The Big Factor That Allowed Me to Take Control of My Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder. I first came into contact with these words after over a year of struggling though being on top of the world, having panic attacks, enduring depressive episodes and surviving a suicide attempt.

I wish I could say to you that when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder I received a thorough explanation of what it was and how it was related to the symptoms I was experiencing. However, as you may have guessed, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Four years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While this certainly wasn’t my first mental health diagnosis, it was my first time being diagnosed with a mood disorder.

Now, I had never heard of bipolar disorder at this point. The only information I was given on it was an old government pamphlet with cartoon explanations that looked like they were circa “Schoolhouse Rock!” era. Needless to say, as a male in his early 20s, I wasn’t interested.

Like some other things in life, I was somehow led to believe that if I just took my medicine and thought positive thoughts, it would go away. I didn’t think to question anything at the time. I mean, I guessed my lack of medication was why I was so depressed, having panic attacks, racing thoughts, etc.

I was wrong. Really wrong. I mean, devastatingly wrong.

The problem didn’t lie in the fact that I wasn’t trying (in fact, things seemed to improve from time to time); the problem was that I hadn’t been properly educated regarding my illness.

Needless to say, it was only a matter of time before I slipped into a season of rapid cycling between mania and depression. Frankly, I didn’t understand why it was happening or that something could have triggered it. I was taking my medicine — everything should have been fine.

Well, it turns out that there’s a whole lot of information about bipolar, the vast majority of which, I wasn’t privy to for several years.

Fast forward about one year, throw a new psychiatrist (and team) in the mix to support me, and things have changed dramatically in my recovery and long-term health. I’d like to say medication adjustments and therapy have been the biggest factors (and they have been dramatic factors), but that just wouldn’t be true.

The biggest factor in my recovery and health with bipolar was being educated about the disorder itself. I now have a new diagnosis (bipolar type one with rapid cycling) and, thankfully, a team that has been committed to my education about bipolar from the onset.

Before then, I wasn’t fully aware of how bipolar disorder was playing out in my life. I wasn’t aware of how it would be with me for the rest of my life. I wasn’t aware that my life would need to change drastically in order to manage it and be healthy long-term.

For the first time, I understood why I was manic or depressed. For the first time, I could look for the characteristics of mania and depression and seek help when they appeared. For the first time, I could start looking for triggers in my life and seek to work through those in therapy. For the first time, I felt like I understood that I am not bipolar, but I have bipolar.

When we find ourselves misinformed, or not informed about our illness at all, we run the risk of not being as self-aware or prepared for managing our illness as we can, so that we might truly be healthy in the long-term.

Education, even when it comes to mental health, is a powerful tool in the toolbox of recovery. For me, it has served as a great means of hope — hope that this is something I can indeed manage in the long run.

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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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via YaroslavGerzhedovich

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