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I Was Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder as a Teen During the Pandemic

Jojo McCabe

“I crave activity” is something I’ve found myself thinking a lot in the past year. The feeling of energy flowing out of me and into a project is something that I’ve always loved and it had never really been a problem until somewhat recently. Starting in October of 2019 my mental health took a very rapid decline for no apparent reason.

It had always been up and down — but the stress of my freshman year of high school, making and losing friends, and way too many classes took over. I started therapy in middle school (around the spring of 2018) and have stayed with my therapist ever since, although I had never been officially diagnosed with anything in particular. 

From October to March 2020, my mental health only got worse. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well in school and the only time I felt truly happy was with friends, so I wasn’t giving myself a lot of alone time. When lockdown came, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I absolutely broke down crying and didn’t stop for days. I was sent by my parents to our family psychiatrist and was immediately put on medication. I was able to find something that worked for me really quickly because of my family’s history of what worked and what didn’t.

In the beginning, it was great. It took about a week and a half to two weeks for the antidepressants to kicked in — but I finally had the motivation to get out of bed! I was starting to actually do my homework, I was showering and even reaching out to my friends. I was doing art again, too. In fact, I was making a lot of art. I was writing poetry and music, I was painting — sometimes staying up all night to do so. I started sleeping less and either doing all of my homework in one sitting or ignoring it to watch Daria and draw. This went on for a little while, but I didn’t really think anything of it. 

I had been warned by my psychiatrist to keep an eye on any bipolar-adjacent symptoms because my older sister is bipolar, but it had been two weeks after I had started the meds — which supposedly meant we didn’t really have to worry about that anymore.

But then one night was especially bad: I was sitting on the floor painting and watching reruns on TV when I started to shake a little bit. I was so energetic, a feeling that had been so foreign to me. I felt like I’d been so unhappy for so long that any happy feelings were swept under the rug, but now they had built up and were trying to explode out of my chest. I ran downstairs to share this revelation with my sister, not knowing whether or not this was a normal reaction to antidepressants. I told her how I was feeling and her eyebrows furrowed a bit with concern. She told me to tell our parents. When I went to my parents’ room, I repeated my experience and we immediately FaceTimed my psychiatrist. She prescribed mood stabilizers in addition to the anti-depressants. I took two melatonin tablets and I did my best to sleep. 

By now it feels like the worst is over (I hope), but I am far from the end of this whole thing. I still get hypomanic at seemingly random times and there are still days where I can’t get out of bed, shower, or do my homework. I have a looming fear in my mind every time I get excited about something, have a spurt of creative energy, find myself extra attractive, or can’t sleep — I worry that it’s not real, it’s just the bipolar. That happy creative energy quickly turns to stone in the pit of my stomach and I have to talk myself into feeling comfortable with being happy and energetic. 

But, ultimately, reaching out when I needed help was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. As a young person dealing with this diagnosis and my mental health journey, I believe the key to understanding and truly supporting people with mental illness is listening and communication. Especially in our current social and political climate — from lockdown to virtual school at home — life is extremely difficult and much more stressful than it was before. So it helps to feel respected and understood. 

Jojo is a sophomore in high school. She likes to take walks, sew, write music, and has what some would call too many plants for one room.

Before you go, check out some of our favorite mental health apps for giving some extra love to your brain:
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