PJ's comment on yesterday's post caused me to write today's. She's only been diagnosed within the last year and wonders how long it's going to take to get well, whether she'll still have highs and lows despite medication, and I guess perhaps just wants my perspective on all this.
I guess the best way to start out is to say that I can't be sure how things are going to play out for you. But I will give you my perspective, and hope that others will tell you how they feel. In my own case, you have to realize that I wasn't diagnosed until 25 years after my first depressive episode. And all that time ago, people didn't talk about depression. So while I had these two annual six-week depressive episodes, I had no idea what caused them.
A part of me is glad I wasn't diagnosed when I was younger because I wouldn't have wanted to wear a label when I was 18 years old. Unlike most people, I don't believe in labels and I don't believe in looking at mental illness and physical illness as separate entities. But while that's easy for me to say at 58, it wouldn't have been easy for me to figure out and say when I was in my late teens and early twenties.
So, while I did have these episodes for most of my life, I didn't feel like I was handicapped in any way. I have always fought for what I've wanted and mostly achieved it--even if it turned out that it didn't make me happy.
And maybe, since the career I ultimately pursued is writing--which is so personal and so fraught with rejection--perhaps I needed success in other fields to deal with the rejection and be able to transcend it. (But that's an entirely different topic of discussion.)
In terms of bipolar mood disorder, my own feeling is that medication will never be the full answer--even when it works. I strongly believe that if a person is feeling very stressed and disliking his or her job or having problems in his or her marriage, or having difficulties with friends and/or family members, medication can't solve the problems--and shouldn't be expected to.
If we're not getting exercise, which has been proven to be of greater value than antidepressant medication, then we're going to have problems. If we don't eat nutritional foods, then we won't feel well. If we don't attend to the spiritual aspect of our lives, then we will feel there's something missing. And if we don't continue to grow and evolve--and deal with the difficulties and darkness that's inherent in the very process of life--then we are going to have problems.
Medication cannot solve those problems. We need to develop an understanding of who we are and want we want. We need to develop skills to handle stress. We need to read about adult development so we can anticipate life stages. We need to deal directly with the people and situations that are bothering us so that we can resolve issues and figure out whether we want those people to remain in our lives or whether we will be happier without having them in our lives.
If people are psychotic, medication can help. If they are always so depressed they feel like killing themselves, then medication can help. If they hear voices, medication can help.
But, if they are rapid cycling and weren't before they started taking medication, they need to ask themselves if the medication is causing the problem. If they are hoping that whatever ails them is biochemical (whatever that truly means) rather than facing their true life problems, then their diagnosis is only a crutch and I don't believe they'll ever get well.
In answer to your question, "No, I don't think it needs to take years to figure all of this out." I did seek help when I was younger and saw a number of counselors and psychologists and I have never met less insightful people in my life. But I know that some people who are reading this blog do have counselors or therapists whose advice they treasure. And advice can come from friends and family members as well as spiritual advisers.
I guess my best advice is to say, "Whether we believe in labels or not, I believe we are each responsible for our own lives. And the disservice that a diagnosis can play--in my opinion--is that it suggests you aren't responsible for your life because you have a chemical imbalance. The truth is that diabetes or high blood pressure or cancer can be attributed to a chemical imbalance as well.
So I believe that whatever illnesses we have, we need to get the best medical care we can, but ultimately we can all be self-healers. We need to look inward as well as outward to figure out how to live our lives. We need to make sure we're not only living authentic lives, but that we are living lives that are satisfying to us...not to others.
P.J., I think if I had understood this when I was younger, I could have healed myself far earlier. I'm not sure why it took so long, but I still have years left to live so I'm grateful I've finally figured things out for now.
All my best in your journey!