Kiki’s Journey To Being Diagnosed With Bipolar
It's been four years since I first sat in a waiting room that has since become so familiar, about to meet the psychiatrist who would confirm what I already knew to be terrifyingly true – that I am bipolar.
Many of us have experienced it, and some have yet to; the fear, anticipation, and pain that go hand in hand with being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It can be a long, trying, and emotional process. For some, finally getting that bipolar label can take years or even decades after the first symptoms appear. The stigma and misconceptions surrounding bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses can make it difficult for people to talk about or even fully recognize the signs in themselves or a loved one.
A Long, Hard Road
By the time I was diagnosed, I had been battling bipolar for more than half of my 30 years. In that time I'd barely scraped passing grades between depressive episodes in high school, been on and off antidepressants since I was 20, burned through several extremely unhealthy and abusive relationships (including a marriage that lasted just about a year), flunked out of college, made a couple attempts at university, had a baby, met the man I'd spend the next ten years (and hopefully many more) with, lived in three countries, had another baby, started various self-study courses that I never finished, and tried to get a handful of home-based businesses off the ground.
Through all of this, I'd always assumed that whenever my life finally “settled down,” I would as well. I had the idea that once I had the chance to catch my breath - after a move, the birth of a child, the start of a relationship - my mind would finally calm down and I could lead what I thought would be a normal life. There wouldn't be anything to be depressed about anymore.
What happened instead was that, after all those years of going untreated, the episodes I didn't know I was having became more frequent and severe. Finally at age 30, with a stable home, a man who loved me, and two beautiful little girls, I was depressed, crippled by anxiety, and for the first time in my life, truly suicidal. It felt like I was doing something wrong - I was always told that if I had a good life I would be happy, and while I was certainly happy with my circumstances, I was deeply depressed and wanted to die.
Knowing What You're up Against
Now I knew I really needed help. What I was experiencing was far beyond being depressed when things were going badly around me (unstable childhood, adjusting to living in a new country, the stresses of single parenting/divorce/bad relationships, etc.). I finally realized that it was my own brain's chemistry working against me, not just my surroundings.
This was the time to ask what and why, to give it a name, and to get medical treatment that would give me a good chance of straightening things out and living a healthy life.
I've always loved learning and my answer to every problem is to arm myself with as much knowledge as possible, so I started reading. A lot. I read everything I could get my hands on about depression (the one constant I could give a name to) and its many causes. I knew that I had responded poorly to antidepressant medication in the past. That was one of my best clues to unraveling my brain's mysteries.