I was diagnosed a few months after turning 30, which is fairly late (but not uncommon). But I think being diagnosed late has its advantages.
By the time I was diagnosed, I had created dreams and run with a few of them. In your twenties, the world can become anything, and you have the energy to remake it.
Some of the things I wanted became real, and some, well, didn’t. And that’s the critical thing. At thirty and before being diagnosed, I could look back on my life and think “Well, my life isn’t headed exactly where I was expecting, but I’ve done some of the things I wanted to, and overall, I’m pretty satisfied that I am being successful, that I have done valuable things, that I have worth.”
When I was diagnosed as being bipolar the following year, it didn’t matter that it turns out that I was bipolar for the previous 15 years. There was a pre-diagnosis life and a post-diagnosis life. Things that happened in my pre-diagnosis life belonged to me. They were my successes and my failures. Things that happened after diagnosis, well, they could have been caused by the mania or the depression. They didn’t fully belong to me.
There’s a certain illogic about the reasoning above, but that doesn’t matter. That’s how I felt.
I’ve since come to accept that my actions while manic or depressed are fully mine. Maybe not what I wanted to do or intended to do, but mine nevertheless. My manic successes are fully my successes – I no longer bother to ask the question “Would I have succeed if I wasn’t manic?”
But this is ten years later. At age 31 or 32 I was second guessing everything that I did. It was an ongoing critical analysis of myself. Is it me or is it the mania?
That sort of second guessing is incredibly corrosive. Imagine this situation – you are in a cricket match. There’s one more ball to bowl before the game is over and you need three runs to win. The bowler is your best friend and knows you want to win the game more than anything. So he bowls you. You hit it for a six and win in style. Your team wins and you have the trophy in your hands. And in the midst of all the victory shouts and cheering and back slapping, you wonder if your best friend bowled you an easy ball so you would win.
Is the victory still as sweet as it was?
Did you win because you were good, or because you got help?
Was your winning stroke valuable?
You begin to get an idea of how corrosive this second guessing can become.
Imagine doing that analysis to everything that you do. Imagine that for every thing that you finish well – having a fast morning run, cleaning the kitchen for your partner, charming a girl into a date, having a productive day at work, finishing the six little things you’d put off for the last month, giving a great presentation – you wonder if you would have done as well if you weren’t manic.
All of your actions become devalued. It’s not you that did well, it was the mania in action. You were almost like a puppet.
Eventually you come to terms with the mania / self issues. But it takes time to integrate them, measured in years, not months or weeks.
So what keeps you going during this time? How do you maintain a sense of self-worth and value, how do you maintain the idea that you can be successful while this integration is taking place.
At thirty, I had a crutch – all my years of experience. I could look back to before being diagnosed and, through the haze of self doubt, remember that I had been successful in my late teens and twenties, that I had achieved meaningful goals. And I could hope and trust that I, me, not the mania, would be successful somewhere in the future, that I would be valuable among the people I knew, that I would have worth.
But what happens if you are eighteen when you are diagnosed?
(to be continued)