By Jennifer Zmurchyk – Prairie Sky Wellness
‘You have Bipolar Disorder. This is a lifelong illness and it will get worse as you age. Here is a prescription for some medications for you to take that can help you manage the condition, but understand they may reduce your life expectancy and they will unfortunately cause unpleasant side effects. I will see you for your next appointment in two weeks’
Dr Alberto Palma
This is what I was told that fateful day when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder by my psychiatrist in 2011. Eventually in 2015 after a full psychiatric evaluation I was officially diagnosed with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Avoidance Personality Disorder, however during the initial diagnosis in 2011 all I was told was that I was Bipolar and I had no idea what that meant.
My psychiatrists short and to the point prognosis hit me like a ton of bricks and at the time I had no understanding of what Bipolar Disorder was. From what I knew it was something people had that involved ‘mood swings’ and what I was experiencing was definitely a lot more than mood swings. Anyone who has ever experienced a period of mania understands that it is definitely not a ‘mood swing’. Mood swings do not include a manic fit of taking all of your savings out of the bank to go to the craft store and buy beads. Yup – I did that. One time when I was manic I emptied my bank account and went to my local Michaels Craft store and bought beads and beading equipment because I was going to have a beading business where I was going to make thousands of dollars at it – I’m not kidding. I had convinced myself during a manic episode that this was going to happen and it was the best thing ever. The funny thing is that I have no clue how to do beadwork and I’m frankly not even interested in beading. A couple of weeks later when the mania wore off and the rent was due I was left scrambling to find money, and very ashamed and disgusted at myself for having bought all of the beads. Mania is not a mood swing.
The day I was diagnosed I went home from the psychiatrists office and began to research everything I could find out about this ‘mystery’ condition I had called Bipolar Disorder and from the information I was able to find at the time I began to feel more and more upset and depressed as the outlook did not seem to be very good for people with this illness. I also joined some Bipolar support groups on Facebook and though I am sure there are many positive forums out there to support people, the ones I found only made it worse as the people were mostly negative and the energies just seemed to feed off of one another which caused an increase in the negativity and depression I was experiencing. I felt like my life was over and I had no future. Feeling like that is the worst thing that can happen to any person and I began to believe that I could never get well.
That all changed in the spring of 2016 when I came across a trailer on YouTube for a documentary called ‘Crazywise’. At the time, the film was still in pre-production and hadn’t been released yet, but watching the trailer changed my life. It was the first time I had heard from any source that perhaps mental illness wasn’t what we had thought it was and there was a potential to lead a productive and happy life. Watching this 7 minute trailer for a yet to be released documentary gave me the most incredible gift ever…..hope. The film challenges conventional thinking in regards to mental health issues and discusses how traditional cultures and indigenous peoples viewed mental illness.
So in retrospect, what would I have done differently when I got diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder? First I would have been very careful about the information I was reading about it. Thankfully a lot of opinions and ideas have changed in the medical establishment regarding mental illness since my diagnosis, and there is a current push to re-think the old idea that mental illness is merely a ‘chemical imbalance’. If you have been newly diagnosed and are looking for research on the subject, please make sure it is current and from credible sources. Also, I would have been more careful about the support groups I joined. It is very easy for people with these conditions to fall into a pit of despair and rather than be dragged down with that, look for positive support and help.
Hopefully this information was useful – a diagnosis of a mental illness does not need to be a prison, and I am living proof that when you take a proactive approach to your own health, you can come from the pits of darkness to a place of peace and light.