Paralyzing Fear of Bipolar Disorder
When I discovered I was bipolar, I suddenly became scared of everything. Things that never crossed my mind started to shudder through my bones and produce endless waterfalls of tears. I was afraid of diagnosis. I was afraid of what it meant. I was afraid of psychiatrists. I was afraid of treatment. I was afraid of not getting treatment. I was afraid of what the treatment would do to me.
Mental illness means being afraid.
I Think I Am Bipolar and I Am Scared
People start to suspect a mental illness in a variety of ways; but at some point, somewhere your consciousness knows there is something wrong with you. This something is beyond the “normal” somethings you see all around you. This something is scary and out of control.
And in spite of what some people would have you believe, it is not “in” to be bipolar. It will never be “in” to be in pain.
I Am Bipolar and I Am Scared
The diagnosis of bipolar is a scary one. You’ve just found out there is something wrong with your brain, and this is what has been wrong and what’s been wrecking your life. Some people find the diagnosis liberating in that they finally know what has been so out-of-control for them, others find the idea of being “crazy” terrifying. What does it mean to have a diagnosis of bipolar?
I Am in Treatment for Bipolar and I Am Scared
Choosing treatment for bipolar is downright terrifying. There is your psychiatrist telling you to take meds and get therapy, family denying you have a problem, pressure not to take medication and the sickness eating away at the back of your brain. You’re sick, how could you possibly make the “right” choice? Every option is scary. What if you’re not really sick? What if you don’t pick the right treatment? What if the medication does something terrible to you? What if you don’t get treatment and something terrible happens?
Mental Illness, Bipolar Disorder is Scary
Every decision you have to make after becoming mentally ill is a sucky one. A scary one. Are you bipolar or not? Both sides of that suck. One because it means you’re sick and the other because it means you don’t understand where the pain is coming from. Do you take meds or not? Both sides suck. One because it means you have to take medication you won’t like and the other because it means risking getting worse.
And on, and on.
The people who are sick are the least capable of making these terrifying decisions and yet absolutely have to. The fear of these decisions can be paralyzing. You literally want the world, not to mention your brain, to stop spinning while you figure it out. But the world and your brain just don’t listen to reason.
Fear is Natural if not Always Helpful
If you manage to separate yourself from all the outside pressures of friends, family and other the decisions themselves are still scary. And so they should be. They’re big decisions.
Your body feels fear when it senses you are in danger. Before you jump out of a plane you are more terrified than I can possibly relay to you. As you should be. Your hindbrain, your instincts, are telling you, you will die. But your intellect knows you probably won’t. So you leave the plane in spite of the fear.
These decisions are the same. They feel impossibly scary. Every choice feels terrible and wrong. But that’s just your hindbrain telling you, you are in danger. That fear is there to protect you from dangerous things. It’s evolution.
Knowledge and Thinking Beats Fear
But luckily you have higher-order reasoning. It’s the part of you that feels the fear and does it anyway. That higher-order reasoning attempts to understand the real risks your hindbrain isn’t sophisticated enough to evaluate. Your hindbrain doesn’t understand the concept of a parachute; it just thinks, “falling bad.” But your higher-order thinking understands it.
And while it is more pressure than any sick person should ever be under, you will be under that pressure and that fear. So try to remember: fear is good; it’s there to protect you. But the fear doesn’t understand everything and is not always right.
Tracy, N. (2011, April 3). Paralyzing Fear of Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/04/paralyzing-fear-of-bipolar-disorder
Author: Natasha Tracy
After a few yrs of living with it. Plus I live with severe paranoia.
My psych likes to chat less & push drugs more,but where I live there's unfourtunately a lack of psychs .....I mean he doesn't drug you till comatose but I wish he'
I mean it's not comatose but I wish we would do more therapy.
Max time 15 or so mins bugs me plus he keeps me waiting I'm early
Same old I guess with many peeps.
Anyway wonder if anyone has a fear of going outside?
I do have years don't know why I look ok & all
I'd like to walk but feel frozen....feel paranoid.
Likely from part of my past ....I don't know
Appreciate any thoughts it's spring like here I just want to walk
As hard as I try I feel like a statue.
Or maybe BP symptoms not slept well 2-3 nites
Though had this prob years!
Too embarrassed to tell anyone.....
