Receiving a diagnosis of any kind can be devastating to a person’s life. It’s perfectly normal to need to grieve a diagnosis. Getting diagnosed can mean extra treatment, new medication, hospital stays, lifestyle changes, and more. It can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships. A diagnosis can also leave a lot of unknowns for what the future holds, and that can be very unsettling. Fear of the unknown can hold a lot of power over a person. Grieving a diagnosis can look like any other type of grieving, commonly depicted in 5 or 7 stages. I’ve received 9 mental health diagnosis over the years, 2 of them were misdiagnosed and so today mental health professionals agree on 7 diagnoses and an 8th in the works. When I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I definitely spun into a deep state of grieving, and it took me nearly a year to fully grieve my diagnosis. My bipolar diagnosis came slowly, first I was diagnosis with Bipolar 2, then my psychiatrist disagreed, saying it was just my Borderline showing similar symptoms. After getting a third opinion, it was finally accepted that I had bipolar 2. One time I went into therapy, it was very apparent to my social worker that I was fully manic, a state that can only be reached if you have Bipolar 1. Almost a year later, I was talking with my therapist and I mentioned how I get manic for about half of a month and depressed for the other half. According to her, someone who has bipolar only gets manic once or twice a year, at most, not every single month. this means I have rapid-cycling Bipolar 1. About 2.5% of all US citizens have bipolar disorder, and of that 2.5%, only 10-15% have rapid-cycling. Because of this long, drawn-out process of getting a proper diagnosis that 4+ mental health professionals agree on, I went through the grieving process multiple times when it came to my Bipolar disorder.
Drawing on my own experience and various articles online, I’m going to talk you through what grieving can look like after receiving a mental health diagnosis.
Shock/ Disbelief- What did the doctor just say? Surely I didn’t hear him right. I’m perfectly normal. Everyone just gets a little stressed sometimes… right? The chaos can be all you think about, You have to find out what happened, no matter what the cost.
Denial- This can’t be true. It just can’t be. I don’t need this medicine. I can’t have this illness. I’m so healthy! I’ve felt like this my whole life. Why should now be any different??
Bargaining- I can beat this, I just have to grin and bear it with my treatment team. Maybe if I tell them everything’s better, I won’t have to go to therapy anymore. And my mom won’t have to look at me with such sad, desperate eyes. That’s it, just pretend and do what they want you to do and say. Maybe if I went and got a second opinion…
Depression- A number of people tend to get stuck in this phase and that makes it the most dangerous stage. This is where the sadness and guilt can set in. Self-blaming can take over. If only I had gotten help sooner… now it’s helpless. I can never get better, it’s just too hard.
Acceptance- Reaching this stage is something not everyone is able to reach. It’s looking in the mirror and saying “Welp, this is the hand I was dealt with. I can do this.” You radically accept any emotions that come your way about your diagnosis. You can begin to forgive yourself, and let yourself be loved again.
Please remember that I am not an expert in grief, I am speaking from personal experience and the experiences of others that I know. Greif can look different for every single individual. Have you ever grieved a diagnosis? Do you have any tips or tricks that helped you in your grieving process? Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re struggling with grieving a diagnosis, know there is someone who is always there to listen. Text GRIEVING to 741-741 or message the Crisis Text Line on Facebook.