My Grieving Process of My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

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After my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it took me years before I could fully accept I had this life-changing mental illness.

The first step in my recovery was acceptance. I realized I had to accept the truth of the reality of my illness before I could be ready to seek the necessary treatments to start the recovery process. I had to be ready to fight and heal my pain and internal mental scars.

I wish my acceptance of bipolar disorder would have been automatic and not taken so many years because then I think my life could have improved sooner.

To begin to accept my bipolar disorder I had to go through a grieving process, which took me a long time. It was a painful process and journey for me.

1. Denial I do not have bipolar disorder. I do not have a mental illness. You are wrong. I do not want this. I can still teach and do everything I used to do. I am the same good person. I am a great person so I cannot have this illness.

2. Anger – When I was first diagnosed, I was very ill from the side effects of the medications they were giving me and other reasons as well. I did not understand what was happening to me. This caused me to have a lot of anger. I blamed everyone around me and basically hated everyone, especially if they tried to help me. I was not a good patient at all, and I tried to fight everything they said and did to me when they tried to help me. I lashed out at others and made people people feel bad. I have guilt for some of my past behaviors when I was first diagnosed, as I acted horribly. I felt like a horrible person at the time of my initial diagnosis. Ugh! My anger was very painful and intense.

3. Bargaining – Why me? If I stop taking all of my medications I will be “normal” again and I will be fine. I will show everyone they are wrong. If I stop taking my medications and stay away from all medical care, psychiatrists and hospitals and go back to my life the way it was before, everything will be OK. I will show everyone I am fine.

Going off all my medication was a bad idea because after a couple of years of not taking my medications and not receiving any help or support I had a full blown manic episode which lasted about a year. Because my episode caused me to become so severely ill I had to receive medical help again and have continued it ever since. In a later post, I will share what my full blown mania was like.

4. Depression – I realized the true magnitude of the loss of myself and loss of my life the way it once was. Everything changed for me. My old life was permanently gone with bits and pieces still hanging on but not many. I had no more control in my life. People were telling me how to live and who I had become. One doctor told me I would never be the same again but they could get me to live a functional life. What? That sounded like a death sentence to me, and it was like a death sentence for many years, as I tried to end my life many times. My life was put into a survival mode with doctors and professionals basically just trying to save me. I was not living, but I was trying to find a new way to survive for years. I thought: I am sick. My mental pain is horrific. They give me medication that gives me severe side effects and adverse reactions that I do not like and that change my personality. I have no friends, and I am so lonely. No one likes me or even wants to be around me. I am worthless. The old me is gone and died. I cannot function, move or even get out of bed. I can’t live like this anymore. My life is over. No one will even care if I am gone. I am all ready dead. I want to die.

5. Acceptance – Acceptance is the last stage of grief and the most vital and important step on the road to recovery of my bipolar disorder. The acceptance of my illness and my new life was a slow and gradual process. Things slowly started to improve and look better over time. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness, but I saw glimpses of hope and of what happiness was again. I accepted that things will never be exactly the same again. I gradually started to adjust to my diagnosis, and my changed life. My depression began to decrease in spurts but would come back periodically and ferociously at times. I began to figure out how to live with my symptoms and start living my life again. My mind started to work better, and I began to feel more normal and a part of life again. I soon began the important process and one of the most essential parts of my new life of redefining who I was.

I had to find my new identity and learn to like myself again and eventually love parts of the new me. I found a way to work part-time again in a field that suits me well by helping others in the home health field and I started going back to church. I started getting out of the house more and around other people.

I do have bipolar disorder. I do have a mental illness, and that is OK. I have a new identity and that is OK. I am still a great person. I believe God saved my life and I became born again.

My greatest blessing is that I have always been and am still a good mom. My children were always my life support and still are. I love my three beautiful, amazing and wonderful children beyond words. I am so blessed to be able to be their Mommy. Thank you, God.

Sometimes I still grieve parts of the “old” me and think about what my life could have been. I try to block those moments of memories of my past out of my head, as the past is the past, and I try very hard not to live there. I try to live in this very minute and moment one day at a time.

I never thought I would have a mental illness, but I do and I must strive to make the best of my illness and always strive to be the best person I can be and become. It is a never-ending battle of struggles, growth and discovery and acceptance of the new me every day.

I have found joy in the experience of living.

“Don’t wait. Make memories. Celebrate your life.” — unknown

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on Loud Bipolar Whispers.

