Miss Diagnosis

“It was never bipolar,” she said. “It has always been the fight for your life.”

I felt the room tighten in around me, the air becoming thinner and the lights dimming. This is one of those defining moments, I thought, a milestone that marks the Time Before and the Time After.

“So, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?”

Yes, she said. My presentation fit every diagnostic measure, what she called the Trifecta of Abuse Survival: a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, and an attention deficit disorder. “Attention deficit?” I asked.

“Do you ever read a book, get down to the bottom of a page and then realize that you don’t remember anything that you just read?”

All the time. Always, ever since I was a kid. Part of why I didn’t develop a love for reading until I was a teenager — it was just too difficult.

“It’s subtle. But the inability to concentrate on tasks, or the laser-focus on a particular task to the exclusion of all others is, in fact, Attention Deficit Disorder,” she explained. She referred me to some online resources, encouraging me to read more.

“We may need to put the bipolar diagnosis out and update your treatment plan.” New meds, a new therapeutic approach.

“And people can heal from this?” I asked. Several years ago when I first heard the words ‘Bipolar Type Two’, I went through each stage in the Kubler-Ross model, though I ultimately arrived at acceptance quite peaceably. I can live with this, I thought. I rearranged my entire perception of self to accommodate this new truth. Slowly, this diagnosis became part of my identity. It lead me to reach out to others with the disease, introduced me to a community of people fighting against the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. It’s part of the reason why I started this blog, to contribute to the dialogue on living with mental illness. And now this woman was telling me that I didn’t have what I thought I had. And that while Bipolar was certainly chronic and could get progressively worse, C-PTSD can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, and my symptoms could actually get better.

To use a common parlance: I was shook.

My treatment took on a new direction. My medications were altered. I started to feel better, and I felt empowered to make some much needed changes in my life. I eliminated certain influences from my orbit and I opened up to a few people about what I was going through. But in my excitement, I overdid it. I overshared and the subsequent feeling of caustic exposure grounded me for weeks. My therapist cautioned me to be selective during this process. Feelings of vulnerability might be assuaged by confiding in trusted friends, but there is a fine line in my psyche between calming and alarming. I spun back in the other direction and reigned myself in, but the damage was done. I felt raw and unsafe. I had betrayed my own confidence in underestimating the underlying brutality of latent trauma.

There were other considerations that failed to draw my attention. To the small degree that I am a public figure in my community, people did what they are inclined to do, and drew their own conclusions about what was going on behind the scenes. I found myself excluded from the narrative being shared about my life, my motivations, and who I am as a person. The lingering effects of the abusive relationships I survived is bad enough, but to be sanctioned in the court of public opinion for opting out of continuing abuse has been a tough pill to swallow. A friend told me I ought to lay low, and I did, though evidently not low enough.

In keeping this blog I’ve tried to contribute something meaningful to the writing and the mental health advocacy communities, and I have even succeeded on occasion, as people I didn’t know reached out to tell me that something I wrote had touched them. Even a few people I do know gave me positive feedback and encouraged me to keep going. And I did, so long as the abatement of fear held out, but I think that time is over for now.

When I started this blog, I thought that it was a terribly decadent thing, to think that writing about my life could be important. I thought that it might be cathartic for me, and that combined with social media outreach I could make some meaningful connections. And I did, definitely, but now the tide has shifted and I feel small and afraid. Exposed. And my only instinct is to make myself smaller, so small as to no longer be seen. Maybe that’s the best way to bookend this particular journey: I arrived and I opened my life. Now I must exit, and my life shall be closed. I’m going to escape to a place where I can feel safe again, and I hope that you, whoever you are, are able to do the same.

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