young man standing on pier looking out over water and distant mountains

How I Learned the Importance of the Correct Diagnosis

106
106
2

My bipolar disorder diagnosis came out of the blue. It completely took me by surprise, but I guess it’s not exactly something you can prepare for.

Years before, I had been misdiagnosed with depression. I had been on medication which turns out only made my mental health worse. I was being treated for the wrong disorder after all. Antidepressants often worsen the effects of bipolar disorder and that’s exactly what happened.

When I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was angry. I was angry this was happening to me and didn’t understand what I did to deserve it. I was also angry I had been treated for the wrong disorder but didn’t blame my doctors as mental illnesses are often very difficult to accurately diagnose. I would never wish it upon anyone else, but a part of me couldn’t help but wonder why I was the one that had to deal with mental illness.

Why couldn’t it have been someone else?

Why me?

Where did this even come from?

Shorty after I was diagnosed, my mom went to a psychiatrist to get her medication for anxiety and depression that she had been taking for many years. She wasn’t very open about her diagnosis but it wasn’t a secret either. The family knew. But while she was at the psychiatrist she received a different diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder.

Now I knew where I got it from.

I didn’t blame my mom or anything like that — after all, it wasn’t her fault. But I was angry that I happened to be the kid who got the bad genes. I was frustrated that I couldn’t change my genetic makeup or do anything that would permanently fix my brain. I hated being on medication.

But not only was I angry, I was sad too — sad that my mom had been going through the same thing I had been going through. Sad that she had been dealing with it for so many years and had been coping on her own without the correct treatment.

I couldn’t imagine it.

Her strength inspired me and continues to inspire me.

There was also a part of me that felt happy in a way though — excited almost — because now that we had our diagnoses, we finally knew what we were fighting, and more importantly how to fight it. I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Hope.

Getting a diagnosis doesn’t have to be a negative experience. It doesn’t have to feel like a death sentence. It’s certainly not fun, but you can turn it into something positive if you choose to. It is often the first step to recovery and a better life. Even though it’s hard to be positive and see that in the moment, try your best to change your mindset.

Getting a correct diagnosis is so important because it ultimately determines your treatment plan. Make sure you spend time on your mental health and do get a correct diagnosis, even though it can be incredibly difficult to do and is easier said than done. Get a second opinion. See multiple doctors if you feel like you need to. Do your own research. Make sure you know what you’re up against because once you know what you’re fighting, you can adjust your strategies accordingly and ultimately win the battle.

Now that doesn’t mean that the war is over unfortunately, especially when it comes to something like mental illness. The war might never be over, but you will get better at fighting it and the fight will become easier every single day.

So keep that chin up, soldier; you’ve got this.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s mother.

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

Unsplash photo via Joshua Earle

106
106
2

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Why My Life Often Feels Like I'm Riding the 'Bipolar Express'

103
103
2

It took me a long time to figure out that the extremes to which my sadness plunged were not “normal” amounts of sadness, nor did my spurts of dramatic happiness exist below the volume of 11. My entire emotional life existed on a rickety wooden roller coaster that only stopped long enough to let a fresh group of characters disembark and reload before the ride would begin all over again.

It started with a nice, slow chug to the top of the first hill, a feeling of nothing but pure anticipation. I would tell myself everything was going to be fine, that I’ve done this before. There was nothing to be afraid of. All of the kinetic energy needed for the ride hinges on the measured potential energy of that first ascent.

There’s a lovely moment as I reach the crest, looking at everything from this new, heightened perspective. The world is a little quieter, a little calmer. A brief feeling of all-conquering power overtakes me as confirm to myself, “I can do this.”

And then my stomach drops through the soles of my feet as the conversion from potential to kinetic energy happens. The car plunges at a rate I never anticipated, no matter how much I’ve prepared myself ahead of time. I jostle around, bruising my thighs as the safety bar pins me to the seat and I dig my fingernails into the torn vinyl padding, holding tight for dear life. There’s no escape. Spiraling through the loop de loop at breakneck speed shoots my heart up into my throat, with only centrifugal force to hold it back from flying out of my silently screaming mouth.

As I slam into the finish line at a breakneck halt, no matter how much I try to tell myself to just get off already, my malfunctioning neurotransmitters demand, “Once more, with feeling!”

This is what it feels like inside my head pretty much every day of my life as I ride this “Bipolar Express.”

