Disclaimer: There may be some triggering content as it relates to mental illness, mental health, medication, suicidal ideations, and other personal traumas shared. Please be kind to yourself and your boundaries. This story is written as a first-hand encounter with mental illness; this does not reflect the experience of every person. This story is written by an individual not associated with Independent Living, Inc.

Mental Health Month Resources

Selected Highlights

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my mental illnesses, it is that they’ve made me interesting and witty if nothing else.”

“It’s a lovely little cocktail of “neurospiciness” as people put it today, and while I’d love to have a normally functioning brain, I suppose it’s made my life interesting – and sometimes in good ways.”

“That’s just my history, and I hate to admit it, but so much of my story is defined by my mental health. But, it’s not all bad.”

“Our issues don’t make it more difficult to communicate; in fact, we now understand each other better than ever, and it’s helped us grow closer.”

I Shudder When I Think That I Might Not be Here Forever.

My history with mental health started when I was 12 or so. In elementary school and 6th grade, I was mostly a straight-A student. School came easy to me, and I even skipped preschool – still while being the youngest in my class. I was over a year behind my peers and yet I could pass all of my tests without even studying. My father called me a sponge since I absorbed knowledge without any difficulty. I was a math prodigy who could learn advanced college-level math and teach it back to my siblings, seven and ten years older than I was.

Then 7th grade came around and my grades started slipping. I went from an A in math to almost failing. My teachers belittled me for getting Cs and Ds in English, saying I should know better since it was my first language. I would get detention for getting a D in history. My science teacher at the time was pushing for me to stay back a grade.

The leadership at school was all against me. They said maybe I shouldn’t have skipped a grade and that my age was a factor. School officials then assumed I was on drugs. “How else could you go from a prodigy to a failure?” they’d echo each other.

Eventually, I was sent to the school counselor – the more political way of calling it the school therapist. After a few sessions with him, he informally diagnosed me with depression. My teachers still didn’t believe him. It was unheard of at the time – who had depression in 2003? What did I have to be sad about? What drugs was I taking? What gangs was I hanging out with?

Me. Nothing. None. I had no friends; these are the answers to the above questions.

I saw myself as a sad, suicide-contemplating, fat, friendless little weirdo who went from prodigy to punk in the span of a year.

After much persuasion, the school therapist and the guidance counselor convinced my parents to send me to therapy. School officials said it was pointless, and that I should have gone to a mental institute or drug rehab instead. They would call me a freak, a loser, a failure, and I certainly felt like one.

The therapist I saw was quite eccentric, but she got me to open up. Our discussions of suicide, having no friends, not being able to sleep, failing grades, and so on, led her to formally diagnose me as bipolar with a focus on depression. I had – and still have – manic tendencies, but every therapist I’ve had has deemed said tendencies not bad enough to warrant intervention. I just call them my occasional “zoomies” or “chaotic-good” moments.

I can’t remember the details, but not many people were happy with me, even still. Back then -and I swear, even now – depression is seen as something avoidable or fixable. Something that a bandaid or a hospital stay would fix. My teachers all thought I was BSing, seeking attention to garner sympathy as a way to compensate for my antisocial tendencies.

Eventually, my parents came around to it. I think it took me sitting in my room, physically unable to move for two days, that made them realize – okay, there are literally no drugs in this house so maybe he’s not lying.

They allowed the therapist to prescribe me medicine, and so my foray into medication began.

It was a turbulent year that made the rest of my 7th-grade life a bit of a blur, as it was my first time with medicine. I didn’t get the prescription until it was close to the end of the year, but they kicked in quickly to allow me to focus enough to get my grades up. Side-effects aside (fatigue, headaches, etc), I was starting to feel human again.

I’ll never forget the end of the school year. My math teacher said he believed in me to pass his final. He said the way I thought and addressed problems wasn’t the way that a drug user would and that I had potential. He took the time after school for a week or two to get me up to speed on math so I could pass his final. And I did with a 95 – just enough to get me to pass his class.

