Accepting My Bipolar Diagnosis

A year and a half ago, I submitted myself to a series of psychological assessments. It wasn’t my first experience with the mental health field. I’d been to treatment facilities and therapy in the past because of anorexia. But I knew something was going on, something other than my eating disorder, and I was tired of not knowing what it was. I was tired of living my life under the oppression of some unseen force dwelling in my mind. I felt so out of control and helpless. I felt like a person that always made mistakes and whose failures mounted up sky high. If you ask me now, I can usually tell you a list of symptoms and what I am experiencing, but back then, everything was such a tangled mess it would take over six months for me to receive all of my diagnoses because it was so difficult to sift through everything. After the assessments were complete, I went in for my therapy appointment, where I was to receive my formal diagnoses. I was hit with four diagnoses, but the one that struck me the most? The words “bipolar I disorder.” To be honest, these words had little meaning to me then. I wasn’t very informed about the illness. I’d heard of mania and depression of course, and I knew the general view of bipolar disorder. For some reason – and this may be common, I don’t know – the words entered my mind but did not resonate with me. I didn’t connect with my diagnosis. I thought I was just handling it well, that I had a good understanding of mental illness, and that this didn’t change who I was as a person. All of that is true. It is also wrong. I left that day as if the diagnoses never happened. It was like that after every appointment. I was still having symptoms, and I wasn’t making progress in therapy – we were talking in circles. In no way do I mean to say that you have not accepted your diagnosis if you are still having symptoms. I only mean to say that I wasn’t even trying. I’m not one to be cavalier about things, so I look back and find my behavior odd. The one thing I did do was start a mood chart and I found it a strange phenomenon to watch my mood cycle up and down. But even then, it did not sink in. I watched the lines form waves on paper, a mountain with peaks and valleys. Yet, I was separate from them. I thought I accepted my diagnosis the moment it was given to me, but as time passed and I examined my life closely, I began to see that nothing had changed for me. Not that a diagnosis necessarily changes who you are, but for me, at that point, the only indication that I had a bipolar diagnosis was that I was on medication. I did not truly believe, in my heart, that the diagnosis was true or even real. I still saw my symptoms as acts I committed. I relished in the euphoria of mania. I wallowed in the guilt that followed. I sank to the bottom of the sea of depression. For the longest time I thought acceptance was automatic for me – that I just embraced life as it happened. I could not see that I was rebelling, because on the outside I did all it appeared you need to do – take my medications and talk in therapy-, but I wasn’t serious about my diagnosis. I did not, in reality, accept it. I neglected sleep, being a lifelong insomniac, and I saw the symptoms of mania and depression as just quirks in the best light, and as personal failures in the worst. I was playing house, going to therapy, and taking medications. I did not believe I was truly sick. I didn’t have one revelatory moment. I had several. A progression of experiences that led to the weight of reality hitting hard. But the moment I finally accepted my diagnosis, I didn’t feel better, or lighter; I grieved. I grieved that girl I lost, the one who didn’t know, not because knowing is bad, but because that chapter of my life was over. Finally, I realized my life had been out of control, and if I wanted to change that, I needed to do the work. Doing so would not automatically render me “well,” but it was something to hold onto after spending my entire life in free fall. I did feel some vindication in my acceptance – that I wasn’t a bad person; I was sick. This was the good part of accepting my bipolar diagnosis. It lightened the load I didn’t even realize I had been carrying around my entire life. There is no fixing it, no magic cure, and you won’t implement skills of healing easily. You have to wrestle with them. You’ll fall, but you’ll get back up again. I started with a mood chart – the same kind of chart I’d halfheartedly used months prior. I built a daily planner. I considered my lifestyle – diet, exercise, and most importantly, sleep. Life as I knew it was over, and this new life was beginning. Today, I not only accept bipolar as a part of me, but embrace the woman I’ve become. She is not perfect, but she does the best she can. She accepts who she is, bipolar diagnosis and all. Read more from Charlie on her personal blogs, Decoding Bipolar and Accepting ADHD. She has also written for The Mighty and New Life Outlook ADHD.

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