Hearing my psychiatrist diagnose me with bipolar II at age 40, after 15 years of being misdiagnosed with major recurrent depression, was not the horrible moment I’d long dreaded. It was actually a relief.
I had struggled with depression since my early teen years, but I hadn’t known to ask for help, and my parents never knew how deep the problem was back then. I had obsessive suicidal thoughts, but I honestly thought that all teens did, so I never shared them with anyone. Well-meaning adults, seeing my pain and unhappiness and mistaking it for normal teenage angst, assured me that high school was hard for everyone and that college would be better.
Wow, were they right! In college, I started enjoying periods of racing thoughts, giddiness, boundless energy and feelings of invincibility. I had no idea these were symptoms of anything. I easily got straight A’s and graduated magna cum laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. My future looked bright.
Well-meaning adults, seeing my pain and unhappiness and mistaking it for normal teenage angst, assured me that high school was hard for everyone and that college would be better.
After college, however, I crashed. For two years I never left my parents’ house. My parents finally consulted a psychiatrist, who diagnosed depression, put me on an atypical antidepressant and started seeing me once a week.
That seemed to work, and I was soon zooming my way up the corporate ladder, perhaps a little too fast. My mood swings were sometimes a help in my job, but sometimes a hindrance and I started drinking in an effort to cope. Pretty soon, I crashed again, hard, and had to take short-term disability leave. New psychiatrist; new therapist; new medications: same diagnosis. Off to the races again. Part of the problem was that I was never honest with my doctors. I don’t mean that I would blatantly lie, but I left out pertinent personal information (like my alcohol abuse), and I certainly never mentioned mood swings or any other indication of hypomania.
My only hope was in seeking help from my doctor, which meant I had to be completely open and honest about my history ... It was the best decision I could have made.
This roller coaster continued for years, until a famous Hollywood actress made headlines for being treated for bipolar II. Unfamiliar with this disorder, I started researching it. The more I read, the more I suspected that I had bipolar II. However, I didn’t want to have a doctor confirm this diagnosis because: 1) bipolar disorder was a scarier label than depression with a bigger stigma, and 2) I liked my periods of hypomania and didn’t want them to be taken away from me.
But my life was quickly spiraling out of control. Unemployed again, I was drinking heavily to self-medicate. But alcohol is a depressant, and I soon became suicidal. I came to realize that ignoring and denying my condition wouldn’t make it go away. My only hope was in seeking help from my doctor, which meant I had to be completely open and honest about my history, symptoms and thoughts. Gulp… It was the best decision I could have made. Today, I am stabilized on medications that address my specific symptoms. I have daily support from people who help me to maintain and cherish my sobriety. I have a family who finally understands my struggle. I have faith in God and hope for tomorrow. I am not alone.