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Just Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder? 20 Tips From Those Who’ve Been There

A bipolar disorder diagnosis can prompt a multitude of feelings — anxiety, disbelief, confusion, fear. But it can also bring hope. You at last learn the source of the dramatic shifts in mood and energy you’ve been feeling, that it can be treated and managed, and that many others who share your diagnosis are living full and productive lives.

An estimated 2.6% percent of U.S. adults in any given year have a bipolar disorder diagnosis, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and groups like the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) work to help them meet its challenges through education, advocacy and support. Helping with the IBPF mission are volunteers and bloggers who are themselves dealing with a bipolar disorder diagnosis and have become, through sometimes hard-earned knowledge, experts on the subject. We asked a few of them to share their thoughts about living with bipolar disorder with the newly diagnosed. This is what they want you to know:

“Acceptance of your diagnosis takes time, and you may never accept your diagnosis 100%, but you will learn to feel comfortable with it and learn ways to manage your symptoms. Receiving a diagnosis can without a doubt be overwhelming and can feel like a loss, but you gain something in return: a sense of self, finding out just how strong you are and who your true friends are. I feel I changed after there was a name for what I was experiencing, and though it took time, I changed for the better.”

— Melanie Luxenberg

  1. “Bipolar disorder is NOT your fault. It is a genetic, neurochemical disorder.
  2. It is perfectly okay to have a grieving period post diagnosis. It is a normal phase and we all went through it.
  3. You’ve got this. You are learning to manage a lifelong chronic disease, and it is manageable.”

— Ann Roselle

“When my mother-in-law got diagnosed with breast cancer, she walked out of her first appointment with the oncologist with pretty notebooks, a ‘what to expect’ guide, ‘you got this’ motivational bracelets, a goody bag of stuff to help her out. Granted, mental health isn’t like cancer and its treatment (nor is the funding the same), but can you imagine how much better people would feel about taking their medications if they were given stuff like this? Ultimately it’s encouragement that needs to be given. When first diagnosed it may take a few days, weeks, months to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Until that moment, it’s easy to get discouraged and down on yourself. But sticking with treatment, even if it’s boring, will eventually have a positive outcome.”

— Lauren Bivens-Johnson

“When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999, it came as a major blow. I had a couple of degrees in psychology so I knew what it was, but I never would have thought I had it myself. It took several years for me to accept the diagnosis, but once I did things started to change. I took suicide off the table as an option, and I did everything in my power to recover. Over time, I realized that bipolar disorder doesn’t define me. Now I have a much greater perspective on it. I’m grateful for the lessons it has taught me and, given the option, I probably wouldn’t give it up.”

— Carrie Elizabeth Lin

“Don’t think of the diagnosis as your nemesis, but instead as a roommate. This roommate doesn’t control you, but plays a part in shaping your daily life. Allow bipolar to be a part of your life, even if that means fearfully facing it as an insecurity.”

— Mark Maiden

“When I was diagnosed with bipolar I, I thought the diagnosis meant that I was disabled, unable to socialize with those I used to relate to, and, to the extreme, I was never going to be able to achieve my dreams because of my mental illness. I think the best ‘epiphany’ I experienced during the first six months of my diagnosis was realizing my life would have been worse without the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.”

— Susan Page

“Avoid making any significant decisions in the midst of the storm.”

— Mark Mercer

“Think of treatment in terms of manageability, rather than believing in ideas that you are broken. You could be far from broken — gifted creatively, spiritually, intuitively — but your beautiful mind or compassionate heart will be unsustainable without some level of stability.”

— Chris Cole, author of The Body of Chris

“Take care of yourself, especially now. You will have a long battle ahead of you, but even with bipolar, you can achieve anything. Bipolar isn’t who you are and it doesn’t define you. Never listen to stigma and let that prohibit you from getting help. The biggest hurdle any person has is themself.”

— Tina Marie Gonzales, MBA, MIS, tinamariegonzales.com

“Learning to live with a bipolar diagnosis is a journey. As you begin it, know that your inherent worth as a person does not change because the condition does not define your identity. You are infinitely precious and you are loved. Always remember that.”

