You’ve just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder… now what? This week we interview a young woman named Emma, a twenty-something who is fresh off a bipolar diagnosis and working hard to navigate her way through finding the right medications, a treatment plan that works, and navigating tough family conversations.
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Newly Bipolar and Learning to Adapt” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer-generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.
Gabe: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s Not Crazy. We are here with my co-host Jackie, who has written no less than seven books completely in her head. She also lives with depression.
Jackie: I’m going to introduce you to my co-host, Gabe, who lives with bipolar and also has written just one book that has been published. But like what’s just one when you could have seven unpublished?
Gabe: Jackie, we are doing a first here today. We’re going to interview a young woman. She’s 23 years old and she lives with bipolar disorder, but she’s also newly diagnosed with bipolar. Now she has asked to remain anonymous. So we are going to call her Emma. Emma thanks for calling in and welcome to the show.
Emma: Thank you for having me.
Gabe: Now, you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 in 2019. It’s safe to say you’re a newbie.
Emma: Yes, very much so. Figuring out the ropes.
Jackie: So, Emma, tell us the circumstances around your diagnosis. What was happening before, during? What led to it?
Emma: So initially I was diagnosed with depression while I was in high school after a car accident. But once I was an adult after college and working in a toxic environment, I knew that something was wrong. And so I got a psych eval done and from there they were able to diagnose me with bipolar.
Jackie: When you say something was wrong, what did you feel like was wrong?
Emma: They always felt like a sine wave. So there were such high highs and lows that it was like this out-of-body experience where my emotions weren’t similar to others. I was always too emotional for people. I was always categorized as dramatic. And I knew that I wasn’t over-the-top or attention seeking, but I knew that their perception was wrong. But I didn’t know internally what was wrong.
Gabe: I find that incredibly interesting. I also have bipolar disorder and I was described as dramatic. I was described as loud. I was described as over the top. My emotions were never in check. And I was always very, very moody. And while I did see that as wrong, I didn’t think that it was the kind of wrong that was medical or necessitated any… I just thought I was a bad person. Did you have any feelings like that? Like this was just like a moral failing?
Emma: Oh, a million percent, I think. Especially during the depressive phases I would self hate so badly and I honestly think it was only because of other people still being my friends that I was like, I can’t be that bad because I still have people around me wanting to support me.
Jackie: So let me ask you both a question about the we’ll call it the dramatic, overly emotional responses that everybody else was sort of accusing you of. There are times when I react certain ways and I’m like, that was maybe a little over the top. Probably not my best work right there. In that moment for you guys was it one of those things where you were like, I know this is maybe a little over the top for me, but I can’t seem to reel it in because that’s what happens to me. So I just keep going, right? Is this the same thing?
Emma: I think being undiagnosed really led to me gaslighting myself. And so I think it was similar to you, Jackie, and that I would say, oh, that was just me. Lesson learned. Let’s fix it next time. But then the same thing happens on a daily basis.
Gabe: One of the really shitty parts of being bipolar, and I’m going to bet just straight up that Emma’s going to agree, we have emotions. We can be dramatic. We can overreact. And all of that is perfectly normal because normal people overreact. They get angry, frustrated, tired, sleepy, bitchy, whatever, whatever word you want to use, we’re not robots. The problem is, is there’s like another gear, right? There’s like another level. And it happens so often and you just have such little control. So now that I am in treatment and I’ve been in treatment, you know, 17 years. Whenever that happens, it’s like, OK. Is it a bad day or is Gabe symptomatic? Dun dun duun. And it’s a pain because not every one of our emotions can be proof of some. I don’t know, disease, because we want to have emotions we want to love deeply. And sometimes it’s fun to be dramatic. Jackie, as your friend. I like it when you’re over the top. But I wouldn’t like it if you were over the top 15 times a day and then you jumped off a roof because you could fly. So…
Jackie: Good to know.
Jackie: Good. Yeah.
Jackie: Me either. I also would not like that.
Gabe: I would probably stop you. I mean, was there steps involved? Did you take an elevator if the roof was at the end of an elevator? I would stop you from jumping if you walked up like 20 flights of stairs to jump off this thing. I’d be like, I miss Jackie.
Jackie: I’m on my own. Yeah. I mean, if I walk up 25 stairs, I’m an amazing shape. Anyway.
Gabe: Emma, you’re young. You’re still within the age range of 16 to 24, which is when the stereotypical diagnosis of bipolar comes down. And you were also diagnosed with depression first and then they realized that there was this mania component which gets you into a bipolar diagnosis and all of that has happened very recently, September. So how are you feeling? I mean, this is a lot to get hit with.
