Adventures in Bipolar Diagnosis - How I Got Here - Part 1

June 20, 2010 Natasha Tracy

In late 1998, I knew that something was wrong with me. My life was going well; I was in university, on my way to a computer science degree, in the co-op program and had completed an eight-month job in Calgary. I had been contented and grateful since leaving my mother’s house and moving to a new town. I was more happy than I had been in years. But little by little, I found myself increasingly sad and life became peppered with bouts of meaningless, spontaneously crying. I was unreasonably moved by the foretold unfolding of TV plots and commercials.

In November 1998, I found myself in a pitch-black room, unable to get out of bed for an entire day. I was in the south of Spain, a ten minute walk from white sandy beaches and half-naked women. That was the moment I truly realized I was broken: I was in heaven and yet crushed with sadness.

[caption id="attachment_231" align="alignright" width="266" caption=" The fatal vice of expiation, by Benedetta."]The fatal vice of expiation[/caption]

Diagnosed as Bipolar

In December, back at home, I self-diagnosed as bipolar II (bipolar depression). It was clear what I was, but this knowledge shattered my self-identity. I had the same preconceptions of bipolar disorder as everyone else: it was my fault, I was going to be sick forever, I would end up on the street, walking in circles, muttering to myself.

I viewed medications as the enemy. I come from drug addicts and alcoholics and I refused to become one of them via prescription or not. So I ignored my new knowledge. I pretended the bipolar diagnosis wasn't there. I pretended I wasn't on the precipice of a cliff.

In January of 1999, I realized that I was going to kill myself if I didn’t get help. I had been slicing myself open on a fairly regular basis, something I hadn’t done since I left home. I went to the university counseling services. I assumed I could therapy my way out of the problem, being a veteran of therapy for many years.

Unfortunately, they could see pretty much immediately that I required medication, and fast.

Mild Depression

I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with “mild depression”. I knew he was more than wrong but didn't have the voice to disagree. I traumatically ingested the Serzone he prescribed. It instantly made me tremendously ill. I woke up the morning after my first dose and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. My psychiatrist didn’t care and raised the dose shortly thereafter.

Luckily for me, my psychiatrist went on vacation and I was placed with someone new. This guy did, correctly, diagnose me as bipolar, at least initially. He wanted to get the depression under control and we went through antidepressants like Parnate, and a couple of tricyclics. Nothing seemed to do much but create an intolerable cloud of side-effects.

I promised myself when I started down the medication road, that if I wasn't better after a year, I would kill myself. Tossing away a year of life on that parade was enough for me. But at a year, I realized that I didn’t want to die. Therapy helped me through deciding to survive. It’s harder than you might think not to die.


My Doctor Gives Up

In the spring of 2000, my doctor decided he could no longer help me and broke up with me. I was then left trying hokum “cures” through herbs and carrot juice (really) prescribed by some "guru" over the phone. Eventually, hundreds of dollars later, he told me that I was being punished for having pre-marital sex. At this point, it was my turn to break up with someone.

My therapist then very strongly suggested I go back to a doctor. He was convinced I would commit suicide if I didn’t. He was probably right.

A Second Chance At Happiness?

In September of 2000, I started on Lamictal. For me, it was a miracle. So slowly, I almost didn't notice, it was making me feel more normal. I genuinely felt better, not great, not like I had been before, but better. I still had breakthrough depressions, but after what I had been living through, after two years of failure and destruction of my life, I had finally found something that would provide treatment and relief.

Of course, I wasn't exactly right about that...

Part 2 - enter the antipsychotics.

Thanks to Benedetta for the first image.
You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, June 20). Adventures in Bipolar Diagnosis - How I Got Here - Part 1, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Natasha Tracy
October, 12 2010 at 8:11 am

Hi LoriAnn,
Yes, I understand where you're coming from. It's really hard to be sick over and over in front of someone. You know you're hurting them, and still you can't do anything about it. All I can say is try to be open with your partner and your fears. Try to lay everything on the table so you both know where the other is coming from.
Yes, well, once a diagnosis is reached, few doctors really want to reevaluate you. Generally there is a different process for this. It requires a longer appointment and different codes for the insurance. You have to request it specifically.
I understand you feel like you're treated like a disease, but that's what doctors do - they treat diseases not humans. That's a fact of life. Yes, there are a few that take a different approach, but the disease concept is jammed down most of their throats during training. And it's encouraged by the way the health care system runs and the way insurance works.
But you aren't the disease. You are LoriAnn. Special in many ways. If you feel like doctors aren't taking factors into account, then speak up! The doctor can't do better if you don't tell him what you don't like. I know it's tough to stand up to a doctor, but it could make the relationship better for both of you.
Good luck.
- Natasha