I happen to read through all these responses tonight and yours was some 5yrs after all the prior conversations. Since you and I aren't far apart from our visits to the site I figured I'd reach out. I relate to the fear and it may be your post that directed me to the site as I had typed in Google about my fear associated with this illness. We need not focus on the how's or negative based worry of what if. We have to will everything to play out positively. Will it with our verbal expression of the beliefs, supportive gestures, etc. Power and light to you!
I'm sorry you're having such a hard time. Many people can't accept the diagnosis at first. Many, many people self-medicate. Many have been where you are now. You're not alone in your experience,
It's really good that you are getting help now. But you should know that people with bipolar disorder should _not_ be on an antidepressant without also being on a mood stabilizer as well.
If you are bipolar, being on an antidepressant alone often makes the bipolar _worse_.
I don't normally say things unequivocally, but in this case, medical thinking is quite clear.*
Please see a doctor immediately and get this addressed. An antidepressant by itself could send you into a mania and that's the last thing you want.
* I am not a doctor, but I do feel strongly on this point.
First, thank-you. I'm honored that I could help and thank-you for taking the time to come here and tell me about it.
I agree, I think it's hard to read a whack of pages when you're in crisis. You have to save the deep reading for when you're not drowning. It's a triage thing. Bite-sized chunks of help and life. Good for everyone. Doesn't give you a tummy ache.
You're also making a great point about having these conversations with family. So many of us hide in the dark too scared to say anything. Talking matters. Support matters. It's hard, but tackling it can make such a difference.
Thank-you for the compliment on the writing. I certainly appreciate it from one who's not too bad himself.
This article has been instrumental in navigating a two-week-old diagnosis of having Bipolar Disorder. New to the ball game, I gave this article to family and friends.
Your article really expressed what I was going through... The paralyzing fear of dugs/no drugs, metal illness = Crazy-town, my family feeling that they had to hold in a secret, the stigmatization, etc, etc, ad naseum...
Your article was an eye opener for family and friends as a place to begin discussions of "what it all means." I don't know what I would have done without having these conversations with my family. I can't express the positive impact that your article has had a starting point for real and important discussions.
Also, if anyone is reading this that has received a recent diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Rich Wallace, of the The Bipolar Spouse, has written a short e-book "Entering Into A Bipolar Relationship" that dove-tails nicely into Natasha's article.
You can find it here at:
I think the brevity of both article and e-book (no cost) helped vs. giving family and friends some 400 page book off Amazon titled "Now That Hell Has Come To Visit, How Do You Make It Welcome." Zing! You know what I mean?
Natasha, thanks again. You're a talented writer, and I hope folks are hiring you left and right. They should be. Your article articulated an understanding of what it means to be new to a mood disorder that truly bites the big one. You were of great help to myself, family and friends.
[removed by moderator] No one wants to take these mess or give them to their children. I probably used to think I knew it all like you do, before God blessed me with the opportunity to adopt the most beautiful baby boy. He has pediatric bipolar. We tried everything before giving him meds. Andnits not lack ofnparenting skills on our part, as our other 3 (1 biological and 2 adopted) children are just fine. [removed by moderator]
"I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a manic episode nearly killed me."
I'm sorry, that must have been extremely difficult. I don't have manias just hypomanias but I know how terrifying it is to feel your brain out of control.
"Knowledge is power and we do not have to live in fear."
You are absolutely right. Fear is real. And knowledge does dispel the fear.
I can't promise I'll have a chance to take a look at your worked as I'm swamped right now, but I'll see what I can do.
We get it, you are a bully. Now please move on. If you have an issue with "Modern Psychiatry" go picket Pfifer. Victimizing the people you call victims makes you look pathetic.
The vibe here is loving, you should show some respect.
Thank-you. Beautifully said.
"what I hear from people newly diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder is terror and extreme confusion. It’s a painful reality to adjust to, even if diagnosis does offer the hope of appropriate treatment."
Yup, I hear this a lot too. Mental illness is scary for so many reasons. I could write an entire book about just that.
But, you Holly, my dear, make it less scary. You're beautiful, functional and, not to put words in your mouth, but occasionally happy? I like to think that would take the edge off the fear of a DID diagnosis.
Fear is real. But we stand. Makes a little extra protection for the others who can't.
