Why Bipolar Disorder Is Like Repeating the 5 Stages of Grief


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Many of us have heard of or experienced the five stages of grief at some point. This usually happens after a major loss, so it makes sense that with a bipolar diagnosis you might experience them — you’ve lost the only self you know. I have experienced them over and over. Here are the five stages, in case you need a refresher.

1. Denial: “This can’t be happening.”
2. Anger: “Why is this happening to me?”
3. Bargaining: “I will do anything to change this.”
4. Depression
: “What’s the point of going on after this loss?”
5. Acceptance: “It’s going to be OK.”

After my suicide attempt — “accidental,” as some see it — all I could think in the hospital was: “What is going on?  How did I get here? How did I get so sad that I am here? I have a good family, and great friends; how did this happen? I’m getting out of here. I know what to say, I’m going home to my kids. This wasn’t how I planned it, so it was an accident.” Denial.

After arriving home, the cycle continued. My plan was still in full effect. I managed to put a fake smile on my face and knew that soon, it would all be OK. Depression and Denial.

Five months later, a friend of mine scheduled an appointment with a therapist and told me where and when to go. I went with lots of apprehensions and prepared to convince her I was fine, and this was just a phase. This therapist helped me realize how depressed I was and the next day, I admitted myself to an inpatient intensive program. Acceptance.

While at the hospital, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder — at the age of 41, though I’d known since I was 22. At first, I was angry at myself for doing this, I had just admitted I was “crazy,” as people who don’t know better would say. “Why are you doing this? You’re not ‘crazy,’ just dramatic. This is embarrassing.” Anger.

I prayed every night, vowing to be better, to not disappoint my loved ones anymore and show I’m strong and I don’t need medication. I was gaining weight, having side effects and I wasn’t feeling any different. “I am finally better and can go back to my old life and be a new and better me.” Bargaining.

As the program progressed and I listened to other people talk, I realized this was a good place for me and I had found others feeling like I do. The medication slowly began to work. Though I was still gaining weight, I was at peace. Acceptance.

Since getting out of the hospital, I can see how I’ve cycled through the stages many times, and I’ve watched some friends and family do it as well. I will include some quotes about what I’ve felt, as well as things others have shared.

Denial:  “I feel great, I think I can totally stop my medication. It’s done its job and done it well.” “I don’t really see a change in you since starting your medication, I think you can stop them now.” “You’ll never change.”

Anger: “This sucks! I’ve gained so much weight, I get tremors and my stomach hurts. Maybe I should just stop the meds.” “This is embarrassing! Why do you write about it? It’s our business, stop putting family business on the internet.”

Bargaining: “Now that I feel good, I can stop the meds. They did their job and I am cured. I’ll never again be who was, I have the skills to be OK.”  “You look so good, do you feel good? Great, so you can stop taking pills now, right?”

Depression: “No one believes this is real and maybe they’re right. I’m so weak, I wish I was more like (insert name here).” “It makes me sad to see you on so many meds, how do you think your kids feel? I’m sure it gets to them.”

Acceptance: “This is where I am. Recovery is a journey that never ends. I don’t ever want to be who I was, so I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I’m on the right track. Everyone else will just have to accept it.” “You are doing so good. I’m so proud of you, I can see how you’ve changed. Keep doing what you’re doing, you will be OK.”

These are just a few of what I hear and think. I have been on this cycle for two years now. I imagine at some point I’ll hit acceptance about my recovery and stay there. Until then, the cycle continues.

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 reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Getty Images photo via PORNCHAI SODA


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