It took me many years to figure out the path of my mental health disorder symptoms. I started therapy at 19 for depression, but I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until age 31 when we finally figured out my hypomanias. Then the biggest surprise of all happened:
I realized that my first symptom was actually psychosis at age 15.
If diagnosed today, my diagnosis would be bipolar disorder with a separate psychotic disorder. I have psychosis when I’m not manic or depressed. Wow! What a shock.
Knowing when your symptoms started makes a big difference in your treatment plan. Here’s why. If you or a loved one had childhood symptoms before age 12 for example, there’s a good chance you also missed out on the social skill learning that many people get at school. This can explain the ‘immature’ behavior many adults exhibit when finally diagnosed in their 20’s.
If like me, you have very early onset psychosis, you probably didn’t have the life experience needed to say, “Wait a minute! That isn’t normal thinking!” This perpetuates the symptoms because you don’t know what’s average and what isn’t… so you don’t say anything and psychosis becomes a habit that you never report.
I remember being at a book store in the mall in Hawaii where I went to high school. I loved going to book stores! I would pull up the little stool, get a stack of books and start reading. I liked the Far Side comics and Harlequin romances. (AH! Teenagers!) The store was always crowded.
As the store filled, I heard a voice say, “You need to get out of here!” I looked around and thought, “Who said that?” and when there wasn’t anyone there, I went back to reading. I then heard, “You have to leave now.” What the heck! Who said that! No one was there, but I stood up and left.
These auditory hallucinations have been with me ever since. They’re often stress induced and are very prominent when I’m in a crowded space. Back then, I had no idea what they were and assumed everyone heard voices.
If I had known to tell someone about this, my life would be different now. As I got older, these turned to visual hallucinations. I saw myself get killed. I saw leaves that looked like hands and distinctly remember walking in the woods and seeing a filled garbage bag and hearing the words, “There’s a dead body in that bag.” I hightailed it out of there!
My hypomania started at 17. Once again, I didn’t know what it was. It happened on a school trip to Europe, so my family didn’t see what was happening. My next episodes were away from home when I went to college. Bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders are episodic. We can be absolutely stable and then boom, an episode starts. It’s easy to miss this in the beginning, especially in the United States where people often leave home at 18 to go to work or school.
Very young children can have similar symptoms and we call them growing pains. They’re not! Catching symptoms early changes lives. Understanding the difference between early symptoms and typical teenage behavior saves years of heartache as well.
When did your symptoms start? If you have psychosis when you’re not manic or depressed, have you been tested for a separate psychotic disorder? Do you have anxiety even when your mood is stable?
I’m fine with being psychotic. It’s part of who I am. I treat it with the management plan in my books. I had a paranoid episode this week, but I knew what was happening and made sure I didn’t ruin any relationships.
I suggest making a list of your earliest symptoms. Maybe you were 5, or maybe you were 15 like me. Are you getting the help you need for ALL of your symptoms?
Here are a few of my past articles related to this blog:
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community
Julie A. Fast