In Search of the Good in Your Fellow Man or Woman

Ever say the phrase, “I try to see the good in other people?” I hear it all the time from the people that reach out to me, particularly from people who are in abusive situations. It’s a romanticized sentiment that is not really applicable in the real world. Not all people are good. Some people only have a sliver of good in an ocean of bad. Others are a majority good but have a sliver of bad that is so negative that it can’t be overlooked. There are others simply project being good to the world and do awful things behind closed doors. And there are plenty of people who are just entirely apathetic to it all.

The people that announce “I try to see the good in other people” are essentially announcing to the world that they are an easy target. In my experience, these individuals will cling to the fragments of good that they see in another person, like an abusive partner, to further convince themselves that this person that they love is a good person and thus deserving of their love. And it’s not limited to romance. It’s parents, siblings, children, or really any interpersonal dynamic.

They hold onto this idea that if they are good, loving, and compassionate to this person, that the person will notice it, respect it, and return love. I don’t believe respect and love work that way. There are different types and levels of both. The respect you have for yourself is different from the respect you have for an enemy is different from the respect you have for a loved one. And love is the same way. There are different levels, types, and strengths of love.

I never look for the good in anyone. I look for their humanity and what makes them who they are. In doing so, it doesn’t really surprise me when someone does something good or bad. There seems to be a common belief that good and bad are absolutes; but I’ve known quite a few people who have done bad things because they felt they had no other choice. Those decisions can be driven by circumstances like mental illness or environment. Actions that are good can certainly have bad elements to them and vice versa.

As someone who is High-Functioning Autistic and tends to see things in black and white, this was a challenging thing to identify and accept. My brain just doesn’t do shades of gray very well. But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s all just different shades of gray. The color of gray you interpret a situation as is dictated by your emotions, perception, and life experiences. What’s good and bad to me may not necessarily be good or bad to you. That’s totally fine.

Instead of good or bad, it’s more helpful to look at the destructiveness, motivation, and that person’s response to their actions. We, the mentally ill, can do some pretty awful things to ourselves and other people while we are unwell. I understand that because I’ve lived that life. As a result, I’ve been able to forgive some pretty serious unwell actions out of others because I could see they were trying their hardest to rectify the situation and change it.

But then you have the people who simply do not care how their actions affect you and your life. They use kindness and compassion as leverage and a weapon against the people that care about them. Well, I see no reason to be a victim to those people. If they can’t understand or don’t care how damaging their actions are, then why should anyone suffer along with them?

Maybe they will see the error of their ways in the future or maybe they won’t. Either way, will you still be healthy and well when that time comes? Or will the pain, chaos, and misery destroy you in the process? Compassion and understanding are limited resources and will dry up sooner or later. I’ve watched that destruction happen numerous times. You have to be the one that ensures it doesn’t happen to you. No one else can do it for you.

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On Mental Health Recovery and Restless Demons

Recovery is never a matter of total perfection. It can’t be. There are too many variables that can affect the outcome. In the past six months, I’ve had two very minor escalated cycles; one of which ended less than a week ago. They were so minor, in fact, that I didn’t manifest any of the physical symptoms that I usually have when I escalate. I was sleeping consistently and had no pressured thoughts or speech. What did occur was the warping of emotions and perception that fueled several bad decisions. I couldn’t tell that I was unwell until I hit the wall and crashed into a black depression, signaling the end of an escalated cycle.

During that cycle, demons that I had thought I put to sleep years ago through a lot of self-reflection, study, and therapy came back out to play. As a result, I overran boundaries I set for myself, as well as disrespectfully trampling all over those of a new friend and breaking their trust. That was a bitter pill to swallow given how much time and effort I’ve sunk into creating an atmosphere for trust and respect. Gone in a matter of days. Thank you, Bipolar Disorder.

I was completely blind to the years of effort, knowledge, and experience I had put in to correcting these social issues I struggle with due to High-Functioning Autism. I made every bad decision I could possibly make, decisions that I had learned years ago were completely wrong and worked to correct. I was listening but not actually hearing what this other person was telling me.

