My Diagnosis Was a Relief
For as long as I can remember I was anxious and around the age of 14, I slipped into clinical depression, which went untreated for years. Throughout high school I endured bullying on and off and just felt like an outcast. I had few friends and spent most of my time in my room dreaming of a day when I would feel happy and fulfilled. I felt a sense of deep despair every day and found it hard to keep going. Somehow I kept fighting because I held onto the dream that better days would come once I left the walls of my school. I always thought the next milestone would make me happy -- when I learned how to drive, when I got a car, when I graduated, when I started college, when I got to move to New York City. I accomplished all of those things, but still felt empty. My depression didn't go unnoticed. My family tried to make me go to a counselor, but I refused. What teenager wants to go to therapy?
In 2002, a day after my 18th birthday, I came home to find out that a close relative took his own life. It really hit home because the thought had crossed my mind several times over the years and I was worried I would follow through if I didn't get some help. I contacted my primary care doctor who put me on an antidepressant. Within a week of taking it, I felt amazing. I had energy and was happier than I could ever remember. Eventually I crashed and fell back into the same pattern. I tried numerous antidepressants and had the same experience. After a while I began to think I just wasn't meant to feel happiness.
I put myself into therapy during my senior year of college and that was helpful. It gave me the strength and courage I needed to take the next step in my journey and move to New York City. I had extremely high expectations. I felt that it was a new start, nobody knew me and it was bound to be different. It was great for a while, but then like always, the happiness faded. I tried to go to a therapist again, but I couldn't find anyone to take my insurance, so I just kept plugging along.
Around 2009 I began to experience periods of high energy and happiness followed by crashes. It continued to happen, but I never paid attention when I felt good; it was a relief. March of 2011 came and my boyfriend, now husband, proposed. I was on top of the world. I felt such intense happiness and energy like I have never felt before. It was amazing. However, in the months following, the mood swings became more prevalent. One day I was happy and full of energy and a few days later I was crying. Sometimes it changed by the hour. I had a zillion thoughts that flooded my mind, constant ideas and I felt physically agitated like I couldn't contain my energy. I also experienced outbursts of anger and began picking arguments over minor things.
By early 2012, I was really losing it. I couldn't focus, I was crying on the subway, in my office and on the bathroom floor. When I had visions of jumping in front of a subway train on a daily basis, I really scared myself. I didn't know what was happening to me. I was so happy to be getting married to my best friend and enter a new chapter in life. Why was I falling apart now? I decided I needed a professional and went to a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder, a form of bipolar in which depression is the primary symptom and instead of full blown mania, you experience hypomania. This type of bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression because people typically only seek help when they are depressed. When I left that office I felt a sense of relief. I wasn't doing something wrong all of these years; It wasn't my fault. I wasn't failing at life; I was being treated for the wrong illness! When I was put on a different type of medication, a mood stabilizer, I slowly began to feel "normal" and piece my life back together.
I will never forget the doctor or the person that connected me with him. I feel that they both saved my life and gave me the ability to live life fully. It took 13 years from the age of onset until I received the proper diagnosis. Sadly, that's not uncommon. I often wonder what life would have been like if I had been diagnosed and treated a decade sooner, but I try not to go there. There are days I feel robbed of my youth, but I try to focus on being grateful that I at least have a proper diagnosis now.