October, 12 2010 at 2:07 am

One other thing. Is it just me or have some or all of you experienced this?
You walk into a doctor's office for the first time,you start by telling them you were or have been diagnosed as being Bipolar and they ask you a few generalized or generic Bipolar questions and breaks out the script pad? I feel as if Im no longer a person with Bipolar disorder..NO!!! Im suddenly this disease to be contained by mind numbing drugs?

October, 12 2010 at 1:53 am

The self loathing and feelings of worthlessness are the worste arent they? I feel like this nothing person that just takes up oxygen and is a constant burden and worry for everyone I love. My lows are getting longer and coming faster. I find myself just trying to swallow life when I do feel good or have a short cycle of "normalcy". I do a weeks worth of tasks in 1 or 2 days because I dont know when it will hit again.
I have been on every med there is and they either make me catatonic or have me in a state of not knowing whether Im coming or going.
Im at the end of my rope and cant seem to find another to grab on to.
Im so sick of telling my partner that Im having a bad time or having him come home to this PATHETIC shell of what on a good day is this unstoppable,smart,witty and loving person with confidence and a zest for life. The survivor of a horrible childhood, a woman that beat the odds of becoming just like everyone thought she would, a woman who broke the cycle of abuse and neglect with her own daughter. I wonder where she went and if she will ever be here for more than just days at a time again.

October, 11 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hi! I am reading this for the first time and can agree that it is good to hear about your experiences (ie) family, doctors, self loathing etc because I have been through many of the same experiences. I suffer from depression and have been on different combinations of meds for the past 15 years. Whenever I have to see a new health professional I feel that they look at the med list and immediately know whats wrong.

Natasha Tracy
October, 1 2010 at 1:24 pm

Hi Social,
I'm sorry to hear that. Remember, there are other doctors.
- Natasha

Social Phobic among other things
October, 1 2010 at 1:13 pm

I was not broken up with by the doctor, I was just rejected :(

Natasha Tracy
August, 3 2010 at 9:36 am

Hi Oddity,
Well, as "odd" as we feel, we're not alone out there.
- Natasha

August, 3 2010 at 9:15 am

Your story sounds a lot like mine. It's almost scary.

Natasha Tracy
July, 29 2010 at 5:58 am

Hi Dorie,
Thank-you for sharing your story. It sounds like you're going through challenging times right now. All I can say is that your health is most important and even though it's hard you may have to cut contact with people that adversely affect your health. But it sounds like you're already on that.
Good luck.
- Natasha

July, 27 2010 at 4:27 pm

I have Bipolar disorder II, and several of my family have it, too. Namely, my mother BiP I, my brother BiP I, my oldest daughter BiP ?, my news except he's having a good aggressive behavior as of yet.
I and my brother are the only ones in the family who are on meds and takes them consistently. My brother's meds need adjusting in a big way. He's paranoid about everything and has threatened suicide many times. He is planning on entering a 30-day tx program for BiP to get better handle on his illness.
My mother gave up her meds again about 2 years ago. Five years ago, she went off on a bad mania episode in which she became homeless, hosptialized twice with poor results, and her husband divorced her. He took her back under the condition she would never go off her meds again.
She regularly denies she has a mental illness to all the family, in spite of the fact we are all affected in some way and know very well what her diagnosis is.
I was doing some caretaking of both of them, and it was clear to me she was experiencing higher and higher mania. When she became aggressive and verbally abusive so me one day, a week ago, on the way to her family care doctor, I realized that I had to get away from her. I was getting very anxious and depressed because she refuses to see any psychiatrist or take her prescribed meds, and her behavior changes from bad to worse on a hourly basis. My biP symptoms were getting affected too, so I had to break ties with them. I feel very bad about it, angry, guilty, sad, you name it. But I have told my sister (a social worker) that if Mom gets treatment and gets on a regular routine with the meds I will start exploring the possiblilites of reuniting with them. Part of me believes she doesn't care or love me at all, except as someone to use in her drama to abuse.
Right now I have no contact

