What to Do If You’ve Just Been Diagnosed as Bipolar

August 2, 2010 Natasha Tracy

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is scary. I describe the impact of a bipolar disorder diagnosis, what to do immediately following your bipolar diagnosis. Breaking Bipolar blog.

Being diagnosed as bipolar is a scary thing. It can happen in a number of ways, but if you’re like most of us, you probably didn’t know what was wrong for a long time, then you were misdiagnosed and then sometime later, you got the moniker of “bipolar”. Few of us go right from episode to bipolar diagnosis.

But regardless of how you got here, what do you do next?

What Happens When Your Doctor Tells You You’re Bipolar

Likely you’ll be stunned. Or upset. Or angry. Or something. You’ve just been handed a big bit of news, so an emotional reaction is to be expected. That’s OK. Try to listen to what your doctor has to say (it helps to have someone with you), go home and think about it for a while. You don’t have to do anything that moment.*

What Happens When You Get Home

Once the bipolar diagnosis hits home for you, you’ll probably grieve. Being diagnosed with bipolar is the end of something. It is also the start of something else, but as when most things end, we tend to grieve. This is OK too. No one expects you to get a life-altering diagnosis and then return about your normal daily routine. Give yourself some time and space.

What Happens Next

After the initial shock wears off and you feel a little more even-keeled, the real work begins: your education. Now you have to learn. You have to learn about bipolar disorder, you have to learn about yourself, you have to learn about bipolar treatments. There’s a lot to know. Break it down into bite-sized chunks. Start with the basics. Don’t get overwhelmed. There is time.

And Get Help. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to do alone. Lean on the people that love you. They can help you with research. They will want to know what’s wrong and how they can help. You can learn together.

The Doctor’s Appointment After the Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

Once you’ve digested a bit, you'll probably have questions – and if you don’t, you should have. Here are some things to think about asking your doctor about bipolar disorder:

  1. How did you determine I am bipolar?
  2. What specific symptoms lead you to believe I am bipolar?
  3. What can you tell me about my disorder? What type of bipolar is it?
  4. Is there any other possible diagnosis?
  5. Are there any symptoms I’ve reported that don’t fall into a bipolar diagnosis?

Why do you care about that stuff? Because doctors aren’t always right. And regardless as to whether the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is accurate, it helps you to know specifically what the bipolar really explains. If you pull out all your hair, you might still be bipolar, but that diagnosis alone might not explain the hair-pulling.

And then, of course, you'll want to know:

  1. What are my bipolar treatment options?
  2. What else besides medication can I do?
  3. What resources do you recommend?

It depends on your doctor, but they may not give you “options” unless you ask. They may give you the one thing they think you should do and not mention the rest. You might be interested in knowing more than one thing, however, so you can be more involved in your bipolar treatment decisions. There are a lot of options in front of you, make sure you hear about them (5 Depression / Bipolar Treatments You Might Not Know About).

By now, you are likely overwhelmed again. That’s OK. It happens. This is one of the hardest parts. Really. Just try to listen and write down the information if you can, so you can refer to it later. It can be hard to remember everything, believe me.

And you still don’t have to make a decision. Again, take your time. Don’t let anyone pressure you into treatment you don’t want. Your doctor doesn’t have to take the pills – you do. You should feel comfortable before you head down a road.

Doesn't This Seem Like a Slow Way to Get Treatment for Bipolar Disorder?

If this all seems a little protracted, well, maybe it is; I don’t know. What I do know is that bipolar diagnosis and treatment is serious business and something you need to think clearly about, and that clarity takes time. You might have to skip ahead a few steps and get into treatment immediately. That’s OK. But the above questions still should be asked, even if you have to do it down the line.

Next time I’ll talk about how to select a treatment for bipolar disorder.

* This is assuming non-emergent scenarios. If you’re in an emergency then time, obviously, isn’t on your side and neither is your ability to think and question rationally.

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

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, August 2). What to Do If You’ve Just Been Diagnosed as Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 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.

