As I have more & more conversations about my mental health journey & as I listen to other folks tell their own stories, I find myself repeating something several mental health professionals told me over the years: "we treat symptoms, not diagnoses." For so long, I clutched to a label, at the time my misdiagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder, instead of really buckling down on the symptoms & triggers that were causing so much chaos in my life.
Once I let go of that attachment & dug into the roots of my disordered thinking, I finally became able to alter my relationship with my own consciousness, what I believe is both the main catalyst & the number one sign of my continued striving for wellness. As I just passed my two-year mark of my wife leaving, my last major hospitalization, & my proper bipolar I diagnosis, I wanted to do a check-in of my symptoms, specifically how I relate to my triggers now & what regular actions help mitigate those symptoms.
Rage Attacks -- This was the giant problem that loomed, the inner switch that turned me from nice guy to demon real fast. Once off the Fluoxetine (turns out anti-depressants can cause random hypomanic episodes in patients with bipolar disorder) & on my other meds (antipsychotics & mood stabilizers), I saw a drastic decrease in frequency (only a couple in two years vs. one or two a month before) & severity (I don't black out like I used to; these rage attacks are less "random" & easier to contextualize). But the biggest helper in managing my "anger problem" has been my mindfulness practice; you can read more about that here.
Hypo / Mania -- When not inducing aggressive outbursts, this symptom often sent me soaring, becoming prolific in writing poems or cleaning house, but it also left me susceptible to poor decision-making (like putting myself in triggering situations or around unsupportive people), impulse control problems (particularly with alcohol & sex), & major energy crashes (which kept me from working a "normal" job). I still struggle with mood swings that throw me towards mania, but knowing the cause & effects allows me to keep myself out of triggering situations--large crowds, late nights, money-oriented or sexual situations.
Depressive -- When I was mismedicated & my psychotic symptoms & mood swings were running rampant, I was very mania-heavy. Now, my symptoms lead me to be more prone to depressive spells. Every couple months, I "bottom out," succumbing to great exhaustion & emotional down swings. If I take two or three unscheduled days to rest as needed, let out any pent-up emotions (lots of big cries & some screaming/pillow-punching), & slowly, gently rebuild my energy reserves, I'm fine for a few months.
Psychotic symptoms -- It wasn't until a few months ago that I could really see how disordered my thinking was before, overwhelmed with delusions, paranoia, & hallucinations. I was haunted by ambient noises & shadows. I was often unable to read facial expressions & voice tones properly, unable to grasp the nuance of social & interpersonal situations, causing frustration & conflict both within myself & person-to-person. Ultimately, I fell victim to self-fulfilling prophecies, poor mind-reading, & catastrophizing. Now, thanks to a better relationship with my own mind, I'm able to have better relationships with others, ones more based in compassionate reality.
Anxiety around Abandonment/Embarrassment -- As a college student in therapy, I latched onto an understanding that nearly all of my anxiety was based on fears of being abandoned &/or embarrassed, nerves that fed many of my other symptoms. Still, it took me nearly a decade to figure out how to avoid the triggers of these feelings. This anxiety got heightened in the mid 2010's after being outted as mentally ill (when I was still figuring out exactly what that meant to me) in the poetry community & blacklisted as a result. Later, after my wife left, I lost another community, as the majority of our shared friends & family ghosted me (no judgement, just noting). Luckily, through my mindfulness practice, regular exercise, a better relationship to alcohol, & an improved sleep routine, I've been able to decrease that anxiety very much. Recent EMDR work around those traumatic losses has relieved much of that tension as well, allowing me to focus on managing my disorder, instead of the stress around it.
Looking back on these strides I've made, I'm very proud of the work I've put into these past two years. There were times the suffering seemed endless. There are still days the symptoms feel like too much to bear. But with a healthy routine (holy trio of rest, reflect, & rejuvenate) & great support, I've been able to find a healthier, happier path, & for that, I'm bursting with gratitude.