My formal diagnosis of bipolar II disorder is recent, despite having been on and off of various therapist couches and antidepressant protocols for the past 17 years. And a good lot of that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication has helped me occasionally downgrade to the kiddie coasters and their caterpillar cars meander over gentle, rolling hills.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

But my most recent catastrophically steep drop left me broken down and stranded at the foot of the first hill. All of my energy had fizzled out and I didn’t have enough potential for the kinetic to take over.

It took a while for me to recognize that this time, I was not merely stalled out, I had derailed.

It was almost impossible for me to make the call to a psychiatrist. I couldn’t decide which was harder to admit: The acknowledgement that I was so broken I didn’t feel worthy to be alive, or the humiliation that I couldn’t make myself well on my own. I was mortified to ask about self-admitting to a psychiatric hospital. But the fact that I was asking myself that question on a daily basis made me realize it was time to enlist a professional.

The work has been hard. So hard. And painful. There are days when I felt like my own head was splitting apart, pushing in three or four different directions simultaneously. My arms went limp from trying to hold it all together. The desire to just let everything go was overwhelming. No amount of chanting would work for me, I was certain of it, and I was ready to be done with the pain.

With my psychiatrist’s help, I didn’t end up checking into a psych ward (this time), but three plus months of hard core analysis and a whole new regimen of mood stabilizers later, I’m finally starting to feel like the person I’ve always imagined myself to be: Someone who is smart and talented and desirable.

But the thing I have to do to keep myself in that place, every day and without fail, is to find and do the things that continue to help me “make myself well.” For me, that means dedicated and uninterrupted writing time every single day. It could be journaling, blogging or working on whichever current book, screenplay or film project needs my attention at the moment. It’s learning how to say “no” and setting boundaries for myself. It’s learning how to put on my own oxygen mask first before helping others with theirs. It’s learning how to navigate scary social situations sober for the first time in, well, ever.

And it’s everyday practical things too, like taking classes that will spur my creativity and tickle the parts of my brain that bring me joy, spending time cuddling with my dogs, traveling and continuing to learn all about myself and how to properly care for the precious woman I never knew I was.

Now when I chant, “make yourself well” I actually know what I mean. I can pinpoint the pain, focus all of my energy on it and use the tools at my disposal to get myself back on the tracks, filled with potential for the next round of hills and loop de loops.

Because even though I’ve got a lifetime ticket on the “Bipolar Express,” it doesn’t mean I can’t raise my arms high above my head and enjoy the hell out of the ride.

Follow this journey here.

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.

Unsplash photo via Theodore Barr.

103
103
2
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Am I Really Teaching My Students About My 'High-Functioning' Bipolar Disorder?

75
75
1

As I sat on my couch to do some school work at a time when I should not have been —  because I should have been at school — I had a thought: Do I really “teach” mental illness? Allow me to explain my question.

I am ridiculously open with my students about my mental health when I need to be. If there is a student who is struggling emotionally and is diagnosed or is wondering if they should seek intervention, I will tell them I have bipolar disorder, that it’s really hard sometimes, but that there is also hope that it won’t “ruin” my life. I think it’s good for them to know you can have a mental health issue and still be a functioning member of society.

But then I really begin to wonder just what I’m teaching them in sharing this information.

I’m a pretty “together” person at school. I’m a teacher, mentor, coach, secondary school nurse (I hand out more Band-Aids than she ever does… and the occasional illegal cough drop!), unpaid athletic trainer (need KT tape? I’m your girl!), auntie, and mom. I have no children of my own, by choice, so my students are my kids, and I don’t really have an issue with filling these roles. I come to work more than not; I usually only miss for school-related meetings, but today is my sixth sick day this year. Two of these days were for a surgery, a few for god-awful vertigo, and today for a slight fever and flu-ish symptoms of chills and bone-tired body aches. I’m snuggled in a blanket next to a 90-pound fuzzy water bottle, my beloved Mira-pup, and have been alternating an extra blanket and a sherpa fleece hoodie most of the day. But I wonder if sometimes I need to take a day to practice better self-care and acknowledge my weaknesses as brought on due to my illness?

Do I create an unrealistic picture for my students by being super-teacher 95 or so percent of the time? Is my “high-functioning” bipolar disorder a lie in a sense?

