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.
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.
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Unsplash image via Molly Belle