Bipolar Disorder: Is the Diagnosis Worse Than the Actual Illness?

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Let’s lead with an extremely provocative question: Is being diagnosed with bipolar worse than actually having bipolar disorder?


    I’m not just asking this out of the blue. Last week, in response to my post on shorter life expectancyDonna wrote:


    Honestly, sometimes I think being diagnosed did me in.  ... I had all the same symptoms I have now. Even more. But I assumed nothing was wrong, that I just was a little different than the average guy.  So I plowed ahead.  ...


    But once the label was firmly applied, I honestly went to pieces.  Was it the sudden glut of medications in my system? Did a diagnosis give me "permission" to act out? Did I start taking my vacations in mental hospitals? 

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    In response, Cathryne noted: “I thought I was alone in thinking that since diagnosis I have quickly gone downhill.”


    Likewise with Crystal: “That label turned my world upside down, made me feel vulnerable, more insecure and down on myself for the fact that there really was something wrong with me.”


    Donna then jumped back into the conversation:


    I think a big part of it for me was saying to myself, "Yeah, this confirms it.  I am nuts. All the crazy sh*t I was doing and thinking was NOT normal." It was like, "Now, everyone knows the truth."


    With the diagnosis, suddenly Donna began thinking that all the bad stuff that happened to her was her fault. “My marriage probably could have been saved if I was ‘well’ and ‘normal.’  As for her childhood, “maybe I was just crazy enough to misinterpret what really happened.”


    She felt like she was damaged goods. Her brain wasn’t wired right. Her chemical imbalance needed to be fixed. By the same token, the diagnosis gave her an excuse, a reason to quit on difficult projects.


    Then, there was the meds. They didn’t do much for her symptoms. The side effects made her feel even worse. Her psychiatrists responded by adding even more meds. At one time, she was on ten of them.


    Donna has gone off most of her meds (no thanks to her doctor) and is working on her recovery and healing. Part of this involves her not identifying as mentally ill, either around other people or internally. As she puts it, “I am a thousand times more than mental illness.”


    I know many of you identify with Donna. Walk into any support group, you will hear similar stories. We know it should be the other way around: That our diagnosis should allow us to identify the shadowy beast that has been wrecking our life all these years. And that having smoked the beast out into the open, we can slay it and get on with our lives.


    Over the long term, we are supposed to find our diagnosis liberating. All those times we lost it, screwed up, made a mess of it - well it wasn’t us, it wasn’t me. It was a thing called bipolar. Take care of the bipolar, we are told, and the us, the me, will be fine. Life will be good. It’s a liberating thought.


    Indeed, some of us do experience these happy endings. 


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    Unfortunately, as Donna so eloquently reminds us, our diagnosis also has a way of undermining our ability to cope, of destroying our self-confidence, and of turning the rest of the world against us. For a good many people, then, being diagnosed with bipolar has proved to be the worst thing that every happened to them, worse than the actual bipolar. Sobering thought ... 

Published On: December 08, 2013