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That's Not a Real Diagnosis

“That’s not a real illness.” “I don’t believe in mental health.” “If you don’t need medication, you must not really have bipolar.” 

These are just a few of the long stream of comments from people in my life, the most recent being “You know, I don’t think you’re bipolar, I think you have cyclomania,” because having a Bachelor’s in psychology obviously means that you know more than the multiple psychologists and psychiatrists that have confirmed my diagnosis. 

I think one of the hardest things people living with a mental health disorder face is the stigma - but worse than stigma is denial. Denial that your condition exists, denial of your symptoms, denial from those close to you that you are in fact one of ‘those people.’ 

Except ‘those people’ don’t exist. They’re everybody. Recently, I spoke at a university about writing for mental health. I pointed out to the class that probably a third of them were living with a mental health disorder, and the rest had someone in their personal life who was. 

Almost every head nodded in agreement. 

In an age where more and more actors, singers, and famous people are speaking out about mental health and the stigma, an age where our resources are growing with the digital age - there are magazines, helplines, even phone apps to detect your mood - there are still people who deny the existence of these disorders. There are still people who will look at you, and tell you that you must not have a certain illness because you don’t embody a certain trait or stereotype. 

I’ve sent a good many people packing because of it. For personal reasons, and with permission from several doctors, I do not take medication for my disorder, except when necessary - the last time being more than seven years ago. Because of that, many people find it hard to believe when I say “I’m bipolar.” The first question they ask is “what kind of medication” I take, and when they discover I do not, there is usually a moment of fear and then “well you don’t act crazy.” 

Sometimes this results in the end of our relationship - or just a distance between us that I don’t often want to cross. At others times, it becomes a valuable opportunity for me to connect with someone and show them that not every person with bipolar disorder is the same. Not everyone with a mental health disorder is the same. 

Yes I have bipolar disorder. And no, I don’t use medication to control it. But I do know countless people who are better for antidepressants or mood-stabilizers, and when the times come where that is needed, I don’t shy away. Because I know my diagnosis, as much as I know myself. 

Knowing myself, my limitations, my skills, and all the quirks that make me me - that knowledge is what keeps me healthy. I know when my limit is reached. I know when I need medical intervention. And I know, that no matter what others opinions are, my diagnosis is just as much a part of me and 100% completely real. 


Sending a friend packing is one thing, but it really hurts when you have to separate yourself from family because time and again they prove ignorant by choice.

Agreed 100%. It's exasperating.

I have rapid cycling bipolar and I'm a hot mess of volcanic proportions if I'm not on meds. I would probably be one of the people who recoils in horror upon hearing you don't take meds. Can you go into that in more detail?

Hi Cynthia

I go into a bit more detail on a comment below, but basically your comment is my main argument - because I do not appear to be as "extreme" as others, many people argue with my diagnosis even though I have had several doctors confirm it. You can read here ( that I grew up with ADHD and was diagnosed early on with Bipolar, and I was raised to use psychotherapy and alternative techniques to deal with it. Please read my comment below for more info :)

I like youre commentary I have bipolar 2 and I have faced the same stigmata and have been in denial I want to join you in educating the plubic in mental illness don zahnke

Hello from me. It's a very good fact that you are talking out loud about your condition, and not hiding behind your finger! I suffer from a chronic mental disorder too, an anxiety disorder, and the reason i don't take medication is that i was able to control in with psychotherapy. I wanted to ask you how it comes you don't use medication, mainly mood-stabilizers, which ones are the reason for not have manic or depression episodes. I studied medicine and as far as I know, mood-stabilizers are the "gold rule" for this disease, and you have to take them for all your life. Consider my question as a simple curiosity and well done for being able to talk to your closed ones for your illness. This is something I couldn't do

Hi ASC (and others)

The doctors I have all had, have been very big on psychotherapy and not pushing medication. I did take anti-depressants at one point but prefer to not. Because I was always a hyper person, (read my earlier blog post I learned at an early age what behaviors were "acceptable" and which weren't. I'm lucky that I had a mother who raised me to use alternative techniques and behavioral training. I do know many people who need medication, which is why many people argue my diagnosis - I'm not "severe" enough in some people's eyes if I don't need medication. It's a hard road. I have very attentive family and friends who recognize when I'm spiraling and help me stay on track. I still get periods of mania or depression that can get out of control, but I force myself to seek help when that happens. Because I was raised with several illness (see above mentioned post) and have lots of family members with varying illness' I was taught that its OKAY to be sick and to ask for help. I also have worked for many years with children with special needs, and was raised around adults with mental disabilities so for me and my family, it is often seen as a part of the person and not as a negative point but something that you work WITH and not AGAINST. Hope that helps.

