It’s been a while since I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. At the time, it unravelled my sense of self and my identity. I felt so may conflicting emotions and thoughts about who I was, who I thought I was and who I could be. I felt like I had to rediscover and rebuild myself. I’ve come a long way since then. Recently, I have felt a sense of peace and acceptance about my bipolar and what it means for me.
But it’s been a long journey. I was 31 at the time of my diagnosis and had lived 17 years with an incorrect diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. This is what it was like in my head for the first few months after my diagnosis.
But I thought I was normal.
I feel like an outsider. I have spent my whole life thinking I was like everyone else, and now I know I’m not. I feel like it’s written in neon on my forehead and everybody must know that I’m not normal.
I resent knowing that I’m not as stoic and stable as I thought I was.
I’ve always prided myself in being less sensitive and emotional than my unstable mother. I thought I was strong and resilient and that I controlled my emotions, but this whole time, my emotions have ruled my life. I can see now that I am trapped and manipulated by my constant mood swings.
I’m terrified that I will lose my mind and experience psychosis.
What’s that strange and distant sound? Are they distant voices? Is that discordant music? Are those things really there or am I completely losing my mind? How do I reality check? What if I’m hallucinating? I trusted my sanity once and it did not end well. How can I rely on my sanity again? It could slip at any moment. What if my next episode is full blown mania?
I don’t trust myself anymore.
I couldn’t see my own dysfunction for what it was. My judgement was so impaired at times and I heard people telling me that they were worried but I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. I need other people to tell me if I’m acting weird because I can’t trust my own judgement anymore. I feel like I have lost my independence.
I’m a fraud and a charlatan.
I present so well. I am high functioning. I am organised at work, rational, sensible, intelligent, calm and pragmatic. In my private life, I am disorganised, chaotic, emotional, I take drugs, self-harm and engage in other risky behaviours. How can I help other people with their trauma, pain and problems? If they knew who I was at home, they would call me an imposter. They would resent me. I’m living a lie.
I’m not sure I can help vulnerable people anymore.
My own recovery process is so emotionally and cognitively demanding I don’t know how much I have left over to help other people in need. Can I do both?
How can I be a neuropsychologist when I’m unwell? How can I perform in a cut throat field when stress is one of my triggers and when my mind can falter and fail at any moment? Maybe I have to give up on my dreams.
I’m so embarrassed.
I can’t believe that my judgement was impaired and I couldn’t see it. People told me they were worried about me but I felt so invincible when I was hypomanic. I told people things that I normally wouldn’t and I did things that I normally wouldn’t. I can’t take any of it back. What if it comes back to haunt me later on?
Who am I?
Are all the best parts of me just symptoms? Some of my best qualities are my sociability, creativity, my drive for success and sense of adventure and fun. I know these qualities are exaggerated in hypomania. Do I really have those characteristics or are they just symptoms? Would I have made all my wonderfully spontaneous decisions to go away for holidays or to skinny dip on a whim if I didn’t have bipolar? Where does my personality end and the symptoms start?
Am I really an open-minded, sexually liberated person or is that my sickness?
Am I horny or hypersexual? It’s a nightmare not knowing if my heightened sex drive is part of my nature or my bipolar. Whenever I feel sexy I worry that I’m heading towards hypomania. Would I have done all the things I did even without the hypomania?
Am I just like my mother?
This is really hard for me to accept. My mother is notoriously unstable, overly sensitive and overly emotional. How different are we? How similar are we? Maybe I’m just like her and I have never seen it.
I have four sisters. Why did I have to be inflicted with this? I don’t want this condition. I hate having to carry this burden with me. I just want it to go away.
Why wasn’t I diagnosed earlier?
How could my life have been different if I was correctly diagnosed and treated years ago? This question is a can of worms I don’t really want to open. I’m grateful for my life experiences which have been rich and varied. They’ve made me who I am today. But, what if? What if I had been treated earlier? My long history of dysfunctional relationships and poor decisions (probably made whilst hypomanic) may not have been. Maybe I’d be further along in my career. Maybe I wouldn’t be drowning in debt. Maybe I would have managed my relationships better.
Or maybe not. I’ll never know.
This was what my thoughts sounded like in the months following my diagnosis. It was a difficult time of readjustment and figuring out who I was. I think most people probably experience a similar kind of identity crisis following any significant diagnosis. It’s confronting to suddenly think that there is something inherently “wrong” with you.
I’m glad to say that I don’t think these thoughts anymore. For the most part, I accept my diagnosis, I accept that bipolar is a part of who I am and I am much more focused on the positive aspects of bipolar. I still have days where I get negative about it, like when I’m extremely irritated or elevated and it’s harder for me to get my work done. Or when I have to second guess my ability to take on more responsibility because I’m worried about how much stress I can tolerate before triggering an episode. But on the whole, I have made a lot of progress and I’m proud of that.
For anyone who is still struggling with their diagnosis or who feels that their bipolar is something to be ashamed of, I hope that you too can find self-acceptance and peace. Let me know what thoughts you have had about your diagnosis and how these have changed over time.
Image by John Hain on Pixabay
Read about how I was diagnosed with bipolar here.