Am I Bipolar or Depressed?
There was a time when the answer to the question, "Am I bipolar or depressed?" depended on which of my charts you consulted. One of my medical charts had my diagnosis as major depression. My psychiatrist's chart had me labeled as bipolar disorder, until he changed it back to depression. Then, another psychiatrist changed my diagnosis to bipolar again, but my usual psychiatrist changed it back to depression.
Psychiatrist can disagree if a patient is bipolar or depressed. So, am I bipolar or just depressed? Right now, I'd say neither, but at one time this question bothered me. With psychiatrists constantly changing my diagnosis, I wondered which one was correct.
Bipolar or Depression? What's the Difference?
People with bipolar disorder have times when they have mania or elevated mood. They also may have times of deep depression. People with clinical depression also suffer from episodes of depression that can be extreme. The depression associated with bipolar disorder and major depression can be identical. The main difference between bipolar disorder and depression is the presence of manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) lays out the criteria for depression and bipolar disorders. You'd think that a person's diagnosis would be fairly objective. Either they have the symptoms or they don't. However, doctors often use their personal judgments when diagnosing a patient. Let me share how that affected my diagnosis changes.
According to the DSM, someone is bipolar if they ever had a manic episode. Even though I had been hospitalized years ago during a manic episode, my most recent problems were only depression. In fact, that one severe manic episode was the only time in my life that I experienced mania.
Because of the DSM's criteria for bipolar disorder saying that anyone who had a manic episode ever has bipolar disorder, some psychiatrists would diagnose me as having bipolar disorder. My usual psychiatrist kept changing my diagnosis back to depression since that is the focus of my treatment and the only symptoms that I experienced after that one manic episode.
Interesting enough, the medications that I was on were typical for people with bipolar disorder. The doctor explained that the reason I would be on those medications is because my depression tends to be more cyclical and he believed it to have a strong biological component considering my strong family history with depression.
Confused? Now What?
My regular psychiatrist explained his reasons for giving me a diagnosis of depression, and it made sense to me. If you have trouble understanding your diagnosis or the diagnosis keeps changing, I'd recommend asking the doctor to explain it to you. I believe that understanding your diagnosis is beneficial to start the healing process.
As I mentioned earlier, I would no longer consider myself as being depressed or bipolar. I do not take medications any more. Instead, I focus on taking care of myself physically and emotionally. I use coping skills I have learned such as journaling, writing poetry, daily exercise, and art. I'm not recommending that anyone go off their medications without consulting the prescribing physician.
So am I bipolar or depressed? Technically, I guess I could be labeled as having either disorder. I have a long history of depression symptoms. I got tired of how the medications made me feel, so I'm in recovery another way. I'd say it's a more difficult path, but it also makes me feel more fulfilled and in control.