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?

 

Moving on anonymously – for now

My mom brought up a good point in regards to my dilemma of revealing or not revealing my true identity here on the blog: the kids. Playdates. Would other moms not want their kids playing with mine if they knew that I had Bipolar. Wow. Why had I not thought of this?

It’s a sad reality in our world that so many people are so incredibly ignorant to mental health issues, bipolar disorder especially. But it doesn’t surprise me. Hell, I barely knew anything about it until it jumped up and bit me in the ass. I was forced to read up on it and learn about it as fast as I could in order to get my life back in order. My husband and my parents did everything they could to help. There were countless hours spent online researching symptoms and conditions to try to confirm what the doctors were telling us about what was happening to me. My dad took me to the bookstore where we stood in front of the psychology section for a couple of hours pouring over the books on the shelves to try to find some that could help us. My mom went online and was able to find Julie Fast’s Health Cards System which she immediately ordered for me. Me, well, I was just trying to keep my head above water.

Once I received the formal diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, it was a bit of a relief to know that we had a starting point to help me begin on the road to complete recovery. That was in the Spring of 2006, and after spending the majority of that year clinically depressed, it wasn’t until the beginning of March 2007 that I began to feel like my old self again. I had learned about the extreme highs I had felt, learned why I needed an anti-psychotic medication, and had also learned what it felt like to be at the lowest low on the depression spectrum and how once I found the right medication for me – the mood stabilizer Lithium – I could be completely balanced and could stay that way as long as I managed my moods closely with my psychiatrist.

When my mom brought up the point about playdates, it really made me think. And as usual for me, I can see both sides to the argument.

If I were a mom to two small children and had never been exposed to mental illness or bipolar disorder, and only knew what I heard of it on the news or in magazine stories, than yeah, I’d probably not want my kids playing with other kids whose mother had Bipolar. If I were that uninformed about the condition, I would probably think that she was a bad mother. And as my kids grew up, they would probably begin to believe the same thing, causing my kids pain by teasing them behind their backs.

These thoughts break my heart.

On the other side, there is a huge part of me that feels that if someone is so ignorant about bipolar disorder that they wouldn’t be friends with someone who had the condition, then I wouldn’t want to associate with them anyway.

But that is just me thinking about my viewpoint on the issue. I have to think about the future here and my kids might feel differently. I hope they don’t, but I don’t want to jeopardize their childhood development based on my desire to reveal my true identity and the condition I live with each and every day of my life. It’s not fair to them to make this decision while they are so young. So I won’t.

At this point, I have chosen to move forward with the blog anonymously. I just feel like it is the right thing to do for my family – not just my kids, but for my husband too.