I’m going to tell you the story of me. It might be a bit long, but it has a point, so bear with me.
I was excessively bullied when I was in fifth grade, which lead to me being diagnosed with depression. I was prescribed antidepressants for a year or two, but then went off of them. I was still prone to bouts of depression, but I no longer took medicine or saw a doctor for it.
That lasted until the beginning of my freshman year here at Loyola, when the combination of stress, being away from home and personal issues made me more depressed than I had been in a while. I went to the Wellness Center and was prescribed antidepressants again. Everything was fine for a few months after that, until something (I no longer remember what) started making me more depressed even with the medication. I returned to the Wellness Center and they upped my prescription.
Once again, things went well, but this time only for a few weeks. Then an incident in one of my classes triggered a manic episode out of the blue. That manic episode manifested in the form of racing thoughts so fast and frequent that I could barely focus on anything or sleep. I had so much excess energy that parts of my body would just shake.
I went to a doctor at NorthShore Evanston Hospital where my diagnosis was amended from depression to bipolar II disorder. I was taken off antidepressants (which have a habit of triggering manic episodes such as mine in people who are bipolar) and put on new medication.
The new medicine and therapy sessions I went to were pretty successful. Near the end of fall semester of my freshman year, however, I did had a minor episode of depression that got bad enough that I decided to take myself to an emergency room. It just so happened that I got there at the same time an ambulance pulled up with a gunshot victim. Something about seeing that snapped me out of my funk and I went home.
I managed myself well for the next few months until a personal issue in February of my sophomore year triggered the worst depression episode I had ever had. In my previous depressive episodes, both before and after my diagnosis as bipolar, I had experienced suicidal thoughts on a fairly regular basis. But this was the only time I acted on them.
I took my two prescription bottles into the bathroom of my dorm room, put a ton of pills in my mouth and poured myself a glass of water. I had every intention of swallowing them and hopefully killing myself that night. But before I washed the pills down, a thought crossed my mind that this was not a good idea. I spit the pills out, grabbed my coat and went to the ER once again. This time I stayed. I called my parents on my way there to let them know I was going to the ER, but I didn’t tell them about the pills. Not the easiest phone call I’ve had to make.
I stayed at the hospital for a few hours before I was discharged, and my mom flew in from Ohio to spend the next few days with me to make sure I was doing OK. Things went back to normal eventually. Since then I’ve had a few minor manic episodes but never any depressive episodes worth mentioning. My junior year went about as smoothly as I could have hoped.
I can’t really say the same about the first semester of my senior year, though. To preface this, I should let you know that I have been involved with The Phoenix in some capacity since my sophomore year. That year I was a contributing columnist for the opinion section; I was the editor of that section my junior year, and during the fall semester of this year I was the associate editor of the paper.
As any senior will tell you, it’s a chaotic year. Stress started piling up immediately: worrying about what I was going to do after I graduate, freaking out over whether or not I’d actually meet all the graduation requirements, random personal issues and my involvement with The Phoenix.
About a month into the semester I could feel it coming. I slowly started sinking into a depression that kept getting worse. It got to the point where I was thinking about suicide literally every single day over a span of about six weeks. I knew I was at the beginning stages of a full depressive episode — the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since that February two years ago.
I scheduled more doctor and therapy appointments. It helped, but I was still sinking. I knew I had to get rid of a source of stress, but there was only one that I could actually get rid of: the student organization.
I loved my involvement with The Phoenix. Sure, it had its ups and downs, but I really enjoyed both being a part of it and being around the rest of the staff members. But for my own good, I had to let it go. I told the editor-in-chief, managing editor and faculty advisor that I was going to leave at the end of the semester, and told the rest of the staff at the second to last meeting of the year.
Since then, my condition has improved and I have returned to an even level state of mental health.
The point of this story isn’t to get you to feel sorry for me. The point is one that comes across more subtly, but I’ll just state it outright: being proactive.
I’ve noticed that in a lot of discussions about mental health, there seems to be an emphasis put on the people close to the individual “recognizing the signs” that he/she may need help. Don’t get me wrong, that is important. But it is just as, or more, important that the person struggling recognizes the signs and gets help accordingly. That help can be reaching out to friends or family, or going in for medical treatment.
If I wasn’t proactive about my mental health, and if I didn’t recognize that the things I was thinking or feeling weren’t right, I wouldn’t have scheduled as many doctors appointments as I did, which means I wouldn’t have gotten the care I needed. I also wouldn’t have recognized that what I was doing that February night was a bad choice, which means I would very likely be dead right now. And if I didn’t recognize that I was starting to slip into a deeper and deeper depression last semester, I’m not sure where I’d be right now.
Being proactive about your health can cost you things. I had to give up a job I really liked. There were other, more personal things I felt I had to give up to stay mentally healthy, and I gave those up too.
Staying healthy is the most important thing. Being proactive — recognizing when things are bad and taking steps to fix them — is one way to do that.
Dominic Ciolli is a contributing columnist.