Personal Stories: Son's Story

 

A Son’s Story

If you feel that something isn’t right with you or a friend, talk to someone. You can’t get the help you need if you don’t tell someone. You can’t keep it to yourself. I tried to. You have to talk to someone. And it is OK to talk about mental illness. 

 

I am 24 years old and I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed when I was 17. It was very hard for me to ask for help. I knew something was wrong for a couple of years before I finally got help.

I have bipolar, a mood disorder. Technically it is a little more complicated than that. I have bi-polar 1 rapid cycling with no down time. What does that mean? When I am manic, I am very, very up. I have a lot of energy and don’t need to sleep. It is not entirely fun though. I can’t focus my thoughts long enough to get things done, I make bad decisions and I act impulsively. The flip side of the coin is the depression. That side is more than just being sad. I lose interest in things that once made me happy. I don’t get out of bed for days. I even find it hard to come to church because I feel like God isn’t there when I am that depressed. Rapid cycling means that whereas most people cycle through depression and mania months at a time, I can go through a cycle of up and down in weeks, days and sometimes a matter of hours. I am always manic or always depressed. Unfortunately for me there is no in between. It is either black or white, no gray area. I have no times when I am “normal”.

It was very hard for me to ask for help. When I first knew something was wrong I didn’t say anything to anyone for a couple of years. I was seeing a therapist because of my ADHD and I finally told her. She put me on an anti-depressant. That helped a little, but not enough.

I was finally hospitalized for the first time in the summer between my junior and senior year in high school. My mom signed the papers that committed me to the hospital for the first time. I was very angry with her at that time. I can’t put into words exactly what I felt at that time. It was, at first, the worst period of my life. I thought my mom hated me and I hated her right back.

I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on inside my own head. I was prescribed medicine by the doctors and discharged. The medications made me feel like I was in a haze. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, the medicine made me feel weird. No one could or would tell me what was wrong with me. I tried to turn to God, but I felt like even he had abandoned me.

I went back to work on my summer hours. I felt trapped and very unsettled. It was a bad feeling, I felt alone. I was in a mostly windowless cube farm office building all day. I quit my other job months before when the depression was at its worst. I had been a trainee instructor in martial arts, but that no longer held any joy for me. Before all of this started, I loved martial arts. I ended up quitting my office job too. I found a job at Speedway. It brought me some joy.

The medicines I was on left me fuzzy in my head. My illness left me doubting my faith. I went to church, but only went through motions like I was on auto pilot. I could tell you what a Catholic believed, but I didn’t feel like God was there at all. I had been, and still was an aide in the religious ed program on Sunday mornings. I worked in the 5th grade classroom. I continued that, but it took a lot of energy to be enthusiastic about what I was helping teach.

I had one thing I still loved. Music. It comforted me, calmed me. So, I started singing on Sunday mornings with the choir at our previous parish. I also started bringing music to share with the 5th grade. It wasn’t always religious music. Some of it was simply “positive image” music from the popular songs. Those two things bolstered my faith and I started to let God back in.

I didn’t let Him all the way back in right away. But I did see that when my faith was shaky, things seemed to be at their worst and when I did let God in things seemed to be better. I was hospitalized several times over the next few years. A couple of times, I tried to take my own life. My mom wrestled me to the floor and tore my pills away from me so I wouldn’t swallow them all and kill myself. We would end up on the floor, both of us crying and praying. That was what mental illness did to me.

I try to keep my faith, but even today it waivers sometimes. I still have days when I feel like God isn’t there or doesn’t care about me. I still have days when I feel like all I want is for it to end. Turning to God through music and prayer is a way for me to put those feelings or at least the worst of them out of my head.

I tell you all of this not to scare you, but to tell you it is okay to talk about mental illness. I lost a lot of friends in high school because no one believed my story. So, I tell you this to help you see it is ok to talk about mental illness.

If a friend wants to talk about mental illness with you, talk to them, listen to them. Don’t judge them. If you notice that they are really down and you think they might hurt themselves, talk to their parents, talk to a counselor at school, tell someone. If you feel like this, talk to someone. Your parents, your favorite teacher, the school counselor, a friend.

1 in 4 people will suffer a mental illness at some point in their life. Some are short lived mental illness caused by stress, or a death of someone they are close to, for example. Some are mental illnesses are chronic, that illness will always be in the person’s life. All of these illnesses are treatable. The most common forms of mental illness are mood disorders such as depression, and bipolar. Nervous disorders such as generalized anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Also eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

If you feel that something isn’t right with you or a friend, talk to someone. You can’t get the help you need if you don’t tell someone. You can’t keep it to yourself. I tried to. You have to talk to someone. And it is OK to talk about mental illness.