Life Before and After the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

February 2, 2012 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Because I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a very young age, a whopping twelve years old, I have a hard time remembering a life before the diagnosis—before I was told, “Natalie, you have Bipolar Disorder.” The only thing I understood was that I missed the Halloween dance at school; that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But I remember being a little girl. A little girl who did not take medication. I remember long nights when I could not sleep; even longer days when I was crazed and manic. I recall my mother’s eyes, frightened, and my father's hands hugging me, telling me to calm down. That I would be okay. I can visualize in flashes my siblings; younger than I. Talking to them from the hospital.

But it ends there. Life after the diagnosis has captured the rest of my life. At the age of twenty-six, the word ‘after’ lingers.

Life Before The Diagnosis of Mental Illness

Most people are diagnosed later than I was and so life before the diagnosis looms larger. Presumably, you recall twenty-or-so years of life before it all came crashing down. Sure, it was probably a little hectic, probably crazed, but it was your life nonetheless.

Some people diagnosed with a mental illness are 'stable' for many years prior. Suddenly, and for no reason you can pin-point, your world crashes and burns. You might find yourself in the hospital; you might be taking medication that frightens you. Or, maybe you have been sick for a long time but had no reason.

Life before the diagnosis is different for all of us but life after the diagnosis is, in part, shared.

Accepting the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

This is probably the most difficult part of being diagnosed with a mental illness. Human beings have a strong sense of self; we define ourselves based on goals, morals, actions and the little things, hobbies and friends. Suddenly, your new psychiatrist drops a bomb: things will never be the same. He or she will tell you that you will be better soon but you might wonder when. You probably are wondering why—how can they be sure that you are sick?

Acceptance is like walking a road with no end; it is like being lost in the woods. It is much like the lights going off in your mind, in your life, and you scramble to find the switch to turn them on but you cannot.

Life After the Diagnosis

Once you have reached a level of acceptance you cannot help but remember life before but, with any luck, life begins to open up. It can take months, years, it probably feels like a lifetime—I wish I could tell you this were inaccurate. I wish I could tell you that the first medication you take would restore your life to sanity. But I would be lying.

So, what can I tell you? Having some experience under my belt, more than I would like, I can tell you that it gets better. Life after the diagnosis can be as positive as you make it. Patience is a virtue when working to recover from mental illness.

The person you were before, the person you are working to become, is still the same person, but accepting that it takes work to become well, to believe that you will, allows you to both merge your past and present. To become a whole person. A person defined by both times in your life.

It was tough, being so young and so sick---At that time in my life I would have rather been anyone else. Mental Illness is painful, the road to recovery rocky, but life after the diagnosis can be as fantastic as you make it. We all recover on a different level but we can all claim our lives as our own.

We are not just a diagnosis: we are defined by the things that make us smile, the things that make us cry, and everything else in between. I was told, when young, to “stay the course.” I asked My psychiatrist what she meant, “Stick with it. The world will be yours soon enough.”

And it will, for all of us.

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APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2012, February 2). Life Before and After the Diagnosis of Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 17 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Dr Musli Ferati
February, 11 2012 at 10:15 pm

However,the life is big psychic burden, with many obligation and investment that accomplish all that patchwork of daily functioning. Anyway, the same statement is equally for people with mental illness, even mental disorders are overloaded with unresolved misunderstanding. In this case, I would to access the necessity of an appropriate way to recover and to overcome sufferings from any mental disease. It is ought to pursuit the model of natural lifestyle after diagnosis of mental illness, like a person without this diagnosis. Otherwise, we risk to be a victim of many prejudice that damage self-esteem as the main counterpart of these sneaky illness. Your life experience is an excellent lecture, in order to manage in optimal way these disorders.

Grahame Lawson
February, 10 2012 at 5:47 am

That was really well written, and expressed. I am currently looking for a second opinion. I take an injection of Risperadal Consta every two weeks and after taking it, I feel awful in the mornings. My head is buzzing and heavy and noises like cutlery cause sharp pains in my ears. Mainly I don't feel like myself. This lasts up until a couple days before the shot, when i start to feel better - (as the medication is wearing off).

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
February, 10 2012 at 6:44 am

Hi, Grahame:
First, thank you. A second opinion is never a bad idea. When meds are injected they are, initially, harder to tolerate but the effects do improve over time. It's the waiting that is really hard!
Thank you commenting!

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