second opinions

by lifeonaxis1

i’ve been reading this book about bipolar disorder.  it’s pretty impressive so far and i’m thinking of writing a review of it when i’m done.

i just started reading a section on people’s responses when they find out they are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  some underidentify or ignore the diagnosis, thinking they are not bipolar or do not need medication.  these individuals can be at risk for making the disorder worse, as i’m reading that untreated bipolar disorder can lead to more frequent and more extreme episodes.  on the other side of the coin, some individuals overidentify and in a sense “become the disorder”, and prematurely change life plans and so on as a result.  i believe this reaction is the fountain head of the whole “i am bipolar” vs. “i have bipolar” distinction i see some people making.

interestingly, it is not only the person receiving the diagnosis that shows these responses, but also those around them.  no one quite knows what to do with a mental illness diagnosis, but we’re all comparing against someone we once knew that was bipolar or based on past judgments of the person’s behavior (that we disapproved of).  perhaps i should be less surprised that despite people not knowing much of anything about mental illness, virtually everyone has an opinion about it.

i’m not kidding, it’s like some people think the outcome will be determined by election.  and opinions run the gamut of conviction: some are convinced i have it while others are sure i don’t.  and they lobby, too, to those who are within their sphere of influence but who are still on the fence about things, including me.

as an example, i will include a poll here; for those of you who have been reading my blog for some time now i would appreciate your opinion.  of course, i can’t link it back to you so be honest.  i’m even going to vote too.

what i’m hoping to show is that we’ve all got a little armchair psychologist inside.  i have an opinion, you have an opinion.  we all have an opinion.  let’s be real.  whatever version of truth you subscribe to influences your behavior and willingness to provide support to the person who has been diagnosed.

this has been my experience, anyway.  and while everyone is duking it out, i’m still sitting here with a bipolar 2 diagnosis and not a fucking clue as to what to do with myself.  very few people seem to know how to provide support in a time like this.  and i don’t blame them.  where are they supposed to learn?

one thing is for sure, though.  people’s opinions are weighted differently in my own analysis and i would like to offer an outline of my own opinion hierarchy.

Disregarded opinions

  • opinions where there is a clear conflict of interest or agenda
  • people who are just trying to make me feel better

Opinions I will listen to but take with a grain of salt

  • opinions of people who have seen me only in a limited context
  • people who have experience in mental health fields that are tangential or unrelated to diagnosing mental illness

Opinions that motivate me to find more information

  • people who have demonstrable experience in mental health fields, specifically in diagnosing or treating mental illness
  • individuals who are qualified, but who diagnose during the first meeting

Opinions that can be trusted

  • specialists who have dealt with mood disorders, who are critical in the diagnosis and who do not diagnose in the first meeting
  • they have a PhD in clinical psychology from an accredited university that emphasizes evidence-based practice

Being diagnosed with a mental illness is surprisingly lonely.  People do not seem to know how to respond.  Some act like it’s not even there, which may be well intentioned but is frustrating for the alleged bipolar individual who is going through a life transforming experience.  Others are too busy with their own opinion to be concerned with anyone else.

I find it really striking how few people ask about the experience of being diagnosed.  Or about what I think about the diagnosis.  It’s the great elephant in the room.

Is there something I could be doing differently to elicit the support I need?