What diagnosis?


I have been working with a couple of doctors, seeking a diagnosis to address my anxiety, depression and other issues that I’ve discussed in previous posts. One doctor (we’ll call her Dr. P) said something that I had a rather bad reaction to – “You definitely have PTSD, but I’m not ruling out the possibility of bipolar disorder.”

When I was a college undergraduate, a campus counselor had also suggested that I was bipolar. At first I accepted it, but the more I analyzed myself in relation to the diagnosis, the more I rejected it. For over ten years, I have disregarded this possibility. Until the Dr. P said those words.

As she said those words, tears started to fill my eyes. The tightness in my chest signaled that deep down, I really didn’t want this diagnosis. Not just because I don’t agree with it. It also seems that I have fallen into the stigmatization of bipolar mood disorders. In part I think this is because of the celebrity association I have with the diagnosis. When I think bipolar disorder, one of the first images that comes to mind is Axl Rose. Surely I’m not like that.

As a teenager, I remember reading any article about Axl Rose and bipolar disorder. Friends of Axl commented that you could be talking to him and he’s fine one moment, then the next he has you up against a wall, beating you. Explosive temper to say the least. Like it or not, I can identify with this. I do have a rather short, fiery temper, but as I told my other doctor (we’ll call her Dr. F), my temper is not something that just randomly explodes. Something is said or done that triggers it in me. And quite frankly, I don’t think my unwillingness to put up with bullsh*t means that I’m bipolar.

Dr. P did say that how bipolar is defined now is broader than it used to be. I researched the common definitions of bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II, cyclothymia and bipolar spectrum. If one looks at the bipolar I definition which states that you only have to have ONE manic episode in your life, then yeah, I could be considered bipolar. The episode that I had in grad school where my mind basically shut down, and I even had hallucinations…sure, you could consider that a manic episode. 

Still, whether I’m just scared of the diagnosis or overly-self-analytical, I’m still not convinced that bipolar disorder is the issue. In my perspective, I do suffer from PTSD where certain things do trigger certain reactions related to previous trauma. This is something that Dr. P, Dr. F and I all agree on. Chronic depression has been a serious issue since I was a teenager. Even on “normal” days, I struggle with the side of depression that affects motivation and energy levels. Some days it just seems like too much effort to leave my home. On the worst days, it’s too much effort to leave my bed, even to take a shower. When you regularly have to force yourself to do these things, you become quite exhausted. I never have episodes of extreme happiness, activity, rapid speech/thoughts, etc. What I DO sometimes experience is extreme avoidance…specifically with situations that cause me great anxiety. For me, that’s related to an anxiety disorder. 

Stress is something that we all experience. For some of us who have a chemical imbalance, increased stress can completely disable us. In some ways it’s like the depression, but instead of not wanting to leave your home because it’s too much effort, you don’t want to leave your home because of fear. THIS is what I deal with in my life. Even looking at the episode I had over ten years ago that some could categorize as a manic episode, my stress levels during that time were off the charts. I was working more than sixty hours a week and going to grad school full time. If that weren’t stress enough, Andrew passed, which completely devastated me. It was too much to deal with for any one person. Although I was living with someone at the time, she was no real help to me in dealing with these things. So, since I couldn’t deal with it adequately myself, my subconscious mind forced me to take somewhat of a mental vacation by shutting down normal production, tuning out from a reality that my conscious mind could not deal with. Is that bipolar disorder? I’m not sure. What I do know is that at that time, it was the circumstances that were abnormal, and my body saw fit to deal with them in the best way it knew how.

Dr. P hasn’t given an official diagnosis. She wants to talk to me one more time. What this tells me is that even she is not confident that bipolar disorder is the right diagnosis. In processing the possibility, I have come to terms with it. Whatever label you want to give it, I just want to be able to wake up in the morning without fear and happily shower and get dressed for a day that may be stressful, but is nothing that I can’t handle in a healthy way. Is that too much to ask?


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