My science teacher, on the other hand, went the opposite approach. She was convinced that all human imperfections were deliberate and that no matter what the school said, I was a drug addict. She kept me after class one day and said that if I failed her class, I would be stuck in 7th grade for another year. If she wanted, she could grade my notebooks low enough so that I’d fail; if she graded them high enough, then I’d pass with a D. I’d be stuck with her for another year, she said to me with a sinister smile on her face, akin to a Disney villain.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my mental illnesses, it is that they’ve made me interesting and witty if nothing else. I vividly remember looking at this woman dead in the eye and saying “I may be stuck with you for another year, but you’ll also be stuck with ME for another year” I responded with a shit-eating grin of my own.

She passed me with a D, and I moved on to 8th grade.

Up until my mid-20s, my story wasn’t so interesting. In 11th grade I experimented with drugs quite a bit in an effort to fit in and to self-medicate, and in normal druggy fashion, I lost plenty of friends. After a forgiveness-seeking tour in 12th grade, I regained the trust of my friends and carried on my life as normal. I was straight-edge until my 21st birthday, and didn’t touch marijuana again until moving to Boston.

Undergrad and my first foray into the working world were pretty standard. Along the way, I tried different medicines, received different diagnoses, and experienced ups and downs as everyone did.

It wasn’t until I was 24 or so back in 2015 that things took another turn. I was accepted to Boston University for a graduate program in emerging media studies, and I had been passionate about getting my Master’s degree. I had everything lined up – a scholarship, an apartment, etc, and things were fine. Around the time that I firmly decided on going (which was quite difficult for me given my OCD, as the idea of leaving home and starting a new shift like this was daunting, to say the least) both of my parents had lost their jobs within a few months of each other. I was the only one in the household with a job, so I was responsible for most of the bills at the time.

Safe to say, I didn’t have any extra money to save for the move, as my scholarship was only for tuition and I still needed to save for the move itself and the apartment.

I was completely torn. Did I forgo my dreams in favor of being the golden child, or did I pursue my dreams while leaving my family to fend for themselves? I couldn’t decide, so instead, I planned to make no decision and to end my life instead.

I can’t remember the exact day, but after I wrote my suicide note, I gave myself one last chance to find an answer where we all win. So I went for a jog around the apartment complex. Towards the end of the jog, I decided to put a particular song on. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I typed “All” into my MP3 player, and the song “All I Ever Wanted” by the Airborne Toxic Event came on. I loved a few of their songs, so I figured why not listen to this one?

Well, the song did the trick. I paused mid-run when the lyrics “I shudder when I think that I might not be here forever” were sung, and that hit me hard. I went back to my room at midnight, sweating, still in my running shorts, and crying my eyes out listening to the song over and over. I know the line is about a failing romance, but to me, it was about life and death. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to go without a legacy.

So I found the workaround. I logged into my eBay account and sold almost everything I had that was valuable to me. I sold collectors video games, merchandise, the works, and over the next few weeks I had more than enough to cover the move while my meager income kept the family afloat until my mother got a new job around then.

Once in Boston a few months later, I can’t say that anything as dynamic happened. I fell in love and obsessed over women, and then broke down when things didn’t work out. I fought with friends, made enemies, and bounced between therapists, psychiatrists, and medications. My story now isn’t anything special, but this balance is just part of the human experience – just with the extra spice of bipolar type 1, OCD, anxiety, and misophonia.

It’s a lovely little cocktail of “neurospiciness” as people put it today, and while I’d love to have a normally functioning brain, I suppose it’s made my life interesting – and sometimes in good ways.

I tried countless different medicines to make me feel “right” with the fewest side effects possible. I figured that by this time, my brain had fully developed so a diagnosis should stick around for a bit.

Grad school was pretty tough and I had difficulty studying, so my doctor and I toyed with ADHD medicine for a few months. Turns out I definitely didn’t have ADHD, but as he put it, “an overactive mind” which apparently is related to my OCD by never being able to turn my brain off.

