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8 Ways People Realized They Had Bipolar – Not ‘Just’ Depression


Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

When seeking a mental health diagnosis, it’s sometimes not readily apparent that there’s more going on than meets the eye. What could be mistaken for “just” anxiety may be a more complex anxiety disorder, and what could be seen as “just” depression could actually be only one half of the story, and actually a sign of bipolar disorder.

Sadly, the latter misdiagnosis is all too common. This might not seem too crucial, but since antidepressants incorrectly prescribed for bipolar disorder can actually trigger mania, it’s important we have a good understanding of the signs and symptoms before they appear.

We asked our community to tell us some of the ways they realized they actually had bipolar disorder, and antidepressant-induced mania was just one of several answers we received. Getting the correct diagnosis is rarely simple — and of course, some people are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder

Remember: only a doctor or psychiatrist can properly diagnose you, but it helps to have an idea of what’s going on. And, no matter what, everything’s going to be OK. If your journey to a bipolar diagnosis was complicated, we hope our community’s answers below help you feel a little less alone.

Here’s what helped members of our community know they had bipolar:

1. An emergency admission to a psychiatric unit.

“I had a breakdown and ended up on a psychiatric unit. My first stay, I didn’t exhibit typical symptoms for a mood disorder. My second stay, I did — 66 days in a secure unit to finally get diagnosed with bipolar type 1.” — Tasha-Louise J.

“I had been diagnosed for years with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The change to the diagnosis of bipolar 1 was a several-month-long psychotic manic episode in which I thought I was chosen by God to lead a special mission to save humanity. I was hospitalized and the doctor treating me realized right away that my symptoms had pointed all along to a bipolar diagnosis.” — Lilly M.

“I had a severe mental breakdown. Was admitted to a psychiatric ward and after using SSRIs went into an extremely intense manic state. I was first diagnosed with bipolar 2. After using meds for two years and being extremely treatment resistant on all of them, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar 1 with psychotic features. Now my life is a daily struggle and I wish I could just cope.” — Dominique M.

2. A severe reaction to antidepressants.

“They prescribed me with two different SSRI medications over the course of a year and a half and kept upping my dosage when I complained about strange side effects. I went from severely depressed to ambitious to a full-blown erratic mess. Now I’m rapid cycling for the rest of my life.” — Cassandra L.

“My doctor kept prescribing different antidepressants. I tried about 10 different ones, and every time I would either have a bad reaction to them or have extremely elevated moods, which I later learned was hypomania.” — Lisbet F.

“A new psychiatrist realizing that my risky behavior as a teen started right after being put on an antidepressant. This realization came around 17 years later.” — Kate P.

3. Noticing unmistakable symptoms of mania.

“My impulsivity — a shopping spree, shaving my head, ending a long relationship and dying what was left of my hair pink, all in a period of fewer than two weeks. My therapist suggested it might be bipolar disorder and my psychiatrist agreed.” — Madison G.

“I had thoughts about it after I came down from a manic period. I looked over my text messages and noticed the multiple texts where I was unable to get all my thoughts in one message. I had an empty bank account and a bunch of useless stuff, a lot less sleep and a few other things. My dad actually noticed it first and mentioned it to my psychiatrist, but I realized it a little later and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s mania,’ and my psychiatrist agreed.” — Kaitlyn R.

“I had been shoplifting and acting irrationally about spending money I couldn’t afford. I was getting really high off doing irrational things. If I didn’t go to the shops, I was so depressed and low; I knew it was so wrong to shoplift but couldn’t help it until I came down from the highs. These bouts lasted about three months at a time. I eventually walked into my doctor with all the stolen things from the day and said enough is enough. I’m so glad I got help; it was an awful phase in my life.” — Bear H.

4. Comparing yourself to others with bipolar.

“It runs in my family; my uncle has bipolar and so did my nana. I had already been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) when my mom noticed the rest of my behavior was very similar to my nana. She did a bit of looking up and gently encouraged me to go talk to my doctor.” — Shannon D.

“When I talked to people with depression — specifically major depressive disorder (MDD) — I started noticing my depression was different. They seemed to almost always to be in a varying state of depression, and mine would cycle on and off. I was either depressed or I wasn’t. Cycling like this doesn’t mean you’re bipolar, but it was my first clue something was different. Then, one day, I was in a low depression and completely flipped — ‘overcorrected’ — into hypomania over the course of an hour. I had been keen on watching my moods, and I immediately knew what was going on. Over the course of that hypomanic period, I had classic and recognizable symptoms. When in that state, I asked my wife if she remembers me being like that before, and she said yes, many years ago. Even though I’m in denial sometimes, it’s hard to not see the obvious. The only thing that gives me reservations is my relatively short cycles of depression and hypomania. I can’t directly compare myself to many others for validation.” — Spencer B.

5. Hypergraphia, or compulsively writing a lot.

“My hypergraphia clued my doctors in. It’s not too common with bipolar disorder but once temporal lobe epilepsy was ruled out, bipolar was the next best choice.” — Shayla F.

6. Regular cycling moods or other mood swings.

“Oddly enough, someone said the fact that, regardless of what I do, I still get depressed the same time of day is an indicator. Additionally, the severity of my mood swings and the impulsivity behind them.” — Jessica H.

“The antidepressants weren’t working. They either did nothing or made things worse. And, looking back at my personal emotional history from the previous four or five years, what I had thought was just constant and severe mood swings also seemed to have a pattern. I could trace back manic and depressive episodes up to four years, and I had never noticed the pattern until I began wondering if I had bipolar disorder. As soon as my psychiatrist started to treat me for bipolar (medication included; we switched from assorted antidepressants to atypical antipsychotics) there was a distinct difference. It still wasn’t great, and she wasn’t a great psychiatrist so I started seeing someone new, but the new doctor continued treating me for bipolar disorder with the atypical antipsychotics and found a medicine that helps more than anything else ever has.” — Cadie H.

7. Research and self-advocating for a diagnosis.

“What made my doctor realize I had bipolar and not depression was that I had done my own research, self-diagnosed and then brought my research and examples in with me. He agreed without argument.” — Denise L.

“It became obvious when I was 16, when I started tracking my moods in my school homework journal. I saw the patterns of depression and hypomania emerging.” — Alanna G.

8. Time.

“I have been diagnosed 20 years too late. I always went to the doctor when I was down, so the diagnosis was depression. But when I started to feel on the top of the world, I asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. I noticed that my moods were very extreme — suicidal thoughts, alcohol consumption made me feel better, partying, feeling so confident than suddenly depressed, low self-esteem, crying and so on. The diagnosis did not take long.” — Agnes W.

Did we miss anything? Let us know how you realized your misdiagnosis in the comments below.

Photo by Rachael Crowe on Unsplash