Natasha Tracy
June, 25 2010 at 5:26 am

Hi Claire,
That is an interesting article. What they don't mention is the extreme prevalence of bipolar to first be diagnosed as major depression. My doctors have wavered over it over and over.
But here's the thing, I think all mental disorders are cousins. Every mental disorder has overlapping symptoms and there are no unequivocal tests for any of the disorders. It all comes down to the judgment of the doctors, and every doctor is going to see things slightly differently. This simply shows our ignorance we regard to mental disorders and how the brain works.
And finally, no matter what the official "diagnoses" is, psychotropic medications are psychotropic medications and they the only thing we know of to treat these disorders. (Yes, of course there is therapy, but that only helps a portion of people. And there are only so many therapeutic techniques, these overlap for disorders as well.)
The new DSM-V tries to address this by admitting that people have a little bit of this diagnosis and a little bit of that diagnosis. It's called dimensional diagnoses. And while this may be medically true, it still does seem to help the patients.
- Natasha

Claire Wallace
June, 25 2010 at 1:01 am

Hi Natasha,
Thanks for that blog post. I thought this article might be of interest to you and others on here. Is is about how often bipolar is diagnosed when it's actually some other mental health issue. Have you heard much of this in your years of researching bipolar? I'd be interested to hear anyone else's experience.

Natasha Tracy
June, 24 2010 at 10:23 am

Hi Gena,
This is a common problem. We, the mentally ill, often _do_not_want_ to take medication for a variety of reasons: side effects, stigma, and so on. It's hard for others to accept, but it's something that is very common.
Your daughter is very young and she may not yet realize the true ramifications of her choice. It is the case that the more depressive and manic episodes she has, the more episodes she is likely to have in the future, and the worse they will likely be. This may be something she doesn't understand, or wants to ignore. It is very difficult to accept the diagnosis of bipolar, and the needed meds that young.
Is she in therapy? Therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can be very helpful in managing symptoms. It's short-term and designed to give people the skills they need to manage their disease more successfully. It very different from typical "talk" therapy (that wouldn't be a bad choice either, if available). A therapist can help keep her on track and make suggestions about treatment from an impartial and informed position, and they don't have the stigma of coming from "mom". See someone who specializes in bipolar disorder, if possible.
Going without meds may or may not be an option for her, but if she decides to try it, there's nothing you can do. Just strengthen her other supports: therapy, support groups, friends, books, and so on. Try to have her choose the treatment she wants. If not meds, then what? That way if she does fall down, there will be someone there to catch her, and she'll be more empowered by having made the choice herself.
Good luck.
- Natasha

June, 24 2010 at 10:01 am

My daughter just graduated high school last week. She is 18 and no longer lives at home. She is bipolar. When she lived at home I handed (literally) her medicine every morning. Reluctantly she took it. It makes a huge difference in her. However, she has decided that she does not want to be med dependant and has not taken any meds in 3 months. She has a tough time dealing with the everyday stresses, when I ask her if she feels bettr on meds she says yes but does not want anything to be wrong with her. So...she denies the problem and doesn't take the lamictal. If anyone has suggestions I would be glad to hear from you. Thanks .

Natasha Tracy
June, 24 2010 at 9:24 am

Hi Sue,
I feel compelled to say that no man (no crazy) is an island. We absolutely have to count on ourselves, but we need others too. True, some of us aren't lucky enough to have them, and have to go it alone, but it doesn't mean that other aren't important.
Perhaps you count on your sons?
- Natasha

June, 24 2010 at 6:27 am

I know all about Dr.'s, therapists and loved ones giving up on you.
I have gone through these experiences and I have learned a valuable lesson.
Depend on no one but yourself.
Its hard but I've found it to be true for me.
I am learning to control my depression and anxiety with meds. and therapy.
I am slowly rebuilding my life at age 40 with two teen boys and it is not easy.

Natasha Tracy
June, 21 2010 at 7:50 am

I know that it is many of our stories. I know it's the secret that nobody tells. We're all supposed to believe in remission. We're supposed to believe that people will help us. Everyone tells us so. It just turns out that's not necessarily true.
I'm sorry that you, or anyone has to go through that too.
- Natasha

June, 21 2010 at 7:29 am

That sounds so much like my story. Wrong diagnosis, getting "fired" by the doc, a million medications. I am sorry we had to go through that.

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