The 5 Stages of Grief I Experienced After My Bipolar Diagnosis

I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started on medication to manage it. This came after many years of euphoric highs and devastating lows, relational struggles, mental torment, failed attempts at school and work, and eventually, an involuntary hospitalization for an acute manic episode. I was sent to the emergency department by my family doctor, who wrote a note stating I was “displaying manic features.” I had no idea what he meant, but it sure sounded scary. I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital and started medication. After three weeks, I went home.

In the time since my discharge from the hospital, I have realized that the way I processed my diagnosis paralleled the stages of grief. And that’s OK. It’s OK to grieve a new diagnosis that changes your life. The best thing about grief is that it ends with acceptance and hope — I have now fully accepted my diagnosis and have fresh hope for my future.

Here are the five stages I went through before I reached true acceptance of my bipolar diagnosis:

1. Shock and denial. 

Despite experiencing hills and valleys for five years, I was still shocked when the doctor officially said I was having a manic episode of bipolar disorder. I fought against it, saying I was “just tired” and “a little stressed.” He told me stress doesn’t make a person jump on hospital beds, not sleep for four days or talk at warp speed.

2. Anger. 

After the shock passed and I recognized that the doctor, in his wisdom, was absolutely right — I was angry (at everything). Angry that I would be on medication forever. Angry that people allowed my mood swings to go on for years without intervening. Angry that my brain wasn’t “normal.” Angry that I would have to be meticulous about balancing my work and school life so I don’t get thrown off the deep end. Angry that I would mature sooner than my peers because of this.

3. Reflection and depression

When my anger simmered down, I started reflecting on the past several years of my life and I became very sad. I ruined relationships, dropped out of university, couldn’t hold a job, broke off ties with my family, maxed out credit cards and had interactions with police — all because I didn’t seek help when my symptoms first emerged.

I was depressed because I allowed mood swings to rule my life just because pride got in the way and I didn’t seek help when I should’ve. I didn’t think I could ever pick up the broken pieces that were my life. (Spoiler alert: I could, and I did!)

4. Problem solving. 

I eventually worked through the rumination of my past and moved on to, “OK, I have a problem, what can I do about it?” So, I took my meds. I started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist regularly. I learned coping skills for the bad days that would still inevitably come. Then, I applied to university again — and was accepted. I got a part-time job. I paid off my credit card bills. I found an apartment one hour away from my parents so I would still have family support while also being on my own. The medication brought me to a place where I could take those positive steps to enhance my daily life and my future.

5. Acceptance and hope.

Once I began my regime of therapy, school and work, my life took a massive turn for the better. I accepted, whole-heartedly, that I have this disorder. It is, and always will be, a part of me; but it does not define me. Life will be different, but for the better!  A diagnosis doesn’t change what was already broken in my mind, it just paves a way for the brokenness to be mended.  My moods can be managed, I can form strong relationships, hold a job and obtain a degree.  I now have hope that I will have a future — and a beautiful one at that.

It’s OK to grieve. Grief leads to hope, and hope leads to a life worth living.

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

Unsplash image via Molly Belle

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Bipolar Disorder

black and white photo of woman with depression leaning against table

4 Ways My Bipolar Disorder Has Affected Motherhood

Being a mom is what I always desired — to love and raise a child, mold him and impress upon him the love of life. I was eager to provide basic needs to the more complex needs (such as discipline and instilling values). Unfortunately, I feel my son got the short end of the stick with me. [...]
man and woman wearing converse sneakers in bright and dark color, feet facing opposite

How Bipolar Disorder Affects My Gender Identity

People with bipolar disorder often struggle with separating themselves from their disorder. It is a chronic condition people have to manage on a daily basis. Sometimes I struggle with knowing what is the “real me” and what is my illness. By its nature, bipolar disorder affects my moods, emotions, behavior and thoughts. So, it’s difficult to separate [...]
illustration of woman with cracked fire effect on body against defocused lights

5 Warning Signs for the 'Manic Fire' of Bipolar Disorder

Most people are aware of, or at least have heard of, some of the major characteristics of a person struggling with manic episodes – the rash racing thoughts, rage and mood instability, hypersexuality and suicidal ideations, to name a few. But there are all of the little things – little struggles before the cataclysmic ones. [...]
male barista handing over coffee

To the Barista Whose Carelessness Had a Huge Impact on My Bipolar Disorder

Dear Barista, You probably don’t remember me. You probably haven’t given me much thought since you swiped my card and handed over my beverage. But I remember you. And I think about you. A lot. Our initial interaction was about as benign as one could expect. I ordered a large decaf latte with a splash [...]