When Your Diagnosis Changes

You don’t have bipolar disorder. 

I can’t even begin to describe the feelings that came over me when I heard my newest diagnosis. 

You don’t have bipolar disorder. 

You don’t have anxiety disorder. 

You don’t have OCD. 

After living for 10+ years with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and anxiety, I was reevaluated by a neuropsychiatrist regarding my mental health.

Hearing that put a few things into perspective — like how I managed to live a full and productive life without medication or therapies when there are so many other people with bipolar disorder who cannot.

At first, I was scared because that meant I no longer had a reason behind some of my more erratic behaviour. That was when the doctor explained that I do have symptoms of bipolar disorder, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), I just don’t have enough of them to have a clinical diagnosis.

After I got over being scared, I was angry. I haven’t had to face as much stigma as some, but I have faced enough — even from doctors. I was angry at all the doctors who never questioned my diagnosis — once it was there, it stayed.

I realized, though, that my anger was misplaced and unneeded. In retrospect, the doctor who diagnosed me truly did the best she could based on the situation I presented her with. She came from a different background and lived experience. She was a GP (General Practitioner) who was working to specialize in bipolar disorder and mental health.

Over the years, I have heard different doctors describe bipolar disorder in different ways. Some follow a very strict guideline, and some are a more open in what they accept as a symptom. It never occurred to me that this open-mindedness might actually not be a good thing (at least for me).

Working for mental health publications, I saw the change in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Some of the changes over time are so drastic that a patient diagnosed in 2016 could have a completely different diagnosis from a patient with the same symptoms in 2006, 1996, 1986 … etc.

Accepting a diagnosis is important in the healing process — denying that you have a disorder can often cause your symptoms to worsen. However, it is equally as important to question that diagnosis when needed.

Here are some important things to remember:

1. Learn about your disorder. If you find inconsistencies between how the disorder is depicted and your symptoms, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor for a reevaluation or for a second opinion. Don’t be afraid to search out a new doctor if your first one is non-compliant.

2. If after several different therapies or medications you have yet to see improvement, you may have a misdiagnosis and should ask your doctor to reevaluate you or ask for a second opinion.

3. While the frequency of updates has increased, your doctor may not be using the most current DSM, or may not have become acquainted with all the changes, especially if they are a GP and not a specialist.  Ask them about it and, again, read up on your disorder.

4. Some of the changes to the DSM can be drastic. If you were diagnosed on an old list of symptoms, you may need to be reevaluated — especially if your treatments are not working.

5. Most importantly, you can change. Our bodies are always growing, our hormones are always changing, and many people find that, as they grow older, their disorders may increase or decrease in severity, but also may change into something new.

I don’t know if I had bipolar disorder and it changed, or if I was misdiagnosed. I still have to worry about depressive episodes and other symptoms. The important thing is that I am now getting the proper treatment for the symptoms I do have, and in the future, I won’t be afraid to question a diagnosis  or to ask for a reevaluation to make sure my husband and I both receive the best care possible.

Jane also blogs for Life With Illness. You can read more of her IBPF posts here.

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