Am I Bipolar?

Dear Dr. Darcy:

My twin sister has had bipolar disorder for 7 years, so she’s taken a lot of my parents’ energy and focus. I’ve been spared of this disease, but lately I’ve begun to feel my mood severely dropping. No matter how much sleep I get I’m always tired, I don’t want to do any socializing and I cry over everything. I’m terrified that I might be in a depression and that I’m about to burden my parents by having 2 mentally disabled children. And to top everything off, I’m pretty sure I’m a lesbian, and at some point I need to come out to them. I’m wondering if bipolar disorder is hereditary and if you think I might be bipolar?

ANSWER

What you’re describing does sound like depression, but before we go and saddle you with a diagnosis, let’s look at other possible contributing factors:

It’s not easy being the ‘healthy’ sibling. In fact, it’s a huge burden. Siblings like you often assume the pressure to live up to their parents’ dreams and expectations because the disabled sibling can’t.

Although bipolar disorder does have a hereditary component, (meaning that you are at greater risk of becoming bipolar if a family member has bipolar disorder or depression) you could very well live your entire life without developing bipolar disorder.

Now having said that, there are at least two things other than budding bipolar that could explain your sudden depressive symptoms. The first is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which many people experience between the months of October – March. Some researchers say that SAD is triggered by the decrease in daylight, but most agree that the first line of treatment is light therapy. Light therapy boxes are relatively inexpensive and are available online.

The second issue that may be contributing to your mood slump is the prospect of having the 'coming out' conversation with your parents. Few people look forward to this conversation, but your situation is further complicated by your desire to remain the low-maintenance child. Your role in your family has been established over years and this conversation may alter your role, if even for a moment.

I will tell you this: The coming out conversation will likely take a huge weight off your shoulders. You’ve decided that your parents have a finite amount of energy in them, all of which should be preserved for your sister. What you’re forgetting is that through your sister’s disorder, they’ve learned how to accept things that they hadn’t imagined contending with and they’ve learned how to provide support to a child. Trust that those strengths will enable them to step up to the task of accepting who you are.

I say give them a chance to show you that they have enough love in them to support both their daughters.