What is wrong with me?
February 18, 2009 5:57 AM   Subscribe

What is wrong with me?

Certain things have come to light recently that have caused to me to start evaluating my mental state. A few months back, I learned that my father is both bipolar and schizophrenic. I feel I may be headed down a similar path.

There was a period in my life that for a long time I thought was just a shitty few months. I realize now that it may have been a depressive episode. It lasted for about 2-3 months around my 10th birthday. I was very irritable, sad, I thought about suicide a lot and often felt like crying for no reason. Worst, I felt like I could never tell anyone how I felt; to this day I've maybe told a couple people about it. Eventually it passed.

I can't recall any part of life that would be an analagous "high" period, though. I'm not sure if that rules out bipolar disorder or not.

Some other quirks about me include a strong fear or rejection, shyness (something I do feel I've made a lot of progress on though I'm not quite there yet), and obsessiveness. I often find myself obsessing over minor events of the day when I'm lying in bed. In recent years I've developed a weird aversion to my birthday; reading birthday cards addressed to me gets me down, and for some reason I just can't stand it. Even the week after my birthday I will still feel a little down. I'm only 19; I can't really be subconsciously afraid of old age and death, can I?

For what it's worth, I consider myself a very creative person (I am a composer). But I often find myself being highly self-critical of my own work, to the point that I berate myself for even thinking that it was any good in the first place.

Also, I have never taken any pharmaceutical drugs/anti-depressants.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds entirely normal to me. Not what you wanted to hear, I know; sorry.
posted by dickasso at 6:02 AM on February 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

There was a period in my life that for a long time I thought was just a shitty few months. I realize now that it may have been a depressive episode.

Adolescence; bipolar disorder would mean frequent cycles and so on. While not your therapist, I'd say you're fine -- being self-critical is normal, and being overly self-critical is common. At 19, being afraid of rejection and failure is also quite fine; in a way, you've not done anything in your life to assuage that fear yet. You may find that by 30, you don't care what others think of you nearly as much as you do while you're a teenager.
posted by ellF at 6:06 AM on February 18, 2009

that being said, a professional psychiatric evaluation couldn't hurt. or maybe just a visit to a talk therapist, who can help you work through some of these thoughts.
posted by metamush at 6:09 AM on February 18, 2009

Depression happens to everyone, feeling down once in a while doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you or that you need to be medicated for it. Don't isolate yourself like this, you should talk to the people who care about you, tell them what's troubling you - having support will help a great deal.

If your father is schizophrenic and you think you might be experiencing the symptoms, then why not have a professional examine you? Then you can gain some control over it.
posted by lizbunny at 6:16 AM on February 18, 2009

I have some pretty extensive background in psychology and can offer you only this - that you get educated in matters of the psyche via books - particularly those that pertain to the healing the inner child - maybe some John Bradshaw would be in order. You need to get things in perspective at your own pace, reading about self-image issues can be a huge eye opener and will lead you further down the road into recovery and self awareness to wholeness.
posted by watercarrier at 6:23 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

My diagnosis is: teenager. I don't mean that flippantly. It's just that from the age of 10 until now you've been going through huge changes in hormonal activity, as well as dealing with the social aspects of the transition from childhood to adulthood; it's a difficult period in anyone's life.

There's a tendency these days to want a medical diagnosis for every perceived problem or inadequacy in our lives. Lack of confidence and fears about the passing of time are normal traits for people at all stages of life.

As you settle down into adulthood (in my own experience, that happened somewhere in my late 20s) things ought to get a lot less rocky.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:24 AM on February 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

I thought I was depressed when I was around your age. But when I look back now, roughly 10 years later, I know that I really wasn't.

Age 18-22 is a tough tough period in anyone's life. You have to adjust to becoming an adult, you have to decide on a career and you have to start taking responsibility rather than rely on other people to let things slide. You struggle, and you are paranoid about others perceptions of you. It is very tempting to try and find an excuse for all this, that you suffer from an illness that causes all this mayhem, but the sad truth is, as dickasso states, you are normal.. and it isn't what you want to hear.

My father had/has mental problems similar to yours, and if he is anything like my father then it is likely that he shattered any self-confidence and self-belief you have. The rational part of my brain knows that I am a successful person, career-wise and life-wise, but 'imposter syndrome' is tough, and I think I am still young enough for it to hamper me, but am old enough to rationalise on its effects

It takes a few years to realise all this, and I know that if an older person came up to me when I was 18-19 yo and told me that I would have this realisation and 'get over it' I would have dismissed it straight away. But you have to believe me, you are completely normal.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:26 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, I think you're normal, given your age, though I suppose you could have dysthymia (a low-grade but chronic depression). But even if you're utterly normal and nothing is "wrong with you," it is completely okay to see a therapist, and you might well benefit from it.

