Do I Really Have Bipolar?

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What if someone is telling you that you have bipolar, but you don’t think that the diagnosis is correct?

A reader asked a really good question on my blog post “Dealing with Bipolar Disorder Denial.” She wanted to know what to do if someone in your life—a friend, loved one, coworker—tells you that they believe you might have undiagnosed bipolar, but you’re questioning it as an incorrect diagnosis.

Here is my reply to the person who felt that doctors and the people around her were trying to push a bipolar diagnosis that didn’t feel right:

“It would be a true bummer to be told you have bipolar when you don’t. But—and there is always a but—whoever thinks you have bipolar must have a reason. There must be behaviors that are causing people to think about the symptoms of  bipolar disorder, not just depression. If you’re working with educated health care professionals who actually understand the illness, it might be that they see something in your behavior that you simply can’t.”

I was manic for 15 years before someone actually said to me, “You’re manic and you have been manic all of your adult life.”

This shocked me. How could I possible miss something like mania? How did all of the therapists and naturopaths I saw from age 19 to 31 (when I was finally diagnosed) miss all of this? There are two answers:

They didn’t ask, but more importantly, I didn’t tell anyone about my other symptoms because I just thought I was a screw up. I had no idea that bipolar was a mania- and often psychosis-based illness and that I needed to discuss my behaviors outside of depression. I didn’t know what mania or psychosis looked or felt like in other people, so I never thought to talk about my non depression symptoms. Living with intense anxiety, but not knowing what to call it, meant that went unreported as well.

In honor of your desire to assess your own moods and make your own decision about bipolar, I have created a list of questions that will help you decide what to do next in terms of a diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is very easy to diagnose . . . if the person asking the questions knows what to ask about mania! Bipolar is a mania illness. (This bears repeating since the diagnosis can cause confusion for people.) Yes, depression is an enormous part of the mood swings, but you can only have bipolar if you have mania.

Here are a few questions that will help YOU decide about the diagnosis. 

Have you ever been depressed and needed plenty of sleep and then one day, you felt upbeat, filled with energy and literally could get by on about four hours sleep without being tired the next day? 

Have you ever had a cascade of ideas flow through your brain so quickly that you can hardly write them down and then you get started immediately on the project and get SO much done, but suddenly, all of the air goes out of your balloon and the project that once felt brilliant and amazing just sits there and never gets finished? 

Have you ever made sudden, enormously important life changing decisions without telling anyone, such as deciding to move to Japan and just getting everything together and doing it?   Do you then brush away the concerns of others by saying, “I’m just going through changes! I need a different life! I want to change!” 

Have you ever felt an enormous rush of anger—one so powerful that you wanted to put your hand through a wall or through someone’s face? Were you shocked and stunned by how fast these thoughts appeared and how dangerous they are?

These questions will help you know if you have bipolar as they are directly related to mania.  If you already have depression and can say yes to even one of the questions above, you can confidently ask questions about bipolar disorder and if the diagnosis fits what you experience. 

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at and
1 Comment
  1. I am very disappointed by the statement that Bipolar requires mania. This is absolutely incorrect! Bipolar Disorder type 1 requires mania; however, other forms of Bipolar Disorder do not require mania. Specifically, Bipolar Disorder type 2 does not involve mania (unless induced by antidepressants or other substances). Bipolar Disorder type 2 (my diagnosis) includes depression and may include hypomania. Please be specific and accurate when discussing Bipolar Disorder in all its forms. Considering that it can take 9 years to get to diagnosis (and treatment), accurate information regarding Bipolar Disorder can save lives!

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