I’m going to start by sharing my personal journey to getting to my diagnosis, then finish with a general list of things to do if you’re looking to get diagnosed.
This is a super good question! Diagnoses can be really sticky once you get them, so if you’re misdiagnosed at first, it can be really hard for a doctor to realize your symptoms are indicative of a different illness. I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder at the age of 15. The complicated thing about bipolar disorder type 2 is that depression is one of the diagnostic requirements, since bipolar 2 is a complex mix of hypomania and depression. So basically, my generalized anxiety disorder symptoms were so similar to the way hypomania manifests in me that my symptoms were always just plunked into the box of depression or anxiety. I eventually also was diagnosed at age 20 with post-traumatic stress disorder, which I acquired at 17. Since PTSD is also in the diagnostic category of anxiety disorders, all of these things sort of masked what the biggest problem was. I never felt “right”, though. I felt like my symptoms weren’t fully being treated, even though I was on great medications for the 3 disorders I had been diagnosed with. I was begging my psychiatrist to look at alternate diagnoses, but she assured me that my disorders were just manifesting differently than usual. She was wrong. What ended up happening was that I was on such a high dose of an antidepressant that it pushed me into hypomania for a long enough period of time that someone finally noticed it WAS hypomania, rather than just symptoms of my anxiety disorders. After a while of feeling completely off the wall, I went to the hospital because I thought I was having symptoms of serotonin syndrome, making me have suicidal thoughts, but it turns out it was hypomania! So they checked me into the psychiatric hospital and I finally, finally got an answer that made sense: bipolar 2. Ever since getting put on a mood stabilizer in addition to my antidepressant, I have felt like a human being again because one brings me up and one stabilizes me.
So yeah, long story short (TL;DR): doctors can get really stuck in seeing you as what you have already been diagnosed with, without considering alternatives, because diagnoses are hard to get rid of and change. If you think your diagnoses are incorrect, fight until someone checks you out again from a fresh set of eyes. Track your symptoms in as much detail as you can in a journal. If you have no diagnosis yet but think you need one to explain your mental health, ask around for a referral to a good psychiatrist. There also are great doctor rating websites like ZocDoc, Vitals, and RateMD, if you can’t find someone who can tell you. If you have a disorder like bipolar disorder, you need medication in addition to psychotherapy. I will be on mood stabilizers and antidepressants until the day I die and that is okay because they are necessary for my mental health and well-being! There is no shame in needing psychiatric medication or treatment for any condition - when you have a mental illness, your brain is different from the average brain (literally, there are parts of it that are different sizes and/or activity levels and neurotransmitter firings from average, neurotypical brains). And that is not your fault and it is not a result of weakness. Sometimes, you can manage with non-medical interventions only, but for severe and persistent mental illnesses, medicine is pretty much required in order to live the fullest life possible.
For those of you who are struggling and have no diagnosis yet to help you explain your symptomology and make you feel like you are not crazy or alone in this, this message is for you: you are not crazy. You are not imagining your struggles. You are not alone. You are loved. You are valuable. You are important. You deserve to get appropriate help. Hang in there. Reach out to me if you need ANYTHING. xo