Recovery is not always clean and neat. Demons that you defeat can come back to haunt you later. You can’t look at it as a failure, just a part of the overall process. It’s one of the many bumps in the road that you will undoubtedly hit as you try to move forward and be better than you were yesterday. Maybe you will be able to salvage the situation; or maybe you’ll just have to watch yet another thing burn on the funeral pyre that is Bipolar Disorder.

It’s okay to stumble. All you can do is try to mend the situation as best as you can, if possible. And if it’s not possible, sweep up the ashes and keep going because tomorrow can be better. It doesn’t make you stupid, foolish, or mean you’re derailing. Mistakes happen. Shit happens. You just have to take it in stride, own your actions, try to fix them where you can, and keep going forward. You’ll be okay.

I’ve found that a number of people think that recovery means total functionality and normalcy. But, it really doesn’t. A lot of times it boils down to attaining a great deal of control and management over one’s dysfunctions and challenges, but still needing to put out the occasional fire that can pop up. It’s hard to unmake decades of negative beliefs or behaviors. And even if you do? The demon can still be there, lurking in the darkness, just waiting for you to slip up a little bit so it can come back out to play.

Learn from it and work towards not making those same mistakes again.

I’m not one to air out personal grievances or problems with others, but I felt that I would share this circumstance with you, the reader, to demonstrate that it doesn’t matter how much you know, how rigid you are with your medication, how much time you spend in therapy, or how much experience you have; Bipolar Disorder can and will still cause disruption in your life. That’s just the way it goes.

Seems it may be time for a medication adjustment of my own.

And to the person I wronged, I am deeply apologetic for my disrespectful behavior and profoundly sad I destroyed your trust. I was escalated and did not realize it until my brain crashed and burned. The person you saw in that time is not who I am; it was a fragment of who hypomanic me can be. 

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Wounds Can Close but Not Fully Heal

The path of recovery and change is long and hard.

You can spend twenty years working on a dysfunction, doing everything you can to learn how and why it happened, work to make sure it won’t happen that way again, but end up with it thrown right back in your face. It starts with a simple error in judgment and can easily start to run away from you. You get sucked up into the emotions that you thought you had overcame a long time ago. They fuel more bad decisions, you don’t listen to the people you should, and you only look forward with blinders.

The next thing you know, you’re staring at yourself in the cracked mirror that you thought you had fixed years ago. All of the horrible feelings that went along with it, all of the crushing blackness of depression and self-loathing, is sitting right there on your shoulder again. It laughs and mocks. It digs and picks at you. It will try to throw you straight back down into the hole you spent years climbing out of.

But, you have to forgive yourself. You have to acknowledge you’re human and will make bad decisions. And it doesn’t mean you are less of a person or stupid. It’s just the nature of the road that leads to self-improvement. The best approach is to own it, do your best to repair it, and move past it.

In related subject matter, I can’t tell you how stupid I used to think adjusting negative self-talk was. Like many people, I would colossally fuck up, look in the mirror, and tear myself to pieces. Many moons ago, I did end up learning from a therapist that it can play a major role in helping to alleviate future crashes and depression. The more you dwell and focus on it, even in using negative language against yourself, the more fuel you throw onto the fires so they can burn hotter and longer.

So for the people out there who think the idea of positive self-talk is stupid (which I did for many years), it’s really not. It’s just no one really explains that it helps adjust the whole way in which you perceive yourself and deal with your mistakes. It’s not a one time thing and it’s not going to drastically swing things for the positive, but it does make dealing with the lows a bit easier. It’s one small piece of the overall picture.

You’ll have setbacks, you’ll make mistakes, and ghosts from your past may come back to haunt you from time to time. The important thing is to not dwell too long on them. Acknowledge them, work to repair the damage, and move forward. And try not to be too much of an asshole to yourself when it eventually does happen; because it will.

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The Secret to Maintaining Your Sanity While Helping Another

Many people in my audience are here because they are attempting to better understand mental illness, help a mentally ill loved one, or better help themselves. The ups and downs associated with the process are emotionally taxing and difficult to handle. So today, I want to share an important tip that can significantly ease a lot of the stress and emotional turmoil that goes along with not only this process, but several other aspects of life.

That is: work to reduce the amount of emotion you invest in the process or outcome.

What the hell does that mean?

