My first introduction to mental illness was when I was young and a family member was diagnosed. I became familiar with things like counseling, medication, and addiction. A few years later it happened again. At 15, I began hearing things about depression and bipolar disorder. My family was not equipped to handle it well. Stigma surrounded the issue when I was growing up.
A few years later, I was in college. Things began to change for me, too. I found myself spending hours and days at a time in complete isolation. I started feeling terrified of talking to someone about how I was feeling, or what I was going through. I had an overwhelming feeling of being different. I was an alien. I was alone. No one could possibly understand. I couldn’t have people thinking I was as strange as I felt. I was afraid to talk to people. What if something I said gave me away?
Eventually I was living alone in an apartment and didn’t have any close friends. I couldn’t get out of bed to go to class, I couldn’t get through the day without crying hysterically. It was by grace that I made it to graduation. On the morning of the graduation ceremony, I lay in bed believing life wasn’t worth living.
I graduated that day, but life didn’t get easier. My anxiety prevented me from seeing a counselor regularly. Finding a job, my parents’ divorce, and other obstacles made me fall deeper in despair. I no longer had contact with anyone – my fears of being strange and alien intensified. Years of a slowly but surely needed intervention ultimately culminated in a hospitalization and entering a program specializing in psychosis recovery.
Don’t let stigma get in the way of your recovery. You’re stronger than you think you are. Keep going – and know that no matter what you’re going through, you are never alone.
–Michigan early treatment program participant, age 25