The 5th Stage of Grief (Acceptance) and Diagnosis

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There is a sort of grief that comes with bipolar disorder. When you are first diagnosed it can come as a shock and feel as though a part of you has died. This death of self needs to be grieved in order to accept the diagnoses and move on.

Just as you would grieve someone you have lost, you must grief the past version of yourself you upheld as a healthy, mentally stable individual. You must now come to accept yourself as a person with a mental illness and who will need treatment in order to keep it in check.

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The first stage, denial, is the easiest to fall victim to and the most detrimental to the well-being of a person struggling with a mental illness. Often when first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the individual will deny they even have the illness and refuse treatment. This could waste precious time that could be used to stabilize the individual. Denying the illness can take away from time spent living a healthier, more mentally stable life.

Acceptance is a very important aspect of mental illness. The individual must first accept their diagnosis before ultimately seeking treatment. One has to accept the death of their previous self, known as not having a mental illness, and the emergence of a new self who needs medical intervention to remain healthy. It is important to grief this loss of identity so one may accept entirely the new one.

Anger is another stage of grief that many newly diagnosed bipolar individuals experience. I was extremely angry when first diagnosed and misplaced a lot of that anger on to myself. I thought there must be something seriously wrong with me that I ended up being bipolar. I believed I was being punished by God for past mistakes and that bipolar disorder was my cross to bear. I even was angry with my parents for awhile too since the illness is hereditary. I thought how dare they pass this on to me! I realize now how ridiculous of a notion that is.

Bargaining is another stage of grief we often experience. When I was first diagnosed I found myself bargaining with God. I would pray to him that I would do anything he wanted if he could just take away my bipolar disorder. However, the stage of grief I experienced the most and longest following my diagnosis was depression.

After having my first psychotic and manic episode leading to my diagnosis, I returned home from the hospital to my bed. I laid in bed for months on end crying endlessly, “why me?” I could not seem to understand why this was happening to me. I would sit on the couch for tens of hours at a time watching tv, feeling completely numb. It was not until I started asking questions and seeking answers that this depression lifted and I finally experienced the stage of acceptance.

Knowledge is power and this power helped me come to terms with bipolar disorder. I began watching documentaries on the illness and reading books taken out from the library on the disorder. The more I understood about it, the more I felt comfortable coming to terms with the fact that I had bipolar disorder. I was less angry and disappointed with myself because I finally understood it was not my choices that led me to have the disorder but shitty biochemistry. I also understood that I needed to seek treatment to alleviate the symptoms caused my bipolar disorder after researching how it could get out of hand and how there were several mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics that could check and balance the illness.

I accept my bipolar disorder now and everything that comes with it, including my monthly injection of an anti-psychotic.  Acceptance is important as I mentioned before to ensure the individual seeks treatment. It is also important because the individual has to let go of their past self without the disorder and accept the new norm.

We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live.

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