I usually don’t pull the “I have bipolar and today sucks!” card as openly as one might think for someone who is comfortable with my disorder. I’ve been excusing my current run of bad days with the “awful headache” reasoning, and while that is 100-percent true due to weaning of antidepressant, I don’t think it’s the sole cause of my misery. While if anyone asks, I will acknowledge that the headaches are med-related, I don’t acknowledge my bipolar as the root cause. When my bones and joints ache or I’m just dead tired, I excuse it with the arthritis or my patellar-femoral syndrome or with lack of good sleep (often attributed to my bed-hogging, snoring boyfriend… and there is truth to that!), not symptoms of my current bipolar depressive episode. My current episode is a rough one. I have the highest score on the rating scale that I have had since 2010, and more days than not it’s been this…

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

5:15 a.m. Alarm goes off.

I spend 10 minutes pondering if I can really get out of bed and be functional for the day.

5:25 Alarm two, with additional loud puppy barking from Gus.

I drag myself out of bed and make my way downstairs

5:26-ish – 6:20-ish

I let the pups out, give them food, water and dental biscuits, make the coffee, do random household chores like emptying the dishwasher, eat breakfast and go back upstairs.

6:20-ish – 6:55-ish

“Take the pills, Dave” (Our play on “eat the sandwich, Dave” from a Wayne Brady and Dave Chapelle skit). I shower, dress, put on make-up.

6:55-ish – 7:05-ish

I get the pup’s Kong filled, water filled and pop her in the crate, give the dog a treat as she lounges on the couch, lock the back door, grab coffee (unless we’re stopping at Dunkin or I’m making coffee at school), grab all my school junk and head out the door.
Once I get to school, it’s usually coach/mom duty until the school day starts at 7:45 and then I’m running until 2:15.

2:15 p.m. – 5:00/5:30

I have meetings or coach class and practice.

5:15 – 5:45-ish

I take two sibling pairs home from practice.

6:00-ish – 9:30-ish

I come home to the pups and care for them, make dinner and do household chores (because I’m also a housewife!), fall onto couch exhausted and nap, get things ready for tomorrow, go to bed and dread starting all over tomorrow.

What I really need in there is more me-time for self-care, and I just don’t take it. Instead, I run myself ragged and hope the occasional online shopping binge, for clothes that are comfortable (and weight gain/loss-flexible) and make me look like I care about dressing for work, will be enough to keep me going. With that in mind, don’t judge my LuLaRoe collection. Buying that is theoretically better than eating as much ice cream as I was just a few months ago… well, and yesterday when I downed a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s with the cookie butter core. I don’t have the energy to properly prep for my upcoming run events. I don’t have the energy to grade during the week. I don’t walk the pups or play with them enough, and then I feel guilty. I don’t read as much as I’d like, unless it’s stories on The Mighty or things related to suicide. I get up dreading the day and go to sleep dreading waking and the next one.

I think there were only two times when I have been wholly authentic about my disorder with my students in the recent past. They happened within two days of each other about three weeks ago. On one of those days, I had a lunchtime heart-to-heart that ended up with both my sophomore male students and me in tears. I pulled it together after that and made it through coach class and coaching. The next day I fell apart. One of my seniors needed to do an interview for the school newspaper. Apparently I’m the most popular teacher for teacher profiles, I swear, and in the midst of taking about that I fell apart.

What was odd was that I bawled until I just let go and sat on the floor in the hallway to cry. He sat with me, co-workers came out of classrooms to check on me. It was bad. During coach class, I basically sat at my desk with my head down and let my awesome intern deal with the kiddos. Luckily that day I had an appointment scheduled with my psychiatrist, and I left at 3 to go to that.

My doctor switched my meds because I wasn’t about to stay on the current cocktail if it meant feeling like utter walking-death, and I walked out hoping for the best. That night I hit the couch way earlier and did take-out for dinner. My boyfriend understood (and I felt like shouting “for once!”), and I went to bed early. From the next day, up until today, I’ve been struggling along with my false happy face at work (thank you gods of coffee!), walking the black dog of depression with me on a tether, and dealing with the withdrawal from one med and the new side effects from the other. What I have not been struggling with is illuminating my struggles for everyone else; I’m too good at my high-functioning lie for all that. After all, I have been doing it most of my life!

So, if I’m indeed “teaching” mental illness, what am I teaching? That’s something I need to think about. How real is too real? Hope much hope is too much hope? How can I support self-care if I don’t engage in self-care? Teaching is always more questions than answers. I tell my kids that all the time… maybe I shouldn’t expect to have them all.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Follow this journey here.

