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bipolar disorder diagnosis

Bipolar Through the Years – Getting Your Diagnosis Right

Difficult to diagnose Bipolar Disorder?

I am not bipolar!  I am (insert other diagnosis here)

I received my first bipolar diagnosis when I was about 30… ish minus a few years.  I am 40… ish plus a few years, so for most of All About Bipolar Disorder20 years (yes I know the math doesn’t work out but this is a true story), I have known that I have Bipolar Disorder.

If you are bipolar yourself you will know that when I say “I have known” it really means “I was told”.  I didn’t believe it at first.  I thought of every other thing it might be and tried really hard to convince the therapist “that isn’t me… not really”.

As an untreated, newly diagnosed bipolar, I felt compelled to express clear objections to specific parts of the diagnosis that did not fit.  I was trapped by the details… a problem which I have often suffered – or more like, caused others to suffer because of.

Over the years and through several different diagnoses and many periods of “those” risky behaviors, going on and off various meds, wrecking certain parts of my life – and recovering once again, I find that those details don’t matter anymore.

I used to have a vitriolic reaction to the suggestion that I should want to be “normal”.  NORMAL, I said… I don’t want to be Bipolar TherapyNORMAL.  Normal is boring.  I was many things but boring was not one of them.

I no longer have that reaction.  My life would have been easier if it were normal.  I would have missed all the bright, scribbly colors.  I would have missed all the scary but fun stuff… but then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so tired.  Maybe I wouldn’t have had to shut the curtains and hibernate.  Maybe I would have missed all the scary and dark stuff.

Anyway – as usual, I veer off of my topic.  Today, I am 99 percent sure that I am bipolar but I do reserve that remaining 1 percent – just in case.

Over those years – starting before (way before) I was diagnosed as bipolar – I sought treatment.  At 14, I asked my parents to take me to a psychiatrist because there was “something wrong with my brain.” They said “no, there isn’t” effectively telling me that I was just a mouthy, disgruntled, histrionic teenager – which I was, but I was also bipolar.

I often wonder what might have been if I had been treated then and do watch my kids for the same occurrence.  Unfortunately at that time, a proper diagnosis was highly unlikely and probably wouldn’t have changed much.  Except I would have felt heard – and I didn’t.  I do try to hear my kids.

Once I was able to seek treatment for myself, I was diagnosed with several other things long before they hit the jackpot.  The first was “dysthymia” – oddly, this diagnosis came in the middle of a severe depression.

Dysthymia for a bipolar

I was in college, just a hair short of being suicidal, and had to sit down one day and decide if I was going to kill myself – or study.  Serious DoctorLacking concrete plans and lacking a sincere wish to die, I decided to study – but I did go to the student health center the next day where a kindly graduate student decided I was dysthymic and would benefit from group therapy.  Being the mixed-manic that I am, I was in a temporary state of “not so bad” and failed to mention the depth of my despair.

I went to group therapy with a bunch of whining college kids and two well-meaning graduate student supervisors for almost a year.  To be fair, some of these people may have had real problems.  A homosexual boy who was still “in the closet”, a secret cross-dresser, a bulimic, a giant athlete with a sever anger issue and mommy problems… and a couple of other whiners.

I never once mentioned that I was hallucinating at night… or that I couldn’t keep my thoughts going in a straight line….or that I was living in a dark grey fog… or that despite all this, I still wasn’t sleeping.  My dysthymic self simply whined away with the others about parents, childhood, professors…it may have kept me from killing myself but mostly it was just entertainment.  It also kept me from failing out of college, as the dean of my college was informed that I was “in counseling”.

Major Depression for a bipolar

When I finally admitted the hallucinations – that got some real attention.  It also got the notice of a physician – and her medical Medical Doctorstudent who proceeded to ask me stupid questions like “how much LSD have you done?”  I also got a very “fun” visit to a sleep clinic — where the results were inconsequential even though my case was examined by a neuropsychiatrist – or a psychiatric neurologist – whatever that is.

Still, I got the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder… I still wasn’t sleeping – and people were literally terrified of me.  Describing me as agitated would be like saying the Niagra River is a stream.  Major Depressive Disorder.  They did give me meds though, stopped the hallucinations and got rid of all that grey fog and I managed to finish college.

