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By Chanel Johnson, LPC, as told to Hallie Levine.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2014 after years of being misdiagnosed with depression and anxiety. This is unfortunately quite common: Research shows that almost 70% percent of people with bipolar disorder are initially misdiagnosed. This is particularly true if you have bipolar II like me. Since it is a milder form of the condition, signs of mania can be missed. That is why many of my friends and family were so surprised to learn of my diagnosis.

As a licensed therapist, I am incredibly open and upfront about my bipolar disorder. It is important to dispel some of the stigma and misconceptions that surround this condition. Here is how I talk about my bipolar disorder to others.

Bipolar disorder is not what you think it is. When I first told close friends and family about my condition, their response was, “It doesn’t make sense.” Their perception of someone with bipolar was someone who was in and out of a psych ward all the time. Unfortunately, a lot of this is fueled by the media. When you see someone with bipolar disorder on TV or in a movie, it’s very overdramatic and often depicted as a violent and dangerous condition. But there are many functioning people with bipolar disorder. We may have our highs and lows, but they may not always be noticeable, especially if you don’t know us very well.

You can use bipolar’s highs and lows to your advantage. Over the years, I have become very in tune with my body. I know my triggers, and I know when I am going into a depressive state or entering a manic one. When I am depressed, it feels like the sky is about to fall. I become very weepy and don’t take joy in activities that I usually love, such as cooking. I just want to crawl into bed and sleep for days. When I notice these signs, I step back and don’t overbook myself. I plan activities with family and friends, whom I know will give me support, and leave plenty of time for self-care and rest.

But when the opposite happens and mania crops up, I am filled with waves of energy. I know that now is a suitable time to get work projects done or clean up the house. I read as many books as I can and take long hikes outside. I have found that exercise uses up a lot of energy that I might otherwise use in more destructive ways, such as overspending.

Bipolar disorder is often genetic. Like many things in life, bipolar disorder can run in families. If you have a close first-degree relative -- like a parent or sibling -- with bipolar disorder, you are at increased risk. My mom has the condition. That does not mean you will always get it. In fact, most people who have a close relative with bipolar disorder will not. But it does mean that you should be aware of signs and symptoms so that you can get professional help if needed.

Bipolar disorder is manageable. I know that one of the stereotypes of people with bipolar disorder is that we are noncompliant and refuse to take our medications. But the reality is most of us do fine with our treatment regimens, and we are able to find ways to help control some of our behaviors. All it takes is some acceptance and self-grace. Case in point: When I was in the throes of mania, I used to overspend. Now, when I see signs of mania cropping up, I freeze all my accounts so I can only pay for necessities like groceries with tiny amounts of cash. This way, I cannot go on a spending binge. Yes, I occasionally rack up a late fee on a bill. But I would rather pay a $25 penalty than find myself with purchases over $2,500.

Even therapists need educating. One of the hardest groups of people to talk to about bipolar disorder is therapists themselves. I have been surprised by how many of them don’t understand what it looks like and how to recognize symptoms. One of the most common misconceptions is that their clients with bipolar are delusional. Yes, if you have bipolar disorder, it’s true that trivial things can feel bigger than they are. But while it may seem like they are making a mountain out of a molehill, that does not mean that there is not an obstacle there. I tell therapist colleagues that you can still trip over a molehill. Rather than telling someone they are making a big deal out of nothing, work with them to figure out ways to get around a molehill, period.

You can live a full life with bipolar disorder. Oftentimes, my newly diagnosed clients with bipolar disorder are under the impression that this condition will ruin their lives. This is when I use myself as an example. I explain to them that I have it, that I have adopted strategies that have been helpful, and that at the end of the day it does not change who you are and who you will be. Like so much in life, bipolar disorder is just a label. It does not define all that an individual is capable of. Sure, I have high highs and low lows, but with education, strategies, and self-control, I can manage my condition. It just takes believing in yourself and some grace for yourself and for others. I cannot control how people view my bipolar disorder, but I can control how I handle it.

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Chanel Johnson, LPC, psychotherapist in Detroit and advocate for people who live with bipolar disorder.

Frontiers in Psychology: “Am I Really Bipolar? Personal Accounts of the Experience of Being Diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.”

National Library of Medicine: “bipolar disorder.”