When I was in high school I began having problems with what was the beginnings of my mental illness. I began to act very strange and unusual. I had developed a very volatile temper because of my mental illness. Before I became ill I was very easy going and I didn’t get upset very easily. In grade school I was even one of the class clowns. All of that changed when my mental illness came into being.
I would get very angry over anything and everything. The most meaningless snide comments from a classmate would often be enough to make me very angry. It also came to be that I hated many of my classmates because I believed that they were out to harm me. This was, as I learned in retrospect, due to the paranoid aspect of my schizophrenia. I would often be very defensive and standoffish. I would rarely open up to anyone with the exception of my best friend. I never got into any fights in high school but I came close several times.
Since I was building up walls around myself and not opening up to anyone, my friends gradually disappeared. I didn’t notice this at first. It wasn’t until I was almost half way through my senior year of high school I realized that all of my friends were gone. Looking back I know that was because I had become standoffish, distant, bizarre, paranoid, and very angry. All of this was occurring for no outside apparent reason, but within my brain I was undergoing massive upheavals.
I know now that my parents knew that something was severely bothering me. Yet since I was so paranoid I kept my issues to myself. This didn’t help at all. It made things much worse to have to put up a false front and have a developing mental illness at the same time. I was terrified of what would happen if I let my parents know what was really going on inside of my mind. It was terrifying enough for me to experience it and not know what was going to happen from one moment to the next. I had no idea how to tell them I wasn’t all right at all.
How do you tell someone what is wrong with you when even you don’t know what’s developing? We know all about the symptoms of heart problems and cancer. We have those hammered into our heads by the press and popular culture all of the time. Yet the public at large is still quite ignorant of the symptoms of mental illness and mental health problems. I didn’t even know what I was going through had a name or that I wasn’t alone when I first became ill in the late 1990s. The Internet was still in its infancy and information on mental health and mental illness issues was not very easy to find. I had no idea what was going on inside my head. My paranoid aspects of my illness made me reaching out for help from other people almost impossible.
I certainly didn’t seek the help of my school counselor. I was fearful that talking to the school counselor would be ineffective. I had my head full of visions of counselors asking questions about my childhood and making me tell them what I saw in large inkblots. I was also scared of getting labeled because I went to a very small high school with less than one hundred students in the entire high school. I was paranoid enough that I didn’t want my problems becoming public knowledge. High school kids are notorious enough for being gossips and cruel. I just knew, in my paranoid state, that my classmates were already talking behind my back. I just knew that going to the school counselor would have made things much worse.
Since my classmates knew I didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs they had to know that something was really messed up with me. It’s easy to dismiss someone’s erratic behavior because of drinking or drugs. But because of the lack of public knowledge and discourse about mental illness, the possibility that someone’s odd actions may be due to an undiagnosed mental illness will almost never occur to someone. So looking back on my high school days, I can see why my classmates were alienated from me. It wasn’t because of anything malicious; it was because they had no idea of how to work with a classmate with an undiagnosed mental illness. I have to attribute that to a lack of knowledge and public discussion about mental illness.
Fortunately I made several friends in college who accepted me in spite of my mental illness. By then I was being treated and the treatments were quite effective. Thanks to the Internet and social media like Facebook.com, I have kept in contact with many of my college friends. I am also now reestablishing contact with my friends from high school that had become alienated because of the onset of my paranoid schizophrenia.
I have had a few friends tell me that because of me they have been able to better understand those with mental illnesses. I have also been told that simply because of being friends with me they have gotten past many of the stigmas and prejudices that are associated with mental illness. I’m glad that there have been some positives to come from my mental illness.