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The Multiple Misdiagnoses I Faced Before I Learned I Have Bipolar Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

My deepest hope is to make you feel less alone if you were ever misdiagnosed or have encountered an incapable psychiatric provider along the way. I see you. I hear you. Your experience is valid.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

And this is mine.

The first time I entered a psychiatrist’s office, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder right away after being asked just a few questions, and I was put on an antidepressant that immediately sent me straight into mania. My psychiatrist at the time didn’t realize. She just switched antidepressants.

My life proceeded to go down the drain. Throughout the next two years, I was in and out of the A&E, where all they did was put me on a medication drip and then send me home. The IV helped take the edge off, but I felt completely “out of my mind.”

In 2017, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder. She said she’d just realized I had the mental illness. What haunts me to this day is that after getting out of the psychiatrist’s office with a prescription for two antidepressants, some other medications, and no mood stabilizer at all, it still didn’t occur to me that I ought to find a new psychiatrist. Just imagine — you go tell your psychiatrist that you’re suicidal, and she goes, “Oh no, lovely, why are you thinking like that?” She actually told me that — more than once.

The problem was I was completely uneducated. I really thought my psychiatrist’s behavior was “normal” for a mental health provider. When I finally started reading about bipolar disorder, I realized she wasn’t a good psychiatrist. I’d attempted suicide a few weeks before I started to educate myself about my condition. I rang another hospital and switched providers.

I developed a strong and powerful emotional bond with my new psychiatrist. I felt heard. I finally felt I was on the right path. I was put on a new medication, and my life got slightly better.

But — and yes, there’s a “but” — from 2017 to 2021 I’d relapse every February, and I’d end up inpatient in March and April. I loved my psychiatrist, but she was a student—I was her first patient after she got out of medical school. She didn’t know how to handle my medication levels. She didn’t know how to keep a medication treatment plan without constantly making changes to it. Her lack of experience reflected on my stability and quality of life, which at that point was fully dictated by my illness. I not only had bipolar disorder, but bipolar disorder also had me.

In 2018 I was admitted to a psychiatric rehabilitation facility two hours away from home. I left there with a borderline personality disorder (BPD) diagnosis. The consequences of this diagnosis destroyed me. My family started seeing a consultant who had extreme prejudices against people with BPD and fed them lies and misconceptions. Everything I did from that moment on was “because I had BPD.”

“I’m hypersensitive and always have been.”

“Of course, you have BPD.”

“I feel strong emotions.”

“Of course, you have BPD.”

“I am impulsive.”

“Of course, you have BPD.”

The thing is, I was never tested for BPD — not by the team at the rehabilitation center and not by my psychiatrist after I left. If they had bothered to test me, they’d have realized I didn’t meet the criteria for BPD. I never have and I never will, because —plot twist— I don’t have it. However, BPD became my primary diagnosis. My psychiatrist talked me into starting talk therapy again, which has never worked for me. What does work for me is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), but I didn’t find a therapist who specializes in CBT until late 2021.

Then suddenly, my psychiatrist referred me to another hospital and left. Not only was I heartbroken, but the care I received there was appalling. I was literally told that I “had no hope left because I’d tried every medication.” After yet another admission when I was gaslighted, laughed at, ignored, and teased, I was diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder. I’d almost lost all hope. Maybe that doctor was right — maybe I was a “hopeless case.”

But as I’m writing this, I’m on day 309 of my real recovery. At that point, I met the doctor who saved my life — just a few days after getting discharged from that hellhole. A friend of my parents’ gave me his name and number. Both of my previous personality disorder diagnoses were thrown into the bin — and what a relief. I got diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and panic disorder. I was put on a treatment plan which has undergone only minor changes in the past year.

I’m in grad school.

I was out of the hospital on St. Patrick’s Day.

I just celebrated World Bipolar Day out of the hospital.

I’m actually, happily living.

There is hope. Don’t ever allow anyone to make you think there isn’t.

And please, please, don’t make the same mistake as I did — educate yourself. If you think you have bipolar disorder, read about your symptoms and how they’re treated. It really can make a difference.

Getty image by Hiraman.

Originally published: April 4, 2022
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