In trying to help a mentally unwell person, their instability can be a great deal of stress and anxiety. It’s only natural to start letting hope peek in when they appear to be balancing off. Maybe this time they will finally be ready to seek help? Maybe this time they’ll listen to reason and their doctor? Maybe this time they will take their medication as directed?

In a situation like this, it’s also possible that they don’t make the right decisions, aren’t ready to commit to their wellness path, or have a bad reaction to the medication they do take. Investing hope into that situation is fruitless because the pursuit of wellness and stability is not a straight line. It has it’s ups and downs. It’s a long road to travel and there are many obstacles that can knock a person off their course. And most people, I find, have to learn things the hard way. You don’t want to find yourself getting angry, frustrated, sad, or depressed because things didn’t resolve how you thought they would.

That is not to say that you should never be emotional. You’re human. You’re going to be. You should celebrate successes and acknowledge failures; just don’t celebrate or mourn until you have an actual, tangible reason to.

Work to maintain neutrality and it will make things much easier in the long-term. The ability to last long-term is important because the realization that one needs help and the pursuit of wellness often takes years. You can’t compromise your own mental and emotional health in the process of trying to help someone else.

And really, it applies to most other areas of life as well. It dramatically reduces the emotional impact of the process of pursuing your goals.

Far too many people look at things like failure and rejection as an end all, be all. They’re not. They’re just part of the process of succeeding. That’s why you can’t let your emotions dictate a setback, failure, or rejection as a devastating end.

Let me frame it in one of the most common examples that people write to me about.

The mind of a Bipolar spouse runs screaming into an unwell cycle. The cycle is burning hard for months with all of the “fun” that goes along with it. Eventually, the cycle ends and the Bipolar spouse reaches back out because their perspective is finally starting to clear up. So, what is the Supporter spouse now feeling? Hope since it appears the person they loved is back and clear again? Anticipation that the situation is changing for the better? Relief? Happiness? Comfort? It can be any number of things.

What happens to the emotional state of the Supporter spouse if a few days later, Bipolar Disorder takes off into another drastic swing and all of those relief-based emotions are yanked out from under them? What happens if the Bipolar person realizes they need help, but can’t get in to see their doctor before another cycle takes hold and convinces them that they are fine? That it’s everyone else that’s fucking crazy!!!  Not me!!! And then you find yourself back to square one after months of suffering with little to show for it.

You must work to maintain your wellness, balance, and stability while trying to love and help a mentally unwell person or their instability will destroy your emotional health. It is very common for Supporters to develop their own mental illnesses as they try to cope.

I use a very simple process myself.

1. Identify what the long-term goal is.

2. Temper emotions by keeping your eye on the long-term goal.

3. Force yourself to not dwell on the immediate successes and failures.

4. Repeat until you reach the long-term goal.

Seems simple, right? It’s not. At all. It takes time and practice to get used to; and you’re not going to get it right all of the time. I mean, you don’t need to look too deeply into my work to find anger or frustration. I definitely have it and experience it still. But, it’s a lot less intrusive than it used to be. Even a small gain in control over these emotions can make the overall journey much easier.

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Five Tips for a More Harmonious Bipolar Relationship

I had a recent request for some tips on relationships where both partners have Bipolar Disorder. The following would be applicable in about any relationship, but I feel as though these points are the most important for a relationship involving mental health and stability.

1. Both partners need to have the same attitude regarding their wellness.

You can’t have one partner who is recovered and the other partner just doesn’t put in any effort into recovery. Why? Loving and living with an unstable mentally ill person is a hell of a lot of stress. Stress can easily serve as a depressive or escalation trigger that can cause unwellness in a person with a mood disorder. Minimizing stress is an important facet of mental health management for many.

2. Remember that wellness is an individual path.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard some variation of, “Well, my boyfriend tried this, so I’m going to try it, too.” or “Well, my wife had a bad reaction to that, so I’m not going to try it.” Your path is not the path of your partner. Their success with a given treatment or approach has zero affect on yours. You can walk the path together, but everyone experiences their mental illness in different ways. And we all have individual body and brain chemistry that means you can’t know how a medication is going to affect you until you’ve taken it as directed for as long as it takes to reach its functional range.