I also always ALWAYS encourage those who need it to use medication to help stabilize and have many friends who are on anti-psychotics or mood-stabilizers for life (and in fact personally rely on life- long medications for other illness).

I have had a number of bouts of illness which started in 1995 and each occassion very different from the last with different triggers thankfully after the first three that came fast and furious over 3 years I then had a gap of 10years before being ill again approx 4 yrs ago now .. I too am not on any medication and have returned to a fully functioning life... I know there are plenty of people that will dismiss my cpmments but I firmly believe my Faith has helped me get through these episodes and I am truely grateful to be well at the moment ...long may it continue.... I Live with the Stigma I live with Bipolar it is Not who I am

asc, many bipolar people do not take meds for whatever reason be it a wish not to or hyper sensitivity to various chemicals and meds. I am a bit of both. I do not think of Bipolar as a disease either. I was genetically born with this, therefore it is a part of me and I am not a disease. These variations in the human condition are all to do with evolutionary aspects of humanity. I have managed to make it to 51 with rapid cycling bipolar, I have been offered lithium many times along with anti psychotics, anti epileptics etc, but it is actually more dangerous for me to have these things than not! I have learned to know who I am in the last ten years and always have a routine which helps me. I was diagnosed finally at age 23. I still have psyche help and support, but even my psychiatrist has said he wouldn't want to take the chance on dishing out meds now although I am sure if I said yes, he would maybe try but I would have to be heavily monitored. I hear voices and yet I can look intent on any real conversation. I can be manic and throw myself into housework with it, I can be low and no one will see me because I will be behind closed doors sleeping it off for a couple of days. I am on med free internet where many of the others are getting off meds or not on them or in between. One of my children has high functioning autistic spectrum, and the other looks to be similar to me although won't go for a diagnosis in case it impacts on ability to gain work. One of my sisters many years younger is also bipolar, no meds, and some of my relatives. We have all got high IQ levels and adapt to our lives. I hope this answers some of you curiosity. Sometimes where there is a will, there is a way. Luckily I didnt die the first time I attempted suicide. I have now been a part of many studies, genetic and otherwise in order to help future people like myself get better treatment.

As a person with Bipolar and one that has chosen not to medicate, you might have experienced the attitude some people have that you are the kind of person they don't want to be like.

I just want to make a point of thanking you for using your life and your situation in such a way that you may help yourself and others better understand it and so possibly positively impact both your life and the lives of people you won't necessarily get to know/meet.
You're thinking of you, which is absolutely fine. Yet you are also thinking of others and beyond your life time and, for that, I have nothing but the utmost respect for and admiration of you.

Having those characteristics makes you exactly the kind of person I want to be like.

i think this is great! I am a 35 year old mother of 5 and I have bipolar 2 disorder with rapid cycling. I know how hard it can be. Also I know as a mom how hard it is to support 2 children that also have this disorder. I hope to help if possible:)

I also like ur comment, I have BPD 2. And have to take several meds. I feel my family and friends are in great denial about my condition. It hurts its not fair and its very lonely.

I have bipolar 1 and on five meds for it. I am amazed at anyone who can manage this illness on their own. Bravo to you!

Very good read, thanks for writing this. As someone fairly recently diagnosed I personally find it difficult to not be in denial about what's going on. Especially when I'm feeling elated and being super productive. I go through long periods of zooming at a 100 miles an hour that I don't stop and realise I need to slow down. I wish I understood more about what was happening to me so I could accept it and hopefully then my family and friends could too.

I think you are very brave. I couldn't live without my meds. I too have lost a few friends along the way. It seems that they are scared that mental disease is contagious.

I wish I could meet you. I wish I could meet more people like you and those who are more like my son. We need people like you and us in our lives.
I'm tired of people always questioning. I don't have any friends or family because no one understands our situation.

I think it is wonderful that you ate able to go without mefs. I tried it for six months and by the seventh month I was in such a deep psychosis and state of depression that I was hospitalized for 2 1/2 weeks. I suffer from BPD2 with psychotic effects and would give anything to not have to take medicine.

aww that sucks James :(

It is a lot harder without meds. I don't have any obvious psychotic symptoms, so its a bit easier, but I have had to completely alter my diet or schedule and even career at some points to better suit recovery.

