 😊), and post questions. It feels good to be amongst those who understand. When I’m struggling, I attend a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Peer Support Group. I’m still somewhat angry that I have this disorder as it complicates life and relationships, but I feel lucky that there are places and people you can talk to that truly understand. I understand my daughter better, and the actions of my father, who I’m convinced was Bipolar in the days when Bipolar wasn’t even a “thing”.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with BD, I will give you this advice:. Take time to digest the diagnosis and don’t dismiss it outright. Then read, read, read, and read some more. I highly recommend the book I listed above. Join support groups. But mainly, don’t feel bad about your actions, and the decisions you made before being diagnosed. Give yourself a break; as they often say, be kind to yourself. Now you are armed with a diagnosis, meds, and support groups, if you want them. I hope you choose to live your best life?