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The Many Faces of My Bipolar Disorder

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I lay here, curled under the covers at 1 p.m. Motionless, I stare at the curtain blocking the world out. Sometimes I think it ripples, feeling the breeze against the window. The overnight rain has subsided but I guess there’s more to come. The dark cloud of depression has settled itself in my room. Stretching out. Getting comfortable. The air feels thinner now. It’s a struggle to breathe. In fact, everything is a struggle.

This thick veil of blankets used to weigh me down, but in this moment I think it’s my very existence causing undue pressure. I repeat over and over how sorry I am — sorry for the burden I feel I’ve become, the trouble I seem to cause, the constant worry you shoulder. The fear of not knowing who I’m going to be when you arrive home: angry or agitated or manic or depressed. Or worse yet, cycling through them all.

My voice: 12 octaves higher, signaling I’m manic — not to mention all the projects I’ve started in the last 8 hours. “Honey! Honey, I wrote a song today. It’s really good. You are going to like it.” Racing around with paint in my hair. “Look at the colors in this. I don’t know how I did it. Came out great, right?”

My lifeless body on the couch. I can barely muster a “hello.” Can’t muster a “how was your day, dear?” This is where I was when you left this morning. “No, I haven’t eaten. I’m just not hungry. No I didn’t shower again, I’m so tired.”

The echo of my rage throughout the house shakes the pictures, scares the cat. Nothing you say is right. “I’m not fucking hungry, alright? Leave it alone. Why don’t you cook once in a while, for God’s sake! I clean and I clean and look at this mess. I don’t know why I bother.”

You wipe away the never-ending tears fielding my questions: “What happened? I was doing everything right. I mean, wasn’t I? I’m a good person, aren’t I? I don’t mean to be this way, to cause so much pain. I don’t understand. Why now? Why?”

These are the many faces of my bipolar disorder.

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4 Things I Learned About Myself After My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

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Three years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. It was scary and confusing, but in a way, it was also liberating. I finally had a reason for the long bouts of depression and the high octane stretches I learned were manic episodes. At 27, I had an explanation for the previously unexplainable. It wasn’t me, it was the disease.

Now that I’ve sorted a little bit of that out, I find myself turning less to defining the disorder and more to defining me. Instead of marking things off as a symptom of the bipolar, I want to know who I really am.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far:

1. I am loud.

When whatever holy being (I’ll go with God) created me, they omitted volume control. My whisper can be as loud as other people’s regular speaking voices, and when I get excited or passionate, you can hear me from across the room. This is not the result of mania or anxiety, it’s just me.

2. I have a ‘Type A’ personality.

I thought this might go away once I started my medication, but now that I’ve been medicated and in therapy for a while, I’m realizing it’s just who I am. Yes, it was certainly exasperated by manic episodes, but take away the mania, and I am still just as driven, ambitious and competitive.

3. I am a “crier.” 

Or a sobber. Sobbing is more my style. Commercials with puppies, championship sports games, books, movies, weddings — I have teared up during or sobbed through all of these. I cry when I’m frustrated or relieved.  Occasionally, I cry and laugh of the same time.

And the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself? 

4. I am resilient.

The bipolar wants to trick me into thinking I’m not strong enough. It wants me to think I’ll never make it and my life will always only be a tennis match between depression and mania. But I’m still here. I’ve survived the three years since my diagnosis and the countless years before. More than surviving, I’m actually living my life. I have a husband I love more than anything, incredible and supportive friends and a job I truly enjoy. If we are keeping score, I am winning by a long shot.

I will always have bipolar. I don’t believe medication and therapy will magically “cure” me. But now I know I am so much more than a disorder.

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Bipolar Disorder and Losing Friends

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I read Meghan Camello’s “To the Friends Who Left Because of my Mental Illness” at the perfect time. I’d been thinking a lot about friends who’d faded from my life, who stopped interacting with me on social media, who never sent me a wedding invitation, who — last straw — dropped me after I made an ass out of myself by drinking too much. This is not a sympathy grab but an honest glimpse at the toll bipolar disorder takes on my friendships. Someone once said losing a friend is worse than losing a lover. I agree. What are the odds you’ll find “the one” on the first try? We expect to lose lovers. We don’t expect to lose friends. We assume friends will be around forever. We don’t expect friends to block us on Facebook or not invite us to their wedding.

I share the blame. I can be a difficult friend. I’m bipolar, but I’m responsible for managing my illness, though my brain makes it difficult. I’m a professor. Sometimes, teaching is the only reason I leave the house. Teaching forces me to perform, which means I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Off the clock or during summer, my voice changes to a whisper. My face slackens. Cashiers ask me to repeat myself. I look down. It hurts to speak. I sound like a boy. When manic or hypomanic, I can’t stop talking. I’m the life of the party. Teaching is easy. In college, people went out of their way to invite me to parties because, “Fish is so much fun.” I am no longer the whispering boy with a slackened face. I am the confident man with a sensuous voice women love. I remember one woman saying, over the phone, “Just talk.” Mania makes me magnetic. I own the room. Anything’s possible.

