I was about 15 or 16 years old. I sat in my therapist’s office one afternoon, after school had been let out. On her rather boring, yet comfortable couch, I sat with my hands clasped together in my lap, fingers interlaced. My usual position, when speaking with her. Jittery nervousness was dancing in my body as we spoke. I didn’t fear her, in fact I quite liked her. It has always been hard for me to share my experiences with another living, breathing, thinking, person. We were having a conversation, which didn’t seem out of the norm to me, when our session together took a different turn.
“I think you have Bipolar Disorder.” she told me, calmly, in a matter of fact manner, with…did I detect some urgency in her voice? Was it worry, perhaps? She went on to explain to me that her mother had Bipolar Disorder, and that she sees a lot of the same characteristics in me. Experiences with mood lined up. Certain personality traits matched. Enough for her to believe I had an undiagnosed mental illness. I knew I had depression, I knew about the anxiety. I had moods, sure, sometimes very bad – sometimes very good. It didn’t feel great to have these dramatic swings, and I was exhausted most of the time.
“I’m going to tell your mom,” she said a little more carefully, this time, “that I think you need to see a doctor.” This felt like a punch to the gut. Tell my mom? Was my therapist nuts? I can deal with this on my own, I don’t need to see a doctor. I never wanted my mother to worry about me. I always wanted to handle my shit on my own. According to my mom, I have always been that way. To the point where once I actually asked for help, it was a borderline emergency. I can take care of myself.
“Ok.” Was all that came out of my mouth, as I sighed softly. I don’t remember anything else from our session that day, and that conversation may have occurred toward the end of our time together. I felt like a hole had opened up in my stomach, a bottomless pit, and at the same time a bag of bricks on my chest. This is not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that she can help me. I did not want to tell yet another person about my problems. I’ll have to rip myself open, again, for another human being…this time, a doctor.
A short amount of time passed. I found myself in a waiting room, my mom sitting in the chair next to me. I was in a fog. I didn’t believe what was happening. My mom seemed nervous, as well. I’m sure she was concerned for me, and worried about what the doctor might say about my mental state. My name was called. My time in the cramped waiting room was over.
I couldn’t feel my body as I was welcomed to his office. His office was nice, from the bits and pieces I remember of it. He had a kind face, was a little older in age, and sat in a nice looking chair behind his desk. A wooden desk, shiny, I stared into the light glinting off the corner. I didn’t realize it until a little later, but he had been talking and asking questions. Apparently I had been answering. I was mostly honest, from what I remember. I didn’t mention hearing voices, or any of the other things. It was too much for one session. I couldn’t possibly discuss my moods and the voices during the same session. Our first session. How do I know I can trust you? He remained calm and collected throughout our meeting. He seemed nice enough.
I was told I had Bipolar II Disorder. He prescribed me Lithium to start, telling me it would help with my moods. My mom seemed shocked at the news.
In the years following, I had been diagnosed with different illnesses by different doctors. Bipolar II, Bipolar I, Bipolar I with psychotic features, Schizoaffective – Bipolar Type, Schizoaffective – Depressive Type, Borderline Personality Disorder, and the latest was Schizophrenia. My current doctor is now thinking I have Bipolar Disorder, again, or possibly Schizoaffective Disorder, again. I’ve gone through several different psychiatrists over my 15 years in the mental health system, as well as a decent amount of therapists, mostly not by my choice. My professionals retired, stopped their practice for a time, or just didn’t fit me.
It has been rough finding stability with my health care providers, but I may have finally gotten there. I trust my current doctor, and like her very much. I was honest with a doctor, at long last, about my psychotic symptoms. She even thanked me for finally telling her about what I’ve been going through for so long. She thought me brave. I felt exposed, yet somewhat glad to get that stuff off my chest and shoulders. A weight I had been carrying around for so long, didn’t seem quite as heavy after telling her a more complete history of my experiences.
If my doctor believes I have Bipolar Disorder, that’s fine with me. If she believes I have Schizoaffective Disorder, that’s also fine with me. As I said, I trust her. I know she will make the most informed decision possible, and she will take my perspective into account. Of course, I’ve looked up diagnostic criteria for both illnesses…I’m just curious like that. I love to learn, and I have a craving for learning about mental illnesses. Bipolar I Disorder, fits surprisingly well. We’ll see what she decides. My next session with her isn’t for another two and a half weeks. I wish we could see each other sooner than that, but I can wait. I know I can.
I feel as though I am coming full circle with my mental illness. This is a rather interesting and strange feeling. Being convinced for so long that I don’t have Bipolar Disorder, going through a menagerie of other, similar, diagnoses, and now coming to terms that I probably do have it is surreal. It feels like coming home, in a weird way. If I do have Bipolar Disorder, I feel like I can rest my spirit; knowing my very first doctor was right all along.
Stay insane, friends