June, 17 2018 at 12:38 am

hi, i have just been diagnosed with Bipola/depression and anxiety, its been a couple of months now since i was sectioned for the very 1st time, i was in hospital for 6weeks and was prescribed Depakote, and i find they do work for me, they are helping me find myself and i feel in control for the 1st time in my entire life ( im 61 in august) i read Jc's comment and smiled because after 8years of having no interest in sex i have just had to order a little Battery operated bunny to fulfill my needs, i am a little embarrassed about it at my age, but hey we all need a friend in need at times lol....i am also a bit concerned that this happiness will suddenly change and go downhill again, i dont like taking tablets but if they are keeping me stable( and being sexually aroused a bonus) then the pill is a magic ingriedient.....its very early days yet, but for the first time in my life im actually feeling positive about things...i just wish all this manic behaviour happened 30years ago ( if not at all)..i feel like ive missed out on so much.. Thankyou, its good to know youre here to listen.....

March, 13 2018 at 3:45 pm

I think I sort of always knew what was wrong (the extreme highs and lows) but assumed it was just who I was. Not that it could be controlled or that I might be able to avoid swinging from one feeling to another so intensely. Not having researched it I also assumed bipolar was having a split personality (which I guess it is... but not quite the way I presumed it would be). I feel quite calm and intrigued to try Lithium to see what effect it will have. I had a number of traumatic experiences (attacked by a flat mate at university, burglary, meeting my father aged 27, a terrorist attack) and working for myself, I justified the manic stages as needing to get things done to make my business a success. The lows not having succeeded or not bouncing back as quickly as other people. Looking back on certain situations and “episodes” with the hindsight of a diagnosis that fits, it feels more like a missing puzzle piece than something frightening. Yes it sucks knowing you are a “crazy” but so did obsessively trying to catch the burglar, find my grandmothers jewellery, trying to make sure there were no knives anyone could ever use to stab people, taking three days maternity leave. The antidepressants occasionally prescribed would always make things worse and I felt no one believed me because they were supposed to help. Valium was a godsend but my doctor panicked as soon as I explained how much it helped and put an end to it before I got addicted. I am also enjoying the irony of the Duracell bunny having Lithium batteries when working 36 hours in a row is why I need to take Lithium and be more like the normal bunnies who would have run out of steam much sooner :-D

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
March, 14 2018 at 7:34 am

Hi JC,
That's brilliant and hilarious. Thanks for the laugh. We all need to be able to take it not so seriously sometimes.
I hope you get the help you need and that it works for you.
- Natasha Tracy

December, 16 2016 at 12:19 pm

I am in this stage where I see an uncertain future after being diagnosed 8 months ago with BP 1. This shook me in every way, but also taught me to be responsible for myself. I don't know if I recieve the best treatment but lately I been feeling much better, only heart broken. I think the clue is to stay positive and never blame your self of any bad behavior while being on an episode. Medicines are great but our own effort has to prevail to get stable and back to life.
Regards from Mexico

December, 1 2015 at 9:45 pm

I think the worst thing is the times when you feel you can't hold on. It does pass however, dpoerssien comes in 'waves' -- Sometimes you'll feel absolutely terrible, but it will pass and you'll begin to feel a little better.One thing that I find helps is new experiences - do something you've never done before and you'll find a new confidence in yourself.Also, don't keep everything bottled up, you might find keeping a diary or talking to a friend helps too.Hope you feel better soon, x Was this answer helpful?

November, 1 2015 at 3:05 am

Hi, everybody.
I am 30 years old and was recently diagnosed bipolar. Contrary to what the article says,, I was quite thrilled when the doctor told me and my parents. I finally had someone confirming that the way I felt and thought all my life was not "normal". I accepted the news much, MUCH better than my mom and have had help from my parents and friends.
Well, I just wanted to share my experience with all of you, and thank you for this website, I just found it on Pinterest.
Kind regards from Mexico! :)
Ps. Stay strong.

July, 1 2015 at 2:16 pm

Hi. I have just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I am now taking Lamictal. It has been one week. Over the last five or so years, I was treated and hospitalized for major depression disorder. After deciding that I didn't need all those meds, I cut my drugs and dosages down. That left me feeling very aggitated. I have now become so out of control with anger and extreme frustration that I am scared of myself. Sometimes I can tell by the look on my coworkers faces that I am very much over reacting. But I can't seem to stay calm. Everything gets on my nerves. People! Noise! Everything! What's happening? Please tell me this will go away.

