However you look at it, receiving a diagnosis of a long term health condition is life changing. The words “You have…” can turn a world upside down.
And yet, when I was told I had bipolar disorder, my first emotion was relief. Finally, I had an answer for the questions I’d been asking myself for so long. I finally understood why the antidepressants I’d been taking on and off for years didn’t work, and made sense of why I was sometimes the complete opposite of depressed – filled with energy, hugely productive, and able to do more than my friends with no grasp of how on earth they could be tired. It was as if a breath I’d been holding for years could finally be let out.
That day set in motion a process that will probably be lifelong. Looking back I would say that there were three processes I went through.
Despite the diagnosis being a relief it was still a shock, and accepting it didn’t happen overnight. In fact it’s a journey I’m still on. Bipolar disorder can be a serious illness, and every so often something comes along again that brings home the fact that, even when I’m well, I still have a condition that needs managing and careful observation of how I’m feeling.
Acceptance means fighting denial. For a long time I struggled to believe it. I couldn’t decide who was making too much fuss – me, or the doctors, friends and family who tried to persuade me. There have been times when I’ve stopped taking medication because I refused to believe it. Fortunately I’m past that stage now, but I still question it every so often, suddenly unconvinced – accepting is a process.
After the earthquake of diagnosis and the aftershocks of denial came a period of adapting. The main plus side of being diagnosed was that, once I knew what it was, I knew what I was fighting and could start to put specific things in place to make it better – self-management is easier when you know what you’re managing.
Adapting happened in stages. At first it was forced – I had to set alarms to remind me to take my tablets, and get used to the side effects that come and go. I even set an alarm to go to sleep! I also had to get used to the fact that people who knew often saw me differently once they knew about the diagnosis, and adjust to losing friends who weren’t willing to understand.
Now most of those things come naturally. I make sure I get into the fresh air every day, even if it’s just a short walk. I try and eat better. I don’t drink alcohol other than the odd glass of wine. I go to bed at roughly the same time each night. When I’m well I can be a bit less rigid about it, but if I begin to feel down (or my friends tell me I’m ‘up’) I get strict with myself again.
Having bipolar has changed from being an enormous battle to an ongoing walk beyond enemy lines. Accepting was a stationary phase, Adapting was a preparation phase and Advancing is just that – stepping forward into the unknown.
Despite being on medication that seems to work for me, I still have pop-up symptoms that need dealing with, and every change in mood brings fear that I’m heading back into a major episode.
But the only way to deal with those fears is to keep moving on, brandishing the weapons I have – an amazing husband, a few good, strong friends who tell me the truth, and a supportive doctor with an artillery of medications and a willingness to listen to my concerns. And actually, I’m always going forwards, it just that the hills are sometimes steeper than other times.
The outlook is clear – I know what I’m dealing with. I have a condition that will forever need managing, but I can live with it, as so many do. Diagnosis went from being a thing to be feared to my biggest weapon – I know its name, and a known enemy can be tamed.
Abbie Robson is the author of two books on self-harm, “Secret Scars” and “Insight Into Self-Harm”, she is also a Mum of two and blogs at https://pinkandbluemummyland.wordpress.com.