Health Magazine

Mental Health Mondays – A Diagnosis Can Be a Powerful Thing.

By Bewilderedbug

Mental Health is a serious issue affecting our society today.

In an effort to get rid of the negativity and the stigma against mental illness, these brave women have chosen to share their stories with you.

Be nice, read, reflect and respond reasonably.

Mental Health Mondays – A diagnosis can be a powerful thing.

Mental Health Mondays has NOT died, it is ongoing, but it needs you to be brave by sending in your stories, in order to continue.

If you would like to express yourself and share your story on Mental Health Mondays, please feel free to email me at bewilderedbug(at)gmail(dot)com or tweet me at @bewilderedbug

Let’s continue to spread mental health awareness together

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This post is from Jane who blogs over at A Place of Greater Safety

A diagnosis can be a powerful thing.

It can be like the Rosetta stone that makes your whole life suddenly make sense. It can be a lifeline connecting you to others like you. It can be a roadmap that guides treatment and drug choices.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I thought it might be all of those things.

I was struggling once again, after bottoming out and pulling myself together more than once. I was tired of this pattern. I was tired of falling apart, failing at things and shutting down in a tail spin of depression, then getting help, antidepressants and slowly rebuilding a “normal” life.

I wanted an explanation for the cycle. Somehow I heard about bipolar disorder, type II.

At first, it seemed to make a lot of sense. My understanding of bipolar type II was that it was some kind of cycle of depression and then “high functioning” – not necessarily mania. That fit the pattern of my life, over a number of years.

In high school, I was in a challenging program, doing well, until sophomore year I sank into a depression so bad I eventually just stopped going to school. I went to therapy, took anti-depressants, switched schools, “got better.” Eventually I graduated high school and went to college, only to have a similar pattern happen my second year.

I “got better” again, only to struggle over and over between “high functioning” and extremely depressed.

When I mentioned bipolar type II to my psychiatrist, she thought it was a possibility. She had me chart my moods. I assigned a number – on a scale of 1 through 10 – to describe how I was feeling. Ten was great, “keyed up”. One was the most depressed possible.

I charted my moods and the graphs were all over the place. My psychiatrist became convinced I was certainly bipolar – eventually she told me she though I was bipolar type I – not type II. Type I is the classic bipolar disorder. The one that has incredible highs and incredible lows.

She put me on lithium.

I have known many people who have taken anti-depressants of various kinds. You probably have, too. Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin. Those are not that strange anymore.

You probably know few people who have been on lithium. I was a bit scared. This seemed like crossing a line to me, from “everyday crazy” into “serious crazy.”

However, when it comes to my mental health, I have always tried to be a “good patient.” Meaning I would always try to be honest, do the work, take the pills. Not be that crazy obstructive patient the doctor can blame for not getting better. I never wanted it to be my fault I didn’t get better.

I took the lithium. All it did was make me more depressed. Apparently this is quite common, and the usual response is to take it along with another anti-depressant like Wellbutrin. I took both. I was still depressed, and I wasn’t necessarily more stable, which was the supposed intention.

At this point, I kind of figured my doctor would reevaluate. Go back to basic premises, you know? The typical treatment regimen wasn’t working, so she could have started over. But she didn’t. She just kept trying to up the dosage of things or add drugs.

I should have fired that doctor.

However, I didn’t. I was a wreck. I didn’t know if she was right, and I was just being a difficult patient. I didn’t have enough faith in myself at the time to stare that woman in the face and tell her, with all her experience and her degrees, that I thought she was doing something wrong.

I now think that the “highs” were anxiety as opposed to mania. So I have a combination of anxiety and depression. But I could be wrong. I could still be wrong. I just didn’t have the strength to argue with the expert.

In the end, I knew we were moving because of my husband’s work, so I just survived until it was time to move. Got a new psychiatrist – even had her recommend someone.

When we moved, my new psychiatrist looked at my patient history and was quietly surprised at my diagnosis and my medications.

I was so relieved when he agreed to start reducing my dose of lithium, something my other psychiatrist had resisted strongly.

I immediately felt lighter.

Things got better. My psychiatrist agreed to try tapering off all the medication gradually, since my husband and I wanted to start a family. I had reduced my work stress to almost zero, which had helped my mood a lot.

Over two years later, here I am.

I have a one year old daughter. She is amazing.

I made it through my entire pregnancy and her first year without any medication. I’m happy about that – even though I know many women choose to take medication. I was ready to take the meds if I needed them, and I’ve been in therapy the whole time.

Without medication I am less resilient, less able to handle things than otherwise. I will go back to some kind of anti-depressant again at some point, most likely. I’ve accepted that. I’ve accepted that I will probably never be “cured.”

I’ve also accepted that a diagnosis that explains everything is probably not in the cards for me. I have both depression and anxiety. I have really good days, too. Whether those “good days” are hypomania associated with some variant of bipolar disorder doesn’t, in the end, matter as much as I once thought. Maybe that psychiatrist was right – I am bipolar. Maybe she misinterpreted anxiety as hypomania.

Being able to do the things that matter to me is what matters. When a diagnosis and a treatment schedule wasn’t helping, it was a problem rather than a solution.

A diagnosis can be a powerful thing. It can be like the Rosetta stone that makes your whole life suddenly make sense. It can be a lifeline connecting you to others like you. It can be a roadmap that guides treatment and drug choices.

Or it can be an albatross around your neck. Or it can simply be a dead end.


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