How did you feel when you were diagnosed with a case of the Mentals?

I’m doing a thing with Rethink tomorrow in which I talk about what it was like to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder almost…shit, 5 years ago. I know how I felt (incredulous, scared, confused, why-am-I-in-bloody-hospital) but how did you feel when you first got your diagnosis of bipolar disorder or otherwise?


For me, it was a total kick in the balls. For everyone around me, it was a case of, “Oh, yeah, we knew that”. I’d been tentatively given that diagnosis before, but it’s changed, morphed and been so, “Eh?” over the years I hadn’t taken it seriously. Five years later, due to the changing and morphing, I still don’t take it seriously. What I did do was overidentify with it for a while (and then, four years later, distanced myself from entirely). I thought, “Oh god, this is the end of my life!” It was, in some ways. The end of a life I had known. I had to take…shit, four years?! out of life and then readjust. And recover, as now I am at the point where there’s not a sniff of mental illness about me, unless you looked really hard for it. I still have my tics and I still take medication. My life is different. I’m different. It’s part in growing up (a large part, I think). And part- well, it has to be.

The medication was the worst part of it. It was so frightening sounding, and the side effects were equally frightening. I struggled for years to take it, I resented that I had to.

In a way, I had expected too much from recovery. It has almost been lonelier than living with the actual illness had been. I expected that once I’d reached that point I’d open the front door and all the friends I’d known and loved and pissed off and frustrated and irritated over the years would be there brimming with forgiveness, ready to welcome me back into the world. It hasn’t been like that- it has been getting used to being this different, quieter, more careful person, and getting used to it on my own as I’m not the person those friends knew. For better or worse. There are things about me that don’t- cannot- exist anymore. The boundless energy, the sociability, the indiscretion, the emotionalness, the things I thought were part of me, were who I was, the things I realised that were practically parasitical. Those were things that DAMN! I would never have expected to happen.

There was relief, too, now tempered by not being sure (in that sense, I am jealous of people with a fairly concrete diagnosis). But I was undeniably relieved to know what ailed me, even if for 6 weeks after I fought with the home treatment team and said it was just depression and Lithium was kept in the top cupboard so my shortarse self couldn’t reach it. Christ. Five years ago. It may as well have been another life.

So, how about you?

27 Responses

  1. Well in the words of that song by The Kinks I’d always known that ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ but my white coat moment came at the end of a rollercoaster ride of an identity crisis. Having thought I was God, his son Jesus, King Arthur, a dog, a bad dog and finally while in police custody a devil dog and finally the devil locked up in a cell for all eternity, I was eventually taken from the pit by angels (who I guess were psychi nurses) and taken to meet judgement day (a talk with the psychiatrist). He asked me how I was feeling and I said ‘Well either I’m a very bad person’ (Satan) ‘or I’ve gone barking mad’. I got into a lift and fortunately it was not ‘going down’.

    • I felt relieved. You see, it was only 7.30am but already it had been a very bad day for me. It was also a very long time ago. Back in 1982 in fact.
      The day had started at about 5.30am. I had decided to take a walk. Both the start time and the walk were very unusual for me. I walked half way up a nearby hill. When there I discovered that you can’t drown yourself in a fast flowing stream less than six inches deep.
      Back home I went. I found a razor blade. What followed were a few miserable scratches on my left wrist. I guess my heart just wasn’t into the task at hand.
      By now my wife and two lovely children were getting up. My son discovered that we had run out of milk. I volunteered to go to the shop and get some. Although it was unusual for me I took the family car. After all, the round trip was well under one mile.
      Driving to the shop I saw a car approaching me. I swerved to hit it. With our combined speeds of about 60 miles per hour it should just about do the job. Then I was struck by doubt. This might be fine for me but what about the other driver. What had they done to deserve this? I immediately swung hard to miss the oncoming car. There was just the merest scraping of the two cars.
      My hard swing had taken me into a solid brick fence. The fence and the car were demolished. Me, I suffered a few miserable scratches once again. It was just not my day, even at 7.30am.
      Very quickly an ambulance arrived. A short time after my own GP arrived. I was placed in the back of the ambulance. The ambulance driver and my GP talked together, away from me. I sat there thinking “I hope they would decide that I’m mad.” My reasoning was that if this occurred the insurance would pay for all the damage I had caused. Otherwise, I thought, I would have to pay.
      My GP approached. He told me that I was being taken to Porirua Psychiatric Hospital for observation. Boy was I relieved to hear those words.

