I try to write holistically about living with my combination of conditions, but like a mother with several children, it’s good to give them some individual attention once in a while. I am a dually (triply, if you count the eating disorder) diagnosed person. One of these diagnoses is something that would affect and shape my life even if I had never practiced any self-destructive behavior: I am bipolar. Bipolar II with cyclothymic features, if we are being technical.
What does my diagnosis mean to me? I’m not the only one to wonder…it’s a recurring theme I see when I read the writings of others who have been diagnosed with some form of bipolar disorder. They wonder whether it defines them, or how it will change the way they see themselves, or how others will interpret it.
Is my condition something I have, like diabetes? Or is it something I am? My own experience and intuition lean toward the second…whatever it is, I would not be the same person without it. Even with the more overt symptoms being appropriately treated, I just don’t think my brain works the way a non-bipolar brain does.
Is my condition part of what fuels my creativity? Links between mental illness and creativity have been suggested, and many examples exist, but it’s not a requirement for being a creative or artistic person. Populations of writers, poets and artists have a far higher incidence of bipolar disorder than the general population, but the cause and effect are unclear…such people may have, like me, gravitated toward such work out of need. In other words, we might not be that unusually talented but rather more desperately motivated to express what talent we have.
Getting my current diagnosis, in 2009, didn’t improve my life much right away, because I wasn’t in recovery yet. But in the last few years, it’s been of enormous benefit to have a diagnostic label that fits me better. I know that diagnostic labels are prone to misuse, overuse and stigma, but…it helped me. It gave me a lens to look through that made more sense of the previous decades of my life. It explained why the attempts at treating me for depression in the past had been ineffective or worse (many SSRI’s, for instance, can make bipolar symptoms worse in some patients, and I am one of them.)
It’s given me a language for the cycles that go on in me, and made them less frightening. It’s helped me seek treatment that works more effectively. It’s helped me give a name to the Indy 500 of racing thoughts in my head. It’s helped me be kinder to myself and even appreciate what I have accomplished a little more.
Because the popular perception of bipolar disorder has tended to equate it with severe cases of Bipolar I, often with extreme mania and psychotic features (think Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys), people tend to view my diagnosis with a skeptical eye. Bipolar II is kind of trendy at the moment, which makes it worse. Sometimes I’m afraid people will see me as someone who “rides the bandwagon” in order to get more sympathy or be more excused from the chores of ordinary life. As someone who did make a lot of excuses when in my addiction, I’m sensitive to that.
Clinically, I’ve come to agree that my current diagnosis is as accurate as possible right now. Emotionally, I feel more peaceful about this condition being a permanent part of my life. Spiritually, I believe that this, like anything else about me, has the potential to be a path for growth. There’s no denying that it can be frustrating, frightening and baffling, not only to me but to those in my life. As such, learning to live with it as gracefully as possible can teach me humility, patience, creativity, courage, and more humility.