First and foremost: CW: Description of psychological episodes & mention of suicidal thoughts. [The above image is “Moods in a Day” by Kath Nash, available through Society6]
It has been… A bit.
COVID times, personal life, & trying to be a better human have taken up the majority of my emotional brain space, so I took a brief break. During that break, a lot has changed, including my diagnosis.
At the end of June/early July of this year, I decided to go back to therapy. I thought I had myself all figured out, after all, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been to a psychiatrist. I’ve been diagnosed. I tried a multitude of prescription medications that just weren’t working for me, then cannabis which did wonders. All that to say, I knew there were some things to talk through, and assumed I knew what I wanted to deal with.
But, as most seasoned therapy-goers will tell you, that’s typically not how therapy works.
I told my new psychologist all about my history, experiences, etc. He asked some very pointed questions, and had me fill out questionnaires. During our third meeting, after reviewing my responses, he said, “I don’t think you’re dealing with depression. I think you may be dealing with a manic disorder.”
Sorry… What the fuck?
He gave me more questionnaires to fill out, and I went to my good ol’ friend, Doctor Google.
Me: *Googles ‘manic disorders’*
Google: “Bipolar disorder has been previously called ‘manic depression’…”
My heart sank. Because unbeknownst to me, I had my own stigmas about Bipolar Disorder. The few interactions I’d had with people I knew (after the fact) had BPD were fairly abrupt, and intense. “That can’t be me,” I thought, “I’m quiet. Reserved. That just doesn’t sound like me.”
I do, however, have sudden bursts of energy, or productivity, which I had chalked up to just “good days” with my ADHD . I do have moments where I feel so elated, I suddenly burst into tears with no explanation. I have inward bursts of rage, sudden, dramatic dips in my depression, and I could tell you the exact days of the month I would feel suicidal.
As I read further, I learned something new:
There are different types of Bipolar Disorder. The following descriptions are from WebMD:
Bipolar I: Involves periods of severe mood episodes from mania to depression.
Bipolar II: A milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania and depression.
Cyclothymic: Describes brief periods of hypomanic symptoms alternating with brief periods of depressive symptoms that are not as extensive or as long-lasting as seen in full hypomanic or full depressive episodes.
Mixed features: “Mixed features” refers to the occurrence of simultaneous symptoms of opposite mood polarities during manic, hypomanic or depressive episodes. It’s marked by high energy, sleeplessness, and racing thoughts. At the same time, the person may feel hopeless, despairing, irritable, and suicidal.
Rapid-cycling is a term that describes having four or more mood episodes within a 12-month period. Episodes must last for some minimum number of days in order to be considered distinct episodes. Some people also experience changes in polarity from high to low or vice-versa within a single week, or even within a single day, meaning that the full symptom profile that defines distinct, separate episodes may not be present (for example, the person may not have a decreased need for sleep). Sometimes called “ultra-rapid” cycling, there is debate within psychiatry as to whether this phenomenon is a valid or well-established feature in bipolar disorder. A pattern of rapid cycling can occur at any time in the course of illness, although some researchers believe that it may be more common at later points in the lifetime duration of illness. Women appear more likely than men to have rapid cycling. A rapid-cycling pattern increases risk for severe depression and suicide attempts. Antidepressants may sometimes be associated with triggering or prolonging periods of rapid cycling. However, that theory is controversial and is still being studied.
Reading through those descriptions made me very aware of how correct this diagnosis might be. I now noticed frequency of the shifts between them in myself. Within that same week, I experienced two very intense episodes that I can only describe as “1,000 TVs being on in my brain, all playing something different at top volume. It was awful. After turning in the forms, my psychologist referred me to the office’s Nurse Practitioner to complete my intake & give me an official diagnosis. He was also the NP who had prescribed my meds for depression previously. He looked over all my paperwork, and called me for a few phone appointments. During the third, he diagnosed me, officially, with Bipolar II disorder. “You know,” he said, “the reactions you had to the antidepressants we tried all make much more sense now, given this diagnosis.” I felt a sense of relief, and mourning. I thought I knew what I was dealing with, and that I had it managed (sort of). Immediately, I felt anxiety about ever sharing this new diagnosis with anyone but my husband. I searched the internet for supportive blogs, Twitter & Instagram accounts in the same way I did with depression & ADHD, but haven’t found much that felt right. “Maybe I should write about it,” I thought. But I hesitated. One of my biggest concerns surrounded my first post here on the blog: “Will this discredit my experience in the eyes of others?” Another was, “Will people feel weird around me after this?”
Here’s the thing: None of that matters.
What matters is that I am healthy. I’m on a medication that has stabilized me in a way I hadn’t known or felt since I can remember. I don’t want to die anymore, or run away from my family and my life because “they would be better off without me.” Bipolar Disorder or not, my life experiences are still 100% valid and true. And, the people who are meant to be in your life will stick around & support you regardless. They won’t discredit you, or try to explain away your life.
It is imperative that I get sufficient amounts of sleep, exercise regularly, continue therapy, and stay consistent with my prescribed medication. With the medication I’m taking, I can’t have alcohol (although I stopped drinking over a year ago because it intensified my suicidal thoughts), and I’ve taken a break from marijuana because there’s a risk of it amplifying the BPD , however, I still take CBD for anxiety on occasion. That risk doesn’t diminish the positive impact THC had on my depression.
I’m grateful for the progress made already, at about 8 weeks in, and I’m for my husband. He’s held my hand through this process, checked in on me, heard me when I needed to be heard, and has kept me in a healthy supply of chocolate and tacos.
I stand by my choice to share this diagnosis, regardless of the possible repercussions. It has always been my intention to be open & transparent with the hope that it could help one person. Even if it does, I’m living my truth for myself & my family, and I’m not ashamed of that.