  2. I’ll let you know on Wednesday after first appointment with the shrink (I find it hard to say “psychiatrist” and not due to a speech impediment). The nurse at my local CMHT told me she suspects bipolar but not a particular flavour. After a couple of years of being treated for depression, suspecting – knowing – it’s something more, I was equally relieved and horrified to hear this and it’s with the same uncertainty I face the next few days. People keep asking what happened to the old me and I wonder the same myself. In a way I think I’ve been mourning him but I’m beginning to find someone new in the middle. I think. I don’t know. It’s a whirlwind in here! I don’t think I’ve really accepted that I’m not well. Even writing those words “not well” feels like I’m pulling some kind of con.

    Think I’ve gone a bit off the topic, sorry. Just keep blogging, Miss M. It helps.


  3. Relieved to know that there was a name and a treatment for how bad I was feeling.

    Scared to know that there was no definitive cure.

    Angry at all the doctors and psychologists that had seen me before and had not diagnosed me (and there were quite a few).

    Amused by my husband’s joke on poles/bipolar & lithium & batteries (it was quite a geek joke, but then again, we are quite a geek couple).

  4. I think my first thought after being announced bipolar was, “There’s a name for this? Thank God.” Later, I would also go on an overidentification vacation through medication nightmares, self-harm, hospitalization, bad therapists, rediagnoses…and then, over the course of going on 8 years now, the slow and occasionally unsteady balance of a better med mix, a good therapist, and sleep. This year I was rediagnosed (“What?!? Not THAT!!!”) and rediagnosed later by another psychiatrist (“Thank God. THIS again.”).

  5. Because I do research in the mental health field and are somewhat familiar with the DSM, the diagnosis wasn’t such a huge shock to the system for me. My knowledge kind of softened the blow and confirmed what I had suspected. So I was fortunate in that respect.

    I think it’s helpful to think of mental health disorders as diagnoses of “best fit”. It’s natural to want certainty but I feel that diagnosis in this area should always be tentative, not definitive, and open to revision. People need treatment of their unique range of symptoms, rather than of the generic assumptions that accompany a diagnostic label – because not everyone’s manifestation of bipolar is the same. Diagnostic classifications are an extremely useful guide but should not be used as gospel in my view.

    All the best for tomorrow Seaneen!

  6. I am still struggling with the ‘ how did I feel bit’ 1 1/2 years down the line. After my diagnosis was changed from major depression to Bipolar II initially I thought that makes more sense. A change in medication from SSRI’s to mood stabilisers and an anti psychotic brought a period of stability. However, I have a problem with having a ‘problem’, I don’t like medication it confirms that I am different, it confirms that I am a very different person to who I was 6 years ago when my world went topsy turvy and I couldn’t hide my ‘mentalness’ anymore. My diagnosis has meant that rather than be open and honest and deal with it, I have isolated myself from people. Some days I believe my diagnosis, I identify with it and others I don’t. When I am well it is easy to push aside and get on with life. I don’t have to question it one way or the other. It is when things start to slide, that the questions start. I know that in my heart, still, I really don’t want to believe that they are right, that I do have Bipolar II. I want them to be wrong. To allow myself to acknowledge how I feel about my diagnosis, would be to accept my diagnosis and I haven’t reached the right moment in time to do that.

  7. I think for me, being given a firm diagnosis, in my case Bipolar 1, It was a relief and as some Christians take their problems to Jesus, I could now take mine to Bipolar Disorder. I was relieved to be able to collect all of the terrible things I had done in my life and lay them at the feet of my Illness. I felt relieved to lay down the heavy burden of guilt and shame and justify my previous reckless behaviour. I feel free. I deal with my illness, take my meds and intend staying well… with luck! But I don’t look back with a heavy heart the way I always had before, I look back and think: I did that but I was under the power of a greater force, now I am free.

  8. Thank you for your candour. Reading your posts over the past year or so reflects your journey throuhg life, including recovery. I was diagnosed maybe 4-6 years ago (different diagnoses, different years).When you say that recovering is in a sense more lonely, you have given words to something that I’ve been trying to express for a few weeks now.

    Recently I’ve decided to quit counselling. I’m dealing with my food issues, and every day is a different and unique challenge for my anxiety. Sometimes I get depressed, but I think that’s okay, and its different to before because I dust myself off and try to get on with things a little better, also, the things that have brought me down are ‘rational’ concerns to be depressed about (death in the family, employment woes, money).

