Me vs. My Therapist: An Identity Crisis

Had my weekly session with my therapist last night.  First, I have to say that she is the best therapist I’ve ever seen.  She’s compassionate, insightful and I have to solely credit her with finally arriving at the correct diagnosis.

As in any relationship, there are times in this one when we don’t see eye to eye.  We’ve had an ongoing dialogue about what a bipolar diagnosis does to one’s identity.  I’m afraid this time, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

My therapist keeps trying to tell me that I am no different than I was before the bipolar diagnosis.  I keep trying to tell her that I am, because now my entire world is forever colored by these BP diagnosis glasses I can never take off.  True, I have been BP most of my life and I cannot really remember what it is like to be free from wondering if a day will be good or bad based on the mood-of-the-moment.

Since the diagnosis,  there is no denying I do see and experience the world differently. I never used to wonder if the pharmacist was having unprofessional thoughts when picking up my migraine med.  But I sure do now that I’m signing for antipsychotics.  I never used to wonder what shopkeepers’ experiences with me were.  But, now I wonder if my interactions with others are perceived as ‘normal.’  And, because last summer’s hypomania resulted in some really dumb behavior, these days, every time I make a decision, I am always questioning my judgment.

Personally, I think living in a perpetual state of behavior questioning is one of the hardest parts of living with this affliction.  It just takes so much energy.

There is an upside to BP, too. I’ve accomplished many things in my life that make people say, ‘wow!’  Could I have been such a blatant overachiever if I weren’t hypomanic at the time?  Probably not.  Being Touched with Fire has certainly served me well over the years.  So, today, when I am being productive the question becomes, “Am I being productive or hypomanic?”  Indeed, there’s lots of energy spent questioning.

For someone who is not bipolar, I don’t think they can ever fully appreciate how self-conscious and sometimes paranoid a BD diagnosis can make a person. Really, all I’m trying to bring to light with this post is we BPs need a bit of empathy and understanding.  Because from the moment one learns they have an incurable ‘disease,’ the world is changed forever.

Does needing a handful of pills to survive make me less of a person?  No.  But it sure does make me a different person than I was before being taken hostage by a daily handful of antipsychotic / antidepressant medication.

 

Pharmacist’s unprofessional thoughts when picking up meds, questioning judgment, accomplishments achieved, being highly self-conscious= me also, and my outlook has changed dramatically. I have read that we will be the stronger for it eventually. I dearly hope it to be true.

I know this is an old post, but I’m wondering if any of this has shifted for you?
For me, the constant monitoring of thoughts and behaviors has become habit. It does take a lot of energy, but I consider it energy well spent in managing the illness.
PS. I’m having a lot of fun surfing your older posts. I’m so glad we connected.

Hi, Sandy Sue. I am also so glad we connected. I get a lot out of your posts…we seem to be on a very similar wavelength. Thanks for going back through my old stuff. Make me feel good!

I reread this post and though about it for a few hours. Honestly, my feelings haven’t changed, they just aren’t as raw as they were four months ago. They are definitely more raw when I’m feeling depressed. You are so open about being bipolar and I really applaud it. I’ve gone to great lengths to hide it (had to for my career) which makes me oh so ridiculously self conscious. Yeah, it’s a personal problem. To this day I feel as if I’m carrying around this heavy piece of baggage (diagnosis) that I will never be able to offload (stigma).

How do you do it? Was it easier for you to cope when you decided to ‘out’ yourself?

I had it much easier than you as far as the workplace goes. The last job I held was as a Care Coordinator for health insurance companies that provided in-home services. I worked with over 80 other nurses, my supervisor was a nurse, as was her supervisor. Lots of compassion and understanding there. I was first diagnosed while working there, and I never considered hiding my illness. I needed my team’s support. They had to fill in for me when I missed work, and I wanted them to understand what was happening. They were always there for me.

But, I eventually lost my job due to the illness. I ran out of sick leave when I was about to undergo ECT. There was no stigma or prejudice involved—it was strictly by the numbers.

If I’m ever able to work again, I don’t think I could keep that part of my life secret. It’s kind of a moot point, because the chances of me ever going back to work are very slim. I also live alone, so my candor doesn’t effect anyone else’s life. I don’t know if I’d act any differently if I had a husband and children, but I would certainly be more discrete for their sakes.

I guess I feel like “what you see is what you get.” Yes, I’m bipolar *and* a writer/artist *and*… Yes, I have a mental illness, but I won’t ever be featured on “Criminal Minds” or “Hoarders.” I want the people I come in contact with to see that mental illness isn’t a threat to them. If I can foster understanding and acceptance by telling my story, then I’ve let a little more light into the world. That’s my new job.

Love and Light to you Vivien

You are so right. I know that I should embrace being bipolar and help educate others. You were so fortunate to have worked in an environment where understanding and compassion were prized / job requirements. I bet you were utterly fantastic at your old career. Do you miss your job? I’ve been toying with the idea of being more open about my situation after I move. You make an excellent (and funny!) point about not ever being on Criminal Minds or Hoarders – BPs often lead productive, non-criminal lives. Sigh. It will take me a while, but I hope that I can work through a lot of this ‘stuff’ now that I am unemployed and don’t have to be so desperately laying down the smoke screen every day of my life.

BTW, have you been published? I really enjoy all of your posts…you’re very talented!

I think “toying” is a great way to approach the whole “coming out of the closet” question. Let it sit lightly in your hindbrain. Maybe an opportunity to share will come up, and maybe not. What’s really important is how you perceive yourself and your own mental illness. I hope you can keep watching yourself gently.

I miss my job a lot, but, like they say, when one door shuts. . . Writing and making art everyday is something I always wanted and never thought I could do. So, in a way, my illness granted my deepest wishes.

Thanks so much for the compliment! I’ve had short stories published in magazines and Op-Ed pieces in newspapers. My novel was a near-miss, accepted and worked on by one editor, then rejected by his replacement. Don’t ever want to go through that again. But, if some brilliant publisher happens by. . . 🙂

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