You know, no child wakes up in the morning thinking, “Gee, I wanna be a psych patient when I grow up.” For one thing, they don’t understand it, no should they be expected to; mental illness is hard enough to explain to adults (especially those who don’t have it). For another, kids with issues don’t usually know that ‘normal’ kids interpret the world differently, and wouldn’t believe you even if you told them so. All they know is that somehow, in some way, they’re always wrong.
That’s how it was for me, anyway. It didn’t help that I was the daughter of hypercritical, social-climbing parents who never admitted to having skeletons in the family closet. To hear them tell it, we didn’t have mental illness in the family. We didn’t have alcohol or drug problems. We were too good to possess such low-class character flaws……even though both sides of the family were loaded with alcoholics and depressives, and I’d bet the house payment that my mother was every bit as bipolar as I am.
That attitude was a good portion of the reason why I was never diagnosed until late in middle age. Even though my folks are long dead, it’s hard to overcome thirty years of conditioning and another couple decades of trying to undo the damage it did. Looking back now, I know I’ve had this illness for most, if not all of my life; the signs were all there even as far back as kindergarten. I was the kid who was always about 15 degrees off ‘cool’, the grade-schooler who was picked last for the softball team and perpetually stuck in the outfield.
I was the 13-year-old who fell into a months-long depression after my grandmother died and was put on about a half-dozen different meds in the search for what ailed me. I was the high-schooler who dreamed of escaping my so-called life full of dateless Friday nights, and making my parents sorry for treating me like crap by dying in some dramatic fashion.
I was also the young wife and mom who would’ve committed suicide the night after my second child was born and then died, if only I’d been able to pry open the seventh-floor window in my hospital room. And, I was the adult who drank like a fish and still have no recall of entire six-month periods of my life, courtesy of what I now know to have been mania and alcoholic blackouts.
But since we supposedly didn’t have these problems in our family, they went mostly unnoticed—and untreated—until the defining mixed-manic episode in the winter of 2011-12 that led to my first visit to a psychiatrist. I’d secretly suspected bipolar disorder was at the root of my issues for years after taking a couple of online quizzes that pointed strongly in that direction, but when I waltzed into my new doctor’s office with this announcement, he asked, “What in the world makes you think you’re bipolar?”
It wasn’t to be the last time he would challenge my thought processes…..not by a long shot. Although he wound up agreeing with me about the initial diagnosis, we’re still wrangling about the type of bipolar I have, and just about the time I think it’s time for him to pin it down once and for all, the damn thing does its chameleon act and changes again. My provisional diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which in essence is a wastebasket diagnosis that means “It looks like bipolar, smells like bipolar, and walks like bipolar…..we just don’t know which flavor.”
Then he reluctantly changed it to a squishy Bipolar II because I had a couple of hypomanias which may or may not have crossed into manic territory; he just couldn’t put a finger on the way my illness was acting. Now that I’ve had a full-on mixed manic/depressive episode, however, he can’t rule out a determination of Bipolar I, even though I’ve never had frank psychosis (except, of course, for the hot mess I found myself in during my brief time on Wellbutrin).
I don’t know how I feel about this. While there’s absolutely NO reason to get hung up on a number, it bothers me that after 15 months and several near-disastrous mood swings, I still don’t have a definitive diagnosis….other than the fact that I’m bipolar as hell. Meh.