Before getting a diagnosis, part of me didn’t want to know if I had a mental health condition.
I started my writing career at 22 years old, which was when my early symptoms of bipolar disorder began. I was working as a music journalist for a local online magazine based in Phoenix.
Like most young adults, I was still figuring out who I was and what I wanted out of life. I felt like anything was possible for me, and I was busy enjoying being a young writer looking forward to the future. I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.
Around winter, I noticed my mental state changing. It started slowly and began building over the next few months.
The first symptom was that I craved sleep. Every day, I would crash after coming home from work and sleep until dinner.
In addition to sleeping all the time, I stopped writing as many music articles. The thrill of being around people and live music dimmed. It didn’t give me the same satisfaction it had before. I started canceling plans with friends, because I was just too tired to hang out with them.
Soon, all I did was work and sleep. At that point, I knew something was wrong.
I talked to my boyfriend at the time and explained that everything used to feel so fun and exciting, but now it felt like the world turned gray and dull. He told me he’d dealt with depression before and recommended talking with a doctor about my recent changes.
He recommended I see a psychiatrist for a formal diagnosis, but he also gave me a prescription for Prozac to help with my depression symptoms. I filled my prescription and prayed that it would work, because that weekend, I was going to a music festival in California.
Sure enough, the Prozac seemed like a wonder drug. I was so full of excitement that I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to. The whole weekend was a blur, and I acted out while at the festival by doing things that I normally wouldn’t do. I was a completely different person.
I took random drugs, drank as much as I could, had a one-night stand, and got little to no sleep. In my mind, I thought I was finally letting loose and being the definition of the average partying 22-year-old.
I was wild and free and invincible.
When I came home, the high of the weekend left as quickly as it arrived. I was more depressed than I’d ever felt in my life. Simple tasks, like taking a shower or brushing my teeth, felt like a huge challenge. I even started thinking about wanting to die to stop the intense depression.
I couldn’t understand why the Prozac my doctor prescribed didn’t work anymore. Luckily, my appointment with the psychiatrist was only days away. I could finally find out what was wrong with me.
If you’re experiencing some of these extreme thoughts or behaviors, it may be time to talk with a psychiatrist. They will be able to give you insight into these feelings, and they can properly diagnose you based on your symptoms.
I had never seen a psychiatrist before and was unsure of what was going to happen. From what I saw on TV and in movies, psychiatrists talk to you for a long time and ask you questions to figure out what’s wrong with you.
Turns out, this is pretty accurate.
A psychiatrist’s job is to look for patterns in your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and background to decide if you’re living with a mental health condition. They ask you specific questions about your entire medical record, as well as your personal life.
Some of these personal questions include:
- What is your current living situation?
- Have you ever used drugs or alcohol, and if so, how often?
- Do you have any experiences of abuse?
- Is there a history of mental illness in your family?
It took about an hour to finish answering all the questions, and I was exhausted by the time he finally gave me a diagnosis.
“Well, based on your answers and family history of mental illness, I believe you have bipolar disorder,” he said.
The emotional high I’d felt in California was a manic episode, he said, likely triggered by the Prozac. While Prozac can help with depression symptoms, it can also contribute to manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.
My worst fear was realized: I had an incurable and invisible illness that would change my entire life.
Although I wanted to know what was wrong with me, I was nervous about what the diagnosis would be .
Many thoughts ran through my head before seeing the doctor:
- “What if something terrible is wrong?”
- “Maybe I’m just going through a hard time.”
- “Is all of this necessary?”
Before getting a diagnosis, part of me didn’t want to know if I had a mental health condition. If I did, I assumed that meant my life would completely change. I thought that, if I didn’t have the label of a diagnosis, I could pretend like everything was OK. I wouldn’t have to actually address what was wrong.
Looking back, I can understand why I was scared, but I’m glad I continued to fight for my mental health and wellness.
The psychiatrist immediately prescribed me medication to treat the symptoms of both mania and depression. He also gave me a list of therapists that were covered by my health insurance.
I chose a therapist and began seeing her on a regular basis. She helped me untangle all of my feelings about my recent diagnosis, including my loss, anger, sadness, and confusion. The medication began to work after a few weeks.
My road to finding consistent treatment has been rocky, but taking that first step of getting a formal diagnosis changed my life.
My advice if you’re scared to get diagnosed
Your first idea of what to do when experiencing a mental health condition might be to Google your symptoms. This isn’t necessarily a bad place to start, but you might convince yourself you have something you don’t.
Seeking out a professional is the only sure way to determine if you have a condition that needs treatment.
I was fortunate to have decent health insurance and a primary healthcare professional who could give me a referral. Both of these factors made it much easier to navigate the mental healthcare system, but this isn’t the case for a lot of people.
If insurance or cost is an issue, check for low-cost or sliding-scale practices in your area. You may also want to check with any local universities, as they sometimes offer free or inexpensive care with graduate students in psychiatry or psychology.
Simply searching online for “psychiatrist [city you live in] free” can connect you with options that might not show up elsewhere.
In the United States, you can also use the Health Resources Services Administration’s .
As you prepare for your appointment, keep the following in mind:
- Consider writing down the changes you’ve noticed in your thoughts and behavior. Bring these notes with you to the appointment.
- Make a list of any medications, vitamins, or supplements you currently take.
- Ask a family member if there’s a family history of mental illness
- Be as honest as possible about your medical and personal history. This might feel uncomfortable, but it’s crucial information so you can get a proper diagnosis. Remember: The psychiatrist sees a variety of people every day, and you likely won’t say anything they haven’t heard before. They’re simply there to make a diagnosis, not to pass judgment.
You are your own best advocate. You also know best when it comes to changes in your mental health.
If you get a diagnosis you don’t agree with, it’s OK to ask for more details around why they’ve made a specific diagnosis. You can also see someone for a second opinion. You’re in control of making this important and brave first step.
Sarah Chavera Edwards is a Mexican American writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She tackles various subjects such as mental health, issues dealing with the Latino community, and interpersonal relationships through both articles and creative writing. She is currently writing a memoir about her experience with bipolar disorder.