Codependent for a bipolar

Moving on a few years on and off antidepressants and anxiety medicines – never feeling right….risky this, risky that….institutionalization (not jail or at least not this time, but still…).  After a particular disturbance, one “therapist” told me I was “codependent”… little did he know how dependent I was…or on what.  I ignored him.

The “intensive treatment” did get me the diagnosis for bipolar disorder which I denied, and did so for many years.  On and off meds, risky this, risky that…back on meds…off…on.

ADHD for a bipolar

A few years later I was pregnant (married too, woo hoo) and had to go off the meds.  After I had my kids – the doctor that I saw said that I was ADHD – not bipolar.  Still not wanting to be bipolar, I took the prescription he gave me….which was of course an amphetamine.  Well that worked well – nuf said.  To be sure, my kids are fine.

Bipolar HeartbeatEventually, I came to reality and the bipolar diagnosis and back to the right meds.   This has required honesty.  Honesty with health professionals and honesty with myself and it requires taking my meds.  I am tired from all the bright squiggles and the darkness.  I do want to be normal.

Now, as a bipolar, I get to watch my kids and see if they have “it” or something else.  Either is scary, both are scary but I hope I will be more help than my parents were.  I still take my meds but I also still retain the right to act on the 1 percent in case something better than bipolar disorder comes up.

Bipolar Disorder and Facebook – To Tell or Not to Tell

To Tell or Not to Tell – Bipolar Disorder on social media

I am an avid Facebook user.  Mostly I use it to amuse myself, keep up with old friends, get to know people who should be old friends but weren’t, update family on my kids and such… But, I also enjoy reading “pages” … pages about funny things and pages about serious things that only “we” understand are funny.  I am talking about bipolar” pages.

Facebook - Like PagesBecause Facebook lists updates of what pages you have “liked”, my relatives, who know I am bipolar, have been able to see that I am not keeping my disorder as a big secret from my social group.  Most everyone who is on my Facebook page already knows (or would guess) that I have bipolar disorder.  To them, it is not a big deal, it is just part of who I am, and in some ways actually explains part of who I am – manic-depressive, why I am the way that I am.

I bring this up because one of my “relatives” actually sent me an email “warning” me that I should “be careful” about what pages I frequent, referring to the bipolar pages.

That was one bit of unwelcome advice.  Another bit of advice might be to “unfriend” him or hide my activity from him.  I am NOT Bipolar - I have Bipolar DisorderHe is a close relative so “unfriending” him might cause problems.  I could hide my activity but have made a personal policy that if you are my “friend” then you can see my page.  I haven’t taken advantage of the “close friends”, “friends”, “acquaintances” – feature of Facebook – but then I don’t let anyone on my page unless they are actually someone I know.

The last bit of advice would be to ignore him.  Luckily, he is such a close relative that I have made a practice of ignoring his advice, as a child would ignore a parent.  I did just that – ignore him.

This situation was easy for me to solve under these particular circumstances but can be a lot of trickier.  I also belong to bipolar pages on LinkedIn, Google+ and other sites, and I sometimes wonder about the impact.  Fortunately, I happen to be a writer, and I am not in a situation where an employer (or potential employer) can make an objection to my diagnosis.

For others that are not the case – and it was not always the case for me.  There is still a huge stigma against bipolar disorder.  Technically, making an employment decision based on a mental diagnosis is illegal – it is against the ADA.

Technically, the employer could be in trouble for violation of federal law, but how many times do employers say outright” “I am not hiring you because…(insert problem here)”?  Likely they will not say anything – they just won’t hire you.  In some states, they can fire you for no reason (“at-will” employment states) or “not-for-cause”.

Technically, they should not hold this against you – if you are stable, and if you remain stable.  The question is – will you?  Hopefully, I will, but I can’t guarantee that.

Bipolar BearsIf I were looking for a job – a “real” job, I would seriously consider curtailing my social media and public announcements of “I am bipolar“.  As a writer – I shouldn’t do that, and I don’t.

You have to evaluate your particular situation.  Know that it is against the law to be discriminated against.  Know your history and likelihood that you will remain stable in your bipolar disorder and be able to do your job.  Decide whether a legal fight is worth it to you.  It may be; it might not be.  Decide whether you really want to work for someone who will hunt you down and discriminate against you based on the information they find.

For me, I am happy not being in a “real job “.  The same relative, full of warnings, is not happy about my lack of “real” employment – but I can just ignore him.  Either way, I am still Bipolar.

Melissa Lind