Thursday, March 09, 2006

Overidentification Part 1

Joel's comment yesterday: "I am more than BiPolar" is insightful. And it brings me to a topic I've wanted to talk about for a long time: Overidentification with your diagnosis. This is a big topic and will need to be spilt it up into parts.

So what is overidentification? It is becoming overly obssessed with your diagnosis and viewing your whole world and existence with your BiPolar status always in mind. And, as Joel points out, this can be very restrictive and curtail your growth as a living individual. Me, I guess I'm presently in an Overidentication phase. "BiPolar Daily" and "BiPolar Guy" are glaring tell-tale signs of this. But at this stage I'm not too worried. A good friend of mine who was diagnosed with BiPolar 5 years ago warned me that this would happen. "In the first 18 months after you've been officialy diagnosed [and more importantly fully accepting the diagnosis] it is normal to go through a phase of overidentification." BP Guy was only diagnosed in Dec 2004.

Another reason I'm not too worried is that I have experienced first hand the bitter confusion of UNDERidentification. Although my first hospitalisation was when I was 18, the first psychiatrist whose care I was under didn't believe in sharing diagnoses with patients. His theory was that "labels" were counterproductive and would not be in the patient's interests. So his whole counselling style was very old-school - "take these pills, just trust me". Which I did. For many. many years (no, you won't be able to work out my exact age ;) I always knew something was kinda wrong but exactly what it was eluded me. And this causes all kinds of problems. Like measuring yourself against non-BiPolars and becoming frustrated. Like wondering if your depression is just a case of total laziness, and you really ought to "Buck Up". (this one leads to huge guilt which just deepens the depression.) Like always seeking an external reason for your unhappiness. Is it my relationship? my career? where I live??

So when I moved to Cape Town and the new psychiatrist diagnosed me as "Categorically and undeniably suffering from BiPolar Type One Disorder", my life certainly changed for the better. First thing I did was dive into as much literature as I could get on BiPolar. Knowledge is Power. Self-Knowledge is a Super-Power. Suddenly the guilt evapourated. I was no longer so hard on myself. I linked up with BiPolar support groups. Concentrated on developing techniques to manage the thing, rather than cure it.

My relationship with Mrs M improved too. She was also beginning to wonder if it was her that was causing my on-going unhappiness. She read the books, adjusted her expectations, and is a pillar of support. I set up my new business which would allow for flexi-time and wouldn't fall apart after 5 "Got-a-Gun?" days in a row.

So yeah, it was a HUGE weight off my shoulders.

But don't fool yourself, overidentifying has it's own set of dangers. And I'll be sharing this ominous news 2morrow.


  1. fantastic, fantastic post. :)

    it's amazing to me.. i'm very open about my diagnosis and i view it as a strength versus a weakness. i live with it as part of who i am but something i will never allow to conquer me. i do, however, think that we're all partially defined by it - since our lives are impacted so much in so many ways by our illnesses.

    overdefinition to me more accurately describes those individuals who discuss nothing but their bipolar, sit around in their homes all day complaining about their bipolar and cannot function because they're so wrapped up in their bipolarness that they have themselves convinced it is all they have.

    did that make sense? :)

  2. I am eagerly awaiting tomorrows post

  3. I think I must have overidentified for a few years after my initial diagnosis at age seventeen. I remember one friend advising me a few years later that I didn't have to tell everyone about my Mental Health Issues. That's a term used in the list of declared disabilities in the application form to a London fine arts college. I kind of like the sound of it. "Hello. I have Mental Health Issues." Sort of like someone wants to begin a debate...

  4. I'm also awaiting tommorrows post

  5. I agree, overidentification has it's dangers... but I want to see YOUR views on it before sharing my own. I look forward to your next post.

    I am SO glad for you that you have Mrs. M. I am only recently finding someone who loves me for (not in spite of) who I am, and I value her greatly.

    (oops, I should distiguish that to mean someone in my physical life, not the virtual one)


  6. Being bipolar is only one part of my identity.
    Good articles happening here,BP. Visiting via the Planet today.

  7. I am never sure if I overidentify, or ignore. Maybe swing between both.

    I think it would have been different if I had been diagnosed and treated sooner. As it is, being balanced and medicated feels abnormal, because it doesn't feel like me after so long of being sort of continually crazy.

    Happy to have found this blog.


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