Sitting in a cold 1960’s industrial setting I nervously waited in what was my doctor’s office. This was just a few years ago. I think it was about 2006. I had finally managed to get myself to the county mental health department after having had what I couldn’t even deny were suicidal thoughts. It was completely out of character for me. Or so I thought later I learned I’d been struggling for years to emotionally keep my nose above water.
I had already had an intake interview several weeks previous where it was determined I had the need to be seen by a doctor. Now at the time to meet him I found myself nervous as I didn’t know what he would discover. A small white-haired man came in and between the intake questionnaires and all the questions he asked me himself I felt as though my whole life had been laid out on his desk. Little did I know that feeling would increase over the next year and a half.
Naturally, I was eager to know what conclusions he drew and ultimately if he’d confirm that I was crazy. I mean that’s what psychiatrists do, isn’t it? I thought they declared people crazy then locked them away or so my mother insisted. I was clearly anxious to receive my diagnosis all the while scared to learn it fearing any consequences just like I was a criminal. Previously I’d been to a psychologist who felt I was bipolar but the psychiatrist he worked for didn’t believe it and put me on an anti-depressant only which caused a lot of problems as I went manic on it. But that’s another story. My point being I feared a bipolar diagnosis but having read some on it there was no denying it kind of fit me.
Not entirely shocked then when the phrase “Bipolar I Mixed Symptoms Rapid Cycling APD” came at me from across the desk I still felt like the wind was knocked out of me. It took me a while to absorb the blow. As it started to sink in I couldn’t really wrap my mind around it. Even with the doctor’s explanation I was confused and deflated. What could it really mean? Did I have an intelligence deficit? Was I totally crazed? Was it fixable? Does knowing really change anything? Can I fix it by myself? Where do I get help? I was scared and had nowhere to turn.
There seemed no one to turn to because I had seriously isolated myself over the last few months, even years. My disorder had made no room in my life for others. I was lonely and alone because I had withdrawn from people or they had withdrawn from me. Who could I tell about my diagnosis? It’s true that I would be seeing the doctor soon again but he wasn’t in my everyday life and seeing my stresses. I needed a friend and no longer had one nor were any volunteering anymore. My parents were not in a supportive mindset probably because I’d been mooching off them for too long. Plus the stigma my mom placed on mental health was insurmountable for me. I finally told my ex-husband which was not wise for me where child custody was concerned. Overall my diagnosis has been used against me by my family which is ironic due to the fact they don’t believe much in psychiatry.
I needed to put more thought into choosing the person I’d reveal my diagnosis to. Was that person sympathetic? At first, it was like I’d tell anyone who’d listen. Which is an exaggeration once I saw reactions I stopped feeling so free to talk. I learned the hard way that I needed to be more discerning in choosing who I told.
I should not have blurted it out to my unsympathetic ex for instance. I should not have told my mom right away. I can think of one friend and a counselor I should have told who would’ve been sympathetic and supportive. I wish someone would’ve told me to be more thoughtful about sharing such information. The stigma surrounding mental illness and health can be very crippling socially and as far as activities such as employment are concerned.
If I had it to do over I would seek out one or more confidants that would offer comfort and what support they could. I would choose people that would help me build a new attitude toward a healthy lifestyle. Doctors, therapists, family, friends, neighbors, teachers, support groups, etc. can all be sources of support. It was so important that I rebuild my support network. I needed the help to deal with my diagnosis which hadn’t changed my life in a flash but would change it over time as I tried to build a healthier outlook on things.