I have a long history of mental illness. I was first hospitalised with psychotic features at 16. I’d been smoking weed with my friend and her brother, I’d had a small amount and although they were fine, I had hallucinations during which I watched myself jump in front of cars and die, for days. It was terrifying. I had the good sense to call my dad and he picked me up, took me home and to bed and the next morning my Mum took me to the doctor. My doctor was concerned so organised a hospital admission. With some medication, and time no doubt, I came out of my psychotic state and spent two weeks in hospital before being discharged to an outpatient cognitive behavioural therapy program.
Before that episode I’d had a history of mood swings. I’d always been an average student. I was engaged at school but more by the friendships and extra curricular activities I was engaged in. When I was 15 though, something came over me. I became focussed, driven, hard working. Stayed up late, studied hard, and pushed my marks up from the 70%s to the high 90%s. I did all of this while working all weekend, playing netball, swimming, doing gymnastics, drama, debating, Japanese. Everything! Retrospectively I think this was my first hypomanic episode. But who goes to the doctor saying they feel ‘well’ and ‘energetic’??
The following year, things became tough for me. I started feeling suicidal and displayed signs of depression. It must have been quite noticeable, my English Literature teacher pulled me aside one day and made a deal with me. If I went to my doctor and told him how I felt, she’d not make me submit my last essay for the term. I jumped at this and my doctor prescribed me Zoloft, he was also worried about my suicidal ideation so gave me his home number in case I was ever distressed/ suicidal and didn’t have any one else to turn to.
That was just before I was hospitalised. I initially didn’t tell my parents about the depression or Zoloft, but they found the meds in my room and I got in trouble for not being open with them (I didn’t feel like I could).
My mood fluctuated through my 20s but my approach to mental illness was to get help only when your mental illness interfered with your day to day life. And mine didn’t. I managed to keep on top of things, until about 6 weeks after I got married. It was at this point that my then mother-in-law told me that I wasn’t coping, was acting irrationally and needed help.
Getting a good general practitioner with an interest and understanding of mental illness was critical. I’d never met her before and I remember sitting opposite her saying “I have something to tell you and you need to take me seriously”. I remember how intently she listened. She’s been great ever since.
I remember having a ridiculous idea that I could manage my ‘garden-variety’ depression with fish oil and vitamins. She gave me 2 weeks and a referral to a clinical psychologist to feel better otherwise she was putting my on antidepressants. I came back later that week, hysterical, pleading for antidepressants. More on this in a later post.