Letter to My Younger Self: You Have Bipolar Disorder

Posted September 26, 2015 by Sarah Emmerling

Hey Sarah, it’s me! I mean, it’s YOU. The older, wiser (ha!) you from 14 years in your future. I have a few things to share with you, things that you really need to know. I’m not trying to change your destiny, just trying to make the next 14 years a smoother, safer ride.

It’s September of 2001. You’re 23 years old. You just graduated from college, bought your first car, and are working at your first job. You’re not a fan of your new job… but don’t worry, a better job is not far away. You’re in love, but the relationship is kind of rocky. In spite of that, you two are about to buy a house and get a puppy together. Oh girl, please say no. I wish I had better news, but he’s not “the one” for you. The road you’re on leads to disappointment, depression, and heartache. Get off it as soon as you can — the longer you wait, the harder it will be. You’ll meet Mr. Right in a few more years, and he’s worth waiting for.

The real reason I’m writing is to discuss your depression. I know exactly how much it sucks. Unless you make some changes, you’re going to struggle with it over and over again for the next 14 years. It will be overwhelming, and at times you’ll be a danger to yourself. But I’m here to tell you that you will survive, and it gets better. Even when you’re at your lowest, you have friends and family that care about you. Reach out to them and let them help you. No matter what, your life is worth living. I’m counting on you not to give up.

And I’m so proud of you. After 11 years of suffering in silence, tomorrow is your first appointment with a psychiatrist. Your new doctor is going to diagnose you with Major Depression put you on an SSRI. That would be an excellent choice… if you actually had Major Depression.

Let me save you years of misdiagnosis and mistreatment. You don’t have unipolar depression. You have Bipolar Depression. The depressive symptoms are the same, so it’s hard to distinguish the two. And you haven’t yet experienced mania. But trust me, it’s right around the corner.

Like many people with Bipolar, traditional SSRI/SNRI antidepressants can trigger manic episodes. As soon as you start taking that type of drug, mania will rear its lovely head. Your manic episodes are periods of euphoria, recklessness, and impulsivity. You’re incredibly creative and productive during these periods, even though you don’t sleep. Your mania looks different from the typical mania, because to most people you just appear to be in a really good mood. You automatically hide the reckless and impulsive decisions that you make, a habit you learned years ago. Unfortunately this is going to make proper diagnosis much more challenging.

Mania makes you feel immune from consequences, and to be honest, you’re going to do some pretty stupid things while you’re manic. Each and every choice is going to seem like a good idea at the time. Trust me, they weren’t. Next time ask yourself, would your best friend, sister, or mom think this is a good idea? If the answer is no, you’re manic, and you need to stop what you’re doing and see your doctor.

I know you won’t believe this right away. You’re probably in denial. So far your only personal experience with Bipolar is your sister’s high school friend. She was fun to be with when she was manic, but dangerous when she was depressed. That’s not you; your bipolar is different. Everyone’s is a little different, and it’s nothing to be afraid of. You’ll have to convince yourself whether or not what I’m saying is true. And you’ll probably have to figure it out the hard way. To make it easier, I recommend that you read An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison. She’s a scientist too, and her book will help you recognize your mood cycling as Bipolar Disorder.

And not to be a spoiler, but I have a few more tidbits of advice. First, don’t start your own business. That’s not your area of expertise, so it shouldn’t surprise you that it turns into an expensive, epic failure. Second, when your brother gives you a hot stock tip, grab your life savings and run the other way. And finally, as your mentor told you a couple years ago, you need to improve your work-life balance. This is still true, and it’s harder now that you’re happily married with children. Take time to have lunch with friends, go to concerts and plays, and chaperone your kids’ field trips. Work will always be there waiting.

So I’m begging you, please make a few important changes to your life. Be open to an alternative diagnosis and cognizant of mania when it happens. If you do these things, your next 14 years will be a joy. If you don’t, I’m pretty confident you’ll end up right where I am, this time writing a sharper, more strongly worded letter to your younger self.

Wishing you a happier and healthier future,

Your Older, More Experienced Self

This story is also published here: bipolarbytes.com/2015/09/23/love-myself-day5/