I had always been a fairly social person, had been successful in school, and was about to start my first career job out of college. My symptoms didn’t arise in one moment; it was a slow progression of increasing distance from my friends, family, and normal life. Towards the end of college I started to isolate from my friends, increased substance use, and had a general feeling of dread about my future. All of that was compounded when I moved to another state to start my career in engineering. I found it was hard to stay focused at work and that everyone was talking about me behind my back (probably some truth in that). That feeling persisted when talking to my friends and family back home; it seemed like everyone was concerned for my general well-being.
As my life slipped into more chaos, substance use, and erratic behavior, I started to have more thoughts of suicide. I didn’t necessarily want to die, but I didn’t want to keep living my life. At this point I started hearing and seeing messages directed to me: in television, in articles I read, even the spreadsheets on my work computer. Everything had a hidden meaning, secret information only I could decode that was important for my greater understanding of a hidden world.
After coming home for the holidays, my family went into crisis mode. I felt like everything I did was over analyzed by my family, as if they were looking for proof that I was having a mental breakdown. The pressures of work, my family’s concern, and other stressors finally boiled over. I found myself in a situation where I could either go with the police or with my father to a psychiatric hospital. I chose the hospital.
After being practically dragged into the hospital intake, I walked out after being extremely confrontational with the staff and my family. It was scarier for me to admit I was losing my mind and accept help than to keep running with my current reality. Eventually that running led me to the loss of my job, living with my parents, and without much money. Luckily it only took a few months before I was connected with people that understood my condition and could help me.
Twists and Turns of Recovery
I feel fortunate to have been connected to amazing health professionals that had an excellent program to meet my specific mental health needs and that were always ready to help. It took another mental health relapse to realize that fact. At first I did not want to accept that I was so different from other people.
My first time in therapy I was on a mission to prove I was not sick. My second time in therapy I was ready to accept help. I didn’t care what I had to do; I would do anything to keep from the way I was living. I was done being scared, lonely, and living in chaos. Even though I was eventually diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, my therapist focused more on managing symptoms than labeling me in some psychiatric category. The focus was on strategies to cope with intrusive thoughts, managing stress, and general lifestyle choices for wellbeing.
After less than a year in recovery, I was asked to be part of a peer support program with my counseling center. At first I was surprised in their confidence in me, but the opportunity allowed me to meet and help other people that had symptoms of psychosis. The experience helped me deal with the social and personal stigma I felt with my diagnosis, to realize my struggles could help other people.
During that time I was able to finish my graduate degree and start my engineering career once again. This time I have the tools to conquer stress in my life, deal with any lingering symptoms, and feel like I always have support to fall back on when I need an extra boost. I feel so fortunate to have access to help early on in my life, to be in a place to accept the help, and move past my illness.
– Michigan early treatment program participant, age 28