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How I Found Clarity on My Mental Health Diagnosis Journey

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At 14 years old, I sat in a psychiatrist’s office with my mother and a pharmacist being handed a booklet on the dangers of mood stabilizer medicine. I had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after struggling with depression for two years with brief bouts of hypomania. I was told I was very young to be diagnosed with bipolar let alone being given a mood stabilizer to treat it, but other medications had failed to control my moods. From now on I would be having blood tests every three months. I couldn’t get dehydrated, I had to carry a small purple “mood stabilizer alert card” everywhere I went and had to be very cautious of taking any medications my doctor hadn’t OK’d.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

My bipolar had been triggered by continuous trauma over a number of years and to some extent genetics. It started with a depression that was so deep I didn’t feel human, I self-harmed regularly in an attempt to relieve the pressure I felt inside and I looked forward to the days where I felt nothing at all because the constant sinking feeling in my chest was unbearable. My family was told on more than one occasion to lock away anything I could use to seriously harm myself. Then suddenly I started feeling better, I had more energy, positive thoughts were rushing through my head, the sun was shining everything was brighter. I thought I was remembering what happiness felt like, I was getting back to my old self. Two weeks later I was in front of my psychiatrist being given mood charts to fill out each day, my family saw something in this newfound happiness I didn’t and soon the doctor did too. I never became manic, but it was clear hypomania was an issue. I was trialed on different antipsychotics all with many side effects that eventually led to me starting the mood stabilizer, a medication I have been on ever since.

My diagnosis was never questioned until I moved away for university. Until then I continued on the mood stabilizer sometimes taking anti-depressants for a short time or anti-anxiety medications. A new city meant a new doctor. I was quickly assessed by him during my first appointment; 20 minutes later he decided I did not have bipolar, I had schizoaffective disorder. He said my paranoia went beyond the realm of bipolar, it was more of a delusion or psychosis and therefore schizoaffective was a better fit.

His explanation of how he came to this conclusion made sense. I dealt with paranoia on a daily basis no matter how stable or unstable my mood was. I was told to stay on my current medication (the mood stabilizer and low dose antipsychotic) and was sent on my way. I never saw that particular doctor again after an administrative “mix up” that also led to my notes going “missing.” When I told the next doctor I saw I’d been re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, nobody questioned me despite there being no written evidence or report to support my claim. Something told me my new diagnosis wasn’t correct, but no professionals were saying otherwise.

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Fast-forward three years, I was now seriously doubting my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I decided a fresh set of eyes was a good idea and saw a new psychiatrist. I spent a long time in his office rehashing my whole life for what felt like the 1,000th time. He asked, “what did I want from this appointment?”

I responded with one word: “clarity.”

“I’m not convinced you have schizoaffective disorder,” he said. “Your symptoms are consistent with bipolar 2.”

He went on to explain how my paranoia was rooted in my anxiety and non-existent self-esteem; it wasn’t really paranoia so to speak. He told me I had serious social anxiety problems and an “emotionally unstable personality,” which could be helped with the correct talk therapy. I had been diagnosed with bipolar for the second time, a diagnosis that whilst was not welcomed, it made sense.

My journey from bipolar to schizoaffective to bipolar again taught me one important thing. If you aren’t comfortable with a diagnosis and want clarity, seek a second, third, fourth opinion or more. The psychiatrists that spent more time with me both said bipolar was the problem. The one that rushed me and lost my notes (if they ever existed) changed my diagnosis and misunderstood my symptoms leading to incorrect treatment of my symptoms for years.

The correct diagnosis is crucial in helping yourself, in making you stable and allowing you to progress. For a while I was worried that by questioning my diagnosis I would look like I was being a bad patient, like I was non-compliant. However, really questioning my diagnosis was the smartest thing I did, because now I have a plan that works and an understanding of my mental health that’s clearer than ever before. Clarity has become a very important word to me when it comes to mine and others’ mental health, because having opens up a whole new world.

Getty image by Benjavisa

Originally published: November 30, 2020
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