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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 II – Really?

Is it Bipolar II – or just plain Bipolar Disorder not yet recognized?

Google “Bipolar” on the “news” tab and see what you find.  It is astounding how many semi-celebrities have come out and said “I have Bipolar Disorder”.  Unfortunately, the story is often about Bipolar II, which somehow makes it “better”.

Bipolar Disorder is still a serious stigma – prevents people from getting jobs and such.  Technically, as Bipolar Disorder is considered a disability, an employer who did not hire or fired an admitted bipolar patient based only on that fact would be in violation of the American Disabilities Act, but few people are willing to go to the carpet on that.  Plus there is the little issue of being “able” to perform one’s job.  I can perform a job if I am taking meds.  If I am off of meds, I become highly unreliable with a lot of other liabilities – risky behavior that I have decided not to discuss.

Only a couple of years ago, I was warned by a well-meaning family member against posting too much on social media about Bipolar Disorder – and this in his mind included “liking” too many Bipolar pages.  He was concerned about my ability to obtain a decent job.  I don’t know if I have a “decent “job today – I have made my own way which works out better for me – no boss to annoy, no dress code, nobody else’s time clock.  For the most part, I don’t worry about social media – I don’t think I will ever have a “real” job again – no more frequent flyer miles for me.

Bipolar 2I was once diagnosed as Bipolar II – but really, both the doctor and the therapist thought differently – they both knew that I had regular Bipolar Disorder but wasn’t ready to accept it.  Actually, I am pretty sure my doctor tricked me into taking Lithium for the first time by telling me that it would help boost my antidepressant activity.

In retrospect, I am astounded that I believed him since I know so much about medication – but I took the medication.  How many of these people really have Bipolar I Disorder and just don’t say so.

It is much easier for people to say and accept that they have Bipolar II.  In my opinion (which is obviously vast and knowledgeable – just kidding, no really), Bipolar II is a way of sliding by the real diagnosis.  As in “I have Bipolar Disorder but not really”.  “I have Bipolar Disorder but I am not crazy”.  “I have Bipolar Disorder but I am not dangerous”.  “I have Bipolar Disorder but I won’t embarrass you”.
When it gets down to it…wasn’t that true for all of us at one time?  Or at least didn’t we believe it at one time?  I still fit some of the criteria – I am “functional”, “productive”, “hypomanic” – except when I am not.

I often confuse my doctor when he asks how it is going by saying “good enough”.  What I mean is that I am not manic exactly, I am not depressed.  Actually it works better for me if I am teetering on the edge of mania.  If I am just crazy enough that I know that I am crazy – then I will keep taking my meds.  Because I forget.

I originally sought treatment for severe depressiondepression bad enough that I had to decide whether to kill myself or study (I had a big exam the next day).  In retrospect, I was actually in a mixed episode with plenty of energy but in a really bad mood.  Oh, and then there was the slight issue of the hypnogogic hallucinations which I denied at the time.  See, even if I know that I have Bipolar DisorderManic Depression – I still forget.

It would be easier for me to say that I have Bipolar Disorder but it is “just” Bipolar II.  I thought that too.

Melissa