I Didn’t Know I Had a Mental Illness for 31 Years

I have had episodes of depression throughout my life and once I was so happy after taking an antidepressant that I danced around my bedroom.  I didn’t realize I had a mental illness until I was 45 years old, and I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder until I was 59.  You would have thought that, at a younger age, I would have figured out it since twice I stopped short of completing suicide and I occasionally cut myself. 

I thought I was simply reacting to the circumstances of my life although I have never understood why I wanted to kill myself when I was eighteen and in college.  Everything was going well and, suddenly, I wanted to die.  I overdosed on an over-the-counter medication, the college nurse gave me charcoal the next morning, but she never said a thing or gave me a referral.

Later, while being a missionary in Vietnam, my immediate family and I had to escape from Vietnam in 1975, but we lost our house, all our belongings and my in-laws (who were Vietnamese), and I thought I was just grieving our losses.  It was a normal response.

My husband became ill and had a liver transplant.  We owed $70,000 on an income of $400/month. I was depressed dealing with all the bills and decided it would be better if I killed myself and let my life insurance pay the medical debts.   The social worker I talked with weekly bargained with me, and I agreed not to kill myself if my husband took over paying the bills.  He never suggested I had a mental illness.  Maybe he thought I knew depression was a mental illness, but I thought it was a normal response to the great stress.

My husband died, and I became depressed.  That was normal.

Then, my older daughters went off to college and my doctor prescribed an anti-depressant for me.  I took it a couple times and became so happy I danced around my bedroom which was definitely not me.  I just assumed the anti-depressant had worked so I stopped taking it and things returned to normal. 

And so it went until I was 49 years old and I was so depressed and suicidal that I ended up in a psych hospital and got a diagnosis of recurring major depression.  I officially had a mental illness, and that was depressing. 

Why didn’t I know I had a mental illness?  Why didn’t someone tell me I had a mental illness?  In a way, I’m glad I didn’t know because at that time, no one talked about recovery, people were told not to expect much from life, and I might have not accomplished the many things I did accomplish in life.  As it was, I married, raised three wonderful daughters, earned a master’s degree, and was ordained as a minister. 

But, it seems I should have known, except who wants to believe they have a mental illness?  There was so much stigma!  I wasn’t crazy.  I didn’t belong in an insane asylum.  I was functional, just depressed and occasionally suicidal.

I think it is important that we talk about mental illness.  It is not something people generally talk about so people don’t realize they have a mental illness and they can get help.  If you have mood swings or feel depressed, go to https://ibpf.org/learn and look at the symptoms of depression and mania.  Don’t be afraid of having a mental illness.  You have no reason to be ashamed.  You are not crazy or insane.  It is not your fault and, if you have depression, you cannot just cheer up.  There is help available.  Take advantage of it.  Recovery is possible!

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