With a diagnosis of bipolar disorder comes a lot of changes for a many of us. Things that were once rock steady are now all topsy turvy. It may feel like the carpet got pulled out from underneath us and beneath it is a giant hole waiting to swallow us up. I know all these things because I am no different than you (though usually I try to make it a beautiful illness).
In the very first post I wrote for this blog five years ago (I know time flies. You have a lot catching up to do. *Wink) I said that I used to love the movie ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I always thought I would grow up to be someone resembling Alice, but instead I was the Mad Hatter. I was not too happy about that.
When we are first diagnosed with bipolar disorder we are either shocked, in denial, or happy to finally have a diagnosis that fits – sometimes a bit of a couple of those reactions. I guess I started off shocked because here was this brand new diagnosis being thrown at me and I knew nothing about it. Once I learned a bit, denial set in. I was not that sick, surely. I mean, come on, I did not live with a major mental illness. But the thing was, that I did, I do.
It took me a terribly long time to accept it and even longer to come out of the bipolar closet. I had already seen some of the reactions of people when I was in the hospital and after and not all of them had been good. But it is hard to keep a secret that big. Shame weighs heavy on our shoulders pushing us down. I had been writing about being “ill” on my personal blog, but never came out and said, “I have bipolar disorder.” Then one day, I wrote a blog post titled “Be brave, ElainaJ.” I shared it on Facebook. I couldn’t sleep that night wondering how many friends I’d lose, but there was no need to worry because I was met with love and friendship. Once I was out of the bipolar closet, the burden of shame just lifted. I felt so much better to not be living a life where I was covering up a huge part of my mood disorder.
The next thing that may happen is your work changes. I was a fashion editor and I could no longer do my job. I went into a huge depression and could not focus anymore after a suicide attempt that led to my diagnosis. I was forced to resign from a position I had long sought. Losing your job because of a mental illness, because of bipolar disorder, is awful. For a lot of us, our sense of self is caught up in our work and productivity. When we can’t be doctors, architects, bus drivers or whatever our occupation is, life can seem a little meaningless. My advice is to try something with less stress. Find something where it is okay to take time off when you need it.
Also, I would advise anyone with bipolar disorder to apply for Social Security Disability. If awarded, this will give you some money to live on, but you will still need to supplement it if you are on your own. A part-time job will probably do. I am a freelance writer so I can write when I am able and take “sick” days as long as my work gets done. Try to find something that makes you happy, not just pays the bill. A barista at a small coffee shop could be fun – learn something new and meet new people. You get the idea.
I am sure a lot of us can relate to what I have written above. A new diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be hard, but there are ways to make it easier.