Paralyzing Fear of Bipolar Disorder

April 3, 2011 Natasha Tracy

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, April 3). Paralyzing Fear of Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Sandra cobban
April, 1 2017 at 2:57 pm

Hi Natasha it's been awhile...I've been very physically sick but nice piece of writing as always...I always knew I wasn't well so I wasn't scared of the diagnosis.....but I'm scared of the actual power of it.
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.....

November, 28 2016 at 11:42 pm

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!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 20 2017 at 7:54 am

Thank you so much for your reply! It means a lot. I searched again this morning, googled myself, for help with another bout of circling frightening thoughts. The thoughts had backed off, even all the way, due to YouTube lectures when I go to bed at night. I have several spiritual or mindfulness leaders I've sought out. Very helpful. But then "it" (all of the years circling thoughts paralyzing thoughts all came back last week.). Yes, mindfulness, lists of gratitude, get outside at least once a day, try, try, try again. Thank God for Google & YouTube & the many pages for which I cut & paste into the Notebook, for later reading. Like having someone there . That's all I can do. That's all any of us can do. And yes, if you haven't, search for solid leaders, seek out (mindfulness, meditation, there's s lot there) by bipolar as a search, it's way too depressing). Seek out those thinking about what will be uplifting. Good to walk around all day, carrying YouTube speakers in your pocket. Oh, heck, search on Google too.

October, 22 2016 at 2:30 pm

Just feeling scared about how I'm going to live into old age, if I end up bipolar & all alone & responsible for myself, my bills, with my bipolar. Who will be there to take care of me when I plummet to the dark side, all by myself. I am so very afraid. These are the thoughts that cause me to think of ways to take my life. I won't be able to stand being all alone, if I don't have the money to be able to take care of myself. If I did? I could live. I could make it work. Suicidal ideation I guess. I'm so very afraid.

Cindy Heart
May, 26 2011 at 1:29 pm

I will talk to my doctor. My moods are very extreme. Everything I feel is extreme, theres no happy medium. Im very happy or Im very depressed. I get restless and bored but i cant do anything. I never saw myself as being manic until I started reading about it. When i started journaling and I went back later and read what I wrote, it made me sick. I was all over the place. But thank you for the advice, Im not sure if this is bipolar but I am seeking help.

Natasha Tracy
May, 26 2011 at 12:25 pm

Hi Cindy,
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.
- Natasha
* I am not a doctor, but I do feel strongly on this point.

Cindy Heart
May, 26 2011 at 10:53 am

I was diagnosed bipolar years ago. I never believed it, not for a second. I know I had issues and fought with depression but I had a rough life. I self medicated for 8 years, then I went to rehab and ive been clean for a year. Now that im clean, Im on an emotional roller coaster. I never know how Im going to feel when I wake up, I hate waking up. I dont take naps because I cant deal with waking up twice in one day. Ive moved 3 times this year, once was with someone I didnt know. Im very impulsive, and sometimes I dont care. I do crazy things. Im very intelligent but i cant seem to get my life together. I can be very happy one minute and then suddenly very very deressed. Im very pretty and a good person. I have no problem getting men, keeping them is a whole different story. I have met people i thought i loved, and had found a great friend then ill move and never talk to them again. And not feel anything? I started reading about this disorder and I started crying because i felt like i was reading about me. The hypersexuality, all of it. Im seeing a therapist next week, hopefully it will help. Im on antidepressants but they dont do a whole lot. Im my own worst enemy. I selfdestruct all the time and Im helpless to stop it. Im afraid when Im happy because i know what is coming. I sometimes feel im desperate to do anything, good or bad to feel ok. Ive always been like this, it seems to have gotten worse now but I think its because I covered it up with painkillers for so long. Well, i just wanted to share what I go through. It feels good to talk about it.

Natasha Tracy
April, 8 2011 at 2:38 pm

Hello Bipolartude,
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.
- Natasha

April, 8 2011 at 9:08 am

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.

April, 7 2011 at 3:58 pm

[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]

Lisa g Hancock
April, 6 2011 at 3:15 pm

NAMI dearest!! Ummm, ok! U have the right to ur own thoughts but y be here? This is for support not for the unsupporters to be here!