I imagine finding out about your father's diagnoses was disorienting and upsetting and would naturally lead to you questioning your own mental health. While these diagnoses do have a heritable component, it's just a component. So, although I know it's hard, try not to let his diagnoses impinge on how you perceive yourself.
posted by Herkimer at 6:41 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it teen angst or depression?

Here's a reading suggestion. Perhaps try the book, then see what you think.
posted by netbros at 6:47 AM on February 18, 2009

I can't really be subconsciously afraid of old age and death, can I?

Of course you can. Coming to terms with one's mortality (or, wrestling with the concept of one's mortality--some people never get there; I haven't yet) is a normal part of growing up and being human.

In fact, all of this sounds pretty normal to me. I'm a creative-type too, and also self-critical. Try not to beat yourself up too much, but holding yourself to high standards is okay--it's how you improve. If you're really worried, you can talk to a therapist, but there's nothing in your post that sounds like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:53 AM on February 18, 2009

Sorry for your worries - I don't know what's "wrong" with you. Maybe there is some sort of identifiable difference between your brain and the average brain that medication could help remove, but I don't know. A psychiatrist or a therapist would be the person to talk to for that. Here's a different suggestion that might also help: try meditation.

The things you describe, like mentally obsessing over things that happened during the day, and excessive anxiety, sound like things that could be helped by meditation; as I understand it, meditation and associated techniques can help you become aware of, and then break out of negative patterns of thought. This place has some resources you could try. I would also recommend finding a meditation center near you. It helped a friend of mine a lot.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:56 AM on February 18, 2009

I think a family history of schizophrenia and your other concerns are enough of a red flag to warrant a mental health check. See a therapist or a psychiatrist if you can and get a professional evaluation. It might be nothing, but if there is a problem, it would be better to get a handle on it now rather than later.

The things you've mentioned could be normal or they could be a sign of trouble--it's a matter of degree. We all get self-critical sometimes, but if it cripples your work there's a problem. A lot of us don't like getting older, but most of us (especially at 19) can enjoy our birthdays and celebrate. We've all had blue periods, but a couple of months of suicidal thoughts at age 10 seems significantly outside the norm to me.

I'm not a mental health professional, just a minister who knows when I need to refer a member of my church to one. And in your case I would say a pre-emptive evaluation is a good thing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:01 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

For me, 19 was the very age when I started putting bits together - just to give the above comments about "entirely normal" a bit of a perspective. What happened back then, too, was that sometimes I put too much significance into my observations. This, and the increasing "adult" responsibility triggered this obsessing at night and not-sleeping behavior. I'd say that it can't hurt observing yourself but take it with humor.

A high level of self criticism, on the other hand, goes together with creative work. Creativity coaches in all sorts of genres spend enormous energy trying to break down that barrier in their students. Look, for instance in
Edwards, Betty 2001. The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (London: HarperCollins),
or the various books about free writing out there. For a musician,
Bruser, Madeline 1997. The Art of Practicing (New York: Bell Tower)
provides some solutions for this problem.

In case you're in a college/university program in composition, it is definitely worth addressing the issue of overpowering self-criticism with your professor. It is truly the most common phenomenon in the creative arts, and nobody gets spared its ill effects, no matter what level of artistry or age group we're looking at.
posted by Namlit at 7:24 AM on February 18, 2009

Agree with the others- it's more likely your feelings are normal ups and downs than they are a Sign of Something. But I also know that doesn't help you any- just because something is normal doesn't make it pleasant, or mean that it can't be improved.

But it wouldn't hurt to talk to a professional, if only to help reframe how you think about some of these things. Sometime just having a different mindset can mean the difference between spinning down into a hole of crapulence, and just having a couple of lousy weeks. Having a good attitude and some ways to think about troubles as they come along makes a huge difference.
posted by gjc at 7:40 AM on February 18, 2009

its questionable whether seeing a professional for either of these conditions is a good idea (especially in america where they are some ludicrous ways of diagnosing & treating them), even if you had substantial reasons to be concerned, which you don't.
posted by sidr at 8:03 AM on February 18, 2009

Here is just one book by John Bradshaw that you might find helpful.
posted by watercarrier at 8:05 AM on February 18, 2009

I suspect it would be difficult to find someone who, through the course of their adolescence, didn't have the same experiences you had. Periods of irrational sadness, lying in bed worrying, questioning one's mortality for the first time, shyness, fear of rejection -- those are things that most of us go through sometime between ten and twenty. Some people just feel these as passing urges. For many teens, the feelings are so strong it makes them lash out -- at their school, friends, parents. It sounds like you've got it bad... but actually, not that bad, and that's causing some of the confusion.

