[Warning: This article discusses sensitive topics such as self-harm and mental illness.]
I was in the sixth grade when I noticed my brain was not wired the same as everyone else’s.
Coincidentally, this was the same year I set myself on a path of consistently self-destructive behavior.
I would tell my mom my stomach hurt so I wouldn’t have to go to school.
I forced myself to wear long-sleeved shirts in 90-degree weather to hide the cuts on my arms, and if anyone ever questioned me, I would say, “Oh, it was just my cat” – sorry Moxie.
And a constant thought hung over my head – “What if I just ended it all?”
I could never explain why I had these feelings. But a couple of weeks, or sometimes days later, those feelings would be gone, replaced with a sense of euphoria and excitement for days to come – for no explicable reason whatsoever.
I had the feeling since I was 15 that I might be bipolar. But no doctor was willing to diagnose me because of my age, hindering me from getting the help I needed.
Therapists, guidance counselors, and my parents told me I would grow out of it. They were convinced my feelings were just because I had recently hit puberty and my hormones were “all out of whack.”
But I always knew it was something more.
Still, I had accepted the notion that if I just held my head high, I would outgrow it – as the professionals said.
I started hiding my emotions. I told my counselors I was fine so they would stop calling me down in the middle of class. I made plans with my friends and put on a happy face. And if anyone asked, my cat had stopped scratching me – but she still came back almost every night.
After my second hospitalization when I was 16, the doctors put me on Lamictal, a mood stabilizer used to treat those with Bipolar Disorder.
But, even after putting me on a medication to treat the disorder I would later be diagnosed with, the doctors would not formally diagnose me. Instead, they diagnosed me with a generalized mood disorder and severe depression, refusing to call it what it really was.
While I understand to a point why doctors are so hesitant to diagnose such a disorder in teens, doing so can hold them back from getting the help they need.
It’s not just about taking the medication, either – it is about the tool kit you build for yourself and carry with you the rest of your life. And, without the proper diagnosis, that tool kit is full of the wrong stuff.
It wasn’t until this fall that I was formally diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.
Because I didn’t get my official diagnosis until I was 21, I was not able to receive the treatment I had needed since I was 15 – causing my tool kit to be practically empty.
According to Medical News Today (MNT), Bipolar Disorder is especially hard to diagnose in teens because of puberty and their bodies adapting to their changing hormones. On the other hand, they also say bipolar is a condition which “disrupts a person’s daily life.”
I don’t know about you, but for me, constantly feeling like the world is caving in because of what some doctors said was a temporary inconvenience was more than a mere disruption in my daily life.
Bipolar symptoms can show themselves at any age, but according to MNT, they most commonly appear in a person’s late teens to early adult years. Because of this, it is recommended that a person be under observation for an extensive period of time.
Many doctors will order blood tests as well to rule out any physical abnormalities that can cause hormone imbalances, according to MNT.
My question is: why were my doctors so quick to deem my diagnosis as everything under the sun except for Bipolar Disorder? Why didn’t they conduct the extensive observations despite the fact I showed every symptom in the book?
According to the DSM-5, Bipolar Disorder affects 2.5% of the population.
But my doctors were so quick to say I was not part of that percentage because I was a 15-year-old kid with mood swings.
They should have done better by me.
They should do better by teens.