It is said that it takes an average of about 7 years to get a proper bipolar disorder diagnosis. Mainly because people only seek help when they’re depressed. I believe it. I first went to therapy when I was 17, in 2001, and was told that I have dysthymia. I received my official bipolar diagnosis in either 2008 or 2009. (My memory isn’t stellar. Not uncommon among my people.) End of story, right? Nope. That was just the beginning.
Pharmaceutical commercials would have you believe that once you have your diagnosis, you then get your prescription, get your medicine, and are on your merry way. Wham, bam, thank you (maybe?) ma’am. Trust me, I wish. It truly is just the beginning of a journey you never wished to take but after only moments in can’t imagine any other route. Accepting it is definitely a process, one that I’m not sure yet has a definitive end. I feel like it’s similar to the stages of grief, except instead of occurring in a linear time frame with acceptance as the finish line, you can experience one or more stages at any given time, even if you’ve technically reached acceptance.
Bargaining is kind of ongoing. We are thankful for our disorder because of the empathy we inherently possess because of it and the understanding and compassionate shoulders it provides us. However,if the universe came along and said, “if you did [insert] I would do away with your bipolar/ [insert your mental illness here]” we would be all over that, AKA bargaining. It lies underneath. Silent but ready to strike at any moment.
Denial happens in good times. It can feel good. When a couple of stable days happen in a row it’s easy to get swept up. Like, this is it! Upswing is happening and I am feeling good going great! The crash after is always, yet ever expected. Then there’s what I consider to be the bad denial. When those stable days happen and you think “well, crap, what if I *am* ok and I’ve just been overreacting?” or something to that effect. This kind of doubt makes you wonder if this is the common experience of neurotypical people and you’re just not cut out for it. Mental health guilt. Too sensitive, a less-than.
Anger usually comes in short, strong bursts. It does for me anyways. I tend to direct negativity at myself so that’s the experience with which I identify. An intense hatred of everything that comes with my bipolar disorder. The havoc it wreaks on my relationships. What it does to my feelings of self-worth. How, when it flares up, it affects every single little part of my days. And how sometimes I feel like I have to watch and regulate every little part of my day just to insure that I will remain stable. Then there’s then anger that comes with the knowledge of knowing that I can do every single thing I’m supposed to do and my disorder still has the potential to unleash an episode.
I feel like depression is self-explanatory, but maybe not. Depression is in and of itself a mental disorder. What I am talking about here is depression on depression (on depression on depression on…). There’s a special kind of tired that goes along with mental illness that I suspect comes with any chronic illness. Knowing that it is ongoing. This is it. It may not be who you are, but it does define a part of you, and therefore it is in your mosaic. You cannot know yourself without it. It just is.
I feel like the tone of all of this is morbid. Maybe it is. However you take it, it is what it is, and I feel like that’s the closest to true acceptance those of us that live with mental illness can achieve. Stigma is real and banding together, talking about it, and supporting each other is what makes us strong and will hopefully bring us closer to the acceptance of mental being as publicly valid in the public eye as a physiological illness. That’s the goal.
River grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where she was very active in the powwows as a fancy shawl dancer until her family moved to Alabama in 1999. She works as a radio personality to pay the bills but her real passion is reducing the stigma that surrounds mental illness. In her free time she writes and talks about it whenever possible to normalize the conversation and provide a safe space for others to talk about their experiences. She is officially diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.
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