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When Friends and Family Miss the Signs of Mental Illness

Although I’ve experienced the symptoms of bipolar since preschool, it was only this year, at 18 years old, that I’ve began to apply clinical terminology to my experiences. I am forced to reconcile that negative and positive events in my life can be explained by words such as mania, paranoia, psychotic traits and bipolar itself.

Since I was young, all I knew was that I was an artist. I had periods of energy as early as preschool, which led me to draw picture after picture. Although my classmates teased that compared to the professionals I was pretty bad, my reputation as the girl who could draw was intact. I felt as if I was getting hugged by the world at such moments.

However, preschool and elementary school were also the times I began to feel unnecessarily suspicious of those same classmates and teachers who took notice of my work. I thought they were reading into my thoughts and could see the ugly truth of my brain simply through being in my presence. This was at just 5 years old.

First grade was when my first depressive episode took place. I found myself too exhausted and dull in the head to engage with my school work. Nothing was fun, and even drawing felt too difficult to be worth the time. I would beg my parents to not to take me to school. I saw no point when there was no joy. Joy only came in the form of sleeping, eating and watching television.

By middle school, my passion for visual arts had morphed into a love of the written word. There was no doubt my poems and stories were derived from my intense emotions and detailed inner world. I became a philosopher, spewing out wise words in rapid succession. I gave advice to those much older than me, about which I had no authority. I easily became overwhelmed by racing thoughts, causing me to cling on for dear life.

Middle school was also when I began to have auditory hallucinations. I heard music and crashes in my ears. I went around the house, asking my parents if they could hear anything, unable to reach the source. It happened mostly when I was alone, stressed or in a depressive episode.

It wasn’t until last year, my senior year of high school, that I began having experiences that would qualify as true mania. I had boundless energy to achieve fantastic grades and get in my college applications. Yet, my mind was in complete pandemonium. My brain felt like a spinning room, with objects flying everywhere. This led to panic attacks, in which I felt as if the world was swallowing me up. I was convinced I was dying. This episode was subsequently followed by a numbing depression, which required hospitalization.

Although my strength and humility returned, I found myself in the hospital again for slightly different reasons. I’d began making grand statements about traveling the world now that I am old enough. I sold a bunch of items on eBay to go toward a plane ticket without following through on shipping them. I was vacillating between euphoria, paranoia and extreme and anger.

Being looked at or spoken to the wrong way could set me off. I was also experiencing the textbook symptoms of pressured speech and spending money unnecessarily. I’d been self-harming due to intense restlessness and pacing around the house.

My body could not be still. One week, I took some of my old medication for fun. The next week, I took a bunch of over-the-counter meds. These were not suicide attempts, but experiments that could have very well cost me my life. My parents took me to the emergency room after that one.

I wish those in my life had the tools to pick up on my mood cycles earlier on. They did not want to believe I was living with a severe mental illness. I, myself, thought bipolar disorder only happened to other people. Never me.

My story, as of now, does have a happy ending. In the hospital, I was referred to an intensive outpatient program, which happens to be a good fit. I’m finding the combination of medications that work for me. I’ve even met others with similar struggles to mine. When the state of my brain is uncertain, catharsis pushes me onward. I’m still creating stories and poetry.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.