— Jen Lee Teh, PhD candidate

“Make bipolar disorder your new hobby. Read, watch and listen to anything you can to learn about it. Join a support group, if you can find a good one in your area, and make friends with fellow bipolar folks. Assimilate bipolar disorder into your identity. Make a chart of all of the episodes you can remember having, a timeline, and write down what was happening in your life at those times. Try to identify your patterns and triggers so you can better manage your mood swings when they happen in the future. Be kind to yourself. Create a support network for yourself (doctors, therapists, friends, other people with bipolar, family — if you are lucky enough to have some). Hold tight and try to keep things in perspective, as hard as it is.”

— Kait Mauro

“The most crucial piece to my success has been a support network that included a psychiatrist, counselor, friends and family.”

— Liz Wilson

“When you are first diagnosed, you feel the weight of the world. You are allowed to feel that. However, you have to take your circumstance and make it play with you instead of against you. Let being diagnosed with bipolar disorder turn you into a warrior. You have to take every time you feel lonely, isolated, angry, sad, or anything else and start building armor. You take each unfinished piece and place it on your body — to not defend yourself against the world but to grow a confidence and bond with the bipolar disorder as if to say, ‘You’re going to hit me but you’re only going to make me stronger, not weaker and defenseless.’ The sword you’ve mended through episodes of depression, mania and tears will help you through the new world presented to you, like a forest that you have to trim to get through. Some patches will be thicker and some will be light to cut down. You are a warrior in the making.”

— Michele Barrett

​“For many years we thought I had recurring major depression. It seemed to go on forever with no hope. Then I had a hypo-manic episode, and they realized I had bipolar disorder and was on the wrong medication. Now when I get depressed I have hope because I know if I hang on and take care of myself then the depression will get better.​”

— Rev. Mary Alice Do

“If you’ve just been diagnosed, the world may all of a sudden seem very scary. Life may take a big change for you while you get your treatment straightened out, but it will resume back to ‘normal’ again. Things won’t always be so dark and scary. Just keep finding what treatment works best for you, and you can and will get back on track.”

— Sarah DeArmond, writer and vlogger

“It usually comes as a relief to finally pinpoint the underlying cause of some of your problems as a mental illness, though this is the first step in learning to take responsibility for all your actions and inactions toward your well-being. Your past may have many failures as compared to accomplishments, so being diagnosed with bipolar disorder could be the start of your atonement if you will it. Have an open mind to the advice of your caregivers and stick to your treatment plan selfishly. Be willing to accept others to love you until that time you become completely certain you love yourself enough to be left on your own.”

— Denis Muthuri

“Educate yourself. The more you know about bipolar disorder, the easier it is to manage. Ask questions. Your doctors are there to watch you get better, not worse. Never stop treatment. There will be times where you’ll feel defeated and discouraged. Remind yourself; you have an organ that is not functioning properly, and it takes time to find the right medication for it to work. And last but not least, be gentle with yourself.”

— Alana Lorish, blogger

“I always wondered what was wrong with me. Why did I feel this way? Would I ever feel better? The guilt I carried around with me became part of my identity, without my consent. How dare I feel sad when I have a family, home and a job? Slowly, as I realized that I’m not alone in this (so cliché but true), I became more self-aware and self-confident that I can live with bipolar disorder and still be a good mother, a good wife, a valuable member of society. I embrace little by little the things about myself instead of hiding and covering.”

— Jessica Christenbury

“It will be a hard, long, road ahead of you, yes. However, it will make you a stronger person by learning how to control an illness and not letting the illness control you. Be patient with the illness. It takes time to treat and is a lifelong battle. Please go to therapy and take medications, if necessary, and build a healthy lifestyle. Take care of yourself and love yourself because that is the first step in battling bipolar disorder.”

— Lauren Meredith

“It takes time to sort everything out so be kind to yourself and don’t feel pressured to recover overnight. As you learn more about how to manage your bipolar you also grow as a person. Bipolar has given me much more than it has taken. I would not be the person I am today without bipolar, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”

— Sally Buchanan-Hagen

There is still hope.

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