• Sandra Lee

The Power of Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder Does Not Define You

Unsplash / Sydney Sims

Having been diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder in November of 2017 -- It was unnerving to say the least. The diagnosis suffocated me. Literally suffocated me (I turned to Klonopin to help control the feeling). And I quickly lost myself in desperately attempting to figure out who I REALLY was. Was I the extremely happy-go-lucky woman so many of my friends knew me as? The one ALWAYS willing to take the risks. ALWAYS the first to jump when everyone else was still teetering on the edge. Or was I the depressed train wreck I felt I was quickly becoming? If I didn't know who I was, how would anyone else?

So many feelings ran through my head those first few weeks.

Initially, I felt relieved. Relieved that all these "issues" I experienced weren't "just me"- there was a reason, there was a solution. There was help. There was a future without all this confusion, pain, and depression. But then the discussion about what Bipolar Disorder started. What it means. How it effects you. Treatment. Where I would go from here. Mentally, I shut down. I lost myself in my own head.

First, we discussed hypomania versus depression. I knew depression, that was an all too familiar mental battlefield. Hypomania was different. The description: happy, euphoric, confident. That was me! Except I missed the one key word - overly. Overly happy, overly euphoric, overly confident. Suddenly, I was lost and confused. Was the happy me really a product of this disorder? How do I know who I really am if all my happiness has been a product of hypomania - a symptom I am going to be fighting to stop? How will I ever know if I'm happy or hypomanic? What if hypomania is the only happiness I've ever known? The questions in my head were relentless.

Second, medication. Now that I was officially diagnosed - I needed to start the regimen recommended by DSM-5: therapy + medication. I decided to go with Lithium. Googling Lithium was a nightmare. The stories you can find...are terrifying. But I had no idea what I should or shouldn't be doing. I had no idea who I even really was so who was I to say that this medication was right or wrong for me?

I felt like a walking zombie. I was taking the little steps forward daily that everyone told me I needed to take. I went to work (although usually late because getting out of bed seemed impossible). I came home. I took my medicine. I fed my pets. I attempted to sleep but that usually was me lying awake staring at the wall. I took the steps expected. Nothing more.

I began having panic attacks throughout the day. The panic and thoughts surrounding my diagnosis consumed me. Fighting a constant battle inside your own head is exhausting, it's draining, and eventually it will take you down.

There came a point shortly after that I realized I needed to figure this out. Or it would be the reason I lost everything I had ever worked so hard for. I needed to make a change or this disorder would consume me. It would become all that I was. And all that everyone around me would begin to know.

Earlier, I said "where I go from here..." after being diagnosed. And that's where I've come to realize I was wrong.

It's about where we go from here. A month or two after I was diagnosed, I realized I had to be honest with my doctor (who also does my talk therapy). I had to be honest about my feelings, my moods, everything. My doctor would be my biggest ally in this fight.

My doctor would be my best hope in the beginning. He helped ensured that this diagnosis did not define me, did not define who I was or who I would become. I gave him the chance to be my partner in this fight and I've never regretted it.

I started to listen to what he said with an open mind, without negative feelings. I let him give me the stepping stones I needed to move one foot forward until I could begin to take those new steps on my own...without help. I used his tools to begin to learn more about myself. Those tools have slowly helped me learn things about myself that have helped me move forward in a more positive light.

Don't let those around you become strangers. Accept their love, their support, their help. Let them into your world. Because this journey alone is impossible. You may get out alive but alive does not mean you have lived. And every single one of us deserves to live.

Part of making the choice to not let this diagnosis define you is to do everything you can to set yourself up for success. That means partnering with your doctors, taking your medication, going to therapy, sleeping, and accepting help!

It means being the best you so that this disorder becomes merely a piece of you - and does not define who you are.



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