I hate the fact tnat when people find out I have an injury or illness, be it physical or mental, they need to compare it to someone elses. It's almost as I'd I need to validate my illness to them. Is this a normal experience?

I have had bipolar since I was very young due to sexual abuse its Rapid cycle bipolar and it's real medicine are a must for me I have been taken off of my medicine different time just to see where I was at and had really bad thinks happen mentally it is also hereditary in my family 5 generations. The biggest think that has helped me was to read and understand my mental illness and with time I can almost know when I'm going from depression to hypo mania to mania but with a strong support group Celebrate Recovery and good friend I suffer but not in silence

I have been a struggling to explain to my doctors that meds do not work for me and that I want to seek alternative treatments. I've been on all different kinds of meds since I was 17 with high hopes that each one would work, and ten years later I have no control over my emotions or my life. It's like they want to dismiss my emotions as part of a disorder instead of helping me find coping mechanisms for when I am manic or depressed. Meds are completely unhelpful during mixed states when I feel the most out of control. They haven't even mentioned psychotherapy. Good to hear something new so I can bring it up at my next appointment.

My son is currently drinking and he thinks he has millions and a wife and a son and cars we are trying to make him go doctor but he will not accept he is 19 years this has been happening only since last September 2015 I do know a out disease but please guide on how to convince him to get treatment

Hey I'm writing you, because I am thinking on giving up on medication, since as far as I've read, there is no scientific proof of Bipolar disorder. I'm really afraid of the effects of some medications - some people like to call them side effects - I call them effects, since that is what they are.
I do know myself well enough to detect my mood swings, usually I tend to move on the depression zone. Last time I suspended for a few weeks my antidepressant, -they are expensive and I couldn't buy them- and you could tell that "I was back" as in my normal happy mood... my mother was really happy to notice that effect. As if the antidepressant made me numb or sad... could you please tell me how to manage my "disorder" without medication? I do not trust Doctors -with all due respect - since I have the feeling that they have a sales goal - related to the pharma industry... I hope you can understand my idea (My mother language is not english) Thank you very much in advance.

Hi Regina, thanks for your comment. Bipolar disorder varies from person to person, and so does the right treatment plan. Most people use a combination of medication and therapy. Not everyone who has bipolar takes medication, but many people do take medication and find it very helpful.

For those who take medication, it can take some time to find the right combination that works best. Read more about this here:

You can learn more about different treatment options on our website at or in our free book, Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder:

Some people who can control their bipolar symptoms with non-pharmacological interventions (meditation, fitness etc) prefer not to live with the bipolar label, and instead say they have bipolar tendencies or are on the bipolar spectrum. I admire you for still being comfortable with the label. I for one have to take medication. My sister however has experienced mania, and hasn't required medication for over a decade. She still has her struggles but overall is doing great without meds. She identifies herself as "bipolar spectrum".

Sadly I live in one big mental health family.

I searched for "people don't believe I'm bipolar" and it got me here. What they don't understand is being bipolar can't be always bad. If you learn to control it and use it in a positive way the outcome will be amazing. I'm starting to get to the best point of my life and I don't necessary have success or anything but I regined it in and now I'm enjoying the occasional "creative high" and constant visualizing...I can't imagine my life without it. It will be boring.

HI, I'm 45. The called Bipolar Disorder began 10 years ago in a.very stressful working situation and kinda of my husband. My son was.age 3 at that time. I indeed.had a.psychotic experience with seriously paranoid thoughts. Really scary and so "true". I.searched, and it worked fortunately. Since.than it took my psychiatrist about 8 years, antidepressants, moodstabilizers. Before I went through.dispersal, antiepileptics exec...
I.don't take this.medications.with "joy", but I do,.sometimes.forgetting.some of them.
Anyway, my.story in short. My, that in someway I feel all right, but not.suited for.our society. the stigma, although I don't hide my "problem" from nobody, the right to be what I am,is the heaviest thing It is so easy to be the origin of.every problem for.everyone.
I'm the,.everybodyelse,.seems to be.that perfect.

Why do you want to be considered bipolar so badly? You mention famous people which is always a flag for me because it seems you want an identity rather than an illness. I would do unspeakable things to not have to take medication and be stable for years. In other words, to not have bipolar, like you. I'm not going to apologize for calling out people like you when so many of us suffer and have to hear this kind of crap because greedy doctors want to hand out pills to needy people. Celebrate the fact that you are not mentally ill and stop insulting those of us that are.

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