I would second sidr's comment that seeing a therapist is unlikely to be helpful, with one major exception. Are these feelings impacting your outside life? Are you able to go to school or your job? Are you able to hang out with your peers? Are you able to make enough money or get along with your parents well enough to continue to have a roof over your head and a little money in the bank? If the answer to one or more of these questions is no -- that there is some practical impact on your life due to the way you feel, and you find you're no longer able to perform some essential function in your life -- that's when it's time for a therapist.

Otherwise, don't do it. If you go into a doctor's office for a physical and a blood test and you're reasonably healthy, there's a strong chance the doctor will say something at the end like "Yeah, you look OK. Eat healthy food, get some exercise. Let's do this again in a couple of years." On the other hand, there's nothing similar to a comprehensive, preventative diagnosis of mental health analogous to the physical. Psychologists and psychiatrists are strongly skewed to looking for abnormality or probing for problems, and are sometimes so focused on treating those with severe psychological disorders that they don't provide good service to those going through normal but problematic or difficult life events -- this can result in medicating those who don't need medication, or diagnosing people with more severe diagnoses than others would find applicable.

One other small note. Creative folk tend to be more sensitive than other folk, more in touch with the basic drama of life. That's what gives great artists the ability to take those common threads of life, infuse them with creativity and passion, and turn them into great art. If you can funnel some of that anxiety, passion or fear into your work, it may just take some of it out of your head and take your work to the next level.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 8:31 AM on February 18, 2009

WOW. My jaw is hanging open at some of these answers.

"Creative folk tend to be more sensitive than other folk????"
"its questionable whether seeing a professional for either of these conditions is a good idea (especially in america where they are some ludicrous ways of diagnosing & treating them),????"
"Depression happens to everyone, feeling down once in a while doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you?????????????????????"

Is this "everybody write down all the outdated and harmful cliches about clinical depression you can think of day?"

When you say, "I thought about suicide a lot and often felt like crying for no reason," do you mean you thought about suicide in the abstract, or you actually considered doing it? Either way, that sounds serious to me, and I'm baffled by the "lol walk it off" responses.

See a therapist once. Nothing "ludicrous" will happen whether you live in "america" or somewhere else. Either he will tell you, "hey you're fine," and you go on your way reassured, or you'll decide to keep going back, and it may change your life in a really positive way.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:58 AM on February 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also, I'm creative too, and I suffer from mild depression.* The two are not connected. Romantic notions of some people aside, being creative does not doom you to a life of unhappiness. For every one "tortured genius," there are a hundred or maybe a thousand happy artists. You have the right to have your art and be as happy as anyone else.

*the real, medical condition, not "just feeling sad like everybody it's no big deal tee hee"

posted by drjimmy11 at 9:02 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everybody who's saying "Oh, it was just adolescence" re the three-month stretch of unhappiness, irritability, and suicidal thinking is missing that the OP was just turning ten at the time.

That said, you may never have another episode like that again. If you do, seek help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 AM on February 18, 2009

Uh, agree with drjimmy11 with the whole "thought about suicide a lot" thing NOT BEING NORMAL. I can say that I have never thought about suicide a little or a lot, and for me at least, it would NOT be something to blow off.

The majority of your post sounds relatively standard, but if you are still "thinking about suicide a lot", and starting to detect signs of schizophrenia, get yourself to a professional quickly.
posted by hybridvigor at 9:12 AM on February 18, 2009

Uh, agree with drjimmy11 with the whole "thought about suicide a lot" thing NOT BEING NORMAL. I can say that I have never thought about suicide a little or a lot, and for me at least, it would NOT be something to blow off.

Thoughts of suicide are not normal, but they were also something that OP experienced almost a decade ago and he/she's given us no indication that they've happened since. As Sidhedevil says, if you ever experience that sort of depression, seek help, but neither being highly self critical or "down" on birthdays is a sure indicators of a more pervasive psychological problem.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:45 AM on February 18, 2009

Nothing you said sounds like schizophrenia. I have a friend who recently manifested his schizophrenia. He was completely normal in High School when I knew him, and even into college. But now that the schizophrenia is coming out, there is nothing the same about him. He thinks the FBI is sending him secret messages through episodes of Family Guy and that the FBI is in league to kill him. His decisions are completely insane. I'm not saying that normal people don't have insane fears sometimes, but he has tons of them, all the time, consistently, and he can't live a normal life as a result.

I don't think you need to worry unless something like that is happening. And trust me, if it is happening, people will notice, and they will tell you that you need to see a doctor.

