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Accepting the Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

by Patty E. Fleener M.S.W.


It takes a lot of courage at this time to discuss the bipolar disorder (BP) openly. The BP is still stigmatized and misunderstood. Some people have asked me if I have more than one personality.

I remember reading the book, "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Redfield Jamison. Kay is a psychiatrist and she mentions in her book how difficult it was for her to come forward with the fact that she herself has the bipolar disorder. Not only that, but the fact that she has hallucinated and has attempted suicide. She mentions in her book however "I have no idea what the long-term benefits of discussing such issues so openly will be on my personal and professional life, but, whatever the consequences, they are bound to be better than continuing to be silent. I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as though I have something to hide. One is what is, and the dishonesty of hiding behind a degree, or a title, or any manner and collection of words, is still exactly that: dishonest."

During the almost ten years that I was a social worker/counselor I knew I was ill but I was in so much denial that I had no idea just how ill I was. My constant problems with boyfriends, etc. were all due to my boyfriend's problems, not mine. Due to my social work training I had excellent communication skills and all my boyfriends said I "talked circles around them." Unknowingly I hid behind my profession. I thought if I knew how to act healthy and knowledgeable, then how could I be ill? 

As a result of having to look "well" at work for so many years, I present well to mental health professionals, Drs., therapists, etc. Even when I became disabled, I had a very difficult time letting go of this mask even though I tried very hard. I can't tell you how many Drs. it took to get the diagnosis of BP. 

There are many ways that we can stay in denial of our disorder(s). In my case, this was done unconsciously. Remember, in order to heal, we must get out of denial. I cannot promise you a rose garden when you do break through that denial. For me, it took being totally disabled from work to realize that I was ill. I hope it doesn't take you as long because you can begin your recovery sooner. You don't have to suffer the way you are now. There is treatment for the BP. 

One thing that is very important to know is that it is ok to accept your illness. It is ok because it does not define you, it is not you, it does not mean you are a bad person, you do not deserve it, you did not ask for it and now finally you can begin to heal. 

I have to take thyroid medication the rest of my life because I have hypothyroidism. I am no more "hypothyroid" than I am BPD. I am Patty; that is who I am. I am also not bipolar. I have the Bipolar Disorder.

Here again, I highly recommend the book, "Happiness is a Choice." Let me give you an example from the book. This kind of thinking may shock you. If it does, put it on your "back burner" and think about it. A man with asthma says to the author "…I am having so much trouble with my asthma. I've gone from doctor to doctor. I take all the medication they've prescribed, but nothing really helps. I just can't stand it. I wonder if you could say something, well, anything, that might be useful….

…Finally I smiled broadly and said, 'This may sound silly or crazy or both, but I'll do my best to give you a useful response. Be happy with your asthma! Instead of treating it like an enemy, embrace it like a friend. If you change your attitude about your condition you'll change the chemistry in your body. Every thought we have is a physical event. Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides pop into existence throughout the body each time we activate a belief. Change the belief (the thought, the perspective, the judgment) and we change or, at the very least, influence the physical event we call our 'bodymind.' Your attitude and intelligence exist everywhere in the 50 trillion cells of your body. This is a marvelous and concrete opportunity for you, not just a pie-in-the-sky-game. Give yourself and your asthma a different message and see what happens. So, when you have the tightness in your chest, the shortness of breath, the wheezing or coughing, you could first welcome it, talk to it, even play with it. Then open yourself, ultimately, to loving it…really loving it!'…

…The very next day, he came to the morning session of the program visibly rested and alert. 'I had a special experience last night,' he told the group. 'I greet my nightly wheezing with a smile instead of my usual annoyance or depression. I actually did say hello out loud and laughed. I talked to my asthma like a friend. Wow! I told my asthma, we sure have a lot of history together.' He smiled shyly, then continued, 'I even thanked my bronchial tubes each time I coughed. At first, I felt…well, absolutely ridiculous, but soon something magically freed up inside and I really felt loving and loved.' His eyes filled with tears. 'You know, in no time at all, I fell asleep. Right now, I feel more comfortable and peaceful in my body than I have in months."

Work on accepting your diagnosis(es). It is not your authentic self. If you believe in life after death, these disorders will not follow you after the death of your body because they are disorders OF the body. They are not part of your soul. They are not you

If you have been recently diagnosed it will take you some time to come to the point of acceptance. 

When I learned that I have a thyroid disorder called "hypothyroidism" at age 23 and that I would have to take thyroid hormones the rest of my life, it was hard to accept. However this thyroid disorder is not intrusive upon my life as are mental health disorders. 

Accepting the BP is accepting it staring you the in face at times though much less as you get into recovery and find the right meds. It is downright aggravating and interferes with your life severely. 

You say "How can I work on accepting my disorder when I am in a psychotic episode?" You do the very best you can. 

Zig Ziglar says, "Success is not a happening. It is a process.

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acceptance   patty fleener