By: Danielle Workman
I’ve said it in many other posts and even in my book, but the day I received my diagnosis and was told I had Bipolar Disorder, I truly felt alone. The days that followed, the feeling remained. The more I searched online and the more I dug, the worse I felt. I longed for someone to tell me that things were going to be okay. That life wasn’t over.
Because during those days, with new medications causing brain fog and allowing ugly emotions to seep through, I needed to hear it. I needed to hear something I could actually use about my new diagnosis. I wish I somebody had said these 5 things to me:
1. It may not feel like it today, or even tomorrow, but everything is going to be okay.
This diagnosis for me felt like a death sentence. Like I had been handed a diagnosis far more lethal than the one I actually got. I felt like I was being told I was defective, broken and a total loss. The reality was, that my symptoms were telling me that. The sun would still rise the next morning, like it had all the days before the diagnosis. And with the sun, I would have a choice to make, work towards wellness or give in.
My dad said it best. “You don’t have an option. You can either make yourself better, or be made to be your diagnosis. But I don’t see you doing that. You fought this long, why not fight a little more?” So each day, I wake up and decide whether or not I’ll fight myself. If you’re keeping score, I haven’t lost yet, and if you’re reading this you haven’t lost either.
2. When you see Bipolar in the news, media or even social media, it’s almost always presented wrong. Don’t get angry, they’re trying.
Post diagnosis, the first example of Bipolar Disorder I saw was in the news. A man with long wild grey hair and eyes so light blue they scared me was shown next to a title reading, “Crazed man arrested in assault case.” As I read the article it came to light that this man was a Bipolar I patient and was off of his medications because he couldn’t afford them. He went into a manic phase and hurt someone. I sat back in my computer chair, shaking as I tried to hold back tears. I felt bad for this man. I felt worse for people that didn’t understand Bipolar Disorder. I wanted to write a nasty ‘letter to the editor’ letter, but let it go. I couldn’t find the words.
A few months later I saw the Silver Linings Playbook and really was upset. While it was an admirable attempt to try to show Bipolar Disorder as more of a normalized human ailment than a fear-mongering mental illness, I felt like it was so far off. I posted on social media how annoyed I was, and I begged my friends in music and media to try harder to portray mental illnesses correctly. A journalist friend wrote me back. “We’re trying. We just don’t know how.” Just like I didn’t know how to handle it when I got my diagnosis, they don’t know how to portray it in a healthy and helpful way. But they’re trying, so be patient.
3. It’s going to be hard to do - but tell your family about your diagnosis.
It wasn’t until after my second hospitalization from allergic reactions to my psych medications that I decided to tell my extended family about my diagnosis. I had told my parents and my brother, and naturally my husband knew, but my in-laws, aunts, grandparents, no one else knew. I was told that it was a taboo topic and that I shouldn’t tell them. As I was being wheeled out of the emergency room in a wheelchair and to my car, feeling cloudy from the medications they gave me, I decided I had to tell them.
This wasn’t a fight I wanted to fight alone anymore. And I couldn’t put all of the weight on the shoulders of my husband and parents. I had to enlist more people on my team and reach out for help. So I did. And it was so difficult to sit down, swallowing my pride and hot tears, and to tell them the truth. I honestly thought they would love me less for it, and would judge me for having it. But I needed to tell them so that my husband and son wouldn’t be so alone in their struggles with it as well.
And instead of judgemental stares and nasty comments, I was met with love, hugs and offers for help. I have never regretted telling them, and always encourage others to talk about it.
4. Take your meds. Daily.
This one was really hard for me to do. I hate medications, and I hate remembering to take them, but it is crucial to getting better. I had discovered early on that you can get 90 day refills of your medications from the pharmacies, and many of my local pharmacies charged less to do this than to do it monthly. Suddenly it was not only easier to have them on hand, easier to remember to refill, but also cheaper. Find a way to make taking your medication a victory instead of a loss. It doesn’t make you weak to take a medication that will make your brain more stable. It’s going to get you where you want to be.
5. It’s going to be a long road to get stable, but it is so totally worth every moment of it when you get there.
I went through 5 sets of 2-3 medications at a time over the course of a year before I found a combination of medications that worked for me. One gave me Steven Johnson syndrome, two I was allergic to and one that made me so badly suicidal I almost didn’t get out of that depression. It took hours of therapy, some sessions powerful and eye opening and others of me staring at the wall while I could only listen to my therapist try to hard to work with me. Medications took hours away from me and days were lost to depression… but I would not trade a single minute of it.
My medications work very well for me now. I have a type of mixed Bipolar that keeps me both manic and depressive almost equally and I can now be hypomanic and hypo depressive and still be okay. The thoughts of self harm happen, but I no longer act on them because I’m able to utilize things I’ve learned in therapy. I’m able to finally move on with my life and move forward. It’s going to be okay, no matter what happens. I’m going to be okay.
And so will you.