Oftentimes, I hear people with any kind of health problem, mental or physical, express the wish that they had been diagnosed as a child so that they could have learned to handle their disease better. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder type I at age 12, I can say that no — a childhood diagnosis is not always better. A childhood diagnosis does not always help you learn to better care for yourself because, well, you’re a child. And if you’re like me, it actually ruins your life by killing your body and numbing your mind with meds you’re personally not ready for. I personally became reliant on medication I couldn’t get off of, and depending on your parents, your diagnosis may be a tool for abuse . The thing about being a child is that, for one, you’re just a kid. When I was 12, I figured there wasn’t anything wrong with me and had no idea what the word “ bipolar ” or “schizoaffective” meant. I wound up in a psychiatrist’s office because I was being bullied at school and my parents never believed me. They would have believed me if I had gotten into a fistfight (OK, boomers), but because I came home crying every day, they assumed I was mentally ill. Despite the diagnosis and my vehement denial of it, as I struggle with it today, I was put on heavy antipsychotics at a very young age and began my path down to destruction. I took my meds as prescribed, mainly because when we came back from the pharmacy I refused and my mother shoved them down my throat. As in, grabbed me and held my mouth open. From then on I learned I had to take my meds. By the time I graduated high school, I had been conditioned to believe that if I felt a negative emotion, it was because my meds weren’t working and not because I was a teenage girl. At college, during my freshman year, I stopped taking my meds completely cold turkey. That year, I felt amazing. I was finally a “normal” girl. However, I also met the man who would become my abuser, and the following year entered a toxic relationship that would leave a permanent scar. During this relationship , I went back to taking my meds and found a psychiatrist. This time I really did think I was “crazy” – how could this be happening? Why was I treated like this? I eventually got out of the relationship and developed chronic migraines, which a neurologist attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At this point, I dedicated myself to a medication regimen and journaling, and eventually gained a glimpse of stability. This stability, however, was smashed. I cycled through a couple of therapists, many of whom didn’t believe I had bipolar disorder, but my psychiatrists did, until I developed fibromyalgia . Chronic pain broke me, and my long-standing psych meds took the blame for causing it. It was agreed that I needed to be taken off them, but each time an attempt to wean me off the meds was made, I went dangerously manic . I ran away from my new husband three times without warning to destinations hours away. This time around, I received a bipolar disorder and PTSD diagnosis, and was tasked with finding some powerful way of managing it for the first time in my life. I may have been diagnosed as a child with schizoaffective disorder, but I had no idea what self-care or self-love was. My feelings always took the back seat to biochemistry, and growing up I was denied therapy by my family because my psychiatrist believed I was too unstable for it. The entire time I thought I was just a kid, and I probably was. But I had become dependent on the medications, as I had been on them for 17 years at this point. Now I was trapped in a miserable body. I always struggled with a lack of self-love. How could I now? I was the most unstable I had ever been, doing the strangest and most hurtful things I had ever done. The psych meds and the pain meds were not working. When I looked in the mirror I cringed at what I saw. No longer athletic, my dream of being a yoga instructor felt impossible. These psych meds and my “poorly managed bipolar ” (to quote one of my many psychiatrists) was killing me. In all honesty, the average person with bipolar is diagnosed with it as an adult. I honestly can’t relate to that experience as someone who can barely remember life before psychiatry. But I do know that in my experience, once you get that label as a kid, you aren’t a kid anymore. That’s because bipolar is so stigmatized, and children can be crueler than adults. My father is a preacher, and I was forced to hide my diagnosis from everyone in the tiny town I grew up in as he was a public figure. Mom and dad told me no one would understand, and because of this I was in the “crazy people closet.” I understand the word “crazy” is offensive, but this negative self-talk was taught to me. As I write a book on disabilities, I am trying to unlearn the berating language directed at me I accepted as “normal” because, well, I was a child in the boonies. I had nothing else to compare to. About four people outside of my immediate family know of my diagnosis. It will probably always be that way, as I rarely come out of my “closet.” I’d more readily talk about chronic pain than bipolar and the injustice that taints it in my past. Whenever you get your diagnosis, I know it hurts. But you get it when you get it. To my bipolar kids and teens, I see you. To my adults, I have some war stories to swap if you need some comfort. It’s hard to learn it’s OK to be bipolar , and we’re all in this together.