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I Was Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder, Now What?

It’s more than two and a half years later, and I still remember what she said to me, turning my entire life upside down.

It was a late evening appointment, so the waiting room wasn’t packed. Comfortable on the plush lavender sofa, I attempted to relax with a hot cup of lemon ginger tea and the lobby’s ambient meditation music. I hadn’t met with my psychiatrist in a while. So much had transpired since my last visit.

After some small talk, she pulled up my file on her laptop. I told her that I knew something had been wrong. It’d been three months of little to no sleep, risky behavior, random travel, spending our life’s savings and hurting people I loved in the process. I was surprised I even made it to her patient chair. Someone hurting, who’d lost almost everything, and who just wanted answers.

Now for the part that turned my entire life upside down. My psychiatrist said, “Based on everything we now know, I’m diagnosing you with bipolar I disorder.” After we talked about medication, side effects, follow-up appointments and what this all meant for my life moving forward, I jetted to the parking lot to call my wife. Paranoia set in somewhere between flying out of the lobby and unlocking the door to my Corolla. It was hard to breathe, not only because of how cold it was outside but also because of the panic.

My wife, supportive and patient on her end of the call, had been through the worst of my episode. I was thankful I had her in my corner because the news was too much to digest. I recounted the appointment and begged her not to tell anyone about my bipolar diagnosis. Shame was at the root of my plea. Invisible walls were closing in.

Winter ended and spring passed like rush-hour traffic. With the diagnosis came cocktails of medications, therapy appointments, psychiatrist follow-ups, medication management and dealing with the depression that can exist on the other side of mania. I was encouraged to take as much time as I needed to heal. No one could give me the exact amount of time it’d take me to rest and stabilize. I was convinced no employer would hire me anyways — not when everyone knew I lived with this disease.

Eventually, I came to terms with my diagnosis though, at times, the guilt around it still creeps up on me. My therapist taught me to ask myself, “Is this true” whenever negative thoughts invaded my mind. This was especially helpful at times I convinced myself that I was unlovable, unforgivable, forever damned. Things slowly improved. At the end of the day, I’m glad I took the year to process everything that had transpired in the wake of my manic episode. I’m thankful I’m here today to share my story with you. You too can get through this new chapter of your life.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Take it one day at a time.

We can’t rush healing. I’ve learned that time is valuable, so if you have an opportunity to take time to rest, work on your wellness routine and build a network of support, you’ll thank yourself in the long run.

2. You’re not alone.

This is something I’ve learned in support groups. Others are still struggling with their diagnosis to this day. There is a community that exists for you. A great place to start is the community space provided right here on The Mighty.

3. This is not the end.

In fact, it’s a new beginning. It’s an opportunity for you to have clarity on your moods, emotions, tendencies, challenges, and gifts. Yes, there are gifts that come along with bipolar disorder. I’ve personally found this to be true as a parent.

4. Not everyone will understand.

For me, it’s been important to be mindful about who I disclose my diagnosis to, and when I disclose it. It’s for my own peace of mind. You get to set the pace and establish boundaries.

5. You are not your diagnosis.

My therapist and I worked extensively on unlearning shame. Part of that work was learning to tell myself, “What I did was bad” versus “Who I am is bad.” The same is true for bipolar disorder. You are not your diagnosis, but you live with a disorder. It’s another thing to manage.

Tracee Ellis Ross said, “I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me.” So, I’m sending this to you wherever you are on your journey. It’s going to work out. And yet, it’s OK to still be in shock, to struggle, to cry, and to feel defeated. Just know living is not in vain.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

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