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The Challenge of Accepting a Bipolar II Diagnosis

It all started to make sense as soon as the words escaped the lips of the new counselor I was seeing, but the diagnosis still kept spinning around in my head like water down a funnel. I felt like I was melting into the brown leather couch I had previously found comfortable and I was now becoming part of it. It was a mix of relief and fear I was feeling as the words stirred around. I saw my counselors lips moving, she was still trying to talk to me, but all I could hear was what she suspected I have been struggling with: Bipolar II.

For those who don’t know there are two types of bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed with bipolar II, which means I have more depressive periods (which I call my down time) with less frequent and less severe hypomanic episodes (which I call my up time). Now like I said before, once she said it it all seemed to make sense to me.

Thinking back, I’ve had these ups and downs since high school. No, not like your normal ups and downs like “everyone else has.” My ups and downs are drastic, they are quick to change, and they change with no trigger. I can think of many hypomanic times feeling like I could do anything, making plans for my future, feeling confident and sexy, spending money I shouldn’t have and moving a mile a minute. I was overly productive, often doing multiple things at once, and feeling even higher because I could do it all. I was unstoppable, a bad ass bitch, and super bubbly and friendly. I felt like my best self.

I could also think of all the lows. The times I would wake up and cry because my eyes opened and I was still alive when I didn’t want to be, and the times I would wait to cross the busy street to go into my apartment and think about throwing myself into the traffic. There would be days I wouldn’t even eat because the thought of food alone made me sick to my stomach, and I felt like a burden to everyone around me for feeling sad and hopeless when I had nothing to be sad and hopeless about.

I could also think of these days when they would be back to back, one day on top of the world and happy to be there, and the next day at the bottom of the ocean drowning in sadness.

The diagnosis made sense to me because my up times never seemed to last and as my new counselor said to me “what goes up, must come down” — and down I always came. Hard. Like I jumped out of plane with no parachute. And both of these ups and downs were so opposite I felt exhausted from the shifts I never knew were coming. I had previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, but even now I see how that was wrong, but also how I was easily misdiagnosed. My ups were few and far between and didn’t last very long, so by the time I had my weekly therapy session I could be low again, and forget I even felt so good.

It was all making sense to me when the words came out of her mouth. Bipolar II. But that didn’t mean the words sounded good.

There is a horrible stigma surrounding the word bipolar. People throw it around to describe someone who’s a little more moody than usual, or someone who they caught on a bad day. People also substitute the words “crazy” or “insane” when talking about bipolar disorder. Typically it is used negatively, as an insult and to imply that a person is inferior. So when the words came out of her mouth and everything started to make sense, part of me was thinking “thank goodness, this makes so much sense and I finally feel like I have an answer” and the other part of me thought, “how can I keep my head held high with this despite what people are going to say and think of me?” That is what I’m still trying to figure out, and it’s something I’m sure I am not alone in.

The few people I’ve actually told have all responded differently, some better than others. But what I have noticed is that everyone has told me: “You are still the same person I have always known and loved and this will not change that.” I am lucky people have responded positively, but I know it will not always be like that. When the day comes I feel like someone is stigmatizing me for it, I will have to keep my head held high and remind myself of what those who care about me most told me: “You are still the same person.”

Accepting my new diagnosis has been challenging, and overcoming my own stigma has been its own battle. I have to take medication again, which I am not thrilled about, but I have accepted there is nothing wrong with it. I am not damaged or broken or crazy, I am me, and I have Bipolar II. As much as the words taste like vinegar when they come out of my mouth, being diagnosed with Bipolar II was sort of a blessing because I am now on the road to getting the proper help I have always needed, and with that I will be a better version of myself.