3. Work to not respond to your partner when emotions are running high.

Attempt to approach problems and challenges in the relationship from a position of neutrality. The couple can easily destabilize one another into unwellness by constantly fighting. Take some time to cool off and let your emotions settle before you toss more fuel on the flames. That small campfire can easily explode into a volcano of emotion. Work on improving communication in the relationship. There are tons of self-help books out there about it or you may want to consider a relationship counselor to work on communication skills.

4. Have and enforce boundaries to keep yourself well and healthy.

In my experience, a Bipolar partner who is doing better than their partner will often flex their own boundaries. They understand what it’s like to be misunderstood or for people to not have patience with what they are dealing with and want to be compassionate. That person may wind up destabilizing as they bend their limits. Boundaries are important because they help you stay balanced and healthy. I’m not saying to never flex boundaries, just be mindful when you make that choice and don’t flex them too far. I will note, this is just an observation from interacting with many mentally ill couples.

5. Work to turn your home into your sanctuary.

Ideally, a home should be a sanctuary, a place of peace and respite where a person can retreat after dealing with the bullshit of their day and life. Life is hard and stressful. Both partners committing to making the home a place of peace (as much as it can be) will create a lower stress environment. Of course, that is easier said than done…which is a stupid phrase because everything is easier said than done. Regardless, it is worth the effort so you don’t have the additional stress of dreading your home life on top of everything else.

If you would like for me to write about something specific, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

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The Problem With Mental Health Professionals

There are a lot of people out there who have had terrible experiences with mental health professionals. Sometimes those experiences are valid, other times they are the result of the way we interact with them. But you want to know the real problem with mental health professionals?

They’re human beings; not so different than you or I.

We expect them to understand hundreds of mental illnesses and the way they affect each of us specifically. Mental illness is an incredibly personal experience. Though we are bound by threads of symptoms, they can manifest in very different ways from person to person.

Many of us walk into their offices, withhold important information, lie about what we’re experiencing, and then blame them when they can’t meaningfully help us. Too many of us walk into their offices and expect them to fix decades of mental illness in the course of a couple hours a month.

It’s easy to think that many professionals don’t give a shit because they are under tight time constraints to meet whatever quotas they have to meet standards imposed by other parties; be it a medical conglomerate, the government, or just keeping up with paying the bills. Thus, they can appear to be callous when harshly enforcing time limits or being rigid.

Nobody becomes a mental health professional to get rich. It’s one of the lowest paying, highest stress divisions of the medical industry. The people that do go into it are often there due to personal reasons, be it a mental illness of their own or having been affected by watching a loved one suffer. And I have talked to several who have reached out to me over the years who are dealing with their own mental illness while trying to help their patients.

Too many of us expect perfection out of our professionals because we are suffering. But they can’t give us perfection, because they’re human. And they certainly can’t read your mind if you choose to withhold information or misrepresent what you’re dealing with.

Do you want to know the secret to making meaningful progress with a mental health professional? Be a proactive participant in pursuing your wellness with as much honesty as you can.

What does it mean to be a proactive participant?

You need to work to understand your diagnosis and how it affects you SPECIFICALLY. Bipolar Disorder, and several other mental illnesses, can look very different from person to person. A lot of material that is produced is written from a perspective that may not necessarily reflect your personal experience. A counselor can be very helpful for working to better understand how your mental illness affects you.

Ask questions. Know why your professional is making the decisions that they are making. How is this medication supposed to help you? What is it supposed to do? How will I know if it is working or not? What side effects should I be looking for? How long should it take? A good professional will take the time to explain it to you; a bad one will just ask for blind trust or make you feel like you can’t understand.

There are a lot of good people in mental health care that want to help, but caring about people is a very difficult thing to do. The chaos and instability of mental illness, bad decisions, malicious and toxic people all take a very drastic, deep toll on caregivers.

That’s not even touching on the unethical or bad mental health professionals out there. They definitely do exist. Not everyone is good or even competent at their jobs.

Mental health professionals do not fix mentally ill people. They are there to help us fix ourselves. Mental health recovery is like 95% personal work and effort. No one can just hand wellness to you. It’s something you struggle, fight, and sacrifice for.

Understand that and you’ll have a much better time dealing with your professionals.

And, to any mental health professionals that may be reading this, thank you for your personal sacrifices and doing what you do.

