Five Years

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my bipolar diagnosis. In some ways it seems like yesterday, while at the same time it’s like it happened half a lifetime ago.

I’ll never forget how I felt when Dr. Awesomesauce pronounced the words that changed my life forever. “I’m diagnosing you with bipolar disorder not otherwise specified,” he said, clearly wishing he didn’t have to. “We need to talk about getting you on some meds.” I thought about it for a minute and then asked what that meant. Even as an RN, I knew little about bipolar at the time and thought there were only two types of the disorder, so this diagnosis was confusing to say the least.

“It means that you have what looks like bipolar, but we don’t know yet what kind it is,” he told me. “Depending on what I see in the next couple of visits, I may change your diagnosis back to major depression. We’ll see.”

When I left the office that day, I felt like I had a big banner plastered across my forehead that labeled me as MENTALLY ILL. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t suspected it, but to have it confirmed by a well-qualified mental health professional was something else entirely. I went home and told my family, who were not surprised in the least, and proceeded to research the condition. I never realized there was so much information out there, and how little I really knew about mental illness in general.  Dr. Google was my best friend; I read everything I could get my hands on and recognized myself in almost all of it.

My first medication was Lamictal. It took what seemed like an awful long time before my depression lifted, but as the dose went up I started feeling better. Then summer came, and with it my first full-blown manic episode. One day I sashayed into Dr. A’s office wearing a bright turquoise outfit and blue eyeshadow, and one look at me made the diagnosis official. He still didn’t want to speculate as to what kind of bipolar I had, but the fact that I had it was never again called into question.

Now, five years, six medications, four mental healthcare providers and an equal number of bipolar 1 diagnoses later, I’ve come to terms with the illness, even if I’ve never become comfortable with the idea of having it. For the longest time I treated it as if it were an alien that lived in the house with me and ate my food; I mistakenly thought I could make it behave if I distanced myself from it. Now I give it the respect it deserves, and I can usually discern what is me from what is the disease.

Yes, I’ve learned a great deal in the past five years. Back then I was still somewhat emotionally immature; I’ve grown up a lot. Thanks to medications, I’m also mellower than I ever was in my former life; I rarely get worked up over insignificant things and I’ve learned how to pick my battles. There are no more screaming fits, no more breaking things or slamming full plates of food against the kitchen wall. And I’ve developed a deeper compassion for other mentally ill people that I wish I’d had when I was nursing.

I’m glad it’s not five years ago today. I know now that this is a lifelong illness, and as someone much wiser than I once said, I’ll die with it but I refuse to die from it.

It’s all good. 🙂

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