I’ve had many discussions over the past year on bipolar disorder forums with newly diagnosed members searching for answers as to why they ended up getting bipolar disorder in the first place or what was now in store for them looking forward. The questions definitely had an undertone of denial in the diagnoses and seemed to be stemming from a fear of not knowing what to expect or what to do. I remember asking myself the same questions when I was diagnosed and I remember the denial that I initially went through as well, but I assure you that the diagnosis was a positive event.
I remember the day I was diagnosed like it was yesterday. I was deep into a dark October depression, the sky was overcast and I hated my life. I was just coming off a rollercoaster summer of pure mania and I was now in the crash. I walked into my psychiatrist’s office that morning, sat in the big comfy chair and he dropped it on me like an atomic bomb, “I am convinced based on your history and everything that we have discussed that you without a doubt have bipolar disorder”. I felt my peripheral vision sink back into my head and everything took on a very foreign hollow feeling. My only experience with bipolar disorder up to this point in my life was an ex-neighbour who committed suicide. My mind started racing with thoughts about what this meant as I left my doctor’s office and drifted down the street. Do I really have bipolar disorder? What is bipolar disorder? Do I have to take medication for the rest of my life? Is this diagnosis right? Am I crazy? My world was spinning and I was afraid.
In the weeks following my diagnosis, I read everything I could get my hands on to better understand my diagnosis and potentially disprove my doctor’s diagnosis, but the more I read the more I began to realise that indeed my doctor was right, I had bipolar disorder. Little did I know, this diagnosis would be the best thing that could have ever happened to me. My diagnosis was my important first step in finding a more stable and enjoyable life.
Although diagnosis reveals what some would consider a negative scenario, diagnosis is actually a positive one. Diagnosis shows you that much of your past behaviour, that you thought was being driven by you, was in fact being uncontrollably driven by a chemical imbalance in your brain. It gives you answers as to why the reoccurring, mad socializing, drinking, partying, spending and acting reckless happens and why this suddenly ends unannounced and you now can’t leave your house or talk to anyone for months because you are so depressed. All those unexplainable and irrational past experiences and decisions now have an answer that makes sense.
Along with revealing the motives behind your past actions, your diagnosis also gives you the opportunity to actively start a new life so to speak. It’s the wake up call that says, “Hey, you can’t live like that anymore!” Your diagnosis shifts new responsibilities onto your shoulders that didn’t exist before, and of which you now must be very aware for your own good. These new responsibilities help bring balance and stability to the chaos that existed before and usually include medication, therapy, eating habits, sleeping patterns, mood tracking, stress management, etc., but most importantly they include a new self awareness that didn’t exist before. These new responsibilities at first can seem daunting, but once you get used to them they are very rewarding with the new gift of consistency that they help bring about. No longer are you imprisoned by the instability of your mood and associated behaviours. You can now plan six months in advance and have an idea of the person who is going to be there. Things won’t always be perfect with your mood even when following a treatment plan, but things will be more consistent than if you were not.
So along with discovering the explanation for the chaos of your past and finding new techniques to manage your life into the future, your diagnosis is an important and positive catalyst that helps bring the past and future into the present moment where clarity and direction can be found. One thing must be stressed though: diagnosis is only an event and is nothing in itself. It is what you do with the diagnosis that means everything!