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Bipolar Disorder is Not a Gift

I wish I could put more expletives in the title and still have it be acceptable through common social distribution channels. Bipolar Disorder is a brutal mental illness that can result in suicides, deaths, destroyed quality of life, abuse, substance abuse, destroyed relationships, and so much more. What ingenious think-tank decided it was a good idea to promote a mental illness that regularly features delusion as a gift to be cherished!?

And why is it, that every time I see one of these pieces come out of some advocacy group, they always use the most well-adjusted and healthy looking people to promote it? The last one I saw featured an aesthetically pleasing woman with a gleaming white, broad smile. Nary a trace of coffee or cigarette stain to be found! You know what that makes me think? They hired an actress and gave her a script.

Why not show the OTHER faces of Bipolar Disorder? The mentally ill that end up homeless? The mentally ill that end up disconnected from reality and turning their families inside out? The people that cycle in and out of mental institutions or prison?

I suppose “mental illness can be hell” isn’t as great of a promotional point and slogan.

I have to wonder what demographic of people they are trying to reach with this narrative. The people who are not diagnosed? That can’t be right because they wouldn’t have the context to understand the message. The people who are diagnosed but not seeking help? I don’t know about you, but it was a rare time I would have considered Bipolar Disorder a gift when I was alternating between suicidal depression and hypomanic instability and rage. That doesn’t seem right either.

The only groups it seems to be relevant to are the people who trend towards euphoric escalations and the artsy types who view mania as their muse. Or, maybe, they simply chose that angle because it has such a dominant narrative in Bipolar communities and social media groups around the internet? I don’t know, but it’s an ignorant message that I believe alienates more people than draws them in.

Why not present a realistic message? Why not something like: “Hey, Bipolar Disorder is a brutal, difficult mental illness that can destroy your life. Seek help so you don’t wind up insane, homeless, and with a family that hates you by the time you’re 50, assuming you don’t kill yourself by then, because you didn’t do shit to try to control it.”

And I feel reasonably certain I’m going to get angry comments from people who experience euphoria about how it feels so great and is their muse and blah blah blah. Just because something feels great doesn’t mean it’s good for you. If you have anyone in your life that loves and cares about you, I would be willing to bet money they are scared shitless during euphoric escalations because who knows where the limit is at?

Mania as a muse? No. Mania is a creative crutch that far too many Bipolar artists milk as their “tragic gift”. You want to create interesting, inspired art? Practice. It is so very common for unstable Bipolar people to circulate lists of artists or other creators as personal validation. And it’s not.

Those people were not special because of their mental illness. Those people were special in spite of their mental illness.

Bipolar Disorder is not a gift. It’s a challenge that needs to be controlled and overcome. And the stakes are far, far higher than any of those idiotic campaigns ever insinuate. Be greater than the Disorder by working with your mental health professionals to combat it.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking that the pain and misery of this mental illness is a gift to be cherished. It’s fucking not.

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Contemplating the Masks of Depression

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Depression”? Is it an image of a sullen, morbid soul who is sitting in darkness by themselves? That is a very common stereotype facilitated by pop culture and some of the easiest to understand extremes of depression.

Depression has many masks. The name is quite literal. It literally depresses a person’s ability to experience many emotions in a way that you would expect from a healthy mind. It can look very stereotypical, like anger, or in some cases, it can look like nothing at all. The person may be totally functional in every day life. They hold down a job, have a family, go about their lives; but they are unable to feel the emotions they are supposed to.

How many people do you know that are just angry and bitter all the time for seemingly no reason? And I’m not talking about just a hard life either. That can certainly contribute. Even people with hard lives do have temporary reprieves from time to time. Maybe it’s being proud of a child for an accomplishment, getting a raise at work, or having a great night with the spouse.

Instead? There’s just nothing there. Just emptiness, hollowness, pointlessness. And that emptiness gets filled with anger and bitterness as the weeks, months, and years grind on. Depression won’t let that person feel happy or any kind of joy or satisfaction. Maybe enough time passes where the person moves past that into a desolate landscape where the mind can’t even muster up anger anymore.

Many people think that because life is hard, it’s normal to never feel joy or happiness; for anger and bitterness to replace sadness. It’s not.

