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Depression, PTSD, or BiPolar

Updated on November 17, 2012

Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or PTSD

In the medical field, it seems there are a lot of diagnoses that are so similar they can be misdiagnosed. It is never intentional, but there can be repercussions that are not easily--if at all--reversible. When it comes to my own personal experience the three I have had to deal with are severe depression, PTSD, and Bipolar Disorder. I need to note, though, that my cases were not as extreme as others, so remember that each and every person has a different circumstance.

Some individuals feel that all three of these issues are one and the same, and I can't stress enough how wrong that is. Through my research, I have found a vast amount of similarities in each of these subjects, but because of the wide spectrum and level of severity, the differences are subtle, but carefully studied, they can be diagnosed correctly. It may seem unbelievable, but a lot of the work for a physician to diagnose correctly falls upon the patient because it is the patient’s behavior that they will base their screening questions on.

Personally, I ended up going through all three diagnoses before coming up with the right one. The first time was for severe depression. I had noticed that I was up and down in my mood all the time. I would cry at the first sign of someone getting angry at me, and cry at every Hallmark commercial; or get extremely angry at the very smallest irritation someone may cause me. I had very little sleep—which seemed to be the main cause of everything. I started to eat everything in sight resembling comfort food. I obviously went to my primary care doctor and ended up with a prescription for depression. This prescription affected me in a terrible way.

Not every prescription works the same for each individual. This was my first time on a depression medication, and Zoloft was not my answer. I could only describe myself as a zombie. There was no emotion. I had little kids that I didn't want to play with. I had a husband I didn't want to be around. I had a bed that I would rather stay in for the rest of my life. I only got up to perform the obvious motherly or wifely duties like changing diapers, getting up in the middle of the night to check on a young’un crying, and to make meals. The only upside was that my husband was trying to stay on my good side, and got up to help with some of the chores--smart man that he is. However, I was desperate to change this situation. My doctor told me to give it a little more time, but I had already been on the medication for two months, and could no longer see my family feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me. I went to a gym and thought that if I forced myself to workout, I’d feel better. It was my trainer told me to try St John’s Wart.

One of my biggest mistakes was not to check with my doctor first before trying this. They know more about medications than a workout trainer. I stopped taking the Zoloft (I slowly weaned myself off of this) and started taking the St John’s Wart. However, I also started to take a diet over-the-counter medication because I was sure my weight was part of my problem. I had no idea that these two medications did not mix and about killed myself literally from poisoning, not realizing I was having a reaction between the two. Yeah, my doctor had a lot to say to me about that; so beware the mixing of meds. Make sure your doctor knows EVERYTHING you are taking, including vitamins, and herbs, and over-the-counter supplements.

After getting myself back to a level of competence and learning a valuable lesson, I stopped all medications, and I started keeping a daily journal of my own behaviors and how I was acting; how much I was sleeping, and whatever I was feeling. This was one of the biggest helps I could have made, and you'll see why in reading further. I am capable of ignoring a lot of different stuff happening to me, and I would not recall anything if it was asked of me in a verbal questionnaire that the doctors tend to use for screening and pin-pointing a diagnosis.

Getting better was not in my future at the time, though. As months went by, I got worse and at one point ended up in the hospital after having the ultimate stress/pressure at work. I had my first panic attack, and because of my symptoms they did an MRI to check for Multiple Sclerosis—which is what my dad has. The results were negative, but still, I knew there was obviously something wrong. My primary care doctor thought I needed to go see a specialist that works in brain chemistry.

At that time, Bipolar Disorder was all the rave, it seemed. It was very popular, this doctor that I went to was absolutely certain that it is what I had. I had a slight niggling in my head that this didn't feel right as a diagnosis, but I was not the specialist. So, I ignored my feeling and believed whole-heartedly that I was Bipolar. I went through several years on medication for this issue, and I can say that I had never slept as well as I did while on these prescriptions. However, there was still something wrong. I was still having mood swings, and crying at all the Hallmark commercials, and if someone looked at me wrong, I could have easily ripped their head off. Also, while on the medication Seroquel, I had an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I was rude, and crude, and didn't care about people’s feelings at all; I just stated what I felt.

In some ways, that can be a boon, but in other ways; I didn't make many friends. My brain chemistry specialist suggested I go see a counselor. Why that wasn't suggested in the first place, or why I had never thought of it in the first place I will never know. I didn't know much about psychologist or psychiatrists other than I was told that if I had to go to a “shrink” it was due to having a weak mind. Well, after ending up in the emergency room again, I decided to take a chance. My mother—who happens to be my best friend—stated the following, “Julie, good grief! Whoever told you that going to a counselor means you have a weak mind, was obviously weak minded! I have had to see someone, if nothing else, just for a second opinion. Get up off your butt and get some help!” Leave it to mom to state something in the bluntest way.

