10am on the 13th December 2012 was a life changing moment; I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My initial response was of anger; that it had taken until I was twenty seven to finally have a diagnosis. So many years of my life felt wasted, as I had dragged myself through horrific bouts of depression. I had self destructed countless times as my manic episodes caused my behaviour to spiral out of control. I was broke, in debt and unemployed. I wanted to scream and yell at all the doctors and therapists that had misdiagnosed me over the years. I felt someone had to be held accountable for everything I had missed out on in my teens and for most of my twenties. There was no one though that I could single out and blame, it was the way it went for many people with bipolar. On average, it takes ten years for someone to be diagnosed with bipolar, and are misdiagnosed three point five times. I had to let it go. For my own piece of mind, my health, I had to let it go.
When the anger had subsided, I realised how this label I had been given explained much of my erratic behaviour. It gave meaning to my partner, family and friends of my sometimes bizarre actions. Instead of recoiling from this label, they were willing to listen and wanted to understand more about the disorder. I feared that such a diagnosis would terrify my family and friends. It didn’t. These reactions filled me with the confidence to be able to tell more people in my life about my diagnosis. When asked why I wasn’t working, or why I was ill, I was truthful. Struggling for years with relationships, education and then work I believed that I was intrinsically flawed; that my personality was broken and could never be repaired.
Being labelled was a release. No longer did I feel weighed down with the burden of knowing something was wrong with me, but not understanding what it was. I could now prove that I wasn’t attention seeking when I was suicidal, or that I would magically get over what I was feeling. I was armed with knowledge and I could now educate myself and learn how to combat and find some relief from this illness. Although societal pressure triggers episodes of depression and mania, they are not the cause for me. I didn’t go through a major childhood trauma, I wasn’t abused, neglected or bullied. Symptoms of depression as a teenager appeared out of nowhere, and then later mania. I can’t account for where this illness came from, or why I have it.
I’m not denying there is stigma attached to having a mental illness, of course there is. I’ve encountered it many times in my life. Personally I felt that being given a label allowed me to wrestle some control back into my life. With the help of a psychiatrist, I was able to assess what I was capable of day to day. I could set realistic targets that gave me a sense of normalcy and stability I hadn’t felt in years. I felt empowered. I was given choices that had never been available to me before the diagnosis. I was offered medication, therapy and information about support groups. I could choose how to manage my illness with medication.
I’ve heard many different opinions about being diagnosed and how it has changed people’s lives. Some don’t like the idea of a label that comes with a mental health diagnosis. That is singles you out and makes you different, and for some, can make it harder to find appropriate support and care. This new label attached to me had given me clarity. I could look back at the years before and how not understanding my behaviour had decimated my life. Laid bare were the countless acts of self destructive behaviour, the violent outbursts, the almost insurmountable debt I found myself in. How my drastic moods had clouded my experiences and often left me feeling like a shell of a human being. For me, the day I was diagnosed and ‘labelled’ as having bipolar disorder drastically altered my life in a way I hadn’t expected. I’m not scared of the label; it saved my life.