A Series of Unfortunate Diagnoses

I have always said that I’ve been living my life in 0s and 1s. That was long before I realized I was bipolar and borderline. Since I turned 16 it has been extremely hard for me to isolate any periods of pure happiness in my life.

In 2014 however, I realized that the 0s had occupied the majority of my life to the point were I was non-functional for the most part. At the time I was feeling utter loneliness and emptiness, spending most of my time sleeping and refusing to go out, unless other people dragged me out of my place. The idea of going out made me really sleepy. My thoughts were really messy and negative and it was extremely hard for me to concentrate on anything. I had been single for two years after my first relationship ended, but my only interaction with women was through my digital presence. My interactions with friends and colleagues were very erratic and I would very easily lash out on people.

At some point I realized I had to seek help as I watched a close friend of mine suffering from depression get better.

On my first visit to the psychiatrist I was in a weirdly energetic and agitated mood and I mostly vented out about my parents and my first intimate relationship. This only lasted for one session and from then on we focused on my anxieties and pretty soon I started taking antidepressants. The initial diagnosis was that I was suffering from depression and several anxieties. Unfortunately, depression is not always a standalone condition.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is extremely hard as the patients generally visit therapists to tell them how bad they feel about their life. Hypomaniac episodes can be considered “just feeling great”, especially if you ignore the collapse that almost always follows them. Missing that diagnosis at the time still makes a lot of sense to me, however I was never asked the right questions to eliminate the possibility of me being bipolar.

However, there were clear symptoms of borderline personality disorder or emotionally unstable personality disorder that I have come to realize were ignored. It’s worth noting that at the time I had zero knowledge about bpd – I didn’t even know it existed, while my understanding of bipolar disorder was limited to the fact that the person would have ups and downs.

Tug of war by SleeplessSouls on DeviantArt.
Some symptoms

What was omitted was my desperation to have a romantic relationship of some sort and be around people all the time to feel good. I never wanted to be alone and I would spend an extreme amount of time looking for someone online, as I got more and more depressed and desperate.

The splitting in my first relationship between unreasonable idolization and quite reasonable but extreme hate.

The constant change of opinions as to what I wanted to do to feel fulfilled while eventually pursuing these goals lead to no improvements on my self-image.

The fact that I spent almost a full year planning on committing suicide after breaking up for the first time, an idea I thankfully did not pursue eventually.

Finally, my constant mood swings and my lashing out whenever I felt diminished or ignored by people I cared about (or anyone at times). My anger could be entirely out of proportion and I had already experiences episodes of violence towards the people closest to me.

At the time I was oblivious to my impulsive behavior – spending sprees for gadgets or spending extreme amounts of money for mobile games and a tendency towards unsafe choices with regard to sex. I thought that was just the norm for me.

Psychotherapy

While psychotherapy helped me overcome several anxieties and the antidepressants helped me feel more energetic, I do now think I only made baby steps towards my self-improvement and avoiding past mistakes.

After a series of unstable long-distance relationships that left me entirely helpless I decided to visit another psychiatrist in 2017 and that was the first time that bipolar disorder was mentioned. However, I was still on antidepressants – on and off – and I stopped visiting my new psychiatrist pretty fast. Consistency and devotion to the process are essential to get the answers you are looking for.

In total I would say I did at least 30 psychotherapy sessions between 2014 and 2016 mainly to treat what was considered unipolar depression at the time. What I have taken away from this is that at times psychiatrists can be very reluctant to make a diagnosis that may “stigmatize” the patient. This behavior sometimes leads them to interpret clear symptoms of a personality disorder as something else, a consequence rather than a symptom. As a patient I would much rather prefer to have the right diagnosis and seek proper treatment. I don’t want to take anything away from my therapist, but I really wish I was knowledgeable enough to assess the process at the time.

Consequently, the other aspect of this problem has to do with self-awareness and education. A chronic personality disorder can really distort one’s view of their own personality. Patients eventually come to terms with aspects of the disorder being their own rational decisions and habits.

Distinguishing between the two is important, not to avoid responsibility, but to avoid the constant guilt and shame caused by dwelling on our behavior. Unfortunately, sometimes other people consider this a case of making excuses for your behavior to avoid finding solutions. I still find it hard to explain the difference to others without sounding dismissive. Mental illness is part of who we are but it does not define us and the “why” is as important as the “what”. Personally, I would omit a lot of important details about how I felt and behaved as I considered them a part of me and/or irrelevant.

Most people, including patients, are uneducated on the subject of mental illness. This is something that needs to be changed for us to better understand ourselves and for others to better understand us. In general this is what modern society needs to solve but it’s hard to tell when we will reach that point.

For the patients themselves though, there needs to be a proper motivating factor and some encouragement from the therapists for self-education. This should not be confused with making your own diagnosis. But you need to at least know what years of research have established and what you are looking for in your behavior as an observer of your own self. After all, the diagnosis depends on what the patient decides to share too, regardless of the therapist’s skills.

In hindsight I wish I had found that motivating factor and received that encouragement from my therapists prior to 2020. Luckily, my current self does not dwell much on past mistakes and the time wasted.

Published by anantoni

I am a PhD student at the University of Athens, amateur photographer, interested in psychiatry and tinkering stuff, especially smartphones. My PhD is on Program Analysis and is one of the greatest choices I have made in my life as research is one of my great passions – on a good day. In 2020 I was diagnosed as a bipolar (BP2) with borderline personality disorder. This diagnosis has changed the way I look at myself and my past actions. It has allowed me to understand why I have changed so much over the years and get closer to my old self. My purpose is to try to raise awareness as much as possible regarding mental illnesses and this blog is hopefully just the beginning.

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