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A Letter to Myself Before My Bipolar Diagnosis

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Hey Sarah, it’s me! I mean, it’s you. The older, wiser you from 14 years in your future. I have a few things to share with you, things you really need to know. I’m not trying to change your destiny, just trying to make the next 14 years a smoother, safer ride.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

It’s September of 2001. You’re 23 years old. You just graduated from college, bought your first car and are working at your first job. You’re not a fan of your new job, but don’t worry. A better job is not far away. You’re in love, but the relationship is kind of rocky. I wish I had better news, but he’s not “the one” for you. The road you’re on leads to disappointment, depression and heartache. Get off it as soon as you can — the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be.

The real reason I’m writing is to discuss your depression. I know exactly how much it sucks. And unless you make some changes, you’re going to experience it over and over again for the next 14 years. It will be overwhelming and at times you’ll be a danger to yourself. But I’m here to tell you that you will survive — it gets better. Even when you’re at your lowest, you have friends and family who care about you. Reach out to them and let them help you. No matter what, know your life is worth living. I’m counting on you to not give up.

And I’m so proud of you. After 11 years of suffering in silence, tomorrow is your first appointment with a psychiatrist. Your new doctor is going to diagnose you with major depression and put you on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). That would be an excellent choice…if you actually had major depression.

Let me save you years of misdiagnosis and mistreatment.

You don’t have unipolar depression. You have bipolar depression. The depressive symptoms are the same, so it’s hard to distinguish between the two. And you haven’t yet experienced mania. But trust me, it’s right around the corner.

Like many people with bipolar, traditional SSRI antidepressants can trigger manic episodes. And as soon as you start taking that drug, mania will rear its lovely head. Your manic episodes are periods of euphoria, recklessness and impulsivity. You’re incredibly creative and productive during these periods even though you don’t sleep. Your mania looks different from the typical mania because to most it appears like you’re in a really good mood. Out of habit you hide the reckless and impulsive decisions you make. Unfortunately, this is going to make proper diagnosis much more challenging.

Mania makes you feel immune to consequences, and to be honest, you’re going to do some pretty stupid things while you’re manic. All your choices are going to seem like a good idea at the time. Trust me, they weren’t.

I know you won’t believe this right away. You’re probably in denial.

So far your only personal experience with bipolar is your sister’s high school friend. She was fun to be with when she was manic, but dangerous when she was depressed. That’s not you; your bipolar is different. Everyone’s is a little different, and it’s nothing to be afraid of. You’ll probably have to figure it out the hard way.

Be open to an alternative diagnosis when it happens. When you finally accept you have bipolar disorder, see your doctor and start on the path towards stability. If you do these things, your next 14 years will be a joy. If you don’t, I’m pretty confident you’ll end up right where I am, this time writing a sharper, more strongly worded letter to your younger self.

Wishing you a happier and healthier future.

Follow this journey on Bipolar Bytes.

Originally published: October 8, 2015
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