I Was Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder, And I'm Struggling With This New Label

by Kimberly Zapata
Guido Mieth / Getty Images

When I first heard the word, when I first received the diagnosis, panic consumed me. Anger devoured me, and a wave of fear washed over me.

Or maybe it was relief?

I mean, I knew it was coming. I had known for a very long time. The signs were all there. I vacillate between periods of extreme agitation and apathy. Of lethargy, anxiety, intense sadness, and acute productivity. And I do so quickly.

My personality can shift on a dime.

The symptoms were all there, which is to say I was (and still am) an impulsive human being. I make grandiose plans on a whim and book vacations on the fly. I’ve considered expanding my family and leaving them all in the same breath, and sometimes I get body modifications as a lark.

I wake up and just need a piercing or tattoo, so I get one.

Emotionally and physically, I am all over the map. One second, I am dancing around the house with my daughter or running 10 miles — without thinking, without blinking, without a single care in the world — and the next I am angry. I am irritable, and while I still run, while I run farther and faster than ever before, I do so not because I want to, but because I have to.

Because I am manic and do not know how to stop. I literally cannot slow down.

But hearing the words bipolar disorder applied to me? Brutal. The reality of my diagnosis was too much.

Of course, I don’t feel any differently than I did yesterday. Then I did when I was “just anxious” or “just depressed.” But in my mind, I am altered. I am changed. I am different.

I am no longer quirky, productive, high-functioning, or eccentric; I am manic.

I am no longer emotional, soulful, perceptive, or hypersensitive; I am bipolar depressed.

And something about being bipolar feels so much more unstable.

Make no mistake: I am not proud of my reaction. I am a mental health awareness advocate, and one who has worked tirelessly to challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness in this country. To “stop the stigma” and to encourage acceptance and empathy while expanding resources.

I wouldn’t feel this way if my husband told me he was bipolar. I wouldn’t feel this way if my brother told me he was bipolar, and I wouldn’t feel this way if my best friend told me they were bipolar

But I would be lying if I didn’t admit there is a certain amount of shame for me that comes with this diagnosis. There is anger and embarrassment, too, and it isn’t just “in my head.” Many people understand and accept depression. They get what anxiety is like. Or at the very least, they are trying to.

But bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a “serious” disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar is a brain disorder and one which causes “unusual behaviors.” Bipolar is often stigmatized in the media as one of those “bad” mental health disorders. It is one of those feared diagnoses you read about online and see both on TV and in the news, and it is one of the disorders which earns you the label of nuts, crazy, cuckoo, deranged, bonkers, maniac, psycho, or mad.

But the truth is bipolar individuals aren’t “crazy.” They aren’t “psychotic” or “deranged” either.

They also aren’t as uncommon as you think. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older, are affected by this disease. And while bipolar disorder cannot be cured, it can be managed.

It is treatable.

And that is where I am now. I am working with my psychiatrist to find a solid treatment plan. To find the right medication to balance “it” out. To balance me out.

Make no mistake: I am not better. Not yet, anyway. My moods still cycle. I still swing, and (embarrassingly enough) I still struggle to own the label “bipolar.”

This is the first time I am uttering the phrase “I have bipolar.”

But I am here. In spite of the fear, shame, anger, disappointment, and apathy, I am here. And while I may still be struggling with my diagnosis, with this new life and new label, while I do not yet know who I am, the good news is I now know what my thoughts are. I know where my feelings come from, and with said diagnosis, I can get the proper help.

Now there is hope.