When I was in elementary and middle school, I couldn’t do and think the way that you were expected to think in traditional school. Because of this, I had a ton of anxiety since I was a little tiny kid, and it only got worse and worse. I would miss school by pretending to be sick, or go to school but hide in the nurse’s office. I was very uncomfortable in school because I knew that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to tell anyone how I felt, either. I didn’t effectively learn how to read until I was in the sixth grade. In seventh grade, people finally understood that I had dyslexia, so I got into some care, which helped me transition into seeing a psychiatrist. Finding out I was dyslexic was pretty detrimental to my world, because it made me sad and filled with worry. It caused a ton of stress and a ton of anxiety for me, and by the time they figured it out when I was in seventh grade there wasn’t that much remediation I could do at that point. The feeling like I couldn’t do anything about it made the depression and anxiety so much worse, because I felt hopeless and helpless and like I was different. I didn’t understand that being different was okay.
When I was 13, my sister, who is two years older than me, was struggling, so my parents (neither of whom had any psych issues themselves) were able to see that I was also struggling. Other people besides my parents also began to notice that I was struggling tremendously. That’s how they knew to bring me to a psychologist.
Nobody ever said anything negative about my mental illness and dyslexia, but it’s not something I really talked about with people. I don’t think I was ashamed, I just didn’t think it was appropriate to talk about with anybody. I bounced around to several different psychiatrists and therapists. For years I didn’t find a psychiatrist I liked. At 14, I did find a phenomenal therapist that I still see now. She was the person who helped me get into rehab later during my addiction. It was great to feel a connection with someone and talk to someone about what was going on. She was really positive and supportive.
I was diagnosed incorrectly for 6 years with depression and anxiety. Because of the wrong diagnosis, I was also on the wrong meds since the age of 13. They would help with the depression, but they made anxiety worse. For years, I would go on and off psych meds, which wasn’t good because I needed help. I was extremely depressed and anxious and uncomfortable as a kid. I wasn’t correctly diagnosed with bipolar II until around age 22, so it was a long time that I struggled without the correct help.
At the time, I was also self-medicating with drugs and alcohol for my mental illness and the problems with learning in school. I fell into a deep addiction. I remember wanting to feel some control over the way I was feeling, and I thought that using alcohol and other drugs would do that. Once I got high, I realized I could change the way that I felt by putting something into my body. It was the only way I felt like I had any control over my emotions. I thought that I was helping myself. But it obviously just made everything worse. I have now been in recovery from addiction for 11 years — I got sober 2 weeks after turning 16.
I definitely have felt suicidal throughout my mental health struggles. One time, I called my mother and said, “I love you but I’m going to drive off the road. I just wanted to let you know. I can’t do this anymore.” All through adolescence until I got sober, and even after intermittently, I was really suicidal. Most of the time I was passively suicidal, meaning I thought that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. I didn’t take a ton of steps toward suicide, but I was definitely on that ledge a lot. Honestly, I felt comfortable on that ledge, because it made me feel like I could have some control by having the option of suicide, which made me feel ok. It sounds insane now, but that’s how I felt. It was somehow a really comforting thought that I could off myself tomorrow if I chose to.
Since my bipolar II diagnosis, I finally have been on the right meds. After starting to take them, I thought, “Is this how anybody else feels? Is this how normal feels? Because this is amazing!” I’ve been med compliant for four years, which the longest I’ve ever been med compliant for. I also haven’t been suicidal. It’s not to say that I don’t still struggle, but the extent to which I struggle is so much less. It’s literally been amazing. It’s changed my whole world to be on the right medication and to be balanced. For me, a lot of what the psych meds I’m on do is limit the range of the highs and the lows to the point that I don’t fall down a bottomless pit. It doesn’t get to the point of no return, which is what used to happen. It’s not to say that I don’t still have ups and downs, but they’re manageable.
My mom was also really positive and supportive. She has definitely always been my ally. My dad is great, and we get along great, but he still doesn’t really understand the dyslexia or the mental illness or the addiction. It’s not to say he’s not supportive, he just doesn’t “get it.” My mom has done a ridiculous amount of research and has read books on the topic, so she has a much better understanding than my dad does. I have felt like she has been much more supportive just because she understands more and has actively made the effort to understand more.
If I met another kid going through a similar struggle as me, I would tell them that there definitely is hope, but there is no help if you don’t ask for help. For me, nobody could help me until I was honest. I mean, I lied to my therapist for six years, and people can’t help you when you’re lying to them. I was lying so much that I actually believed the lies myself. I couldn’t even help myself because I was in so much denial or I didn’t want to deal with it or I didn’t think it was something that could be dealt with. Until I came into recovery, I didn’t understand that there was help and support and people that were willing to work with me. Once I came into recovery, I have had awesome experiences with really cool people.
I just want to reiterate there is hope and there is help and things get better. But things don’t get perfect, and that’s ok, because nobody’s life is perfect, with or without mental illness. Everybody struggles and that’s okay and that’s part of being an adolescent, but it’s really important for me to share my struggle with other people, both for them and for me. I have been able to build a community where I can say, “Hey, I’m not really ok right now,” and to have them be able to say that to me. I have built a network of honesty and hope and support. Literally once I asked for help, everybody was like, “OK, let’s do this.” But that was very contingent on me saying, “I’m not ok.” And there is no weakness in saying, “I’m not ok.” There’s a ton of strength in that.