Natasha Tracy
April, 6 2011 at 10:46 am

Hi KristiLynn,
"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.
- Natasha

KristiLynn Valdez
April, 6 2011 at 8:21 am

Natasha: Your comments hit close to home. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a manic episode nearly killed me. I had no idea what had happened to me. I was absolutely terrified. Two months of inpatient recovery, learning about the illness and getting on the right medications helped me tackle the fear. Knowledge is power and we do not have to live in fear. If you find the time, please read my short memoir LADIES OF KILO available as an e-book at I would be so interested in your opinion. Sincerely, KristiLynn Valdez

April, 5 2011 at 3:26 pm

Just my opinion, and mind you I am not a doctor or trying to hand out diagnoses. It sounds to me like "NamiDearest" is maybe having a pretty rough bipolar episode of their own and fighting medication that is DEARLY needed.

April, 5 2011 at 3:25 pm

Loving? The vibe here is more like heavily medicated and lacking insight.

April, 5 2011 at 3:06 pm

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.

April, 5 2011 at 2:35 pm

Hahahaha! Lisa, That's what you think, but you have no idea.

Natasha Tracy
April, 5 2011 at 2:26 pm

Thank-you. Beautifully said.
- Natasha

April, 5 2011 at 2:25 pm

It's disturbing that someone with that much animosity towards something they obviously have no actual experience or connection with has that much time on their hands to come on a site where all people are trying to do is heal and support one another and start spreading negativity and discord. If that's how you feel, that's your right. But feel it somewhere else, away from people who are dealing with enough pain.

Abbie Lifey
April, 5 2011 at 2:11 pm

Hi Tracey, I found you again! I am wondering about using Seroqule for sleeping, because my LAST doctor, who I LOVED (he gave me what ever I wanted and he was really cute and he hugged me goodby when he left really good) was transfered to a better job but he told me it was because of Serqule which I was on before he left and it DID help me sleep.

April, 5 2011 at 1:56 pm

Thanks, Outerspace. You gave me a good chuckle. All anyone needs to do to get your "bipolar brain disorder" is go to a shrink and rattle off a few "symptoms" from the DSM cookbook.

Natasha Tracy
April, 5 2011 at 1:53 pm

Hi Holly,
"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.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 5 2011 at 1:36 pm

Quick reminder all:
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.
- Natasha

Holly Gray
April, 5 2011 at 1:31 pm

Hi Natasha,
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.

April, 5 2011 at 1:02 pm

Nami-not-at-all-dearest, I bet you are not bipolar, and I bet you are not a doctor, either. What the hell are you doing here? Get a life and let us live with our illness and with our meds if we want to...
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!

April, 5 2011 at 12:46 pm

You're not admitting anything. You're lying to yourself.

Natasha Tracy
April, 5 2011 at 12:23 pm

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.
- Natasha

April, 5 2011 at 11:26 am

Hannah, Your conclusions involve errors in logic. You can snort coke or drop acid, and alter your mental state as well. There WILL be something wrong with your brain eventually. The drugs can cause tissue loss in the pre-frontal cortex at a rate of up to 1% each year. They've been shown repeatedly to cause WORSE long-term outcomes, and we see recovery rates of over 90% in people with "schizophrenia" who don't go on the drugs and stay on them. Bipolar now see a chronic course it never saw in history, and psychiatric disability rates have skyrocketed due to the way psych drugs are being prescribed these days, especially in the Unites States.
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.

April, 5 2011 at 3:49 am

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.

April, 5 2011 at 2:50 am

There no evidence whatsoever that there was anything wrong with your brain prior to the constant deluge of brain-damaging psychotropics, ECT and VNS you've done to it. There's just as much science behind claiming your problems are caused by demon possession as their is to claim you have a "sick" brain. You make yourself a victim.

Natasha Tracy
April, 4 2011 at 2:04 pm

Hi Kathy,
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.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 4 2011 at 1:58 pm

Hi Mari,
Thank-you for the comment. You are not alone in your fear. Many of us stand together in and against it.
- Natasha

April, 4 2011 at 1:51 pm

For me, having a name for what was wrong with my brain was a huge relief. I always knew I was crazy, but now I know what flavor of crazy I am and that's great.
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?

April, 4 2011 at 12:10 pm

This is an amazing post. I can't even begin to describe the fear I felt when first diagnosed, or the fear I still feel sometimes. It's good to know that I'm not alone. Thanks Natasha.

Alistair McHarg
April, 4 2011 at 6:29 am

Fear is at the very heart of Bipolar Disorder. - Yes, there is fear in the idea that your mind is not 100% reliable and that you need the support of professionals, meds, friends etc. to "be yourself" and flourish in life. - But the larger role of fear is seen in the behavior - mania - and extreme depression - are fear-driven flights from reality, from events that hit us where we are emotionally vulnerable. This is why mental health cannot ever be simply achieved with medication alone, one needs to do the inner work that is required by spiritual growth. You're not mentally health so long as you run; you have to stand and face your fear.

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