Emma: It is. It feels like I got hit by a semi, but then the semi turns into flowers because I’m not insane. Right? Like it’s crazy because I now feel validated, which I’ve never felt in my entire life. Like I always associate myself with being dramatic. And all those things we just discussed, right? So now I feel validated and I’m very much so a type a person. So now I can get steps to treat and feel better. The diagnosis, I think, saved my life for sure.
Jackie: Did you feel validated in that? All those dramatic feelings maybe weren’t so dramatic or were you validated for your doctors? Tell me more about feeling validated.
Emma: So many studies prove that women aren’t listened to in the healthcare industry. And I had other issues that I wasn’t listened to for as well. And so finally being heard, and then science proving that my words were true, is what caused validation that I wasn’t making it up. You know, I think it gave myself credibility, my words, credibility.
Jackie: What about your family, what were they doing during this time? Were they questioning you or were they supporting you? And then after you got your diagnosis, how did they feel?
Emma: So when I was in high school, they saw firsthand the depressive phase. My mother is who took me to the doctor who later said I should go to a therapist. But then regarding the bipolar, I have not told my family because they don’t support me seeing the therapist. So that’s been interesting. I’ve told one of my brothers. And so he is incredibly supportive and understands and recognizes my need to see this therapist and get medicated. I recently told him this past weekend. But other than that, I think that’s a boundary I don’t want to cross with my family because they don’t understand seeking medical help.
Gabe: Let’s talk about that for a moment. This sort of podcasting journalist in me wants to say, how can you possibly know what they think, what they feel? You haven’t gotten both sides of the story. You’re not being fair. You’re collecting data from one side and drawing conclusions.
Gabe: But the guy who lives with bipolar is like, yeah, that’s perfectly reasonable. You’re probably right. And I’m really mixed on that, though, because I’ve been wrong a lot. I thought that my family would not be supportive of me. They found out because I was hospitalized. So there was there was just no way. You know, Gabe went somewhere for four days. We had to explain why Gabe couldn’t make phone calls. So I was in a psych hospital. Why are you there? Bipolar, it turns out. So I really didn’t have to wrestle with whether or not I wanted to tell my family, but I did wrestle with whether or not I wanted to tell friends, my workplace, the general public. So I want to ask very specific questions on the family. Your family. Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that if you said, listen, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister, just whoever your family is, I have bipolar disorder that they would just be like, well, you’re out? Or is it something more? Or less?
Emma: So great question. So maybe your insight, both of you would be helpful. So before I was diagnosed, while I was in the toxic work place, I was seeing a therapist and that was of constant turmoil for my family. And so every time I would visit, that would be an argument regarding I only go to a therapist because I want to be told that I’m correct. And I want someone to tell me that my choices are great. I wanted a fluffer is why I went to a therapist. Is their understanding?
Gabe: That is a great word. I love that example.
Emma: Right. And so if you don’t understand the validity of therapy, you’re not going to understand the validity of therapy diagnosing me with bipolar disorder.
Gabe: If I can play the other side for a moment, what I keep thinking is stuff that’s happened in my own family where my father is complaining about something and I think, wow, you’re just an idiot. That is nonsense. You just don’t want to fill in the blank. And that’s that’s my line of thinking. You don’t want to, therefore, X but then another data point comes in and I find out that, oh my God, it’s not that he doesn’t want to because of X, it’s because of Y. And I never considered Y and he’s standing in front of me showing me whatever. And that’s that new data point. And I, as a reasonable person, look at it and say, Oh my God, I have misjudged you in many ways. You’re saying, hey, I don’t want to give my family this extra data point, because emotionally, if they don’t accept that data point, that’s going to be bad for me. But it could also be good for you. They could accept that data point and they could be like, hey, I was wrong. Therefore, fixing it. So it is kind of a risk-reward. Right. And you’re still on the. I’m not willing to take the chance right now if I understand you correctly.
Emma: So I had a great professor once tell me if someone needs an explanation on why they should be empathetic towards you, they’re not empathetic human beings.
Jackie: Oh, mic drop.
Emma: And so.
Gabe: But it’s also bad. What about misunderstandings?
Jackie: No. OK. I’m going to interrupt both of you right here and stand in and say, Gabe, wrong. She knows her family.
Emma: I do.