    Embracing life without the support does seem certainly hard for me, but I think that with the support I’ve had in the past, and my ability for resilience, I’m able to cope a lot better. I’m not quite sure how to deal with feeling more lonely without the support I once had, even though I’m ‘better’ now. I’m eager to see your future posts as to how you deal with the different situation. I was a different person when I was diagnosed and in the worst parts. I’m happy that time has put distance away from it…

  9. Honestly? I was hugely, enormously relieved that someone was *finally* taking me even a little bit seriously.

  10. I was dicharged from Windsor House (grim) after first of two hospitalizations with a letter to attend local community health nurse a few weeks later. At that point I had been told that it was a case of of hypomania or just a good old fashioned nervous breakdown. Anyway, I duly arrived for my appointment with her, she looked up from her desk at me and said “ok, you’re the manic depressive in my books now”.Fuck……now that really was a kick in the balls. Ten years later I’m still going wtf, but thankfully not on medication. Bipolar though through and through.

  11. I do believe that my experience may be a little different, according to earlier posts. You see, I had always known that I was a Manic Depressive, probably since I was an Teenager actually, though the kindly professionals who dealt with me tended to have other ideas. The frustration at being constantly diagnosed with other illnesses and being given other labels to stick to my forehead, was immense. As I silently battled my rapid cycling, highs and lows, I waited, as patiently as one can, for someone to finally see the truth.
    I was twenty five when they finally did and though it wouldn’t serve to change my illness or my daily struggles, it wouldn’t prevent the battles that I endured or produce any life changes really, it did give me some clarity, finally some respect for my insight into myself and most importantly I could be put on a drug regime that may finally help.

  12. Regarding my PTSD diagnosis… I felt relieved and like throwing up all at the same time. Relieved because there was a name for what I was/am going through, that I wasn’t simply going mad because hearing my phone ring had the power to send me into a downward anxious spiral of BLEEEURGH. And it made me feel like throwing up because there was a name to what I was/am going through, that it meant scarybadtimes had happened and now everyone knew and the scarybadtimes had sent me over the edge for good. And that the reason hearing my phone ring sent me into a downward etc. etc. was because I was a ~broken individual~.

    As for the other diagnoses, I can’t really say how I felt as I don’t tend to get told outright. Usually by post, or “hmm, well, POSSIBLY, but I don’t know”.

    Looking forward to hearing about your work with Rethink 🙂

    outwardly x

  13. A doctor, after having seen 7 doctors previously, told me in 2004 that I had bipolar disorder. Then he changed it to bipolar 2. I knew I didn’t have the exact symptoms of someone with bipolar 2. My symptoms were close, but not exact… so I doubted the diagnosis.

    Then in 2007, I went to a different doctor who told me after listening to me talk for literally 2 minutes what the rest of my symptoms were. I was like… “BINGO!” Someone finally had it right! I have rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

    I guess I was relieved when I found this out because the doctor changed my meds, which I knew needed to be changed. Now I’m 75% better. I still struggle. But I am a lot better than what I was.

  14. I felt relieved too. I had this doctor in the hospital who thought I had paranoid schizophrenia, and even though that diagnosis was later changed to schizoaffective, that diagnosis was the first one that I ever had that explained how psychotic I had been for years. I did not know anything about psychosis. Numerous times I had been in the hospital and do not believe that I was ever told “you are psychotic” until 2005, which, as I recently wrote about on my blog, only happened because I nearly host myself in the head with a very large handgun. Yeah, I don’t do thaings like that naymore. When I was diagnosed, the movie A Beautiful Mind had recently come out, and this doctor in the hospital had me watch that movie to understand what was going on; this was the very first time I really realized I was delusional. I had no idea before that. This fact gave me hope, because there were medications that could treat (though, of course, not cure) psychosis, and it meant that I wasn’t just some pathetic, lost cause, dookmed to be homeless again or constantly wandering around aimlessly following the cues that I saw and doing ridiculous and dangerous things. It meant I didn’t have to die, and I didn’t think I’d have to kill myself once I understood that there was a real reason for the experiences I was having. I had hope that I could get better. And I did get a lot better. Not completely better, of course, but I got a lot better than I ever had been for years before. And so for me, that hospital stay where I was diagnosed was a very pivotal point in my life, and it is the reason I am still breathing. I read Surviving Schizophrenia in the hospital (or parts of it, at least) and I came to understand that there were other people who thought they were CIA operatives too, and it wasn’t just me, and it wasn’t real! So finally, I could breathe a sigh of relief.

  15. I’m sorry for the typos! I have a slow computer and for some reason this posting box doesn’t show up well on my screen, so I couldn’t read what I was typing. Anyway “host” should have said “shot” and you can probably figure out the rest.

