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Accepting a New, Unfamiliar Mental Illness Diagnosis

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About five years ago, I went to a doctor to tell him I was feeling restless, sad and uninspired. He asked what my personal life was like and besides a few hiccups in my personal life, everything was fairly good. Then he asked a few questions and, after answering truthfully, he said I had all the symptoms of depression. I laughed and said no, that couldn’t be. My life was OK, it didn’t make sense that I was depressed. I walked out of that office thinking I needed to see a new doctor.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

After about a year, my life got better but my symptoms stayed around. So I went to see a new doctor. He gave me a longer exam that was similar to the last doctor and again said it was depression. He suggested I try Prozac and filled a prescription for me. I think I stared at that bottle of Prozac for two whole weeks and did a ton of research on antidepressants. I didn’t want to be one of those people who had to take medication for depression at first, but then I realized, “If I had another health issue, I wouldn’t second guess taking medication, so why I am questioning this?” I took my first pill and continued for a month.

After a month of nausea and headaches, my depression finally started feeling lifted. I didn’t feel upset or useless. I didn’t feel… anything. I watched a drama and the main character died and I remember sitting on my bed thinking, “I should be feeling something!” but nothing came. I stopped taking the Prozac and just tried to “think better thoughts,” the treatment plan those who don’t have depression give people with depression.

Then last fall my depression took a bigger turn and I was afraid to be alone with myself. Afraid of my thoughts, afraid of my anxiety spiraling out of control, afraid of anyone seeing I couldn’t hold it in anymore and that the reason my makeup was “flawless” was because I was trying to conceal the puffy bags under my eyes from crying. I hit the end of the road and my depression started saying it was either him or me. That’s when I called to make an appointment with a therapist.

It’s not easy to ask for help. I was always the first person to tell people there is no shame in therapy, but was terrified of my first appointment. After a few sessions and a few exams, my therapist told me she thought I had bipolar II. I told her check again. I came in for depression and I could not be bipolar. She said I was ignoring the hypomania part (apparently, most people do) and wasn’t looking at my cycles. After doing a ton of research and seeing a good psychiatrist, I accepted it. I was bipolar II. I would take the medication and would try to get better. After all, I had to. There was no other option at this point.

Telling my best friends was tough though. How do you tell your friends that on top of your fibromyalgia (oh yeah, I have that too — jackpot!) you also have a mental illness that is portrayed as being unstable and often dangerous in the media? I started with my best friend who I have known for 15 years. She hugged me and said that it didn’t change who I was at all, I just was going to be able to get the stability I have been seeking for years. She also kindly told me I was being a little silly being totally OK with a depression diagnosis but not this new one. “What’s the difference?” she asked, while I cried. “A lot of people have depression! Do you know who has bipolar?! No one!” I told her with tears streaming down my cheek. She then reminded me that her cousins had it, and that while they weren’t taking medication or working on theirs, she was fully confident I would be completely fine.

It took me a few months of research on the illness, my medication working properly, my moods finally stabilizing, and a number of sessions asking my therapist, “So you’re sure it’s bipolar?” for me to finally be OK with it. I went from thinking depression wasn’t something I could have, to hitting close to the bottom, to rejecting my bipolar diagnosis, to turning a new leaf and accepting it all. Now I wish I had done so earlier. Why did I wait so long to feel stable?

Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages

Originally published: June 28, 2017
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