Jackie: Emma has been living with her family her whole life. She has 23 years of anecdotal proof of how they react to things, specifically medical diagnoses. And I, as a firm believer in 1: therapy and 2: big fat boundaries, think that she’s doing the right thing to preserve herself right now. With a new diagnosis and figuring out meds and all the things that go along with this big, huge, maybe life-altering thing. It is perfectly fine to preserve yourself along the way and go that family thing… maybe I’ll deal with that later.
Jackie: Hold that thought. We’ve got a message from our sponsors.
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Jackie: And we’re back talking with Emma, who is a young woman with a brand new bipolar diagnosis.
Gabe: I tell people all the time, if you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t because it’s a problem that you don’t fucking need. And I want to say that to you, Emma, I’m on your side. Don’t take the risk. You got way too much to worry about. But there’s also, like I said, this piece of me that knows that I believed firmly that my father would tell me that I wasn’t a man, that I was a wuss, and that he would tell me to sack up and be a man. And then I found out my father was in therapy for 15 years and he hid it from me. So I just. There’s this little piece of me that’s just like, wow, I wonder what data points her family is keeping from her because this is going to influence her ability to make it. And, you know, families are such a mess. That’s the one thing I’ve learned from doing these podcasts and these shows and writing families just lie to each other constantly. Just constant. My dad lied to me for years. My mom, my grandma. They’re just all liars. I’m fairly certain that everybody in my family had pre-marital sex, but then they told me to wait until I was married because we’re all Catholic. I don’t know. We’re all lying to each other. Just nothing but lies.
Emma: So I can share some insights I acquired for you when I was 20 for another diagnosis. And so my mother was in the room when I was told I needed surgery and we left and she and my father sat down and told me maybe shouldn’t get the surgery like.
Gabe: Like, like, but it was life saving surgery, it was medically necessary surgery.
Emma: Right. But
Gabe: I mean,
Emma: Fear trumps.
Gabe: This is bad for my side.
Emma: It is bad for your side. So that’s one example. Fear trumps logic in families, I think. And then the other thing, though, is I think it’s been really cool because I’ve been very open about my mental health. And because of that, we’ve been able to both share with me that they’ve been depressed. My brothers and sisters have shared with me that they’ve been depressed. So that is the one like the one gem I have. That’s where the bomb goes.
Gabe: You and Jackie are 100 percent right. Boundaries are personal. They’re personal to us in the interest of the podcast and all of the people listening. I really, really am taken by my own story because it’s my life, right? And I just think, wow, I never would have found out this stuff about my family if I wouldn’t have told them. But of course, I’m a liar. Even in this story, because I didn’t tell them. I didn’t sit down and weigh out the pros and cons. I was just kind of forced to tell them because like I said, I was in the hospital. And I agree with you. You have to do you because if you do get that bad outcome, you’re like, now I’ve got all of this stuff to deal with and the bad outcome. I’m not an optimistic person, so I have no idea why I’m sitting here saying be optimistic. And in general, I think our family’s messes up more than like anybody else on the planet. So I’m suddenly in the role of the optimistic person that says trust your family. Well, I also have like huge abandonment issues and I’m still mad at my mom for something she said when I was 7. So I got nothing. The wheels are off the bus. I’m handing the show over to Jackie.
Jackie: Good, because I have a lovely question. I would like to know from you, Emma, as somebody who’s been newly diagnosed, you’ve got all these other factors, your family, your job, some past stuff with depression. When you get this diagnosis and you feel validated, the next step is to seek treatment. And you mentioned that you were in therapy. I’m assuming you probably started talking about medication with someone, your doctor or therapist, somebody in that whole mix, a psychiatrist. What was your experience like trying to get treatment?
Emma: So it started with I was so excited to get help. Whether that ended up being medication or something else. I wanted a solution. And the first thing that happened was I needed to wait a month and a half to meet with someone. So everything got put on hold. And then finally, once I met with someone, I was able to be prescribed medication. That was the treatment finally chosen for me. And now it’s been nine days of being on medication. And I don’t know, every day on her, I’ve been clearing medications. I don’t think anybody prepares for recognizing what a long journey it is to get treatment.
Gabe: One of the reasons that we wanted to have you on the show is because you’re newly diagnosed and you’re newly on meds, you are literally at the beginning of this journey. What made you decide to take medication? Because in the bipolar world, this is a deeply, deeply debated subject about whether or not you should go on medication. Full disclosure, I am on medications for my bipolar disorder. Obviously, you are on medications for your bipolar, but it’s fresh in your mind. Nine days ago, when they prescribed the medication and you decided to take them, what were you thinking?
Emma: Taking medication is self-care for me. I deserve to have my mood be stable and I deserve to live a life in which I am advocating for myself. I deserve to take medication.
