Happy Sunday, my darling dreamers! So continuing with out mental health series, today’s guest post highlights the importance of being diagnosed correctly. I haven’t had the experience myself, so I really want to thank Nina from Looseleaf Reviews for bringing this to my blog.
When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with general anxiety and major depression. For a 16-year-old under the pressure of private school and teen dating, saying she’s depressed but not suicidal and struggles with getting out of bed, this seems like a reasonable diagnosis.
I would think so, too, if my family didn’t have a genetic history of Bipolar II.
Here’s the thing. Having a parent with a mental health disorder doesn’t definitively mean you have it, too. But when my mother was diagnosed in her 20s, her doctors told her that Bipolar II is genetic and, much like her and her father, a child would be likely to inherit it. Fast forward 16 years and my mother nods along with my major depression diagnosis.
Looking back, I don’t wholly disagree with this diagnosis. My understanding is that teens are less likely to present with Bipolar II until a later age (my mother was 25, I was 23). But there are some indicators such as a young depression diagnosis or uni-polar anti-depressants like SSRIs only working briefly (my citalopram worked for about 6 months before doing absolutely nothing).
What amazes me is that no one told me then that I could have Bipolar II in the future; they just told me they didn’t have it then.
I want to stop here and say that I am not a Bipolar II drug commercial. I’m not trying to encourage everyone to go out there and tell their doctors that their depression diagnosis is wrong because some girl on the internet told you so. But I do want to encourage everyone to advocate for their own health. Do your research, get second opinions, and if you’re in your late teens, remember to keep up with your mental health care after you’re out of your parents’ house, because I sure as heck did none of those things.
I want to say I kept up with my own care, but here’s the thing: when you’re depressed, executive functions start to go. The willpower to do things like pick up a phone and call a doctor just isn’t there, and the anxiety of failure tops off the “I don’t want to” cake. Psychiatrists tend to have massive wait lists, and when I fell off the bandwagon, it took months of phone calls trying to get back in with one.
You know how I got re-diagnosed? Not by striking it lucky with these phone calls. As I’m writing this post, I am still on a wait list for an outpatient psychiatrist. No, the month of searching wore so hard on me that I checked into a hospital.
(As a side note, I had never even heard of partial outpatient programs, and mine was incredible! For 10 weekdays, I went to a group therapy session for 6 hours a day. We went over things like coping tools, understanding the roots of anger, and positive self talk—a lot of the usual if you’ve been through therapy for depression—but it’s a room full of people from all walks of life, so hearing everyone speak is incredible. My program was fully covered by insurance and it’s totally voluntary.)
At age 23, I can officially say I have the disease my mother’s doctor predicted for me before I was born. I have Bipolar II, General Anxiety, and PTSD written on an official piece of paper. For those who don’t know, “uni-polar” antidepressants like my first medication don’t properly treat the depressive end of bipolar because it is a different disease entirely, and needless to say, I went years without treating my hypomania.
The mental health world is a scary place. It’s hard enough finding the strength within yourself to want help, and when the help isn’t immediately there, it feels like the tunnel is endless. I promise, though, a correct and proper diagnosis can be life changing. Not only does it get you on the right medication, but it also helps you understand your own predispositions and challenges. With a mix of medical understanding, therapy, and a good toolbox of coping skills, you can be in control of your mental health without it controlling you.
On a final note, I’d like to pass on some resources that were given to me:
“[NAMI is] an association of hundreds of local affiliates, state organizations and volunteers who work in your community to raise awareness and provide support and education that was not previously available to those in need.”
A searchable feature with listings by insurance of reviews of therapists and psychiatrists in your area.
A treasure trove of research, resources, and online and in person support groups relating to Depression and Bipolar.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.273.8255
ABOUT THE WRITER
It’s hard enough having to deal with the reality of our mental illnesses but to one day find out that it was a misdiagnosis, I can only imagine it as being thrown back to the beginning. I know it can be disheartening and you might feel all your work with coping, surviving, or stepping forward – whatever you call it – has gone to waste, but I can promise you it hasn’t. Remember, even with a misdiagnosis, you’ve still kept yourself safe. Your story does not end here.
[Background Image from Instruck Studios, and text dividers from Freepik.]