So I went to see a counselor because my workplace offers that opportunity at no cost. By the way, a counselor is different from a psychologist, and a psychologist is different from a psychiatrist. My counselor just listened to me. I saw her about four times, and mainly what she did was listen, and nothing more, except after the fourth session, she told me that everything I have been saying to her seemed normal, and to get a second opinion the bipolar disorder. She suggested going to a psychiatrist just in case medications were needed. One difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medications. I had my first ray of hope that I could be normal again. I hate medications, and being told that I have to be on them for the rest of my life was completely daunting and depressing in itself.

The first time I saw my psychiatrist, I didn't like him; It was question after question, and rush, rush, rush, through the first session. I almost didn't bother going back, but I decided to go back anyway and give a piece of my mind—like I could really afford doing so, but it would have been worth it—and I am so glad I did. Yes, I told him how I felt about him and his first session, and he apologized that he didn't explain the purpose of the first session and what was to be expected. The next few sessions were much more productive, however, he never told me if he thought I was Bipolar or not. He said he needed to wait to make a call on that diagnosis. He said at this point he would say no.

Well, the more I went to see this good nurse practitioner, the more I felt right. I felt so much better! Remember that earlier I stated I had started a journal; well, I was so glad I did, because I was able to figure out what kinds of triggers I had for the feelings that erupted in to play. Guilt was the biggest one, and I allowed that guilt to take over. I didn't feel worthy of myself, and in my journal, and with the help of my psychiatrist, I was able to analyze my feelings, and slowly mend, and try to go back to the confident and self-assured person I used to be long ago.

I have been going to him for more than a year now, and what he told me, due to tragic events that occurred in my past, was that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, a feeling inside of me said he was right. I felt a little ashamed that I didn't listen to my own intuition in the first place, but I was unsure of myself anyway. I didn't feel like I could trust my own feelings, and also, I wasn't the specialist. However, now that the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and depression are on the records, I was unable to get short term disability through my work as one of my benefits should I ever have needed it. I was told--and I haven't finished making sure my sources are right--was that once those diagnoses are on the record, they are not retracted.

There are a few points I would like to make to others from this experience. First, if something doesn't feel right, do not ignore it. Take some time and evaluate what you are feeling. Meditate on it and investigate your other options of possibilities when it comes to getting help. Talk with trusted friends or family members, because there may be things you have never heard of before that can assist you in your inspiration of what direction to go. Second, don’t let your own biased opinions stop you from trying something to get a second view of what may be going on. For example I didn't know the differences or real purposes of psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist, and I am glad I finally went. Keep all your options open, listen to own heart, and don’t let your fears get in your way.


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    • JNedele profile image

      JNedele 5 years ago from Culp Creek, OR


      Thank you so much for your comment. You put everything in one paragraph that I had to write dozens to say. lol A journal, or diary, will help a majority of people to know what is happening with their thinking and feeling. Especially if they read back through their writing as someone carrying an outside perspective.

      Just think.... if it was 100 years down the road, and some is reading your historic journal, what would they think about your writing, thoughts, character, and behavior. For me personally, that is exactly what I had to do in order to make any sense for myself.

      Thank you again, Denise. You're obviously a woman of incite.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal helped you to sort out what was happening in your life, and gave you the information needed to ask the right questions. That is so important when seeking care from mental health providers. Like you said, you are the most important part of the mix! They can only help you with the information you provide to them. Best wishes on your continued recovery!

    • JNedele profile image

      JNedele 5 years ago from Culp Creek, OR

      Mary, thank you so much for sharing this. It can be so confusing sometimes as to where to begin, and it seems to start some chain effects. I had noticed a little bit of OCD, but probably not to your extent. The journal just saved so much time after getting the 2nd opinion that I should have gotten long ago. I appreciate so much that you commented.

    • JNedele profile image

      JNedele 5 years ago from Culp Creek, OR

      Irish, thank you for your comment. I had that very same thing happen to me. I put it off for so long, but I was just ruining myself by not believing in my own feelings over what was happening to me. It's a good 20 years since I left the military, and it was afterwards that I finally sought some real help.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I thank you for sharing your important journey as many can learn valuable lessons from this.

      I was very hesitant to go to someone and put it off for some time. I had gone through many many large losses in a short amount of time. I was diagnosed with PTSD. It never even occurred to me that I could be experiencing PTSD since I always associated this with situations of war.

      I only wish I had gone to someone sooner.

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 5 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Depressive disorders may have some underlying conditions. For instance, my depression resulted from anxiety, PTSD and codependency disorders. My anxiety also caused OCD issues. So sometimes, we have to take a look at everything and break things down into different segments. I think the journal is a very good idea to help identify some of these other triggers and traits. Having the ability to work with a psychologist or a psychiatrist is definitely more effective if you need help with a disorder over if you just need someone to vent to. I want to also add that myself and others I have known who have taken St Johns Wort often claimed it made them feel a bit numb, lethargic or empty. Thanks for sharing your experience and helping others to understand how often people are misdiagnosed and even wrongly medicated and how to ensure better diagnoses and treatments.