How My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Helped Me Realize Just How Much Therapy Matters
"We carry so much with us that often times we're not aware how our mental and emotional states are affecting our quality of life."
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Recently, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This past summer I reached a point of so much frustration and anger with my husband, and more so within myself, that I decided to go see a psychiatrist. My husband was convinced that I might have postpartum depression. At this point, I was still healing from having my third child earlier in the year — my babies are three years old, almost two years old and six months old. So yes, it has been a very long three years. You could say I was healing from all three of the pregnancies. With these monumental life changes I've experienced a roller coaster of emotions.
I've been to therapy before. I was 19 years old and fresh on my college campus when I decided to see a counselor about my anger. I'd been mad for a very long time. I was molested as a child by my uncle and when I got the strength to tell my parents at age 11, their solution was to put a bolt lock on my bedroom door. My uncle continued to live with us until we moved away, when I was 16 years old. So when I arrived on my college campus and learned about the free mental health resources, I took advantage.
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After a few sessions, I fell off. The receptionist was out on lunch one afternoon when I was supposed to schedule my following visit and I was told to just call in to schedule my next visit, but I never called. I wish I had stuck with the therapy then because looking back, I now know for sure I was in a depressive episode as a symptom of my bipolar disorder. And it lasted for months.
In the moment, you couldn't tell me anything; I went hard on days that I felt inspired, and I did nothing at all some days. Those "some days" took up quite some time my first couple of years in college. I distracted myself by spending as much time as possible with friends and roommates. I also drank alcohol and smoked a lot of weed. Looking back, I wish something would have motivated me to keep up with my therapy. Mentally, I was pulled in so many different directions that I didn't accomplish much. My grades were mediocre; I was blogging poems every now and again; I was way behind on my rent.
My last semester in school was in 2013. I had become consumed in social justice, and decided that protests and traveling for conferences was more important than finishing school. I guess you can say I dropped out of school. I think that my year going hard in activism signified a hypo-manic period of my life. I left so many loose ends out there, twisting in the wind. I started and stopped projects, and ran with my gut feeling everyday, which looked like a young Black woman in her early 20s, with no formal job, no formal degree, just out there winging it.
Now you might be thinking, where are her parents? Mine are the type that think as long as you seem OK and look like you're figuring life out, then we're OK. With that said, there wasn't much concern from them.
July 10, 2019, I went in to see a psychiatrist for the first time and he asked me a series of questions. After talking for almost an hour he said, "Well, I think you're a bright, smart young lady and you seem like you have it all under control. I don't think we should get you on medication, but if you ever feel you want to, you can call to schedule an appointment with us."
I replied, "Well, what was it that you said earlier? You mentioned it sounded like I had psych-something."
My journal was open in my lap, my pen poised to get ready and start my research on this new topic.
"Oh that was cyclothymia," he said, proceeding to spell it out for me.
Cyclothymia is defined as "a relatively mild mood disorder" that includes mood swings "between short periods of mild depression and hypomania, an elevated mood. The low and high mood swings never reach the severity or duration of major depressive or full mania episodes." I wrote it down and began research on it later on that day. I called my job's employee assistance program to begin therapy as my psychiatrist recommended. When I met my therapist, he told me that the psychiatrist I went to likes to diagnose by speaking with you and understanding your symptoms, but I could take a written psychological exam as well if interested. I agreed and came in for a test of 175 seemingly random true or false questions. I returned a week later to learn about the results with a psychologist. It seemed I had bipolar disorder, not just cyclothymia.
I felt intrigued to learn more about bipolar disorder, and my therapist was prepared with a couple of book recommendations since he knew I liked to read and do my research. So, I went about my day, googling and reading up on bipolar disorder. There are so many things that have happened to me and that I've reacted to, that I see now was likely due to my bipolar disorder. Since my diagnosis, I've been in therapy consistently and am taking each thing one step at a time. Besides bipolar, I also found out that I have high anxiety, stress and paranoia. My husband and I are working together to spot my triggers and avoid them, and deal with them head on when they cannot be avoided.
Like I mentioned multiple times before, I wish I had done this sooner. I wish I'd made it my mission to seek therapy and to understand myself deeper.
I think it is crucial that everyone sees a therapist sometime in their life! We carry so much with us that often times we're not aware how our mental and emotional states are affecting our quality of life. It can be hard to find the help that we need, and sometimes it can even be hard to think that we really do need help. I always thought I was just super passionate and super aggressive because that was just me. Turns out it is me, but it is a part of me. It is my mental health disorder, and I chose not to shy away from that.