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

Thinkstock photo by George Rudy

75
75
1
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

4 Lies I Tell Myself When I Feel Like I'm Losing the Battle Against My Bipolar Disorder

248
248
2

Managing my bipolar disorder is an ongoing battle; one that lately, I feel I am losing. This is just one of the many lies I tell myself as I fight to keep depression and mania at bay. I lie to myself every minute of every day — about little things and big things. I tell myself I can handle my disorder, that I am in control, but I am not. I am lying to everyone, including myself, about so many things.

Lie #1: Self-care is not as important as caring for others.

This is a huge lie, one I tell myself on a regular basis. “Life is too busy right now to practice self-care.” With one under school-age child in the hospital and another special-needs child at home, my time is divided. I rarely have time to cook or eat dinner, let alone carve out time to manage my disorder. I make every excuse in the book from, “It is too hard to find the time” to “My children need me more, right now.”

The truth: Self-care is the most important thing I can do. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so refilling and refueling is essential. Is it hard to carve out time to do something for myself? Absolutely. Is it imperative that I do? Yes. Self-care doesn’t need to be a huge ordeal or an extravagant outing. It can be as simple as enjoying a warm cup of coffee in the morning, and I enjoy that cup every single day.

Lie #2: Reaching out is pointless.

“No one wants to hear about my problems, let alone my mental health status. It is better if I keep it to myself, and try to manage it on my own.” Reaching out is hard on a normal day, so reaching out when dealing with suicidal thoughts and ideas of grandeur seems damn-near impossible. First and foremost, I don’t want to worry anyone. Secondly, I am often embarrassed of my thoughts and feelings. This, coupled with my lies on self-care, make it hard to confide in anyone.

The truth: I have an incredible support system. From my therapist, to my family, to friends new and old, I am never truly alone. They will not allow me to be. My mother and sister call me daily to check in, and there is nothing I could ever say that would make them love or respect me any less. I have a spouse who is involved and engaged in my care plan. He has learned my triggers, and does his best to reduce my exposure to them. He listens without trying to “fix” me or my problems. People are not only willing to listen, they worry when I stop talking to them.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Lie #3: My medications are not working, so I should stop taking them.

This is a big one for me. With side effects in full-force — including weight gain, restlessness and drowsiness — I often find myself rationalizing not taking my medications. “They make me feel numb to the world. You can manage just fine without them.” Someday, I may stop taking my medications, but I am not there yet.

The truth: I am brave beyond measure. I have not skipped doses or strayed from the directions. I continue to speak with my psychiatrist about what medications are working and which are not. I advocate for myself daily, and when I need to, I find a creative outlet to help battle through the medication fog.

Lie #4: You are a failure.

As a wife, a mother, a friend, a daughter and a person. I battle this thought every day. I wake up in the morning believing I am not enough, and go to bed at night begging that tomorrow will be different. Lately, it seems like I can’t do anything right. From the complex tasks, like advocating for my son, to basic activities, like taking my daughter to the park, I feel like I am failing.

The truth: I am an exceptional mother, advocate, wife, daughter and friend. I might not always be the best I could be that day, but I am a damn-good person. If you need me, I will be there — sometimes before you knew you needed me! If you need a shirt, I’ll give you the one off my back. More importantly, I will give you everything I am. I am enough as I am, today and every day.

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

Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

248
248
2
TOPICS
, Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How I Struggled Accepting My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

507
507
3

I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since I was 17 years old. I am now 21, and sometimes I still — to this day — don’t want to believe it. I remember having so many breakdowns and not knowing how to describe them, besides to use the word “depressed.”

There were times when I felt so horrible and felt things were really “off,” but I didn’t know what to call it or how to label it. So I used the word depressed because I knew nothing else. That happened for a long time until one day, after an appointment with my psychiatrist, I walked up to the reception area and asked for my after visit summary, which listed bipolar disorder as my primary diagnosis. For a little while, I was just confused — I hadn’t ever seen or heard that diagnosis applied to myself — so I just kind of stared at the paper.

But when I finally sat down and thought about it and let it sink in, I cried.

For me, depression was a lot easier to grasp. A lot easier to explain, both to myself but also to my family and people around me. I felt like I was doing something wrong, and if I just tried hard enough I would be OK, I wouldn’t have to be on medications, etc. I never necessarily disagreed with my treatment team about the diagnosis, but I didn’t really fully believe them either. Mostly because I didn’t understand how it manifested in my own life.

