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When a Therapist Assumed I Was Manic Because I Looked Nice That Day

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My most recent therapy session left me feeling discriminated against, unfairly judged and extremely offended. My new therapist, who I had only seen a few times at this point, was the root and cause of these unsavory feelings. As soon as I walked through her door and sat on her uncomfortable red couch, she had decided on my mood. She had determined I was hypomanic, before even asking me how I was feeling, and made that determination based on my appearance.

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That particular day, I had carefully chosen to wear a skirt and a blouse. I decided to do my hair and my makeup as if I were going somewhere special. I chose to do these things because I had the time. I am a single mother of a very energetic and demanding 13-month-old girl who doesn’t allow me much time in the bathroom most days to clean myself up. But on the day of this therapy session, she took a long nap, and I had time to put myself together before therapy. I was feeling good, feeling confident — and that’s not to say I don’t feel that way on a regular day. But my therapist wasn’t interested in the reason why I looked so nice, she was only interested in labeling me.

She said that in previous sessions, I must have been experiencing depression because my hair was up, my face was untouched and my clothing was plain. She was judging me when she should have been asking me what was going on, or how I was feeling. If she would have asked those things, she would have known that I had more time that morning to get ready. She would have known I had just started a new medication, and that one of the side affects was increased energy. She would have known earlier that morning, I had received a call from a perspective employer who was considering me for a job, and that I was hopeful and excited. But she didn’t ask, she just assumed. And the only reason she assumed was because I have a mental illness.

If I weren’t affected by a mental illness, she may have told me I looked nice that day. If I didn’t have a mental illness, she would have assumed during the other sessions, I was tired because I’d been up since 6 a.m. with the baby. But because mental illness is part of my life, she discriminated against me and sorely misread my hope, extra time and excitement as hypomania. I wanted to ask her, “What does it mean when my mom doesn’t do her makeup on the weekends, but does during the work week? Does that make her either depressed or hypomanic?” The answer is no, because my mom doesn’t suffer from a mental illness. She would be described as relaxed or ready for work, whereas I am described as up or down.

During that session, it was made clear to me my therapist sees my illness as black and white. She sees me as a walking, talking illness, not as a person who is afflicted by bipolar disorder. We had only seen each other a few times, and not nearly enough for her to know my hypomanic tendencies. I know it is her job to track my moods and be aware of the triggers and warning signs, but it is not her job to judge me because of how I look.

I wanted to tell her to be careful with her comments. I wanted to tell her she was doing more harm than good. But I was too upset, too offended to say anything. I felt like I couldn’t defend myself because if I did, I would be deemed argumentative, which just happens to be a text book symptom of hypomania. And that seemed to be all she was interested in knowing; the text book definition of hypomania, and not how hypomania presents itself in a case by case basis. I left the session feeling more insecure than I had felt in a long time, and feeling like I didn’t want to go back because of how I would be perceived.

If I do go back, what do I wear? Should I leave my hair up, or wear it down? Do I dare to put makeup on? These are not questions I should have to ask myself. I should feel safe with my therapist, not judged. Instead of solving problems, a new one was created. And now I feel like I’m on my own to solve this new problem of being insecure. I won’t go back, and I am terrified to try again. I’m so discouraged, so disappointed, and I don’t know how that can be repaired.

Originally published: June 14, 2016
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