It’s depression. And it can be caused by anything from a bad diet, to poor sleep hygiene, to trauma, to not exercising, to the seasons changing, to a lack of sunshine, and so much more.

Are you depressed? I think there are a couple of pretty easy questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you should speak to a doctor.

Do you feel any strong emotions other than emptiness, anger, or bitterness? How did you feel the last time something good happened to you? Were your emotions appropriate for what transpired?

Many screening tools ask a question like, “Are you able to enjoy your hobbies or interests?” The reason is that you’re supposed to be able to, but depression can rob you of that, too.

Sadness and depression get a bit trickier. Genuine sadness is not supposed to feel empty or hopeless. It should also not make you feel as though you should hurt yourself or not be here any longer. Genuine sadness is not a black hole. There is supposed to be emotional pain there. A lack of emotional pain and numbness may also potentially point to depression.

If this writing resonated with you, if it’s something you see in yourself, talk to your doctor. That does not necessarily mean you need or should go on meds, either! Quite a few people successfully combat depression with lifestyle changes and healthier habits.

Life is difficult enough as it is. Don’t let it rob you of the ability to feel emotions, too.

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A Video Post from Sophie

Bit of a different post today. Was recently reached out to by Sophie, a young lady who wanted to share part of her own journey with others. As y’all may or may not know, I’m generally pretty picky about what I choose to share from other people. I appreciated her short presentation for it’s authenticity and genuine nature.

Also, she is a person who was misdiagnosed for quite awhile as well. Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder get confused on an all too regular basis.

So, I am passing her video along.

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Mental Illness and The Importance of Professional Diagnosis

There are a lot of people in the world that are looking for easy, convenient answers. Not a week passes when I don’t receive correspondence from someone asking, “Am I Bipolar?” or “Is my loved one Bipolar?” And my response to all of these people is the same. “I’m not qualified to make that kind of statement. You need to discuss everything you just told me with a mental health professional.”

It’s not hard to find statements on the internet, throughout mental health websites, and advocates talking about how important it is not to self-diagnose or attempt to diagnose a loved one. But, I’ve yet to see anyone really address the question, “why?”

It’s not that difficult to tell if someone needs to be speaking to a mental health professional. A mental illness is defined as some form of behavioral or mental pattern that impedes a person’s ability to meet the basic needs of human existence, often compared against Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs as a rule of thumb. Once you understand that, it is much easier to see in the way a person conducts their life.

What is not so clear are the details of that person’s history, life, and medical history. Furthermore, many mental illnesses look very similar. People regularly confuse Borderline Personality Disorder with Bipolar Disorder because they both can include drastic swings. However, the details of those mental illnesses differ greatly.

Details are vitally important. A lot of loved ones of the mentally ill do not get to see all of the details that will really help explain the whole picture. We keep a lot buried and hidden away from others. Furthermore, many mentally ill people do not always understand what details point to symptoms. It’s easy to view a “minor quirk” about ourselves as just part of our personality instead of a problem.

That makes the work of mental health professionals all the more difficult because we don’t necessarily know what information needs to be communicated. That’s a knowledge that we gain over time as we grow to understand our mental illness and how it manifests in each of us, specifically.

The biggest threat of self-diagnosis is convincing yourself that you have a certain mental illness. The biggest threat of attempting to diagnose a loved one is convincing them that they have a certain mental illness. Because an unwell mind can latch onto that and hold tight to it as an explanation for why things are the way they are. Why is that bad? What if the person becomes convinced that they have the wrong mental illness? How long is it going to take to convince that mentally ill person that they do not have that mental illness? Months? Years? The rest of their life?

Diagnosis by a professional is the only way to go. Yes, misdiagnosis happens. The doctor may not be as knowledgeable on a particular mental illness, the patient may not be cooperative or communicating, important details may get overlooked. There are numerous reasons for misdiagnosis even in the best of conditions. But, that can be corrected by the patient educating themselves on their diagnosis, working out how it affects them specifically, and openly communicating with their professionals about what they learn and the affects of their treatment.

If you take nothing else from this blog post, I want you to understand this. There is NOTHING simple about confronting, fighting, and overcoming mental illness. Even getting a correct diagnosis can be hard and can take time. Do not make that process more complicated for yourself or your loved one by attempting to diagnose. Leave that to qualified professionals.

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