Do You Have An X-Ray To Prove It?
I’m 47 years old, was diagnosed with bipolar around age 25 and ADHD at age 44. Last week I learned that I have the triad: bipolar, ADHD and OCD. For twenty-four years after college I held nine jobs before I became disabled at the age of 44.
Receiving a diagnosis didn’t change who I was, but it explained a lot. I was overwhelmed yet empowered by the information. I was always told that my behavior, thoughts and words were wrong, and I agreed. I was taken to the doctor twice in my teens for being depressed. Both doctors just said to relax. Now I want to scream from the highest peak, “I have the answer! Maybe now I can change!” But, that’s not how everyone else saw it. Some of the first responses I got were, “Do you have an x-ray to prove it?” and, “The doctor is just trying to get money out of you. Stop taking the medication.”
One of the first aggressive episodes that I can remember was at age 13. I punched a boy and he fell to the floor. I remember an incredible feeling of uneasiness beginning that school year.
Sophomore year in high school I punched the kid sitting in front of me. My moods were very erratic. I was a quiet student one moment, a raging tornado the next. Words were my most powerful weapons. I spoke before thoughts had a chance to be processed. My insides spun like a hamster wheel. If I wasn’t scared, I had the confidence of Super Girl.
In college I felt progressively worse as I matured and held more responsibilities. I didn’t understand my anger, confusion and almost constant anxiety. I had explosive arguments wherever I went.
By the age of 20, I was a college graduate and in the workforce. I was very independent and successful at work, but my anxiety and confusion hit a new peak. Everything was thrilling and overbearing at the same time. The obsessiveness was in control. My stomach spun just as fast as the thoughts in my head. People were calling me crazy to my face and behind my back. I agreed with them.
At the age of 23, I had a car accident that indirectly led me to mental health treatment. I never should have been behind the wheel of a car. I had no intention of being reckless, but I wasn’t being safe either. The car spun around a few times, flipped over and landed on its side. I simply crawled out of the car and waited for the police.
The orthopedic doctor I saw asked why I was on valium, and handed me the business card of a psychiatrist.
I was originally treated for depression before the diagnosis of bipolar. Once the right combinations of meds were found, I felt for the first time like I had support. I’ve been in treatment with medications ever since. My illness is always with me, but I am better at maintaining my life. If not for that car accident I don’t know where I would be.
There are people who don’t believe that I have a mental illness. A few weeks ago when I was confiding how I felt, someone said to me, “No. That didn’t happen, you never said that before, that’s not ADHD.” If I had thought to give a report of my daily life for all these years would they still question me?
If I was to “report” the events of an average day it might go like this: “I had an argument with you today in my office. Luckily I realized that you weren’t there before someone walked in and caught me. I think the fire alarm above my desk might be a camera. When I left, I thought the toaster might be on so I went back. After I was in my car I thought the light was on, so I went back. On the way home I ended up in New Bedford. I thought I didn’t lock the gate, so I went back. Home now. Did I spell-check the last document that I emailed? I have to go drive around the block because I may have I hit something.”
Even without complete acceptance (or an x-ray), I’m thankful for my doctor, medications, support group, volunteering, hobbies and the love of my family that allows me to maintain my life with mental illness.