Gabe: Thank you, Emma. I really appreciate that. I am surprised it is such a debate. I believe and science supports people with bipolar disorder just do not do well long term without getting their mood stabilized. Once your mood is stabilized, then you need therapy and coping mechanisms and all of the things around you. It’s not a magic pill and I often see that as the debate. Well, if this works so well and it’s such a magic pill, why are people on pills and still having a bad life? Well, because it’s not fucking magic, you moron. It just helps. It brings in the edges.
Emma: Bipolar is incurable, but it can be treatable.
Gabe: I completely agree. In addition to medication, what else are you doing?
Emma: I love therapy, and my therapist has given me a toolbox of coping mechanisms, I’ve been able to step in to my authenticity and recognize when I’m triggered in this, I pull out things from that tool box.
Jackie: I just want to take a minute and note that you said that taking meds and going to therapy was self-care and that you deserve to be happy and healthy. And I’m not going to clap because that would be weird on a podcast. But I’m going to mentally and emotionally clap for you because what an amazing statement. It feels very self-aware and smart. I couldn’t agree with you more. I absolutely believe that that is self-care. So just sort of like golf clap to you on that one. Emma, but reeling it back to to therapy, which we just did an episode on and about how much I love therapy. I love it so much. We could talk for another 20 minutes, but we won’t about why I love therapy. So I’m going to ask you about your therapy, therapy before your diagnosis and after. Has it changed or you still kind of tackling the same things the same way?
Emma: So before my diagnosis, I was still putting things in the tool box. And now, in addition to adding to my tool box, we can identify things that are very bipolar specific and things that are more so. Living as an adult and categorizing my emotions has helped my therapist helps me better and myself understand what triggers me better.
Gabe: And you put all that together and you have the best shot at your best life. Right. It’s
Gabe: It’s not even just those two. It’s not even medication and therapy. You also need hobbies and love and interests and friends and Netflix. I mean, all of these things go together to give us our best chance at getting Netflix to sponsor our show.
Emma: Wonderful. Yes.
Jackie: Well, and to Gabe’s point in there, we talking about support and friends. Who is your support network right now? Because if you’re not telling your family, do you feel supported? Who’s helping you right now?
Emma: Quite honestly, my brother and best friend and just the SheHive, a phenomenal group of women who I trust and support as well. They’ve become a family and they’re the most incredible support system and cheerleaders for me. And so initially when I got diagnosed, it felt like I was lost. Initially, I didn’t feel supported. I sent Gabe a ridiculously long email of me panicking and that made me even feel supported. But speaking to my therapist and speaking to the people I love helped me feel supported again.
Gabe: We hope that a lot of people can listen to this and see some of themselves in you or completely disagree with you. Like that’s the beautiful part of these conversations and of sharing our stories. We don’t need people to agree with us. We just need people to understand that we’re all different and be willing to talk about it more. I just think we have a lot more in common than we don’t. I just like to talk that that’s really what it comes down to. We talk about so much ad nauseum, so much minutia in the world. We will talk about until our ears bleed. But suddenly our emotions, our feelings, our mental health and mental illness, we’re like, she don’t talk about it, but I’m still hearing about who is better, Michael Jordan or LeBron James. I don’t care. It’s LeBron James. Emma, thank you so much for being open about your mental illness and your mental health challenges on our show.
Emma: You’re welcome.
Jackie: I agree with you, Gabe. Talking to you, Emma, has helped me learn a little bit about the process of being diagnosed with bipolar because it’s something that I’m not familiar with. I feel like we have a lot of listeners who are probably right there with you sort of in the trenches or in the same timeline, experiencing all the same things that you are. So being able and willing to share your story, I think is incredibly valuable. And I don’t love this term, but I think it was brave. I think it was brave of you to come here and share what your life has been like.
Emma: Thank you both so much for giving me a platform to do so.
Gabe: Jackie, did you have fun?
Jackie: This was a good one. I look forward to more guests.
Gabe: Yeah. This is our first guest. Can you believe it?
Jackie: First guest bucket checked.
Gabe: And to our listeners, tell us how we did. Hit us up at [email protected]. Tell us what subjects you would like to hear about or what guests you would like to see or say, hey, Gabe and Jackie are so incredible. There should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be guests ever again. Oh, yeah. And share us on social media. We’ll see everybody next week.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Not Crazy from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. To work with Jackie, go to JackieZimmerman.co. Not Crazy travels well. Have Gabe and Jackie record an episode live at your next event. E-mail [email protected] for details.