Bipolar, Social Anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder — What’s Wrong With Me?

Reader’s Question

I have always wondered what it is that makes me different from everyone around me. I have been diagnosed with several conditions, including Bipolar Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder. I have researched Autism and Asperger’s online, and although I don’t believe I am autistic, I have noticed that I have some of the qualities of these disorders — I like numbers and relate almost everything back to numerical values, and I find it difficult to focus on more than one thing at a time to the point where I do not notice anything else.

I have a natural ability for computers and fixing them, and my computer technician job is about the only job I have ever held for more than a year. I have always excelled in art and computers, and failed in pretty much everything else. In high school I got straight F grades except in the aforementioned classes. I have never been good socially, but I do find other people interesting and often find myself imitating their mannerisms and speech patterns when I speak with them.

In relationships I often come off as rude and inconsiderate because my mind will start to focus on such things as a person’s body language and I will find myself trying to explain why I seemed so disengaged. Some of my quirks cause me great difficulty in getting a job, maintaining friendships, relationships, and basically living a normal life. I feel smart, but I am unable to function in day to day life. I would like to be able to function normally but have little hope at this point that I am capable. Does this all add up with ADD and Bipolar Disorder? Is there any other disorder I should look into? I’m not really sure what’s wrong with me. I have probably said more here than I have told my psychiatrist; it’s a little easier when you’re anonymous.

Psychologist’s Reply

Every one of us is unique. It’s our special clustering of personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes, and shortcomings that make us the person we are.

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Today’s psychiatric diagnoses are based upon objective, verifiable behavior patterns and are purely descriptive in nature. So, it’s not uncommon for a person to be given more than one diagnostic label. The diagnoses don’t always correspond to some well-understood underlying pathology that is “curable” with medication or other forms of treatment. It’s also important to note that it’s only when a particular personal characteristic is causing us distress and keeping us from blossoming in our occupational and relationship endeavors that it should be considered a “disorder” at all.

When we embark on psychiatric care or avail ourselves of any kind of mental health treatment, it’s essential that we not only provide complete and accurate information to our treatment provider, but also to approach the experience with a deep appreciation for and acknowledgment of who we are. If we go into the endeavor with the notion that there’s something broken with us that needs to get fixed, we’re not as likely to engage in a complete and honest self-reckoning. We are much more than the labels we might get. For a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the extensive set of limitations of the labeling system itself, the “conditions” we might suffer from do not explain what makes us tick or what it would take to make us better. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

There are many strategies a counselor of any type can help you develop to overcome any of the difficulties you’re having getting your social wants and needs met to a satisfactory degree. More holistically-oriented psychiatrists not only provide medicines to help with specific issues but also provide much needed support, counsel, and guidance, or work with other allied professionals to provide these services to their patients. So, despite the fact that it is uncomfortable, share yourself — the good and the bad — and don’t do so with the thought in the back of your mind that there’s something defective about you. You’re unique. And if there are some aspects of yourself you’d like to change so that your quality of life can improve, help is available to you.

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