At 10am, 13th December 2012 was a life changing moment; I was diagnosed with Bipolar. My initial response was of anger, an anger that it had taken until I was twenty seven and fifteen years of pain and suffering to finally have a diagnosis. So many years of my life felt wasted, as I had dragged myself through horrific bouts of depression. I had self destructed countless times as my manic episodes had caused my behaviour to spiral out of control. I was broke, in debt and unemployed. I wanted to scream and yell at all the doctors that had misdiagnosed me over the years. I felt someone had to be held accountable for everything I had missed out on in my teens and for most of my twenties. There was no one though that I could single out and blame, it was the way it went for many people with Bipolar. I had to let it go. For my own piece of mind, my health, I had to let it go.
When the anger had subsided, I realised how this label I had been given explained my erratic behaviour. It gave meaning to my partner, family and friends of my sometimes bizarre actions. Instead of recoiling from this label, they were willing to listen and wanted to understand more about the disorder. I feared that such a diagnosis would scare my family and friends. It didn’t. This reaction filled me with the confidence to be able to tell more and more people about my diagnosis. When asked why I was not working, or why I was ill, I was always truthful.
Being labelled was a release. No longer did I feel weighed down with the burden of knowing that something was wrong with me, but not understanding what it was. I could prove that I wasn’t attention seeking when I was suicidal, or that I would magically just get over what I was feeling. I was armed with knowledge and I could now educate myself and learn how to combat and find some relief from this illness.
I’m not denying there is stigma attached to having a mental illness, of course there is. I’ve encountered it many times. What I’m saying is that I felt I was able to wrestle some control back into my life. With the help of a psychiatrist, I was able to assess my capabilities. I could set realistic targets to have a sense of normalcy and stability I hadn’t felt in years. I felt empowered and that I could choose how to manage my illness with medication.
I’ve heard many different opinions about being diagnosed and how it has changed people’s lives. Many people don’t like the idea of having a label that comes with a mental health diagnosis. That it singles you out and makes you different, and for some, can make it harder to find support and care. This new label attached to me had given me clarity. I could look back at the years before and how not knowing what was wrong had decimated my life. Laid bare were the countless acts of self destructive behaviour, the violent outbursts, the almost insurmountable debt I found myself in. How my drastic moods had clouded my experiences and often left me feeling like a shell of a human being. For me, the day I was diagnosed and ‘labelled’ as Bipolar drastically altered my life but in a way I hadn’t expected. To anyone who is concerned they may have Bipolar, or any kind of severe mental illness, please don’t be scared of finding help. Don’t be scared of a label; it saved my life.