Day 03: How old were you at the onset? How old were you at diagnosis?
How were you given the diagnosis and are you satisfied with the way it was handled?
Unlike my depression, which began when I was thirteen, unlike my hearing voices, which began when I was nine, unlike my social anxiety, which took hold of my soul when I was fifteen, I’ve always found it difficult to pinpoint the exact onset of my bipolar. But when I look back on my life, I can’t help but focus on certain incidents that occurred during my teenage years. One such incident was when I ran away from home at the age of eighteen.
It was an incredibly spontaneous decision that had little to no thought behind it. One day I was happily house-sitting for my brother, the next I was sending a plethora of long, rambling letters to people I barely knew, the next I was on a train bound for Inverness. Once I arrived in the capital of the highlands I hiked twenty-six miles to the town of Drumnadrochit and spent the evening talking bollocks with complete strangers in a backpacker hostel.
A couple of psychiatrists I have seen have indicated to me that this was a hypomanic state; the grandiose plan, the excess of energy, the endless talking (both in person at the hostel and in the letters I wrote) and the complete lack of empathy toward members of my family who must have been worried about what had happened to me. If this was a hypomanic state as those psychiatrists believe then this was the onset of my bipolar.
If it wasn’t, because let’s be honest, psychiatrists are frequently wrong, then the onset of my bipolar began many years later when I was in my mid-twenties. This is when my moods began cycling quite profoundly (2006), this was when I first experienced a manic phase (mid 2007) and this is when I was first diagnosed as bipolar (late 2007, at the age of 27).
But looking back on my life, I personally feel the psychiatrists were right, and not just because of the running away incident. There were many other examples of my behaviour being ‘odd’ when I was in my late teens. Moments where my mood altered without cause or reason, moments of madness and insanity, moments that no-one in my life could explain. I lost friendships as a result of my behaviour. I lost opportunities as a result of my behaviour. I lost jobs as a result of my behaviour. However much people have tried to convince me otherwise in the intervening years, I am adamant that my bipolar began at this stage of my life, rather than years later when I was in my late twenties. But psychiatrists (and myself) still insist on debating the issue of onset of bipolar for one reason and one reason only: I have never been hospitalised as a result of my mental illness.
The last psychiatrist I saw, in late-2011, told me in no uncertain terms that I “was not suffering from any mental illness”. In fact, he even stated that (and this is a direct quote) “you are play-acting mental illness in order to escape homelessness”. His reason for believing this relied solely on the fact that I had never been hospitalised. Not when I was manic. Not following any suicide attempt. Not when my moods were rapid cycling and my behaviour was beyond ‘normal’. In fact, I can personally think of at least six occasions in 2007 alone that I should have been hospitalised, and these don’t include the occasions where I begged mental health facilities to hospitalise me. But the psychiatrist didn’t take any of this into account when he diagnosed me as having no mental illness, as he couldn’t understand that some people, for whatever reason, don’t receive the treatment they deserve.
This psychiatrist ignored the facts before him, refused to believe the story of my life and instead stigmatized both my mental health and homelessness. Fortunately, I had seen other psychiatrists in the past who were not as arrogant or quick to place so much emphasis on hospitalisation. The first such psychiatrist was in late 2007, and it was she who initially diagnosed me as bipolar. At the time I wasn’t linked to any mental health organisation and was seeing a psychiatrist privately as a result of the year that I’d had (breakdown, suicide attempts, emotional abuse, rape) and after several sessions with her she voiced her belief that I was bipolar type 1. After I was forced to return to the UK in early 2008, I began seeing a mental health service who referred me to a psychiatrist who was resident at Abergavenny Hospital. After seeing him as an out-patient, he too diagnosed me as suffering from bipolar type 1 and medicated me accordingly with mood-stabilisers and anti-depressants. In fact, since those initial consultations, I have seen many psychiatrists both in the UK and Australia and the only one to not diagnose bipolar was the ‘obsessed with my non-hospitalisation’ wanker in late-2011.
All in all, aside from that singular psychiatrist, I have always been happy with the way psychiatrists have treated me. They have all – especially the first two that I saw – treated me very well. They gave explanations for their reasoning and provided me with information about bipolar so that I could better understand what they believed was happening to me. In fact, the only thing that I wasn’t happy about how my diagnosis was handled, is to do with hospitalisation. I have long believed that had I been hospitalised I would be in a better position to cope with my illness(es) today. I also believe that had I been hospitalised I would currently be the recipient of better treatment, as the psychiatrist I last saw wouldn’t have so casually swept me and my problems aside.
But this is a minor quibble amidst my life. I can hardly complain about how my diagnosis was handled as I have read some true horror stories over the years about how people were treated during (and after) their diagnosis, and I am fortunate to not be the recipient of such treatment.
Today, I don’t believe hospitalisation would do anything for me. In fact, I genuinely believe it would make me worse. Courtesy of those initial psychiatrists I know what I’m fighting each day, courtesy of the internet I have a strong understanding of my illness, and – wankers aside – people generally accept my onset of bipolar and the illness in general without batting an eyelid.
And I can’t really ask for anything more.