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My first diagnosis was bipolar with psychotic features.

I was in my twenties when I got diagnosed. I read everything I could find about bipolar disorder and read about all the famous authors, singers, artist that had the illness.  I wanted to be a genius.

At that time, I didn’t really think about how it was going to be a lifelong illness that I would need to monitor and make the effort to take care of myself.  I went on and off my medication.

The part that really showed my immaturity though, and probably cost me fifteen years of the wrong treatment, was how I described, labeled, and defined myself.

If I was feeling happy or silly or joyful, I was manic.

If I was sad about a break up or having difficulties getting out of bed, I was depressed.

Sure my psychiatrist at the time gave me the MMPI, and tested me for a personality disorder (I don’t have one), but other than that tool, what did he have other than my description of my moods to try and treat me?  And my description always followed what I knew about the label he had given me.

This may not sound like a big deal, but I don’t even have a mood disorder, I have paranoid schizophrenia, so I was treated for an illness I didn’t even have, because my initial diagnosis was wrong, and stayed wrong until sometime in my forties.

I see other young people do this – describe every single event, every single emotion through the lens of the label they have been given.  This is dangerous, a psychiatrist isn’t with you twenty-four hours a day and they don’t know when you say that you are depressed that you are really just suffering from some sadness, due to events in your life, sadness that everyone would feel to one degree or another. This kind of inaccurate reporting can lead to medication change after medication change with the psychiatrist never really believing they are getting the doses right for you, or me, or whoever.

I am an old timer where mental illness is concerned. I have lived with my illness for over two decades. I currently have the correct diagnosis, and I am constantly trying to improve how I live and how I deal with daily symptoms.

If I am sad, I do not tell my psychiatrist that I am depressed. If I have spent several days very happy, I don’t tell him I am manic.  I don’t do these things, because I know now that my moods are actually very stable, and I don’t have bipolar disorder.

When I was diagnosed bipolar, I always watched my moods now that I know I have schizophrenia it is my thoughts where the symptoms show up.

I don’t tell my psychiatrist about every worry I have and call it paranoia. I know the difference now between things I worry about and things that are considered paranoid. I don’t see everything about me through the lens of schizophrenia. If I did, my doctor would probably have no choice but to continue to experiment with my medications and the dosage, because he would believe I have far more symptoms than I actually do, because when you see yourself through the lens of your illness everything is a symptom.

I am always learning which thoughts I have that are similar to other people, and which thoughts I have that are tied to my illness.  It is life changing to realize how much I share in common with people who have never been diagnosed with a mental illness.

I’m thankful that I gave up describing everything about myself as part of a label, because psychiatrists are not mind readers, they can’t live or see your illness.  You have to tell them about it, or they have to witness it (which isn’t always possible).  And they are there to try and help you function at the highest level possible for you, so if you tell them you are paranoid, depressed, manic, etc. when really, you are worried, sad, or happy, they are probably going to change your medications.

Once again I find myself saying, I am more similar to those without a mental illness than I am different.

I always thought the phrase “Celebrate differences” was cool.  Now I say we should celebrate our similarities, because that is the way to overcome stigma and stereotypes, and get the best possible treatment.