How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Explained My Bipolar Diagnosis

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Handled My Bipolar Diagnosis

{Ben and I on a vacation in St Thomas, 2 months after my illness emerged.}

Looking back on my bipolar diagnosis nearly eleven years ago, there are many ways my doctor(s) could have handled explaining the news to me. Only now am I able to clearly see the advice and encouragement which would have made my recovery journey a little easier.

A diagnosis of mental illness is not a life sentence.

When I first heard the words “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Bipolar Disorder” I was devastated. The doctor may have well handed me a slip of paper that said: BROKEN BRAIN and MENTAL PATIENT, because that’s how those labels made me feel. Instead, I was given a diagnosis and left to figure out what that meant. I wish my doctor would have taken the time to assure me that yes, I may have bipolar for the rest of my life, but that it was treatable and manageable and that I’d be able to have a full and rewarding life despite my diagnosis.

Keeping a journal or mood chart would help me reach a recovery path sooner.

I wasn’t introduced to the concept of the mood chart until several months into my diagnosis. My dad was the one who from the beginning encouraged me to keep a small journal where I could jot down the date, the meds I took (and dosages), how I felt that day, and any side effects I experienced from the meds. It was a simple activity that helped me to get a handle on my illness and I encourage everyone to utilize it no matter what type of diagnosis you encounter. Looking back at my old journals sometimes makes me sad because I remember how sick I was back then, but I also realize how far I’ve come.

You may have bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have children.

One of the things that most devastated me when my mental illness first emerged was an intense fear of not being able to fulfill my dream of one day becoming a mother. I don’t remember many of the doctors I saw during the first year following my diagnosis ever broaching the topic of motherhood, except for one. The consultation with the doctor who listened to my concerns over not being able to have children provided me hope for the future. He assured me that wasn’t the case, and that by working closely with my doctors and putting a support system in place, a family was indeed something I could have. Within eighteen months after that consultation I was pregnant with my first child.

Learning to protect your sleep will be your greatest advantage next to your medicine, for managing your condition.

I am a night owl. I’ve tried to flip my preferences, by forcing myself to go to bed earlier in order to wake up before the sun. But I just love the way the house gets quiet after the little ones have been tucked in. There are plenty of nights when I have the motivation to keep burning the midnight oil, but experience has taught me that I will only pay for the lack of sleep in the days that follow in the form of erratic moods. Maintaining a regular sleep/wake pattern has been crucial to my long-term recovery and I wish I would have known this earlier.

The sooner you begin talking openly about your struggle, the sooner your true healing will begin.

I hid my struggle for many years because I felt so isolated and embarrassed. I was convinced that none of my friends or extended family members would understand. I thought everyone would think I was “crazy” for having suffered the number of manic episodes I had endured. The feelings of shame were so intense that I began searching for stories of other people who had made it out of the darkness. I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to start blogging about my experience and then write a book, and she immediately discouraged me from disclosing. I’m glad I didn’t listen to her advice. The point at which I made the decision to write openly about my mental illness was the beginning of a better life. One in which I didn’t need to feel ashamed about a condition that affected my brain.

 

What do you wish your doctors would have told you when you were first diagnosed?

 

Comments

  1. Jenn, this article is so true. Thanks for writing it. I, too, was so worried about having a family when I received my bipolar diagnosis. i think what we need to keep telling people who are newly diagnosed is that when you do what you need to do to get healthy, stability is possible. When you’re stable, anything is possible, as long as you continue to manage your illness. bipolar is not a death sentence. You CAn have a beautiful life!

    • Hi Taylor! Thanks for reading. I agree – the more we can educate people that mental illness doesn’t have to automatically mean a family isn’t attainable. Sure it takes a lot of work and support and dedication to staying healthy, but it’s possible. xo

  2. Thank you for this post. I don’t know what I would have wanted my doctors should have said. To be fair, they can’t even seem to agree on a diagnosis which makes me doubt the whole science of psychology. I do agree with you about sleep though. SLEEP IS KEY. aS A NIGHT OWL MYSELF, I KNOW HOW MUCH TURNING MY DAILY rhythm CAN EFFECT HOW MY DAYS WILL TURN OUT.

    • i HAVE A FOLLOW UP QUESTION; HOW DID YOU TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT? mAYBE YOU HAVE A POST HERE ABOUT IT I haven’t discovered. I have told the people closest to me, but I am scared to let it be publicly known. I am afraid of being discriminated against at work or in social situations. I started my blog for similar reasons as to you. But I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I 100% identify myself as the author.

      • Hi Awa. Thanks for reading. I opened up about my mental illness back in 2013 because I was sick of hiding, and I had started writing for a website that was paying me to write about being a mom with bipolar. I was no longer ashamed, and wanted to make a difference by sharing my story. Here’s a post I wrote back then about opening up: http://bipolarmomlife.com/my-time-to-stand-up-to-stigma/ …..then later that year I started my nonprofit, This Is My Brave (http://thisismybrave.org) which is an organization that encourages people to share their stories through artistic expression to end stigma. I think deciding when to open up is a completely personal choice. You’ll know when you’re ready.

  3. I was pregnant with my second daughter when I started suspecting that I was an aspie, and I cried that day, but now I don’t register it as a drawback. My husband and that second daughter are both bipolar and I cannot express how precious they both are.

  4. I wish they told me that I wasn’t stupid or broken, but I just had difficulty with regulating my emotions. I am terrified to have children of my own, and I convince myself my two almost step daughters are the only kids I need.

  5. I wish my doctor had said 1. you cannot do this alone so find a psychiatrist, therapist, counsellor, pharmacist, good friend, spouse or all of those to walk with you through this 2. start charting your moods and keep track of all meds, their success, their side effects 3. research, find one or two good books on bipolar, find some blogs about bipolar and learn and learn and learn 4. don’t quit your meds ever without consulting with doctor first 5. don’t give up on finding a good doctor or psychiatrist or counsellor that you feel comfortable with and who is helpful, not harmful 6. be prepared to change your lifestyle, note what aggravates you and what calms you, from people to activities to surroundings to food to exercise 7. don’t give up, there is hope for bipolar!

  6. This article was very much on point. I wish my doctor had said exactly those things. Such a lack of information she gave me to be honest though here in Finland health care must be very different anyway. Well at least I feel better know reading them from here. I was just recently diagnosed with bipolar 2 type.

    http://littlebitfinnish.blogspot.fi/

  7. Deena Malloy says:

    I wish that I’d been told that even though you can & will get better, sometimes despite even your best efforts (going to therapy, taking your meds, self care etc), you will sometimes still get unwell & it’s not your fault. That there’s no ‘cure’, that BPD needs constant careful management & that this; in & of itself can be exhausting. Furthermore acknowledging & accepting this without recrimination is ok.

  8. Tyla Milian says:

    Being open about mental illness is a huge source of relief for me. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 2 in 2010. I was initially diagnosed with mild to moderate depression in 2003. In 2003, when I was 19, I would have rather told people I had cancer. I thought people wouldn’t understand. I’ve come a long way since then. Sometimes now, I find d myself telling perfect strangers about my Bipolar Disorder. It’s something that affects my life daily, and I’m not ashamed of it
    Being mentally ill has put me in a position to develop qualities and skills that I would not otherwise have. I believe in a future without mental illness….See jw.Org, but in the meantime, I am learning from this.

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