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Don’t Wait for Someone to Notice Your Symptoms

There were a lot of warning signs that I had a mental illness, long before my first diagnosis. 

My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was a child. 

I would have massive mood swings and extremely violent temper tantrums that often resulted in the destroying of objects or attempts to physically injure someone. This resulted in me going to therapy as a young child. To my knowledge, mental illness was never discussed with my parents, and it was never mentioned to me that I can recall. 

I often had thoughts of suicide, even if they were just passing and harmless. At times I would think about it near daily. I thought out plans and staged who would find me and how. I wrote out notes sometimes. I drew pictures of my elaborate layouts. I went all out. 

I am not sure when I first really felt depressed. I missed a lot of days of school both in middle school and high school. I would feign sickness and just stay in bed all day. I hated going to school, but I know depression was at least part of the reason I stayed home so much. 

No one, not in my family, or any of my friends, ever mentioned anything about depression to me. My mom on occasion would bring it up but she was mostly out of the picture by the time my symptoms started to surface. The reason was obvious; I was the gregarious jokester, life of the party type. I doubt anyone, including myself, realized I could be that guy, and someone making elaborate suicide plans. 

I shocked everyone one May morning when I told one of my closest friends that I had made a serious attempt on my life the night before. That person went to the school counselors, I was called down, my parents called in, and eventually I was sent away to a hospital. I was given the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type II and given some medication and a therapist and a psychiatrist and I did my two weeks at the hospital and went home. 

I went to counseling after that event for years before I eventually decided I should stop the therapy and medication. I felt better. I felt like a mistake was made and I shouldn’t have been given the treatment I received. And so I stopped it all! And yet again, no one talked to me about it. No one mentioned if I was doing better or worse or anything. It was amazing how much people want to avoid talking about mental illness. 

Eventually things fell apart again, and I went back to therapy and into a new psychiatrist, this time with a brand new Bipolar Type I diagnosis, this time with generalized anxiety as well, and eventually ended up in a hospital again. And that was when I decided to start writing; to open up about this disease with basically anyone who would listen. And I guess unsurprisingly, people were much more willing to mention to me when they thought I may be in trouble, or inquire how things were going for me. It has really been a meaningful and liberating experience. 

I had to realize with this disease that I could not wait on others. When something felt wrong, that was when I had to bring it up and go get help. Waiting around has never done me any good. It can be frightening to know that a good majority of my future well-being is in my hands, under my control. Certainly, in the depths of a deep depression, the thought of helping yourself is far from mind. I must bear in mind that despite set-backs, and apparent hopelessness, the person I am waiting for to help me change, is me. 

Read more from Steve at his personal blog here.


Any ideas on how to get my 25 year old son to accept his diagnosis and take his meds? He seems to be in denial and is not stable. He has seen a counselor a couple times but says it does not help and he won't go back. He is very depressed, angry, agitated and won't do any self help activities. He really is suffering a lot and miserable all the time. He has no happiness or peace at all. Thank you very much.

Kim, I apologize for not responding sooner, I wasn't aware that I had any comments on this piece.

I am sorry to say that your son might be experiencing a recurrent theme throughout the rest of his life. I have been diagnosed for 14 years now and I still struggle with it, and I still go off my meds from time to time and I still stop counseling as well.

The big change towards acceptance in my life happened when I had what used to be known as a nervous breakdown. It was sort of my 'rock bottom' moment that you hear addicts talk about.

I believe the best way for him to start accepting it and getting treated is organic. He has to come to it on his own.

But that doesn't mean don't try to help or push him. If he is interested in reading there are a ton of great books that range from very clinical and scientific all the way to a sort of diary of daily existence. Group therapy has always been a big help for me, and there are plenty of resources to find group therapy sessions in your area. Hobbies work great as well, exercise, good sleep. Any of them can be the answer.

It is difficult to find a solution, but the most important thing is for him to feel like you are invested in him getting better.

Feel free to email me at at any time if you wish to talk further.

I work in a small non-profit organization that serves people who have mental illnesses and who live in a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden inner city area. Some of the clients who seem to have the worst problems -- and whom we often feel unable to help -- either have bipolar disorder, or are believed to have it.

After reading your post, I feel a little bit less helpless, and I feel like I am starting to have a clue. I have a long way to go, but you have really helped.

I believe that your last paragraph is extremely important.

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