‘They told my mom it was just a cry for attention and I was perfectly fine.’: Woman shares mental health journey to bipolar diagnosis

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Disclaimer: This story includes mentions of self-harm that may be triggering to some.

“I was always someone who had difficulty maintaining friendships, jobs, and relationships—I felt like a complete failure.

At 32 years old, and after several diagnoses, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder.

The Early Days

They say mental illness starts later in life for most people. In my case, I believe it started as early as 8 years old. I have many memories of having issues, both at home and in school with other children. My issues were never academic, until later on.

Many days were spent being sent to the principal’s office or having a letter sent home to my parents because I got into it with some boy. I even got in trouble once for sneaking an outfit into my bag I knew I wasn’t allowed to wear and changing into it on my lunch break. Needless to say, I got in trouble and had a letter sent home to my parents. This is only one of the many instances I had letters sent home for inappropriate behavior—and this was only the third grade.

There were many other bizarre incidents I got into before the seventh grade. They were often caused by someone antagonizing me. I have had problems with being over-reactive for as long as I can remember. Some of the incidents I got into were things like putting lead in a boy’s pop, scratching a boy’s face up, hitting kids with various things (like hula hoops and music stands), and just generally reacting to other kids teasing me.

At a young age, you don’t realize something might be going on with you emotionally. I absolutely didn’t. I thought everyone was out to get me and life was just harder for me because of certain factors. Like having teenage parents and being moved around a lot. But as the years go on and things only seem to get worse, regardless of anything else, you have to start to wonder if it is you that is causing a lot of the problems.

young girl playing in dirt next to tree
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

The Adolescent Years Begin

Sadly for me, I never asked for help with my mental health for many years and was forced to go to counseling on a couple of different occasions. I remember purposely lying to the counselors and pretending everything was fine. From what I know about teenagers, I’m sure I’m not the only one. Defiance was rooted so deep within me that I refused to ask for help, even when I knew I needed it.

The first time I went to counseling was in the seventh grade. All of my parents (step included) had come to a cumulative decision that this was necessary.

I had just gotten suspended from school for starting a fire in my desk (in the science lab of all places). All I remember is playing around with some strips of paper, when all of a sudden all of the paper in my desk is on fire and I am smothering it, trying to hide what’s happening. Of course, it’s too late and everyone is staring at me. This has to be the first time I truly felt embarrassment and shame.

The aftermath of this caused all of the kids to start calling me ‘pyro’ and spread a rumor that I tried to purposely burn the school down. At this age, being a sensitive and emotional girl who had a really difficult time maintaining friendships—I was thrown into my first bout of depression. This is when I was dragged to my first round of counseling.

I have memories of opening up to my journal about everything, but when I was asked to open up to a counselor, I just couldn’t do it. With the mindset I have now, I wish more than anything that I sucked up my stubbornness and was willing to tell them everything. It is my hope through telling my story, I might reach someone who is afraid and alone and encourage them to have the strength to reach out. We are never alone. Even when we think we are.

woman in art class in highschool
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

Family Tragedy and Toxic Relationships

My high school years were absolutely the hardest and most emotional period of my life. This is when the rage started and when everything started to really fall apart.

The summer going into the ninth grade me and my best girlfriend went up to my family trailer with my stepdad and had our first taste of alcohol. An incident happened there I am not able to go into detail about—but I was witness to something that caused my mom’s half of my family to break up and for me to have to testify in court.

Following the incident, I quickly got into partying and boys. My mom was distracted by work and being a single mom, making it easy for me to get away with things. My house became the party house and where all the drama always happened.

By September of the ninth grade, I lost my virginity to my short-term boyfriend at the time. As the school year went on, we very quickly became different people and I was becoming interested in a more troublesome crowd. I broke up with him and started dating my second boyfriend, by the same name, funny enough.

My second boyfriend turned out to be a mysterious and strange man, but he made me feel unique and special. All I ever wanted was to feel special. Things were more passionate than they should be for a girl that’s only 14 years old, causing me to run away with him and hide in his ex-stepmother’s basement.

We stopped going to school and just stayed at her house for days until my mom decided to put a missing person’s report. When the police came knocking on her door, I hid under the stairs, while they looked around with flashlights. It was all pretty crazy when I think about it. They never did find me. But this made me realize my mom was worried, so I gave her a call and it was time to go home.

Very shortly after, he was dragged away to British Columbia and he dropped off the face of the planet. A few months after I got a call he was in a psych ward and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This was my first experience learning about mental illness.

When he returned I only saw him a couple more times within a week’s time before he disappeared again. The last thing he ever told me was ‘I am the devil and I own your soul, no one else can ever have you.’ Needless to say, this scared me a lot, but I never heard from him again anyway.

My third boyfriend affected me even worse. The relationship thrived on drama, breakups, and partying. He ended up hitting me on many occasions, eventually beating my face to the point of bruising and black eyes—causing me to get a restraining order. Years later, I actually found out he died from drug use.

