When you go to a doctor or psychologist with your symptoms and they respond with giving you a diagnosis, it’s easy to take on that diagnosis as though you’re ready to wear it like a sign. It’s easy to cling to that diagnosis as though it’s a new part of who you are.
In fact, sometimes, receiving a diagnosis can have a negative effect, making your condition worse. It’s as though suddenly it gives you permission to behave in certain ways, like sabotaging yourself or exploding your anger out onto others. “Well,” you say to yourself, “I’m Bipolar!” Having a diagnosis doesn’t mean you have permission to behave in unhealthy ways. The point of having an illness is, among other reasons, to provide you with a community of individuals who experience the same challenges and to grow together. Now that you know that you are Bipolar or an alcoholic or have an eating disorder, you know where to go to find support. You can find others who have had similar challenges and who have overcome them. You can find hope and perhaps even happiness.
Plus, knowing that you have a certain diagnosis allows you the opportunity to understand the common ways in which the illness gets in the way of your life. Sometimes, we might struggle without really knowing why. With a diagnosis, you can read and learn about how the illness stops you. You might find yourself saying, “Oh, I do that! That’s why I can’t seem to get ahead!” However, even here, there can be a tendency to cling to what makes you you. But you don’t have to cling to any choices or behaviors that are limiting because if you do, you’ll only find yourself making the same mistakes!
When you know what your patterns are you can you can make a different choice. For instance, perhaps you have a pattern of ending your relationships because you’re so afraid that they are going to abandon you. So as a way to protect yourself, you leave the relationship before they can leave you. However, once you recognize that abandonment is a perceived fear, common among those with Bipolar Disorder, you can make a different choice. You can decide to stay with the fear without letting it lead your decision-making. You can recognize the fear but not act on it.
Learning about your diagnosis can give you these sorts of insights so that you can make better choices, take action with more awareness, and not let the illness get the better of you. The diagnosis then becomes a tool for growth and not an excuse to stay where you are.
To facilitate learning, here are some other typical symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:
An inability to maintain a stable sense of self – This might be difficult to assess for an adolescent because this stage of life is defined as the time in life to discover a sense of self. However, a teen with bipolar tendencies will exhibit signs of self-loathing, self-hatred, and an inability to be who they are among friends.
Dangerous and impulsive behavior – The impulsivity that is common with Teen Bipolar Disorder might be drug use, frequent experiences of unsafe sex, or running away from home.
Self-Harming Behavior – Adolescents with Bipolar might cut themselves as a way to manage anxiety or other overwhelming feelings.
Mood Instability – What characterizes Bipolar Disorder is the frequency of mood swings from depressive symptoms to those of mania.
Chronically feeling empty – This is a commonly experienced with Teen Bipolar Disorder as loneliness or boredom, and it is compensated by their impulsivity and dangerous behavior, which tends to arouse strong and intense feelings.
An inability to regulate feelings of anger– Fights are common with those who have Bipolar, especially with those close to them. However, anger is not the only emotion that becomes difficult to manage; any strong emotion can be overwhelming and challenging to regulate.
Signs of dissociation with reality – Many teens with Bipolar have experienced trauma and as a result have signs of dissociation. That is, they tend to divorce themselves from their emotional experience and/or an aspect of reality in order to find safety in the experience of life.
Of course, these symptoms are presented here as a tool for growth. With understanding, we can make choices that better our lives.
By Robert Hunt
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Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.