As I have been reading "Welcome to the Jungle," a book about bipolar disorder written by Hilary Smith, there are many things I can identify with, but one thing I can not. I do not ever remember a time when I have been free of bipolar disorder.
Smith talks about how to handle when you or someone else realized your behavior is not your "normal" behavior, and you are diagnosed in late teens or early adulthood.
While I was not officially diagnosed with mental illness until I was 19, I knew something was wrong starting at age 6. I just did not start to receive medical care for it until I was 19.
I have no pre-bipolar life. No time when I was ever happy, stable, free of anger, mania and depression. When I read of people having a stable life and their trigger/onset starting when they are older, I feel a sense of loss and fear. I feel sad that I won't ever know the me who is not mentally ill. Then that makes me feel scared because it is kind of scary knowing you were never well. Then I am scared that I will never be able to manage this and be stable enough to have a good life. There was one time, a few years ago, when I was managing my illness, but that did not last for long.
Much of the way people talk about diagnosing mental illness is extreme, prolonged change in what is normal behavior for you. You stop enjoying things you once enjoyed. Well, I have never really enjoyed anything on a consistent basis for more than a few days, unless it is a manic over focused phase.
Or you find your mood is either more manic or depressed than normal. Well, I rapid cycle, so my mood has never been stable for more than half a day. All the diagnoses talk about a person being different than who they were before.
Who was I before? Or, who could I have been had my illness not started so early? Could I have been a happy kid who was not afraid to leave her house? Could I not have been a germaphobe who has perfected the art of washing her hands in a public restroom and exiting a bathroom without ever having to touch the water handle or a door handle?
Reading this book got me thinking about how the time of onset of your illness brings with it different reactions in terms of loss of self. People who's onset is later in life, from what I have read, sometimes feel a loss of self, of who they were pre-illness. In my experience, when you have always been ill, there is a loss of self, but not a lose of who you were, a loss of who you could have been.