It is very common to read the symptoms of a psychological illness and see those symptoms in yourself. Most psychology students self-diagnose themselves with problems that they study, until their teachers tell them that that happens to everyone and that they don't really have the disease. If you really are worried, reading up on the symptoms will just make you think you have it: instead, seek a professional opinion, they will probably tell you you're fine.
posted by brenton at 10:52 AM on February 18, 2009

When you say, "I thought about suicide a lot and often felt like crying for no reason," do you mean you thought about suicide in the abstract, or you actually considered doing it? Either way, that sounds serious to me, and I'm baffled by the "lol walk it off" responses.

Either way it was 9 years ago. Having a depressive episode when you're 10 is unusual (but so is having a parent who is bipolar and schizophrenic), but that doesn't mean she has a mental health issue now. The OP doesn't mention having any of those feelings presently or even remotely recently. All her present 'symptoms' are well within the spectrum of 'normal'.
posted by missmagenta at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2009

Bipolar disorder does not implicitly mean frequent cycles; a lot of patterns are possible. The DSM-IV defines two kinds of bipolar disorder -- Bipolar I and Bipolar II. A manic (or mixed) episode is required for a diagnosis of Bipolar I; Bipolar II involves hypomanic episodes.

It's typical for a first manic episode to not occur until adulthood, making bipolar disorder hard to distinguish from unipolar depression before then. It sometimes happens that an undiagnosed bipolar patient reports depression and is prescribed antidepressants, which, in the absence of a mood stabilizer (which no one could anticipate would be relevant), triggers a manic episode.

So nothing you described would rule out bipolar disorder, but neither does anything sound indicative of it (at least to this wholly unqualified layman who's just read some about bipolar disorder.)

Suicidal ideation is always alarming, and if you ever have another episode of it, please seek medical attention immediatley.

What you describe as your current state sounds to me like garden variety human condition.

But, if you're concerned about your mental health, see a doctor.
posted by Zed at 11:40 AM on February 18, 2009

The fact that you are questioning your mental health status is a very good sign. Google, depression screening and bipolar screening to find a multitude of tests. Please view them with some skepticism, but they'll give you a start. If you are thinking about suicide, please read How not to commit suicide, and do see your doctor and/or a mental health professional.

Depression and bipolar are treatable. Schizophrenia, as I'm sure you know, is less so, but it's more treatable than it was, and there's plenty of research in progress, so none of these diagnoses should give you more reason to consider suicide. I'm sorry about your Dad; I'm sure it weighs heavily on you.
posted by theora55 at 12:55 PM on February 18, 2009

[O]ften find myself being highly self-critical of my own work, to the point that I berate myself for even thinking that it was any good in the first place.

I won't speak to the connection between that self-scrutiny and what you're going through right now, but please, please, hold onto that as tightly as you can.

Some days, the idea that there is something better—even yourself, or your own work—is all that there's to feel.

Sorry for being vague, but that's my 2 cents.
posted by trotter at 2:56 PM on February 18, 2009

Sounds like you're worried. Why not see a GP? They can ask you some questions that will help work out whether you've got a medical problem or not. Even if you don't, you could probably benefit from some cognitive behaviour therapy sessions to help you reflect on issues in a constructive way rather than negatively. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2009

Suicidal thoughts at 10 years old? That's what stands out to me. Chances are good that you're fine, but a visit to a therapist can't hurt.

And no, you don't have to be depressed and weird to be a good artist. Those characteristics often get in the way, in fact.
posted by walla at 5:00 PM on February 18, 2009

It's hard to say what's "normal" for the human psyche. In my experience, and for people around me, depressive episodes are normal, and most people I know don't think it's weird to have thoughts about suicide at some time or other. But the truth is, statistically, that is not normal, as in, that is not what happens to the majority of the population. But you have to remember that the majority of the population don't go to college or travel abroad or lots of other things that might be normal within your own circle (not that any of these things are related).

Basically, if you don't like the way you feel, you can talk to a doctor about it, and consider counseling or medication; if you feel like it makes sense within the larger context of your life experience, don't rush to categorize it as a disease, when it may be a personal response to events in your life.

THinking of suicide at 10 years old is considered unusual, so far as I know, but I think we also don't give enough credit to the complexity of the minds of kids sometimes. I know i was only 12 when I read sylvia plath, and i thought i had finally found someone i could relate to, so i must have been having similar thoughts for a while. But "a while" when you're 12 may be pretty short... not sure.

Still, if you're dealing with heavy stuff from your parents, you can grow up fast in some ways, and remain extremely immature in others, which is what ultimately messes with you and why therapy can be useful later.
posted by mdn at 12:26 PM on February 19, 2009

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