That “overactive mind” eventually translated into “delayed circadian rhythm syndrome” aka I’m nocturnal, so I take Seroquel to help me sleep. That’s on top of Lamictal as a mood stabilizer and Prozac for OCD. (Plus Breo & Albuterol for Asthma. Insurance companies must hate me.)

This combination seems to be working alright, but I’ll give it time until I inevitably change medicines around yet again. So is the life of someone with mental illness, I suppose.

That’s just my history, and I hate to admit it, but so much of my story is defined by my mental health. But, it’s not all bad.

I have bipolar, and while it’s made some friendships difficult, it has also allowed me to bond with others through our shared issues. We’ve learned to make fun of ourselves with it and we can now cope better. We’ll send each other pictures a few times a week saying things like “are you having a depressive episode too?” “Yep I am indeed.” Our mood swings are in sync a lot of the time.

Every Wednesday, I play online games with my best friend as we live four hours apart. Some weeks we’re both too low on energy due to our respective  depression diagnoses (and life in general being tiring), but when we make up for it the next week, we learn to laugh it off. Our issues don’t make it more difficult to communicate; in fact, we now understand each other better than ever, and it’s helped us grow closer – even after 30 years of friendship.

Depression-leaning bipolar has definitely hindered me in ways, as frequent bouts of low energy, antisocial habits, and inconsistent schedules have made long-term planning difficult, but it’s also had its benefits.

As a professional writer, I find myself more creative when I’m hindered. Depression sparks new emotions in me that inspire me to think of new sentences, new poetry verses, new descriptions, and more empathy for the characters I create.

My OCD diagnosis has made me overthink things, and as my former therapist put it, it has made me “hyper-aware” of everything. Sure, it sometimes sucks to be aware of everything around me, I overthink every little change in tone when speaking to someone and I often think I’ve upset them somehow, and I notice every little pain and creak in my body. But, it’s also made me more empathetic, more aware of myself and my physical health, and better able to read any situation. It’s made me a better friend, son, brother, and I’d like to think partner when I have a girlfriend.

Though, I’m sure my exes would disagree, but that’s another rant.

In addition to OCD and bipolar, I also suffer from misophonia – a term that even former doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists weren’t familiar with. I can’t eat around my family since the sound of them chewing with their mouths open drives me nuts, and I always have my headphones in when on the train or at a cafe to block out sniffling.

I struggle to find a good side to misophonia, but I’d say it’s allowed me to sink into myself when I’m out and about. I become one with the music I listen to, I focus more on visual stimuli, and the world constantly has a soundtrack. Going through life with my favorite bands playing in my ear has changed my perception so much around me. When I went to the Louvre last summer, I had a Radiohead playlist going and each piece of art had its own theme song. It was fantastic, and now whenever I listen to these songs, I’m reminded of the best vacation of my life and all the art that’s inspired me.

When I started writing this testimonial, essay, rant, or whatever you’d call it, I didn’t expect to word vomit roughly five pages. I thought I’d write a paragraph or two on my middle and high school years, a paragraph giving an exposition of what’s wrong with me, and then maybe some call to action at the end. Even now, over 2000 words in, I find myself wanting to cite my sources, get quotes from other people, and wanting to turn this into a proper essay fit for a publication or journal, but maybe that’s for another day.

But if you’ve stayed with me this long, I guess I’ll end on this, as generic as it is: You’re alright. Mental illness sucks and it can be debilitating. It’s a disability, though saying you need a “mental health day” doesn’t really cut it when taking time off work. I’ve learned to live with it, through medication, therapy, and a good support system, and I’ve done my best to not let it define me. I’m just a guy with some mood swings, some obsessive tendencies, and who always has his headphones in his ear in public.

Plus, so many memes make sense to me now. So, that’s something. If you can’t totally beat your problems, then learn to have some fun with them. There’s no point in sitting and suffering, so you might as well make the most out of an interesting situation.