The 5 Stages of Grieving a Mental Illness

Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be devastating just as being diagnosed with any number of other more “physical” illnesses can be and many times there is a grieving process. The five stages of grief, according to psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance and they follow in this order. When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and also OCD my first instinct was to deny the reality of my illness. My mind would not easily accept my diagnosis and my thoughts went something like this, “There is nothing wrong with you, you’re probably just going through a ruff spot, you’ll get over it.” Thoughts along the lines of, “Why don’t you just snap out of it and stop acting like you’re sick, you’re just faking it, you can stop whenever you want, you probably just want attention,” haunted me and fed my denial. Then came anger and it came with a vengeance. I was angry and I was blaming everyone around me; God, my friends, and my family were all targets. I wanted to know why I had to be the one with Bipolar Disorder, why did I have to be the one to live with OCD for a lifetime. I was mad at the universe for handing me down these diagnoses. For what reason, I had dreams and hopes for the future and at this point in my life these dreams and hopes were being crushed by my debilitating diseases and I was beyond mad or angry. I was furious. While the anger has since passed for the most part that doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where it rears its ugly head again. After anger comes bargaining and this may be the shortest stage that I had to encounter. I bargained with God. I asked him to please cure me. I promised him I would be a better person if he just took away my disease. I thought to myself, “If you had just been a better person this wouldn’t have happened to you.” While of course this isn’t true; in the moment it felt possible. And then, the worst stage of them all, depression. Depression hit and it hit hard. There were days I could barely pull myself out of bed to work. There were days I barely eat and there were days I slept for over half the day. I was more than sad about my diagnosis I was crushed. I was completely and utterly dismayed. I was despondent. I have since moved on to the last stage of grief, acceptance, however this does not mean that I don’t visit the other stages from time to time as it’s impossible to completely accept something so permanent. Acceptance is the ultimate goal of course and it is of course the most peaceful of the stages. Once you can finally accept your mental illness, this is when you can begin to move on. You can begin the healing process, but this is when the real work begins. This is when you have to take your life back. 

Check. Check. Check.

For those of you who don’t know or fully understand how OCD works I will explain. OCD manifests itself in thoughts first and it’s these thoughts that cause the compulsions. For example, the thought or rather concern that the door is unlocked and someone may break in might cross your mind. Most people would be able to dismiss this thought with confidence, knowing that the door is locked, but for people with OCD this is much harder to do. Their brain latches on to this thought and replays it over and over creating anxiety, so they go and check the door just to be sure that it is indeed locked. It is so, they go back to whatever it is they were doing, but the thought comes back, like a boomerang it circles around again, almost like a vulture. They again become anxious to the point where they need to check the door again, and the cycle continues. This may seem like a small problem, however we must remember that at some point this person will need to leave their house, and the thoughts don’t just go away at this point, they may even become stronger, leaving the person to either deal with the extreme anxiety, making it difficult to leave their house, or in extreme cases impossible. And what’s more is that people with OCD typically struggle with a wide array of these, what are called, intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are all compounded and all take up their own individual time. They also take up space in your mind as well. The intrusive thoughts jumble concentration and play tricks on you and even target your worst fears. Lastly, it is important to remember that OCD is only diagnosed when it interferes with daily functioning, for example when you’re regularly late for school or when your grades are slipping because you don’t have time for homework or even worse your fired from your job due to OCD’s interference.

The Art of Overthinking…

When you’re bipolar and you have OCD you tend to overthink things. And then I say things I mean everything. Every action, every word, every facial expression anyone around you makes is over analyzed and broken down. It’s twisted and contorted until what they meant and the meaning behind it is gone and it represents only what the illness tells you it means. So, an ignored text message sent to a friend in your mind means that: they hate you, they never want to speak to you again, or that you’re annoying them. In reality an ignored text probably just means that they’re busy or they merely just forgot to respond. The bipolar mind, the OCD mind, twists each action, word, and facial expression by putting them on repeat in your brain until your brain comes up with the worst case scenario and tells you that that’s the only scenario that makes logical sense.