Katie details her journey from struggling with mental illness to finally receiving a diagnosis which she feels a lot of readers will be able to relate to going through.

The long road to bipolar diagnosis

It took 12 years for me to receive a diagnosis of bipolar. I spent most of my teenage years and 20’s knowing that I was ill, but not understanding how or why. It was confusing, upsetting and deeply unsettling. I came to believe that I was intrinsically flawed, down to the core of who I was, because of my actions and behaviour. No one could explain what was happening to me. It affected my relationships, my career and my self esteem took a massive knock. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar type 1, aged 27, and then started the long road to finding the right treatment for me, and understanding and accepting the condition.

Sadly, this isn’t uncommon, with it taking on average nine years to get a correct diagnosis in the UK, and on average people with bipolar are misdiagnosed three point five times.

Over those 12 years, I went to doctor after doctor, all of whom misdiagnosed me. First, it was ruling out any physical illness. It seemed every six months or so I was having blood tests, checking everything from diabetes to kidney and thyroid function. I’d become so run down after a manic episode and during depression, I started to believe I had chronic fatigue. When the tests would come back normal, I was told time after time, ‘it’s depression and anxiety.’ So I would take the pills prescribed to me. Big mistake.

Why antidepressants are no good for bipolar

The antidepressants caused me to become manic. As I’d been so depressed, people in my life were happy to see what they thought was an improvement in my mood. My erratic and strange behaviour at those times was seen as ‘Katie just being Katie!’ I’d been unwell yet undiagnosed for such a large chunk of my life, the lines between my personality and bipolar symptoms had become blurred. No one in my family and friendship group knew anything about bipolar, and why would they think any different? I’d been prescribed pills by a doctor that had made what they believed, was a ‘happier’ me.

For years, I felt completely and utterly broken by the constant cycle of changing moods I was trapped in. I wanted it to end, but nobody seemed able to help me.

Mania as a symptom

When I was eventually given a diagnosis by a psychiatrist I felt at first, enormously relieved. I had an explanation, I had a treatment plan. I felt listened to and understood - finally. That relief turned to anger and frustration; it didn’t seem fair that I’d had to wait such a long time for a correct diagnosis. I wanted someone to blame, someone to shout at, someone that would take responsibility. There was no single person to blame, and I realised that my anger wasn’t getting me anywhere. I knew instead I had to work on accepting the diagnosis, and facing up to changes I needed to make to my life to better manage bipolar.

The one action that changed everything for me was telling a doctor about what I called at the time my ‘hyperactive’ and ‘up’ moods. I explained how they started out as almost fun, but quickly turned into something much more self-destructive. It was difficult for me to do, because at the time, I saw my manic episodes as something within my control and blamed myself completely for my erratic behaviours. I’d never been to see a doctor during one of these episodes - I felt too incredible during one to believe I needed help from a doctor! It didn’t click for a long time that I should mention them, especially as they usually came directly before an episode of depression.

My GP suggested I keep a mood diary - something that was instrumental in me receiving a bipolar diagnosis. It meant over a period of three months, I could chart my moods, and how radically they changed. I kept my diary entries to a few bullet points each day, describing my mood as best I could. Writing entries like this made it easier for my psychiatrist at assessment to read though the diary and for me to make sense of how I was feeling each day.

I included my partner and close family as much as I could during the process of receiving a diagnosis. Having loved ones at appointments with you not only gives you much needed support, but they can help paint a picture of what your moods and behaviours have been like from their perspective. They can corroborate what you say, and give insight into your past and how bipolar has affected you.

Receiving a diagnosis is just the beginning of the story. A diagnosis alone won’t fix everything. It takes hard work and determination to live with and manage bipolar disorder. Support from like minded people is available via the eCommunity.

'Bipolar UK was my first point of call when I was at my lowest and first diagnosed. Their helpful advice and eCommunity was invaluable.' 

For support check out the Could it be Bipolar? resources relating to symptoms and getting a diagnosis of bipolar.