“My Depression Was Actually Bipolar Disorder”

When it became apparent that something wasn’t right with my mental health, I was 20 years old. I was a college student at the time, so I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was acting like a typical college student by drinking every night and going out frequently. My friends started to notice that I wasn’t acting like myself after something changed, though.

I was emotional, paranoid, and terrified of things that in the past I wouldn’t have found frightening. I stopped dressing in “real” clothes and started donning whatever was available. Simply put, I had lost interest in everything. I went to see our school counsellor because my friends urged me to. She scheduled a meeting with my family after realizing during our therapy sessions that something was seriously wrong. She informed me that I was ill and required an immediate admission to the local hospital’s psychiatric ward.

Although I was terrified, the psychiatric ward wasn’t as frightening as I had anticipated. There, I received a depression diagnosis. During my seven-day stay, I engaged in counselling, yoga, aromatherapy, and meditation. It resembled a retreat in some ways. In addition, I was prescribed antidepressants and instructed to visit a psychiatrist frequently after being released.

At my follow-up appointments, I would repeatedly assert that I felt fine even though I didn’t because I didn’t want to be on medication. I persisted in asking my doctor to reduce my dosage, and eventually he decided to stop prescribing me antidepressants.

What is mania?

I experienced my first manic episode six months after being admitted to the hospital. I couldn’t sleep because I felt unstoppable.Started doing strange, random things, like going into a bookstore and purchasing a number of books, among them a book about mermaids written in French, a language I don’t read. One night at one in the morning, my mind was racing so much that I was unable to remain still. I couldn’t explain what was happening, but I knew I wasn’t OK, so I walked to the emergency room in my neighbourhood and checked myself in.

I was once more admitted to the psychiatric ward, where I underwent a number of tests, including answering a survey with 500 questions about my mental health. In order to make sure I wasn’t experiencing a manic episode brought on by drug use or a thyroid problem (hyperthyroidism has been shown to cause mood disturbances), I also had to have blood drawn every morning. I was finally given the correct diagnosis, bipolar I disorder rather than depression, about a week after I was admitted to the hospital.

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Knowing what I was dealing with

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes (or “highs”) that last for a week followed by depressive episodes that last at least two weeks (NIMH). Manic episodes may also manifest as dangerous behaviours that are so severe that hospitalization is required to prevent the person from endangering themselves or others.

I was placed in an intensive outpatient program with behavioural classes after I left the psychiatric unit for the second time. These classes teach me how to manage my life so that it doesn’t have an impact on my condition. I didn’t want to go there because I had schoolwork to complete and I didn’t want to have to deal with them on top of that. I therefore began skipping those classes.

My doctor convened another family meeting and informed us that my bipolar disorder could develop schizophrenia-like symptoms, such as psychosis, if I didn’t attend the behavioural classes and take my medications. I was scared enough by the doctor’s advice to start caring about my mental health.

I began attending the classes and paying attention. In addition, I started taking my medication religiously, whereas before I frequently “forgot” to do so.

Since that time, I have continued to regularly attend therapy and take my medication. I have a “normal” life at age 31. I am a nurse practitioner and am married. My husband and I intend to get married soon.

Misdiagnosis happens

My incorrect diagnosis initially angered me, but I now realize why. I was only experiencing depression at the time, not bipolar disorder symptoms. It’s like putting together a puzzle to diagnose bipolar disorder properly, so it’s not something that can be done quickly.

Doctors must thoroughly assess you. This entails a physical examination, an examination of your symptoms, and a blood test to rule out any underlying medical issues. If no physical causes are discovered, a psychological assessment may then be conducted. When you need a solution right away, it can be frustrating to wait several months for a proper diagnosis. I understand why many people—an estimated 71%—get the wrong diagnosis of depression.

I wish the procedure were easier, but as of right now, it isn’t. Anyone going through a similar experience should understand that it is a process and get to know themselves. Keep a journal to record your feelings if you experience paranoia, depression, or simply the feeling that something is wrong with your health. It may be beneficial for you and your doctor to discuss in the future.

And if at all possible, try to be patient with the procedure. Even though it occasionally feels frightening, it is possible to receive a correct diagnosis and lead a normal life. I can attest to it.

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