I don’t party much now, but two years ago at a writer’s conference, I drank liquor with my meds and embarrassed a friend of six years who’d had enough of my intense mood swings. We no longer communicate and are blocked on social media. I’ve made tremendous strides in my treatment since we fell out. I diligently take my meds, which have taken the edge off my symptoms. My psychiatrist is proud of me. I stopped drinking liquor and only drink beer, slow and steady, content with an easy, simmering buzz that doesn’t render me incoherent and unable to walk straight.

To my friends who were tired of me disappearing for long stretches when depressed or friends fed up with my erratic behavior, I’m sorry. I wish you were still around. It’s hard making new friends as an itinerant professor. I’ve moved five times since 2012 — five different states! You know I’m bipolar, but do you know I sometimes resent it? You know bipolar put me in a state mental hospital as a teen, but do you know my biggest worry was what my friends back home thought? Do you know I concocted lies to protect my secret? Do you know I wondered why my commitment was “shameful” when my health was improving? Do you know with each failed friendship, I become more paranoid I’ll fuck up the next one? Do you know I try my best to learn from my mistakes, despite my brain and stigma conspiring against me? Do you know I would give anything to take back the times I disappointed you?

Will you at least read this? I hope so. It’s proof of my existence.

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When Someone Told Me I'm Using My Mental Illness as an Excuse

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Someone said to me once, “Don’t use you’re illness as an excuse.” I thought to myself, “Are you really saying that to me? Are you serious?” I had never heard that before, and I was stunned.

Let’s be clear, shall we?

My brain is sick. My actions, behaviors and decisions are made from a cloudy mind, a mind on a ton of meds for bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and you think I’m using it as an excuse?

If my liver was sick, would you expect it to perform its duty as well as one that was not sick? If I needed medication to have my liver work better, would you tell me I didn’t need it? That all I had to do was change my thoughts, talk nice to it…

I’m not on holiday. I work tirelessly to improve myself, to improve my thoughts, but that doesn’t make my brain magically fix itself. Do you know what will help my brain heal? Love, compassion, kindness and understanding.

My brain is sick.

Please forgive me if don’t act the same as you or the other lady you know with a similar disorder. Guide me lovingly so you can understand what I’m going through because I’m more confused than you.

My brain is sick.

I didn’t do this to myself. I didn’t take a magic drink one day and decide I’m going to be bipolar today and for the next 10 years I want to struggle in silence in my head. I wouldn’t have wished my challenges on my worst enemy.

My brain is sick.

Please be patient with me. I’m learning how to cope with life’s struggles. How to care for myself. I need to understand so I can try hard to get better.

My brain is sick.

Please love me anyway, and don’t tell me I’m using it as an excuse. Get information on what is happening. Help me. My brain is sick.

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How I Get Through Bipolar Disorder Mixed Episodes at Night

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It starts like an itch, and then my face is wet. It is not raining. The sky is clear, especially for this time of night. I am crying. Barely five minutes ago, I was laughing.

The depression drowns out the mania and sometimes they mix like a cocktail, having the effect of making me sick. These mixed states are one of the very worst parts of my illness. I’m at two different poles of my bipolar disorder. Right now, it’s nearly 3 a.m. as I am writing this, and my mascara is blurring because I am raw, vulnerable and simply do not know what to do but write.

I write because I am scared. I am scared of my own mind. Am I truly feeling my emotions, or is it my bipolar disorder? Am I happy, or it is hypomania? Am I angry and irritable because the situation warrants it, or is this a full manic episode? Am I crying because I am sad, or is it a depressive episode? Bipolar disorder lies. I feel like I cannot control my own mind at times. I feel like I cannot trust my own intuition. Is it intuition or paranoia? The questions stack like the foundation of a terrible building.

I am strong. I am a fighter. There will be a sunrise and tomorrow this might be a vague memory of a nightmare I would rather soon forget. For now, I fight my way through the dark because I stopped crying. Putting my thoughts to print purges it from the crevices of my mind. Sharing lightens the burden I feel.

I often get asked, “What are tips for getting through mixed episodes?” and I want to offer a platitude or an encouraging word, but mostly I am honest and tell them how I do it.

“One night at a time,” I say.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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