After things ended with him, I ended up moving away to Toronto, starting hair school, and having some of the better years of my life.

woman with blonde hair
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

Self-Harm and Bullying

I can’t remember exactly why it started—I just started feeling empty, alone, and worthless. In the ninth grade, after my second boyfriend, I had many incidents of cutting. The first time was cutting myself with a serrated knife I got from the kitchen drawer. I would always do it in a dramatic way, wiping blood all over my bedroom walls. There was more than one incident of this in a short period of time. My mom eventually noticed and it was time to go to the hospital.

At the hospital, they informed my mother it happened too long ago for them to do anything about it—I was always hiding my arms under sweaters. This was the second round of getting dragged to therapy and lying through my teeth.

They told my mom it was just a cry for attention and I was perfectly fine. I would say the holes in walls and constant screaming at home would beg to differ. I only went a few times and then never again until my 20s—on my terms.

There were many times I got into fights with girls because of things like me sleeping with their boyfriend, or about rumors that were made up about me that were often not even true. I remember someone writing on the bathroom wall that I ‘pooped my pants at a party’ —the fact that I had fallen in dog poop and someone just wanted to be cruel.

Another time I had a girl punch me in the face and tell me she got paid for it, and a time after that the same girl attacked me at a party in front of a crowd of people and made me fight her. Some other girl even came to my house with a crowd of people, spat in my face, refused to leave, and attacked me on my own doorstep. These are just some of the many times I can remember being in shock by how cruel teenagers can be. I was someone who would literally stand up for kids being bullied if I saw it happen and here I am getting treated like this—it didn’t make sense.

woman on couch
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

The Best Years—Or So I Thought

After I finally got out of the toxic relationship I was in throughout all of high school, I moved to Toronto and started hair school. I, of course, was in a new relationship and this one felt healthy. People even complimented how healthy and happy our relationship looked. But the truth was, it just wasn’t as bad as anything else I ever experienced.

I think I felt happy for some time, I was independent, making new friends, going to concerts, and just having a great time. In hindsight, a lot was just superficial happiness. Once I stopped partying, I lost all of those friends and realized it was all just about the life of the party.

I had 10 years where I felt like I was doing ‘OKAY.’ This was good enough for me at the time. But not good enough forever.

I still wasn’t maintaining relationships, I still reacted poorly to things and people were starting to notice I had issues. I had 3 relationships throughout the time I lived in Toronto and none of them were too horrible. Each of them cared for me, supported me, and tried to encourage me to go to therapy. I just wasn’t ready to do it—I needed to do it for me.

woman outside of hair salon
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

The Various Diagnoses

The first time I went to therapy was because I was being held back at work. I was a hairstylist, and I was at it for at least 6 years, with little success. The clients weren’t coming back and I felt awkward and anxious all the time. As a person whose anxiety causes them to be chatty, no one ever believes me when I say I am depressed and anxious.

This caused me to become diagnosed with ADHD—becoming medicated on Vyvanse. Almost immediately, my anxiety was through the roof. Coworkers, friends, and my partner noticed. My speech was fast and my energy was through the roof in an uncomfortable way. I got freaked out by the drugs and therapy and stopped going or trying altogether. For several more years, I struggled at work and in my relationship.

Next comes social anxiety and generalized anxiety diagnosis. A few years after, I finally decided I needed to get help. So I went and got an assessment at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I told them my whole story, my history of rage, troubled relationships, etc and they tried to push drugs on me. I immediately freaked out again and never went again. The drinking got worse and I continued to self-medicate instead.

I was drinking heavily—at least 80 oz of Crown Royal whisky a week, plus canned drinks. My partner would also drink with me, but only on the weekends.

Pretty well every relationship I ever had, up until the one I’m in now, revolved around some sort of substance. Whether it was marijuana, alcohol, or recreational drugs.

woman with a bottle of jack
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

The Diagnosis

This led to me going back to therapy, changing my family doctor, and moving back in with my mom for the first time since I was 20 years old. These were some of the hardest, but best decisions I ever made.

I had been going to college throughout Covid, which was my first step to feeling confident and realizing I needed to make some life changes. This caused me to broaden my horizons, meet new people, and actually enjoy learning for the first time in my life.

School gave me access to free counseling. I was lucky enough to get a phenomenal counselor, who helped talk me through some of my issues and made me realize I need real and consistent help. She connected with me by making the conversation more casual, talking about music and movies and also being my friend. This gave me a much more comfortable vibe than any other therapist I ever spoke to.

I decided to get reassessed and was quickly sent to Ontario Shores in Oshawa, Ontario. There were several phases and the assessments were rather stressful. I had to tell my story over and over again, as well as talk about my feelings in difficult ways.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder, depression, ADHD, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder traits. You would think finding this out would be stressful, but really I feel a lot better knowing, and it has helped me understand myself a lot. I have started Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Zoloft, and will soon be trying a mood stabilizer, as I have discovered Zoloft triggers hypomania. But I am on the right path. I will never give up and will always strive to be a better version of myself.

Through my blog and telling my story, I hope I can reach others and help other people who suffer from mental illness feel less alone.

Please if you ever feel empty, alone, or like no one cares about you, never hesitate to seek professional help. I assure you, it can and will help. Take it from someone who was stubborn about it for many years.”

woman with purple hair taking selfie
Courtesy of Alexandra Madgett

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexandra Madgett of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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