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My Struggle in Battling Bipolar Disorder

November 23
by
Justin Mercer
in
Health
with
.

I am an avid gamer, I love video games, and for a while video games were the only thing I had going for me. Skyrim, Dark Souls, Civilization, all of these games can be set to varying degrees of difficulty. Most games start you out on a “standard” mode. If my life were a video game, I would have been started on Hard Mode.


In April 2013, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. In February 2015, my diagnoses was changed to Bipolar Disorder. No matter the label, I have been living with my mental illness since I was at least twelve years old.

I don’t entirely remember when it started, I just remember family and friends telling me to “stop being so negative all the time.”

My story really begins at the end of sixth grade. My parents and I decided that it was okay for me to skip seventh grade and go straight into 8th grade so I could go to a prestigious private high school in my hometown. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At this private school, 8th grade is part of high school, so here I was, a twelve year old going into high school. I was pretty excited for this new chapter in life.

Turns out being the youngest, most naïve, and physically weak member of your class isn’t good for your social life. I was awkward as I was just hitting my growth spurt. I was socially awkward because I was always socially awkward. Needless to say I wasn’t in the popular crowd. In fact I wasn’t in a crowd at all. I was alone.

Loneliness sucks, especially when people go out of their way to make your life absolute hell. Every chance they got, insults were hurled at me. Never fists, only insults. I scurried around the school, frightened of the next verbal assault. It got so bad that I refused to change for gym in the boy’s locker room, as I couldn’t stand being in a tightly packed room with my bullies able to hurl their insults at will.

I eventually got fed up and reported my bullies to the school. It worked, the insults stopped, however I was shunned by the majority of my class for getting the ringleader of the bullies suspended.

I was just as alone as ever.

Fast forward to senior year of high school. I now had friends, I had a few girlfriends in the intervening years, life was supposed to be going well, but it wasn’t. I was always negative, always “in a funk” I was always the one that killed the happy mood.

My negativity made it hard to keep friends around, though thankfully a few stuck with me. After senior year I went to college at Auburn University. It was not my first choice school, but it was the only one I received a scholarship for. It was the Army ROTC scholarship. I hoped Auburn would see me turn over a new leaf, that in the promised land of college, I would finally hit my stride and flourish socially and academically. That new leaf didn’t turn.

Early in the semester my new roommate and I had a physical altercation. The fight centered around him waking me by urinating on me while he was drunk. I may or may not have hit him… I was considered at fault by the University, so they gave me my own room. I would have no roommates. I was alone.

From then on I lead a miserable existence. The depressive part of bipolar disorder consumed me. I felt that my very soul was being tortured by this depression. I quit ROTC because I couldn’t handle it mentally and as a result, I lost my scholarship.

I had no friends within a hundred miles, and my pervasive horribly negative and fatalistic mood was pushing away the ones that were already far away. I hated life, I could barely drag myself out of bed, my grades plummeted, and I thought my family believed I was a failure. They didn’t, but nothing would get through my depression. At this time I didn’t know anything was wrong with me. I just thought that this was part of life. It isn’t.

Reader, if you identify with anything I have said please tell someone, I didn’t and I almost died for it.

One Friday in the April of 2013, I decided to end my life. It wasn’t the first time I had this thought, it had been a daily thought since September 2012. I was finally ready. I went home to Birmingham that weekend, my parents and little sister had left the house that night. I was alone.

I got my handgun, which was my 18th birthday present a few months earlier, I loaded it, and placed it against my head. I put my favorite song on full volume. I gave myself the run time of the song to pull the trigger. In hindsight it seems dramatic, but it seemed appropriate at the time. If you’re interested the song is “Explorers” by Muse. Well the song finished, and I couldn’t pull the trigger. The next day I started my road to recovery.

When I told my parents what I had tried seriously to do, they quickly got me psychological help. I was put on medication to control depression. It worked slightly, but was not fully effective as I am Bipolar and not depressed, but I wouldn’t know that for a year or so. Yet, I was slowly getting better.

In the fall of 2013, I rushed Alpha Phi Omega-National Service Fraternity and gained some of my closest friends. In October of 2014, I published my first book, “Hell Has No Stars” which is about my struggle with depression.

I wanted to use my story to help others, and thankfully I found an outlet for that.

My psychologist knew of my desire to help people and set me up to give a speech on my story to Active Minds at Auburn University. Active Minds is a college group dedicated to spreading mental health awareness and ending the stigma around mental health. I was drawn to the group and became a member.

Now, almost two years to the day that I tried to kill myself, I am so glad I did not. They changed my diagnoses to Bipolar Disorder after I had a documented manic episode earlier this year, but I did not let that deter me. Now I am Vice President of my chapter of Alpha Phi Omega. Active Minds just elected me to be the Vice President of the chapter for next year. I will graduate college on time with a degree in History. I have friends. Life has improved so much since my darker days.


I can say now that I love life. I am not alone. I may still be playing life on hard mode, but the game has gotten a little easier.

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