Maybe you are reading this because you have just been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Maybe you are reading this because you are a parent of someone who have just been diagnosed.
Maybe you are reading this because you are a friend or significant other to this diagnosed person.
First, take a deep breath.
It’s okay to be anxious, confused, overwhelmed, uncertain, even scared… it’s okay.
There is anxiety about what the future holds as someone who has a mental illness.
There is confusion about what to do next, what is the “right” thing to do…
the right therapist,
the right doctor,
the right diagnoses,
the right medications,
the right research,
the right advice…
There is the overwhelming sensation of all these new questions… the need to get the answers but not knowing where to turn.
There is an uncertainty about how others will perceive you now, if they will think you are “crazy”.
There is fear of it all, of mental illness and medications and side effects and loss of control… fear of no longer being the person you once were.
As scary as it is to be diagnosed, maybe you may also feel some relief. The average person takes nearly a decade, 4 psychiatrists, and 3-4 misdiagnoses before getting to their correct “bipolar disorder” diagnosis. It can bring clarity to your journey that brought you to that point. Depression is not some mysterious dark monster- it now has a face and can be tamed. Mania is named and can be controlled before it [perhaps once again] depletes your bank accounts, wrecks your relationships, and gets you fired. Think of this diagnosis as a first crucial step to beating bipolar disorder rather than letting it beat you.
7 Tips from a Bipolar Patient to You:
- TRY not to obsess over labels: I know this is hard. You get a condition on your medical record and may feel taken aback. Maybe you don’t like being labeled as “mentally ill”… it’s such a stigmatized group of conditions. Remember that mood disorders are due to biochemical imbalances in the brain, NOT some flaw of character.
- Learn what it means to be “bipolar”: It will help if you read up on what bipolar disorder actually means. There are numerous sites (Mayo Clinic is pretty comprehensive for an overview of Bipolar Disorder or other conditions) that can help you become familiar with the symptoms, signs of an episode, and different treatment approaches. You don’t need to read every research paper that has ever been written (in fact, obsessing over research is not ideal), but you should know the basics of what a mood disorder means for you.
- Find support: In these modern times, there are so many ways to connect to people with your condition(s). Facebook has support pages for patients with specific conditions, to ask and answer questions. Twitter has amazing networks of people passionate about mental health and fighting stigma. Blog networks are also helpful, as both a writer and reader. If you can talk to friends and/or family, that can also be really helpful for everyone involved.
- Monitor Yourself: Keep track of your sleep (so you can notice if you are sleeping for significantly less or more than 8 hours a night). It can help to keep a journal, such as a mood log. There are FREE mental health apps (i.e. eMoods, Pacifica) that can track things such as your health habits, food, drinking, medications, sleep, therapy exercises, and mood.
- Don’t have the attitude that you should be able to manage it “without help”: You are someone with a medical condition. You deserve treatment just like everyone else. I know that bipolar disorder or depression sometimes can feel like an extension of oneself rather than an illness, and that you should just be able to CONTROL it all if you try hard enough on your own. Don’t. It’s not a weakness to get help for your condition. If anything, it takes strength to seek out a professional and attend psychiatrist or therapist appointments. You are worth the effort.
- Don’t wait until “rock bottom” to get help: If you are feeling even mildly depressed, it’s okay to seek treatment. You don’t need to have severe, crippling, suicidal depression to get treatment. I would recommend getting ahead of it and seeking out quality care and providers BEFORE “rock bottom”… it is much easier to be motivated enough to get treatment when you are close to baseline than when you are very depressed or manic. Catching signs early can help avoid emergency situations and even hospitalizations.
- Get help early and don’t abandon treatment as soon as you feel better. This is a condition that features relapses and is chronic… blowing off treatment could lead to another mood episode and is not worth the risk, based on personal experience.
I’ve been where you have been. You can have a mental illness and thrive.
I wish you the best.
-Fellow Bipolar 1 Friend