The fact I had depression was painfully obvious, I’ve never doubted myself when I thought I was depressed. But I also go through rapid cycling, which is just what it sounds like — when your mood changes from manic — mixed — depressed very quickly without a break in-between. The mixed episodes were the ones I couldn’t put into words for the longest time. Those are the ones I mislabeled as depression. Mixed episodes, feeling both manic and depressed at the same time, I’ve found are the hardest ones for me to manage.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

woman's fingers holding key necklace with word strength printed on it

Mania is fun until it isn’t.

And depression is flat, gray and empty.

Living with bipolar disorder can mean you need to be taking medication for most of your life, and that’s hard to understand and accept when you’re 17. It’s still hard now. I’ve tried everything to prove to myself I could be OK without them. I’ve tried switching them, tried doing a med wash while inpatient, and I’ve tried just stopping them all myself. None of those methods worked for me (especially the “doing it myself” part — wouldn’t recommend).

Sometimes, I get caught up in thinking this is a matter of willpower, and if I just try hard enough I could really be OK. Which is why I’ve done things like ditching my meds. But that mindset gets me to where, when my mood switches again, and when the waves come back, I am disappointed in myself all over again.

But I am working on it, and I think that developing some acceptance came from many different places and experiences:

1. Hearing it from my doctors. Verbally and written.

2. Talking about it millions of times with therapists and having it explained to me in specific ways, using examples from my own life.

3. Reflecting on situations where I was experiencing extreme emotions, and just trying to be really honest with myself.

4. Learning, through talking with people around me, that I don’t need to walk around feeling ashamed because I have a bipolar diagnosis and that they won’t leave me because of it,

And most importantly, showing myself that I am more than a diagnosis and that by creating a life, I can manage bipolar disorder instead of it controlling me.

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

Main Unsplash image via Daryn Bartlett. “Strength” image via contributor.

507
507
3
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

For When I Wish I Didn't Have Bipolar Disorder

264
264
0

Today is not a good day.

My debit card number was stolen again (twice in one month), leaving me completely broke until they can get me reimbursed (about a week) or until payday (a week and a half).

Being bipolar 1 with rapid mixed states, these types of situations affect me in ways that can be more intense than they may affect someone else. Of course, this is a stressful situation for anyone to be in, but surprise bad news can be devastating to me. Hell, someone changing plans or canceling on me at the last minute can have the same effect.

My first instinct when I got the call to inform me of the fraud was to scream, then burst into uncontrollable tears, which I’m guessing didn’t make the representative that comfortable. I know it’s not their fault and I didn’t blame them for it, but this unexpected bad news triggered a panic attack which I have to sit through and try to work myself down from at work. I sit here now, hours later, in a daze, staring at random objects at my desk, unsure what to do.

Instantly my brain began its usual berating of myself.

“If you were more successful, this wouldn’t have been a problem.”

“If you didn’t live paycheck to paycheck, you would have been more prepared.”

“Why are you so useless?”

“Are you going to cry about this all day?”

“You’re 28, you live in a studio you can barely afford. Get your life together.”

“You are just a lost cause. What’s the point of you?”

“You’re a failure.”

I hear these voices; I listen to this verbal abuse my brain is giving myself and I cry. I cry because I believe every word and don’t know how to make anything better. I cry because I feel hopeless, helpless and useless to the world around me.

These are the times that I wish more than anything I was not bipolar — the times when unexpected bad things happen and instead of handling it calmly, looking for solutions or dealing with the issue, I break down and have to force myself to recover from whatever sort of episode it triggers — after I get through it first, of course.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

I think to myself what life would be like if I wasn’t mentally ill. Would I be happy? Would I have more meaningful relationships? Would I be more financially stable? Would I refrain from the irrational choices and decisions I’m constantly making? I actually Googled how to immigrate to the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland this morning, because all I wanted was to be out of the world as I knew it and for some reason, this seemed a logical solution.

The answer to these questions? Probably. My life may be completely different.

But I know one thing: I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be the me who has fought this illness, and fought it hard, for years. I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I have the strength to live alongside my bipolar disorder — that whatever it brings, I can overcome. I wouldn’t have the understanding and empathy that comes with being mentally ill for those who also struggle and live with it. We are all warriors — we all fight battles every day — and we can overcome. We can always overcome.

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

Thinkstock photo via Purestock

264
264
0
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.