The Beginnings of My Mental Illness In High School

I have already dealt with what mental illness isn’t.  In this post I will write about what the onset of my mental illness was like.

I was officially diagnosed with major depression and paranoid schizophrenia at the age of twenty.  Yet I started noticing problems at age seventeen.  The onset of these problems were so gradual that my friends noticed something wasn’t right before I did.  I still remember after a biology class in high school when we were discussing the symptoms for bipolar disorder, a friend came up to me and said that those symptoms described me pretty well.  I really didn’t have much of an idea of what she was talking about as I thought all teenagers were moody, flighty, and angst ridden.  I just didn’t realize how bad I had become until this friend mentioned this.

Even though I have always enjoyed my personal alone time I always made a point to be friendly to people no matter what.  It was after I turned seventeen I began to isolate much more to where it became a problem.  After I came home from football practice in the evenings, I’d just sit in my room and listen to hard rock music on my headphones for hours at a time most nights.  It got to where I rarely socialized, never went to school activities I wasn’t directly involved in, and I didn’t date at all my senior year of high school.  

By the time senior year came, I was a wreck.  Yet I didn’t tell anyone I was having serious problems.  I think that people knew yet they were afraid to do anything about it.  This was the late 1990s in rural Nebraska, so there wasn’t much in the way of mental health help in the immediate area.  Since people knew I didn’t drink or do drugs, they must have been really scared of me looking back on it years later.  It probably would have been easier to dismiss my erratic behavior and emotional outbursts to drinking and drug abuse as opposed to coming down with a mental illness that was totally unpreventable that no one wanted to discuss.

Speaking of behavior, I quit the school play my senior year even though I had the lead role as a junior.  In football, I became standoffish with my teammates and ignored my coaches so much so I became very unpopular on our team.  I withdrew from my friends so much so I literally had maybe one or two friends by the time I graduated high school in May 1999.  I became argumentative with classmates.  I even almost hit one of my teachers, which would have not only been instant expulsion, but would have been assault charges since I was eighteen at the time.  Thank God I didn’t act on that impulse.

For most kids graduation from high school is a time of celebration.  It wasn’t for me.  I was just too bewildered and overwhelmed by my ever progressing mental illness to enjoy it.  I didn’t see graduation as a victory.  It was simply a ‘I’ve graduated and I have all these anger and depression problems.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  Now what?’  I’ll cover the problems of my undiagnosed mental illness in college in another post.


7 thoughts on “The Beginnings of My Mental Illness In High School

  1. Thanks for sharing some of your story. I can identify with it quite well.

    I am a fellow blogger with a mental illness and I’m currently working on a spiritual memoir entitled “Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind”. Currently, I’m working on “The Study” chapter where I reflect on books that have impacted my understanding of mental illness as well as list other works of art (books,movies,visual arts, music) worth exploring.

    I’d love for you to visit my site and share what you’ve found helpful. The post is here –

    Hope to see you around.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story. It takes to put yourself out there in a blog, it takes more guts to put yourself out there about an often misunderstood situation. Do you read Nici Meyer’s blog? She also writes about being diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder. And she’s a member of the Guild.

  3. You may not remember me, but I was in your class. I should have graduated with you, but my family moved away when I was in 3rd grade. The move was not pleasant for me. I have social anxiety, and the bullying that occurred caused that to grow out of control. It has lead to many depression periods. Finally with the birth of my son 6 years ago and noticing his social anxiety, I have been able to come to terms with my own issues. I really think that if I could have stayed, things would have been better. I know that our classmates would have been very supportive and not allowed me to withdraw. I was able to attend your graduation ceremony, and I remember going through the line at the end of the ceremony and old classmates remembering me. But understanding what I now know has truly helped me help my son and several of my students. Keep educating others…not enough people understand!

  4. Zach, it is very courageous of you to share this personal story. I have had two people very close to me who bravely bore mental illness. They were the most loving, kindest people I have ever known and they taught me a lot about life and about rising above the stigma and stereotype from ignorant people with dignity and grace. They deserved my respect and love and they both got it. I feel you and I understand. Take care.

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