The 4 Emotions I Felt After Being Diagnosed With Bipolar II Disorder
I spent 14 years thinking I had major depressive disorder. That’s 14 years of being treated with antidepressants. It’s also 14 years of dealing with medication that didn’t work, unexplained extreme mood swings and relentless suicidal thoughts.
When I started seeing a psychiatrist again after nine years away, I wasn’t surprised when he diagnosed me with depression — because that’s what my last doctor told me.
But I was surprised that at every visit, he’d ask me questions like:
Do you ever go from extremely sad to extremely happy on the same day?
Does that happiness only last a few days?
Do you also feel irritable and/or productive when you’re happy?
What about overly confident or like you can do anything?”
I knew he was asking questions related to bipolar disorder, and I vehemently denied every one of his questions. In some cases, I’d even lie. No, I’m not irritable on the days I’m happy. No, I don’t feel depressed in the morning and extremely happy by the afternoon.
I wasn’t bipolar. I couldn’t be.
But after doing some research (and learning there’s more than one type of bipolar disorder), I had this gut feeling my psychiatrist was onto something. And the next time I went in for an appointment, I answered his questions honestly.
So, after 14 years of being treated for depression and never getting better, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. And almost instantly, a wave of several different emotions flooded over me so intensely I broke down in tears.
Here are the emotions I felt after receiving my new diagnosis.
I was 14 when I was initially diagnosed with depression, and because I was a minor, my parents were in control of my treatment. To this day, I still remember how I felt being on the medication — and none of it had to do with getting better.
I was tired all the time and still really depressed. I felt numb and empty. I felt like there was a cloud of fog around me. I dealt with constant suicidal thoughts. And I just knew that none of this was normal. So, I told my parents and psychiatrist I didn’t like how the medication made me feel. I told them I wasn’t getting better. And I said over and over again I felt better off the medication than on it.
But no matter how hard I fought, no one wanted to listen. Now – 14 years later – I learned the reason my medication never worked was because I was being treated for the wrong mental illness.
And so the first emotion I felt was anger. Anger because I said for years that something wasn’t right. Anger because no one wanted to listen to me when I was struggling because I was “just a teenager” and my doctor “knew best.” I was angry I spent 14 years not getting better because no one wanted to listen.
But I was also angry with myself for not being honest with my psychiatrist to begin with. If I had, I wouldn’t have spent eight weeks on antidepressants that made me feel the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. And that was a hard pill to swallow.
I know that having a mental illness – including bipolar disorder – is nothing to be ashamed of. I tell that to people all the time both in person and on my blog. But there I was, driving home from my appointment, feeling ashamed about my new diagnosis.
I kept thinking about how embarrassing it would be to say, “I’m bipolar” instead of “I’m depressed” or what people would think when they found out I’m bipolar.
But after talking to one of my friends, I was able to gain some clarity on the situation. She said to me, “It’s just a label the doctor uses to determine your treatment plan. It doesn’t change a thing about who you are.”
After taking a few moments to soak that in, I realized she was right. I’m still the same person I was before – kind, funny, smart, strong and a badass. Nothing about who I am deep down changes.
I realize now that being bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of. Because although it is a large part of who I am, I’m still so much more than my mental illness.
After getting home, talking to a few people and having a chance to research and better understand my new diagnosis, I felt relief.
It was a relief to know I’d finally be treated with the right type of medications (mood stabilizers instead of antidepressants). It was a relief to know the suicidal thoughts would eventually go away.
Mostly, though, it was a relief that after all these years, someone finally listened when I said I wasn’t OK.
When I called my doctor’s office and told them I was struggling with suicidal thoughts, they listened and got me in for an appointment the same day. When I told my psychiatrist I felt hopeless, useless and worthless, he believed me and took it as a sign something wasn’t right.
After all these years, it was a relief to know that fighting for my treatment and fighting to get better finally mattered. It was a relief to know that – after months of wandering through the darkness – there really was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Above all else, being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder gave me hope.
Hope that my treatment plan was finally headed in the right direction. Hope that better, brighter days were ahead. Hope that I really wasn’t going to feel like this forever. Hope that my story wasn’t over yet.
I finally had hope that someday soon, the old me would return. That I could smile and mean it, laugh without forcing it and enjoy doing the things I love with the people I love.
I know life with bipolar II won’t always be rainbows and unicorns. It’s something I’ll live with for the rest of my life. And despite how scary that sounds (and feels), I’m relieved I have the right answers and hopeful that everything is going to be OK.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
Thinkstock photo via Any_Li