TW and CW // this article discusses symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. References to disordered eating, body image issues, and suicidal ideation. 

It was only eleven days into the New Year when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder with Panic Disorder. I had been anticipating my mental health assessment for around a month, and perhaps naively, I had thought that those weeks of waiting would ready me for the reality of life post-diagnosis. Thinking on it now, I don’t think all the time in the world would have been enough to prepare me for the feelings that soon followed.

I had known for a while that something wasn’t quite right with me. There were times when I would work up the courage to reach out, only to react with immediate regret. The longer I battled this deep-rooted, internalised shame at needing help, the more unmanageable my symptoms became. There were these huge boosts to my self-esteem, productivity, and ambition that would feel amazing, right up until they ended. Left in its wake would be this crushing exhaustion, confused as to where all of the extra energy from the previous week had gone and why I had been so reckless and irritable during those few days. Not to mention the far longer depressive episodes which diminished life to a grim pursuit of survival, wherein moments that, in a stable period, I would have enjoyed and participated in, became background noise to overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and despair. This was alongside years of loving my body the most when it was at its most visibly unhealthy, training myself to keep it that way, and experiencing panic attacks which often felt unending and would leave me with no feeling in my hands and face. 

Getting diagnosed brought a validation that I don’t believe myself fully capable of describing. I felt immense comfort in knowing that there were reasons why this was happening to me, labels for them, and ways I could work to control the symptoms, but, best of all, it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t because I was some sort of irredeemable wreck that I was experiencing this, it was because I was ill. I was someone who needed help, and I was finally getting it.

However, being diagnosed with these conditions also brought the realisation that I now had to do all of the heavy lifting that comes with recovery, in the case of Anorexia, and symptom management, in the cases of Bipolar and Anxiety. This meant that therapy, medication, and plenty of check-up appointments would be the norm for the rest of my life. This was deeply frightening. What I found most unsettling about diagnosis is how it brings with it a grief unlike any other. Although validating, I have since been pained with thoughts of who I could have been without these conditions. I often find myself wondering what kind of life I would have had if I hadn’t spent so many years struggling without any explanation. In some horrid way, I find myself grieving a life I will never have. 

In spite of the ongoing conflict I have with accepting that my diagnosis has brought me comfort and pain in equal measure, the hope for a healthier future becomes stronger with each passing day. Initially, I struggled to imagine a time when the fixation on body image that has ruled my life since my early teens will be a memory, a time without that sudden rush of fear which leaves me breathless, a time where the feeling of joy is not accompanied by the suspicion of mania. Even so, this apprehension is tinged with shades of hope, there are moments when I allow myself to lean further into the belief that I will get better. 

Ultimately, I find myself in a fortunate position. I am very lucky to have a GP that took my concerns on board and sent off my referral, I am incredibly lucky to have had a mental health assessment that replaced my confusion with answers, and I am supremely lucky to have a support system that treats me with unfailing kindness and understanding. Diagnosis is terrifying, but it is something I am relieved to have, and I am, for the first time in a while, looking forward to better days.