We are adults, name-calling does not become us.
Fervent disagreement with some of the statements made is perfectly normal, but please do not be abusive or I will have to delete your comment.
Thanks for writing about this. Being diagnosed with a mental illness really is terrifying for many people. I've noticed that for some, like you mentioned, a diagnosis is a relief because at least now they have a name for what ails them. Not to mention a treatment path. But more often than not, what I hear from people newly diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder is terror and extreme confusion. It's a painful reality to adjust to, even if diagnosis does offer the hope of appropriate treatment.
I hate medication and I am off it for the time being, but at least I recognise that some people need it in order to appear as normal as everybody else, and they have every right to take them without being criticized or feeling guilty, without a freaking nami that has absolutely no idea...
I hope you become bipolar too, let me then see your theories and preaching jumping off the window and you running towards the doctor and his good old pills...
If you think I insulted you, remember you insulted me and many other people with bipolar disorder by thinking this illness doesn't exist, we victimise ourselves and nothing was wrong with our brains prior medication- so, let me translate this, a brain can't have a problem of its own, but it can acquire one through drug poisoning?
If you really think so, you are delusional and crazier than most bipolar people I know, and then I am crazy enough to start arguing with you... instead of ignoring such trolls and malevolent creatures as you seem to be!
How nice you've become a regular reader.
"You make yourself a victim."
Admitting to an illness no more makes me a victim than admitting to cancer make someone else a victim. I'm a person. With an illness. Period.
As for how helpful they may seem too you, most patients will say that while chemically lobotomized, even while they are unable to work,or attend school, gaining weight at astronomical speeds, becoming obese, developing diabetes and heart disease, etc. These drugs do not treat "brain illnesses". That's a fact.
I had been diagnosed with bipolar 1 and was completely med free, and proud of it, when I had the worst manic mixed episode complete with delusions, paranoia and ended up in the hospital this past fall. I am now on meds and much better and happier. Science or no, there was DEFINITELY something wrong with my brain. You just don't act like that unless something is wrong. So for me, and even my friends and family, we are glad for the "constant deluge" of meds.
Such a great comment, thanks.
I've always believed that sleep was a cornerstone of mental wellness. In fact, there's some evidence that mental illness comes partially from a discordant circadian rhythm. (It's a common issue with people with ADHD - they can't sleep at night.) And if you can sleep, "like a normal person," you will feel _so_ much better.
It's one of the things that people don't get about sleeping meds. I would _much_ rather take sleeping meds and get rest than stay away knowing that I'm "med free." Because staying awake generally means something is really wrong and I'm about to get worse.
(Seroquel helps a lot of people sleep. The one thing I can tell you is that if, for some reason, in the future, you do have issues with Seroquel, there are other options out there. So maybe that is one less worry for you.)
I have lack of feeling and emotional pain. How can I have both? I'm mysterious and enigmatic I suppose.
"All of us just have to keep up the fight and hope that medicine improves. In the meantime, we can at least take pride in our endurance in the face of great adversity, right?"
A fabulous point and well said. I know it sucks in the short term, but if we can look to the longer-term we can see that new knowledge will be gained and treatment options do get better over time.
And adversity? I swear, I wouldn't know how to live anywhere else.
Thank-you for the comment. You are not alone in your fear. Many of us stand together in and against it.
I hope people who think they may be ill will overcome their fear of diagnosis and seek help because it can make such a difference in their lives. For example, being diagnosed meant that I got a prescription for Seroquel, This has been a Godsend for me, since insomnia was always my worst enemy both when I'm "up" and when I'm depressed. No other sleeping pill worked for me for more than a few days. Sleeping like a "normal" person has already had a wonderful effect on my life. I'm no longer walking around in a sleep-deprivation haze. Things look a lot less bleak now.
I'm already afraid of what will happen if and when the Seroquel stops working and I'm afraid of what side effects my Lamictal will have, but at least I know that I am taking control of my illness instead of letting it control my life.
Thanks for your blog. It has been very enlightening to me although I am so very, very sorry that your life has been so full of pain. My depression manifests as complete lack of feelings rather than emotional pain, but I still know what it is like to start thinking of ways to end it all.
All of us just have to keep up the fight and hope that medicine improves. In the meantime, we can at least take pride in our endurance in the face of great adversity, right?