Help Doesn’t Equal Shame

“You have something wrong with you,” His voice sounded concerned and frustrated. Though I’ll have to give my boyfriend credit, no matter how upset he got, he never raised his voice. One of the most patient individuals I know.

“You either need to go to the hospital or call a doctor for help. This can’t continue. Somethings not right with you, you’re up and then you’re down.”

I shrugged, unconcerned by his words, turning back to my painting. A hospital sounded awfully dramatic (says the one who overdosed almost exactly a year ago). Eh, I didn’t need help. He was persistent and kept bringing it up. This is how I found myself a couple of weeks later on a cold January day, making an appointment with a psychiatrist to prove my boyfriend wrong.

Image from Bizarro.

Three months later, I was sitting on a couch across from Fred (fake name), outside warm sunshine was pushing out the cold. I was ready to hear it was my boyfriend who was wrong, as I told Fred everything my boyfriend had said. I also readily explained how none of my past therapists ever noticed anything.

Within five minutes I was being handed a diagnosis of bipolar. No, no, I wasn’t that messed up. That’s like a crazy person problem. I’m not crazy.

Shaking my head, I said no way, you’re wrong.

Fred asked some questions and I gave some half-truths. It would take me another year before speaking the full truth. He also pointed out my body language.

I looked down at my bouncing legs, one hand unthreading my sweatshirt, while the other hand continually unzipped my boot. A ball of motion.

Still, I said, no way, you’re wrong.

Fred said I was talking fast and hard to follow at times. Bouncing from idea to idea. I had strange ways to describe things. He suggested I was probably hypomanic or manic at that moment.

Still, I said, no way, you’re wrong.

It’s a really ugly expensive book, yet very useful.

Determined he pulled out his copy of DSM-5, explaining this was the official guide to diagnosing mental disorders. All I heard was a mental disorder. This wasn’t me.

First, he asked me about any self-inflated self-esteem or grandiose ideas.

Well….well…okay…well…there have been times I felt invincible or have been told my ideas were off the wall. My hand steadily unzipped and zipped my boot.

Second, he asked if I ever had a decreased need for sleep. How did I sleep?

Eh, only a couple of hours. I’ve never really been a good sleeper. As I dropped a gray thread onto the carpet.

Third, he asked if I’ve been more talkative or pressured to keep talking.

Yeah…I’ve been made fun of for being talkative or for talking too fast. My eyes staring past him fixated on the traffic outside.

Fourth, he asked if I ever had a flight of ideas. Do you have a lot of unrelated thoughts?

Well…I can’t sleep because my brain won’t shut up. More gray threads drop onto the carpet.

Fifth, he asked if I got distracted.

Uh…I was diagnosed with ADHD in college. The zipper frantically going up and down as I stared at the brown peeling off the boot.

Sixth, he asked if I engaged in goal-directed activity.

Umm…you mean like that time my boyfriend complained because I was cleaning the house in the middle of the night? My focus shifting towards him in curiosity, these were a lot of questions that were kind of starting to make sense.

The last question he asked was about reckless behavior such as spending or sex.

Stunned, I sat speechless. I felt targeted as I thought about the unexplained out of character behavior, engaging in spending sprees and sex sprees. All the debt. All the shame I felt about my body.

Fred explained these were the seven criteria for mania, three symptoms needed to be present for a diagnosis. He was sure I was at the end of a manic episode. He was also sure I had bipolar and ADHD.

Pink lady slipper, photo taken by me.

Walking out of his office I drifted past the budding flowers to my car and climbed in. I didn’t know what to do. My world looked different. There was a name for my chaotic confusion in my life. It would take me another seven months to fully accept it all and acknowledge it out loud.

My boyfriend’s words echoed, “You need to go to a hospital.”

Maybe, just maybe I was worse than my mind allowed me to see. Sometimes people are forcing you to get help because they legitimately are concerned, and not because they are out to get me.

Later I would learn of paranoia, which would explain why I constantly felt the one person on my side, had ulterior motives for saying things. I know now both my boyfriend and my therapist are on my side, and their words are designed to help not to hurt. A diagnosis doesn’t mean your crazy, that’s a media-fed stereotype about bipolar.

There is no shame in going to get help. And let me tell you how damn good it felt to find out I was finally normal. Within the word bipolar, I discovered normalcy.

Addicted to watercolors, advocating for mental health, animals, and living in the mountains!

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