To accept or reject the label "bipolar disorder?"

The text is an article written by Krystal Reddick for the Huffington Post. It was posted 20141216. Krystal writes about what a psychiatric label like "bipolar disorder" do to us who get it. Can the label be  something positive or negative? For me it was traumatic when my doctor told me that I have bipolar disorder. I had a very hard time to accept that I had a psychiatric disorder. But today - ten years after I got the diagnosis - I can honestly say that I do not want to be without my "bipolarity." Just like Krystal says in the article I feel that me having bipolar disorder makes me "special." I do not mean in an arrogant way, but rather that I believe my manic and depressive episodes has given me insights about human nature, how the mind works and made me exprience the full range of human feelings. In short, in many ways my "bipolarity" has enriched my life, and taught me to be grateful for every single day I am not manic or depressive.

 

What's in a mental health label? Schizophrenia. Bipolar. Anxiety. Depression. OCD. And so on.

Does a mental health label define you?

I've had numerous conversations with my therapist about the bipolar label. I've been diagnosed for seven years now. I went six years in between my first and second hospitalizations for mania. And in those six years I did not really claim the label. My therapist showed me the bipolar entry in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). There is an entry for single-episode mania. Mania is what determines a bipolar diagnosis; otherwise, one would just have unipolar depression. I thought I had that, the single-episode diagnosis, not the full-fledged diagnosis. I thought my one episode of depression and one episode of mania were one-time flukes. I didn't think I really had bipolar disorder. However, my psychiatrist disagreed. He told me, "once a Heisman trophy winner, always a Heisman trophy winner." I hated this analogy.

The two medicines I was on for those six years in between hospitalizations kept me stable. Having a bipolar diagnosis didn't impact much for me except sleep. I had to be in bed by 11 p.m. in order to avoid next-day grogginess. But that was the only inconvenience. I had a few side effects within the first few months of being hospitalized, but after I changed to a new medicine I was fine.

Until 2013.

Elevated liver enzymes were detected in my routine blood work. Elevated liver enzymes might mean liver damage. I was told to stop taking this medicine immediately. My psychiatrist didn't replace this medicine, leaving me only on one medicine to maintain my bipolar disorder. Within two months I was manic and hospitalized. This hospitalization removed all doubt that I was really bipolar. I was hospitalized for 10 days as the doctors tried to find me a new medicine cocktail to control my mania. I had to also go on short-term disability for two months.

Needless to say my therapist and I renewed our conversations about my label. I could no longer act like I didn't have a mental health diagnosis. I didn't have any friends with mental health diagnoses, so I wanted to talk to other diagnosed folks. In search of a space to discuss my disorder, I sought out and attended a DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) meeting.

My therapist was concerned. He didn't want me to identify with a mental illness. He didn't want it to define me. But I disagreed with him. Just as I am black and a woman and an American, I too also have bipolar disorder. It does have an impact on my life: my choices, my thoughts, my actions. To deny the label would be like denying a part of me. Now, I don't subscribe to the belief that to have a mental illness means I have to be consumed by instability. I am a highly-functioning professional.

For me, having a bipolar diagnosis does not signal dysfunction or disability. I've learned to use the diagnosis to my advantage. I think it makes me special: I am creative, intelligent, and empathetic. When I look at my bipolar lineage (all the famous writers, artists, actors, and doctors), I feel proud.

And when I read the DSM entry for bipolar disorder, I see that I have had nearly every symptom of mania and depression. The diagnosis and label made my actions and thoughts make sense. I've actually found comfort in the label. But I do realize not everyone wants to be labelled.

What say you? If you are diagnosed, how do you interpret your label?