The other day, Saturday October 10th, was World Mental Health Day, a day to promote awareness, understanding, & advocacy for the millions of people around the globe struggling with mental health issues, ultimately to increase investment in mental health resources & programs. As I’ve learned through my own struggle with my mental illness, as well as the symptoms, diagnoses, & treatment for other disorders & afflictions, I’m becoming more comfortable advocating for mental health in general. In this post, I would like to offer a reflection on my experience, show gratitude for those folks who’ve helped me along the way, & provide some resources that might be valuable to others.
If I had to pinpoint when these mental health struggles started for me, I would say around 16 or 17; it was then that my negative reactions, such as in anger & disappointment, began to take on inflated, difficult-to-control characteristics. As the years ticked on, I began to suffer both time & memory loss, dissociating & becoming consumed by my emotions. Multiple friends in college pulled me aside to check me on my behavior--nonsensical yelling at others, disappearing in the middle of normal situations, irrational text messages or emails--concerns I, at first, brushed off as misunderstandings. I remember one good friend CD & I having a long talk outside of the library where he listed in detail several moments that I had very hazy, vague memories of, situations where I had “blown up” seemingly over nothing--randomly shouting at my partner, attacking a friend on a camping trip, shoving someone in line & running off screaming incoherently.
This was when I realized something was wrong; the stories, once lost in my haze & kept in secret by others out of respect, began piling up. I remember the first time I ever hallucinated a voice. It was my senior year at Ball State & the creative writing department had taken a few students down to a poetry festival in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Overwhelmed by all the people & the pressure, I went for a stroll through a nice neighborhood. I heard someone say, “Hello.” I looked around & saw no one. I heard it several more times, me crouching to look under cars & behind bushes. I stood in the middle of the street, freaked-out, pouring sweat. One last time, more personal this time, the voice said, “Hello, Tyler,” & then my head turned to static. I awoke what I believe to be several seconds later on someone’s lawn.
What I did next was the mistake I made for the next decade over & again--minimizing the situation & simply moving on. I rejoined the Ball State crew & went on my way. Oh how I wish I had pulled my trusted professor aside & told him what had happened. Even in therapy & my most intimate relationships, I long avoided the hard facts of what was happening--I was being undertaken by hallucinations, delusions, & mood swings--instead attempting to rationalize my way out of it. Oh how I wish I had taken my symptoms more seriously.
Back in April of this year, when I finally received my proper diagnosis, I was elated to finally have a disorder to name. My psychiatrist urged me to focus instead on the symptoms & how we can alleviate those symptoms rather than worrying about what is & isn’t confined in the name of my disorder. If I had been more honest about my symptoms earlier, I could have avoided the DID misdiagnosis that led to misguided & possibly harmful treatment & mania-inducing anti-depression meds. If I had been more mindful of the symptoms--receiving proper medication & behavioral therapy sooner--it could’ve prevented the physical & emotional abuse that I caused several loved ones. I say this, not to pile on the regret, but to stress the importance of honesty & self-awareness, even when it is embarrassing & terrifying.
I want to honor those loved ones who took the brunt of my unknowing. As I was tangled in worsening psychotic tendencies & greater mood swings, I subjected two wives, one serious partner, & several roommates / best friends to, I’m sure, scary & confusing episodes. I wish every day that I could take back the strange tirades & the Tasmanian-Devil whirlwind, the broken promises & the baffling switches; oh how I wish I could take away the trauma & pain I’ve caused others. The thing I can do now here is thank them for sticking with me, pushing me to get help, & leaving when they couldn’t handle anymore, saving us both untold aches & pains.
In Austin, I had one therapist, SW, who was incredibly kind, honest, & understanding of my struggles. Though she misdiagnosed me & made a pretty big mistake recently in consulting on my marriage separation, the steps she walked me through in interpersonally & socially handling my mental illness, especially in cleaning up the aftermath of my episodes, were invaluable. When I had a spell & screamed irrational judgements & profanities at a friend, she helped me talk through the shame to get to a point of apologetic gratitude. When I feared the worst--that I would harm my wife DS--she helped me parse out the triggers & make plans with DS for better transitions & preventions in the future. She also taught me some of my crucial grounding techniques, such as utilizing the five senses technique & recognizing thinking errors that lead to spells. Thank you to SW for the years of patience & guidance.
Since DS left, I’ve been seeing a local therapist, TT, who has done a fantastic job of helping me transition to this new journey in my life--living as a single man with bipolar disorder. She has helped me separate what is the grief of losing DS & what is the struggle with the illness. She challenged me to make a daily schedule to stay focused on the things I can control; she encouraged me to keep this weekly blog to process the things I can’t control. Perhaps most importantly, she facilitated my relationship with my new psychiatrist & got me on the right medications to lessen the symptoms. Thank you to TT for the support in this critical time.
I also want to thank all the folks who keep this easily lonesome hick active & with company. It is much easier for me to ignore the voices & tamp down the impulses when I’m surrounded by love & joy. I have an insatiable, sometimes manic need for human connection--through hanging out, conversing, & sharing. Hobbies have been crucial for me throughout this decade-long battle--the regular disc golf rounds, the cooking & sharing of meals, the discussion of art. As someone in a small town in the middle of elsewhere, it is helpful to have regular phone calls with my friends & family scattered throughout the world. Thank you to everyone who has explored & shared life with me; it literally keeps me sane.
As I move forward, I’m going to continue my cognitive behavioral therapy & medication routine. I will make daily plans to see someone I love for a constructive activity, be it a round of disc golf or a walk through town, a collage session or a good meal, recognizing that as an introvert I gain my positive energy from other people. I hope to find a guitarist to jam with on the drums, remembering how grounded playing with my friend MT in Austin made me. I plan to get a group of pals together regularly for both a collage & euchre nights, harnessing my passion for community-building. I am going to continue to research & test-kitchen kabobs for my food stand idea, seeking alternate means for a disabled person to make a living. I will continue on my physical health journey through weight-lifting, playing sports, & cutting out soda / alcohol / fried foods, knowing my mental health is served best by a fit body. I will continue to do my daily mindfulness, reading, & writing routines, in order to keep my mind sharp.
That’s where I encourage people to start, with the actions they can control. Set accomplishable goals. Make useful lists. Reach out to supportive people. Do activities that give you energy & zest. Beyond that, if you’re struggling with mental health, I always say start now, in terms of getting professional help. Unfortunately, our mental health care system is unnecessarily complex & aggravating, often taking weeks or even months to even get in for consultation if you’re not actively harming yourself or others. It is not easy, but it is necessary to be patient with the process. The techniques take many years to really sink in & benefit from; the relationships with therapists, psychiatrists, & the system as a whole take much practice to learn to manage. Most of all, if anyone needs someone to talk to, I’m here to listen.
Resources That Have Helped Me