When I was thirty-five, I saw a new doctor for a routine checkup. He asked a series of questions that eventually wound their way towards my mood, and the next thing I knew I was referred to a psychiatrist who asked me even more questions about my mood. Then she handed me a crisp new prescription for lithium and pronounced me bipolar. I didn’t know what that meant, so she explained. And I smiled.
Her description of the highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder made her sound like a tour guide checking off points of interest in my life. Wild bouts of reckless behavior like over-spending myself into inevitable financial ruin? Check. Loss of interest in anything important, directly resulting in loss of job, house and girlfriend? Got it. The sensation that I’m standing on the pinnacle of the top of the world just before I slip and fall to my doom? Been there, done that. Twice.
So, here was this psychiatrist not only informing me that these feelings and situations, these highs and lows, were the result of an actual, treatable disorder with a name and everything, but holding in her hand a slip of paper with which I could obtain pills to curtail those highs and lows. She provided me with actual, empirical evidence that I am not, in fact, an inherent screw-up destined for failure; I have a disorder for which I can take medication. I spend a great deal of time learning coping skills, honing stress management skills, shining light on some of the darker places in my head and learning to really love me, flaws and all. With a diagnosis and a slip of paper, my psychiatrist set me on the journey that eventually led me to Fountain House.
On my third day here, I wrote this article for the Fountain House Weekly newspaper and the FH Blog. When I was thirty-five, before the diagnosis and the slip of paper, this would not have been possible. I’m hopeful.
Communication Unit, Fountain House