May, 3 2015 at 8:25 pm

Hey Natasha,
I was diagnosed last spring and it has been one hell of a roller coaster. I was diagnosed after a manic episode that landed me in the hospital after which I was referred to a psychiatrist whom I did not like at all. He would not listen to anything I said or answer the questions that I had. I absolutely hated Abilify because of the side effects but his response was bipolar people often don't want to take their medicine and I should keep with it. I found another doctor and I am doing pretty well with the new medicine but I am now running into another problem. I don`t know how to help my loved ones deal with my diagnosis, especially my fiance. He just has questions that I cannot answer like what the difference between normal moods and my illness are. I am not sure what to tell him because I do not know myself. I don`t know how to help him deal with it when I am barley hanging on myself, if that makes any sense. Any thoughts on how I can help my loved ones understand and accept my diagnosis?

August, 13 2013 at 6:53 pm

I just received word I have this, IM SCARED

September, 15 2012 at 11:54 am

Hello again, I can’t believe you replied, you’re like a mini celebrity in my eyes! Haha. Thank you for replying to me because I noticed you get a lot of people trying to communicate with you on a daily basis, and I am extra glad I was your favourite comment of the day ! I was thinking you may be interesting in my latest questioning since reading your blog, and things seem to be improving. I am not taking seroquel anymore and I am finally on other medication that I am happy taking this time. So thank you for making me see that I am a lot more in control than I initially thought regarding treatment. Previously I never got to say how much I enjoy your other blogs, your blogs on remission have helped me express my thoughts a lot clearer to people, because it feels like I can relate to every word! The most infuriating part of the illness is the uncertainty, thinking everything is perfect but at the same time being petrified that everything will go downhill in a second. I just particularly enjoy how you touch on the irregularity of bipolar and how it does damage people’s lives at times. I like what you said here :
"Knowing that the pain is coming is like waiting on the tracks for a freight train"
"Knowing then, that I will get better, and I will get worse is quite a challenge". Thanks for putting into words the absolute confusion and anger I have for this illness.

Natasha Tracy
September, 3 2012 at 5:04 pm

Hi Alice,
Thank-you so much for taking the time to comment. Yours is my favorite comment of the day because if I can do anything it's empower others to take control of their own mental health. You're an inspiration in that you've discovered this so young.
Good luck with you, you deserve the best, so insist on it :)
- Natasha

September, 3 2012 at 3:58 pm

Dear Natasha,
I am in my mid adolescents and have recently been diagnosed as bipolar, and I would just like to say thank you. I felt that I didn't receive alot of information along with the diagnosis and your publications have helped me understand the condition more. However, in particular with this post I discovered I felt angry, angry towards the professionals, but in part I may be to blame. Because I am under eighteen, when I was prescribed medication it was simply handed to my carers and I felt like I lost control of a condition in which I already felt I wasn't in control of to begin with. In additon, I felt I just wasn't getting listened to, for example I explained to my p.doc that I didn't like the seroquel I was prescribed because I didn't like the side effects and felt they weren't working. But he just said I should just carry on with them. And I just accepted this setup, but reading your blogs I realised that it's okay to ask questions about treatment and diagnosis etc, rather than just think that they know best because they are professionals and their word is final. I've recognized that I can be in contol of this disorder, so hopefully I will get some answers soon. Thank you again

Natasha Tracy
August, 4 2010 at 1:04 pm

Hi Richard,
Yes, I agree, the wording of questions does matter. I'm partial to medical wording because it's clear and that's what doctors respond to, however, that's not going to be an option for everyone. I think as long as you are absolutely clear about the answers and what your doctor is saying to you, that's what matters. You might have to ask 10 questions instead of 1, but as long as you leave with what you need, you've done your job.
- Natasha

Richard J.
August, 4 2010 at 12:59 pm

You are soo right about asking questions, important to remember, to also remember to right them down. In making desicions in our tretment or more to the point payment as well, I would like to add one thing I am begining to learn how those questions are worded is soo important as well. Could mean the differance between getting turn in the right direction or the differance in a 213 dollar bill for info you can get on the phone.

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