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  • Writer's pictureOutlaw Angel

The Road to Diagnosis

Playbook misprint

The learning started in 2004. I was 28 and now responsible for another life. My one-year-old did not come into the world in any storybook fashion. And perhaps that accounted for our numerous trials together. Both strong willed and independent, I had to drop my ego and admit I had no clue how to be a parent, let alone a single parent. I was in so far over my head, I didn’t know which way was up. I knew that the landscape of my brain was different. My life had an alternate playbook, and I knew I had to understand in what language that playbook was written. I was not issued the playbook my parents, teachers, TV or the movies told me I should have. I was off course, on another field entirely, playing some game to which, I didn’t know the rules.

A new language

The morning after I contemplated slamming my head into a doorframe until blood was running down my face and I lost consciousness, I called my primary care doctor. I had to fight, my child had no one reliable, no one safe and I was not going to fail him. This was not my first trip to a general care physician with self-harming thoughts. I’d been given anti-depressants twice before. Sitting in Dr. R's office, she asked the question that cracked my path wide open: If the anti-depressants worked to elevate my mood, dismiss the depression and self-harming thoughts, why did I stop taking them? I remembered that they never worked for very long and even with increased doses, the depression worsened. The next two questions from Dr. R. set the hounds loose: had I ever taken a mood stabilizer, and did I know what bipolar disorder was?

Naked in the psychiatrist’s office

I managed to land in a psychiatrist’s office a few weeks later. I knew that I had to be honest with this professional in the most uncomfortable way possible and trust this complete stranger to act in my best interest. Trust was not in my wheelhouse. Nor was this type of soul bearing honesty. Telling someone that you’d run for a 44 oz Mountain Dew and an oatmeal raisin monster cookie at the slightest emotional challenge is one thing. Telling them that you’ve seen things others can’t, heard voices no one else has heard, felt overrun with rage and happiness at the same time or first thought about killing yourself at eight years old - well, that’s a whole lot for anyone to hear.

Fear and new vocabulary words

I am not sure how long these intake appointments should last but I didn’t emerge for nearly three hours. Waiting for the results of my sharing extravaganza, my fears grew monstrous. Would they take my child or hospitalize me? I had visions of being tied down to a bed, forced to take medication. I could see human services ripping my child from his grandmother’s arms and delivering him to some stranger who would have no patience for his screaming refusals to sleep or be held. Before I was completely paralyzed and unable to breathe, the door opened, and the doctor sat down. The room went dark except around the doctor and decades seemed to pass before their words began to register. From the four possible diagnosis’, bi-polar had been settled on as the one to tackle first. Additional vocabulary was provided: bi-polar 1, mixed state, rapid cycling.

Bi-polar 1, mixed state, rapid cycling

Never having experienced the finer things in life, I had the Cadilac of bi-polar diagnosis. The one meant that I experienced the highest highs of mania and the lowest lows when it came to depression. The mixed state part meant I was good at multi-tasking emotions. I could be both suicidal and manic which was a pretty dangerous combination of wanting to die and impulsivity. Rapid cycling was then defined as experiencing more than 4 mood episodes in a year. In later sessions, my counselor would witness my mood swing 4 times in a single 50-minute session. It wasn’t common for bi-polar to occur in children but not unheard of. If you are going to do something, go big, I guess.

Team Outlaw-Angel

Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) based counseling, additional classes in DBT, workbooks, parenting classes and a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner were all tools in my newly minted toolbox. At this point, the toolbox was for survival - bonus points if I managed to do anything more. I had a diagnosis, professionals knew how to treat it, life should start looking up. I mistakenly thought the hardest part was behind me, that life would start falling into place and the landscape of my life would start to look like everyone else’s. I feel safe in saying that I had never been more wrong in my life.

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