Am I bipolar?Posted: March 30, 2015 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: bipolar, bipolar disorder, depression, emotions, hypomania, mania, medical treatment, medications, mental health, SSRIs, therapy 11 Comments
Today is the 2nd annual World Bipolar Day, an event that strives to educate the public about bipolar disorder and encourages an open discussion to end the stigma associated with brain illness. There’s a facebook page where people can share stories, and there’s lots of links to different organizations. It was chosen to fall on this day because it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday. He is said to have suffered from bipolar disorder, and he committed suicide at age 37. Bipolar disorder is fairly rare – roughly 1% – 2% of the population are bipolar. Some estimates say up to 5%, but there is this sense that it’s over-diagnosed. When I have questioned in therapy whether I am bipolar, she has replied something to the effect of, “That was a very popular diagnosis then. A lot of teens were being diagnosed.” Sometimes people think they have it because their moods are extreme; really something else might be going on.
I thought I’d take a minute to reflect today about whether I am bipolar or not. I mean, I did just go through a delusional manic episode 2.5 months ago, no doubt about it. And I am currently sinking through a rebound depression – definitely a clinical level depression. But I strongly do not think I am bipolar. It’s been 15 years in between episodes, and I’ve only ever had 2 episodes. Much of that time I’ve been off all medications. I can accept that I have bipolar-like tendencies (and I’m hyper-sensitive to stress levels), but I don’t think I fit the criteria, nor do I think I need to be medicated long term. In fact, I plan to go off my medications in a couple of months once this passes and I feel like myself again.
My new psychiatrist told my partner, “Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.” Meaning, I’d been (mis?)diagnosed already (at age 17), and there’s no taking that back. ??? He thinks I need to be medicated forever. He doesn’t get that I’ve been stable and have managed issues in my life in other ways for a long time. I’m pretty sure someone who is really bipolar doesn’t get to do that.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually be bipolar. To have to balance a medication cocktail indefinitely or suffer the consequences. Because when you’re actually bipolar, you can have an upswing or downturn without much prompting, if you’re un-medicated or if the medications are not right for you. If I was pretty sure I would be going through more mania and more depression in the near future, I would be living in fear of that. I honestly do believe I am prone to going through mania and depression again, but to a much lesser extent than someone who actually has bipolar disorder. And that’s scary enough.
One other factor that makes me think I have bipolar-like tendencies has been my reaction to SSRIs. I took Paxil for a few weeks about 13 years ago, and it caused me to feel super agitated and become hypomanic. Apparently this will happen if people with bipolar disorder take SSRIs. I do take this seriously, but ultimately I’d have to say I do not have bipolar disorder. Today I’m thinking about everyone who actually does.
I’m definitely no expert about any of this but my experience, both personal and with several people I know, has been that the mental health field is not a very concrete place and it’s hard to get an accurate diagnosis. I am 100% sure that my brother is autistic but I can not get a “professional” to agree with me. I have very little faith in the mental health world to be honest. I took a paxil cocktail once and it made me manic-depressive for a few hours too. Does that mean that I’m bi-polar? Never been that way before or after so I seriously doubt it. One of my best friend’s brother just went through something very similar to what you went through (this is his second time as well after many years) and still has no real diagnosis. I just think they play a lot of guessing games and throw drugs at issues hoping they’ll fix the problem. Again, I don’t know anything about this stuff other than life experience. Even in the depression/anxiety world they don’t have any real concrete way to fix any of us without drugging us into a numb stupor. It’s just really important to have people that care about us and support us during the tough times and do the best we can to stay mentally healthy on our own. I wish you only the best.
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I so agree that having people who care, and a strong support network in place, is a number one priority to getting through mental health issues, whether you’re just in a tough place, or you are going through a crisis. Thanks for your support!
Ultimately you have to do what’s best for you and trust your gut. However. There are people with bipolar disorder who live without medications. It’s rare, but it happens. I wasn’t medicated and now that I am I don’t feel different, so I’m considering dropping them again. It’s a personal choice, how we choose to manage our symptoms.
At the end of the day, if you’ve lived satisfactorily your way then keep at it. Doctors will always push a diagnosis as it’s their job to treat conditions. If we go to them with a complaint they’re going to try and rid us of it. That’s they’re job. A diagnosis helps us know how to treat things. That’s it. Stay healthy. That is what matters. Good luck.
Their* — I shouldn’t type at 5am while running a fever.
Those are all really great points! (I’m still angry about being misdiagnosed all those years ago though, and I think it’s problematic that I can’t talk to my psychiatrist about my diagnosis or medications in any real way…)
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I totally understand your frustration and anger. Actually at first I was diagnosed with major depression and PMDD. I lived with that diagnosis for years before getting to the bottom of it. I’m still doubtful about certain things but every time I have challenged a psychiatrist they have dismissed me. It’s not easy to find someone who is willing to work with you to get to the bottom of everything for YOUR benefit and not some selfish gain. I’m really sorry you’re experiencing all this. We shouldn’t have to fight so hard for answers and fair, unbiased treatment.
I’ve pondered the same from time to time about myself. I’ve had numerous experiences where I’ve gotten very manic don’t sleepp and seem to not need to for a week or two and in what might be called psychosis but felt more to me like utterly attuned to a greater reality. I’ve been diagnosed twice with bipolar and have always chosen not to stay on the meds for very long and when and if this happens now I seem to have tools to negotiate it on my own. The medical field does seem to like to medicate more than thoroughly assess and teach how to manage these things. And yes I also have numerous clients who have tried coming off their meds and got worse. It’s complicated and tools are essential.
Thanks for sharing that stuff about yourself – ever think about elaborating in a blog post? Yes, I agree that med professionals turn to medications and everyone could benefit from a more holistic approach!
No never did consider a post on this as it has been years since this has happened last. Hmmm food for thought tho.
There are two things at play here. One is: identity. Are you [your diagnosis]? As in, do you identify as someone who is bipolar? Perhaps.
It’s like, I’m asexual. No, I am not thinking about it all the time, nor does it impact every single aspect of my life, but it is my identity. On the other hand, there are some people who go through an asexual period in their life, but it is not their usual state, and they do not identify as such.
What you’ve described sounds like bipolar episodes (not that I’m diagnosing). Taking on the label or not is up to you. Is it useful for you to have a word that describes your experiences outside of the norm? Do you think it’s one-time, or a superficial thing, or something that goes to the core of who you are?
With mental health, unlike sexual identity though, we get the negative stigma of “disorder” in the mix. And medication, short or long term. If we’d remove those two factors, and appraise a mental state for what it is instead of making a value judgement (right/wrong, normal/disordered), we’d get different results.
yeah, I feel meh about the label – I don’t think I identify as bipolar. I was super glad to get your email last week! Will email back sometime soon…