In the late 2000s was when I first tried to kill myself. I was committed for the standard 72 hours under suicide watch. No one could explain how my happiness, stress and eventual suicide attempt went together. Depression they said. Obviously depression. I tried to explain that the week prior I had not been depressed or sad or miserable or any number of things that some people reduce depression to. To me, there was no explanation. As I sat trying to write on blue lined white paper overnight , yet none of it making much sense written down, I wondered what was wrong with me.
I left that hospital in California with the understanding that I would live with my parents in Oklahoma for an unnamed amount of time. I was a mess. I had to be wheeled to the plane, then to the car. I think in addition to being mentally ill, I was on a lot of medications that were foreign to my system. My brain had kind of shut down.
I went to see a psychiatrist which my parents’ had found before we returned home. I remember he ask a litany of questions, many of which my mom had to answer. I remember quite clearly his oak desk where he sat on the other side and said I had bipolar disorder. To be honest I did not even know what ‘bipolar disorder’ was!
He explained a bit and he was right, it sounded an awful lot l like my life. As a newly former journalist, I began researching. I threw myself into memoirs. The more I discovered about the mental illness, the more it told my story. I live with bipolar disorder. I am beautifully bipolar.
Being diagnosed can be scary if you were like me and did not know what bipolar disorder is. You may know something is not quite right but can’t put your finger on it. You may even try to fight the diagnosis, “That is not me. I am not mentally ill and definitely not bipolar.” And you know what, that is okay, I would say that is probably actually quite normal.
For others it is a relief. He or she may have spent a long time misdiagnosed – usually as depressed or having major depressive disorder, or even borderline personality disorder. He or she may feel like the shoe does not fit. Depressed yes, but how can you account for the extreme highs. So when finally a label that fits comes along he or she digs into acceptance.
So how do we accept a label for our mental illness? Let us first realize a label is a word or a couple of words, it is not a life sentence. Yes, I agree, it is a chronic illness but not a ‘life sentence.’ Next, a label does not define who you are. It may be a part of your particular puzzle, but you are so much more than a word or words that are used to diagnose you.
It is funny, two people helping me navigate life right now told me I am so much more than my mental illness and that it is time to start exploring other parts of me, like the part that loves dogs, or the part that loves to write. Maybe you should do the same. Maybe you accepted that you are living with and will continue to live with mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder. That is great, you are in this journey at a good place.
Let ‘bipolar disorder’ be an explanation of who you are, never an excuse. Do not let the words define you.