  16. Saw my first psychiatrist at 16, then a few more, then my first hospital admission………
    I read my psych notes 11 years ago ( I was 19) and that’s when I saw the big BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER on every letter I read, all throughout my notes and no one had told me. At first I was in complete denial. I spoke to my psychologist, I told her I Did NOT have BPD! I clearly did. When I finally accepted it I spent a good few years fully taking the whole diagnosis on. It was my new identity, it was ME and that was that! I’ve learned to manage it (most of the time) now. But I don’t believe it’s gone away completely, so there’s always that worry ‘what if’

    • Did you know that in Australia now you technically can’t give a diagnosis of personality disorder until someone is 18? So for the first 2 years you would have had a different working diagnosis – even if they thought you were borderline PD here if it were now.

  17. […] discusses what it feels like to be diagnosed. (My diagnosis at the time was bipolar I disorder, which I remember thinking, “That sounds like a […]

  18. I didn’t believe my diagnosis when I was first told. I didn’t have Depression. I had anxiety. After all they were my most noticable symptoms – they were the symptoms that I sought help for. I was a Mental Health Worker. I knew about these things.
    But I had that strand of Depression that includes anxiety and sure enough as soon as they started treating the depression the anxiety was the first thing to go. I capitulated. How had I missed it? I had been an early intervention mental health worker and I had missed every single early warning sign in myself. When I went back and looked over them I had had almost every symptom on the list. And no little red flags had gone up.
    (I hadn’t been working at the time, I’d been studying F/T again and sooo not coping) Looking back I had had other brief episodes of Depression that passed quickly with rest or holidays.
    It all started as a result of brain surgery that I had had in my mid 20s. The first couple of minor episodes I had considered recovery from surgery or readjustment to work. After all – 8 hrs of surgery on a respirator, followed by another bout and then a week in a medically induced coma takes a while for the human system to fully process even though it functions, right?
    After that we got a new Boss who I didn’t get along with quite so well and I put it down to stress and later burn out because I’d been in the same job since I’d graduated (51/2 yrs) and it was pretty demanding. So I went back to further study…
    Then I got chronic migraine which was exhausting – made sense of things that way and so it went on.
    Now I have a diagnosis of Treatment Resistant Depression. I often wonder if it had been picked up earlier, would it be so treatment resistant? I think probably not. Apparently Depression is not an uncommon secondary effect of brain surgery – but noone told us that at the time, or we would have been more vigilant and would probably picked it up. I sometimes get quite emotional when I think about that.
    If you know anyone who has brain surgery, be sure to tell them that there is an increased risk of Depression; that it is treatable, and give them a fact sheet that contains early warning signs so that they can see their doctor if it does occur.

  19. I did try to carry on on the same path for a couple of months in denial, but had another breakdown.

    I think the fact that I’d booked the app in July and was randomly rung in February didn’t help – the CMHT was really booked up it seemed By then I was so in the middle of it I couldn’t think straight.

    After my second breakdown, I went home to Oxford and felt relief that I knew what was going on and that there was the chance to get better. Allowed me to stop blaming myself and let me try to explain to others.

  20. Yeah. I can relate to that, had my first diagnosis when I was 21 and that was the biggest kick in the nuts ever. Paranoid Schizophrenia they diagnosed me with, and for the next 5 years sailed on the waves of denial without taking any medication. In the end it was a local charity that saved me. They made me realise I had more problems than a one armed man hanging off a cliff with itchy testicles. Anyway, after a long and hard fight I managed to beat it, wasn’t easy though 🙂

  21. I felt a mixture of relief and anger at myself. I was relieved to have a label to put to everything that’s been going wrong. I was great to know that there was in fact something wrong and it could be treated. But I was also angry that I had wasted so much time in battling something that I could have gotten treatment for. I lost months of productivity and friends all because I didn’t seek help earlier. It angered me greatly, still does. But the relief of finding out, that was exquisit, it meant I could get better.

  22. I just found your site!…. I was just happy I had a real concrete reason for burning down that house. I thought I was crazy but nope.

  23. I’d been suffering from mental illness for twenty some years before being diagnosed bipolar, and my life had been a nightmare for years before my first hospitilization in a psych ward, so I was thrilled to have a diagnoses, just having an explanation for what had been going on made me feel better, and the knowledge that meds would make it more manageable was a huge relief. Actually, wasn’t told that I was bipolar, after a few days in the hospital, I met with the psychiatrists who asked me what my diagnosis was and then confirmed it. That was in the US, upon my return to France I was told that the American doctors didn’t know what they were talking about by my new psychiatrist, who admitted that he hoped for my sake that I wasn’t bipolar. Since I couldn’t afford a private psychiatrist, I had to white knuckle it for several years before he gave in and agreed to the diagnosis and put me on meds. The second time I was diagnosed, I was really grateful since I knew I really needed the meds.

  24. I really identified with with you.

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