Why I Am More Than My Diagnosis

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha 

There are a lot of scary statistics out there. Mortality rates. Higher risk for diabetes, metabolic conditions, earlier deaths. Adverse medication side effects. What exactly does this cocktail of medications do to my body on a daily basis? 

I try not to think about the negative, and focus on other things instead. Earlier this year, I decided, it would be the year of “it is what it is,” because I can’t waste my time overanalyzing everything. 

This July, it will be 6 years since my doctor formally diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I didn’t know at the time what type of bipolar disorder it was (type 2), or that I would go on to experience rapid cycling, mixed states and feel so isolated. I felt so lonely, and alone because I didn’t know anyone else who had this. Sure, I knew people who had anxiety, or depression, but not this. “This” was serious and was not easily cured and was permanent, chronic and was not something I wanted to tell people about. 

That was then. Then, I was all too consumed by the diagnosis, and felt terrible (although, I did manage to contract vertigo and hurt my ankle at the same time so I know that didn’t help matters much as I felt physically and mentally unwell). So I guess when my mother told me I was “stuck in my head” I took it very personally and really wanted to isolate myself. But I had a full time job, so that wasn’t entirely an option. That and neither of my parents would let me stay in bed all day, because they knew I had it in me to get up. I am grateful that my mother dragged me out of bed when I didn’t want to get out, and that my family was very supportive and patient with me. Anyways, it took a long time to “get out of my head”, and realize that bipolar disorder was not and is not a death sentence, it is a life sentence (as in you need to really live your life). 

This year, the theme for World Bipolar Day is “More Than A Diagnosis”, which is so encouraging, and I hope that people with bipolar disorder, friends, family members and the public appreciate the significance of this message. 

Because of World Bipolar Day, I decided to become a blogger for Healthy Minds Canada, I decided to be more open about my diagnosis, became a volunteer for International Bipolar Foundation and want people to know my story and know about people, like me, who live with bipolar disorder but function very well. There is hope, when you invest in yourself, and are willing to take the time to take care of your mental health, to try and be diligent with your medication and attend regular doctor’s appointments. It is a worthwhile investment. Having a World Bipolar Day makes me feel included, reminds me there is a whole world out there of people who share similar feelings to me and who understand some of my thoughts. It makes me feel less alone. 

I was talking to my husband last night and I said, “Listen, if people want to know why I feel the way I feel, or to understand me, just tell them to read my blogs. That’s how they can understand what I go through. What I am thinking. What I am feeling.” I happen to be in the midst of a mixed episode and I do not want to socialize, and it was a situation where he did not want to have to explain to his family why I would not attend a family dinner. The truth is, if I know I can’t handle an event, I can’t go. I want to make it clear that 1) I do not use my bipolar disorder as an excuse to get out of events and 2) forcing myself to go somewhere will set off my anxiety and I know that. 

I am sorry to disappoint people, I never want to be a burden, but as Dr. Seuss said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Family doesn’t mind right? Actually wait, I am not sorry for putting my mental health first, and for recognizing the importance of that. This does not mean I am my diagnosis either, this means I am more than my diagnosis, as I can recognize what is good for me, and I know what to do to manage my moods. This is ME speaking, not the bipolar disorder speaking. And I mean what I say, if someone wants to understand me, don’t just see the label “bipolar disorder.” Read my story, educate yourself about bipolar disorder and synthesize the information. I can’t always communicate how I feel in person or via text or telephone but my blogs provide a whole lot of insight into who I am and how my mind works.  

This is why organizations like International Bipolar Foundation are important – they give people like me a voice, provide information for consumers, caregivers, and the public and put on events like World Bipolar Day. We have to get the message out there that there is more to a person than a diagnosis, and that everyone has a story. 

Having bipolar disorder taught me many lessons and helped me to get to know myself again. While I was angry and frustrated initially, and of course upset by the amount of medications I have to be on, I am grateful that I can function and I can lead a productive and fulfilling life. 

Almost 6 years later, this is what I know to be true:  

  • I am not my diagnosis and it is not me (and keep reminding yourself of that);
  • Hope is important;
  • Surround yourself only with people who genuinely care about you;
  • Not every day is the same, so take it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time;
  • You may lose confidence in yourself from time to time, so remind yourself of something you are really good at;
  • Be passionate about something- it doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary;
  • Even something like getting out of bed or emptying out the dishwasher is an accomplishment;
  • Pace yourself (it is tempting to do too much when you are in a manic or hypomanic state);
  • Know your limits – don’t overwhelm yourself, no when to say no and don’t feel guilty about it;
  • YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN= so stop telling yourself that! 

Now, I am not saying that I always take my own advice/follow these lessons learned, because it’s easier said than done, but these are important things to remind ourselves of. 

I know we all have different life circumstances, and not everyone experiences bipolar disorder the same way, but I want people to know that “labels” are for jars, not people. Bipolar disorder may be the cohesive “label” for your symptoms, but it doesn’t define you. You define you, you dictate who you are. 

I want to share a “list” that I keep in my Moleskine notebook that I carry around in my purse all the time, my list says, “Keep this in your wallet or somewhere safe!”, and is titled, “Things to Remember”.  I don’t remember if I created this list before or after my diagnosis but I know I have been carrying it around with me for many years: 

1. You are kind, you are smart, you are important.

2. You are doing yourself a great disservice by not believing in yourself, so start believing in yourself!

3. Be the change you wish to see in the world (Ghandi)

4. Life is a great and wondrous mystery, and the only thing we know that we have for sure is what is right here right now. Don’t miss it. (Leo Buscaglia)

5. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you. ( Mary Tyler Moore)

6. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

7. Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling. (Margaret Lee Runbeck)

8. I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time. (Anna Freud)

9. Sometimes all that needs to change is your perception.

10. You are seen, you are known, you are loved.

And finally, I want everyone to remember:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Dr. Seuss

Learn more about World Bipolar Day and how you can participate at www.ibpf.org/worldbipolarday

To read more from Melanie, check out the rest of her blogs for IBPF, her blogs for Healthy Minds Canada, or visit her personal blog at PS I’m Bipolar.

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