There’s a saying that goes,”It’s never too late to…” and you can fill in the blank with pretty much anything. It’s never too late to go vegan, or it’s never too late to start a new hobbie. However, when it comes to being diagnosed with a mental illness late in life, it can feel like it was too late. Getting diagnosed later in life can carry feelings of resentment, anger, and regret.
I was diagnosed at 28-years-old, and I remember feeling relieved to finally have a word to describe my mood, and even more relieved to know there was medication and treatment out there to help me, but it also was frustrating. I resented the fact that no one ever helped me get help. Mental health awareness was never discussed in school. It wasn’t spoken about in my family or among my friends, so when I thought of the near two decades of dealing with manic depression all by myself it was disappointing. I struggled with terrible insomnia throughout my entire childhood and that experience was isolating. I shared a room with my sister and every night I would witness her easily fall asleep and I’d be stuck wide awake for hours. I remember I would ask her how she was able to drift off so quickly and she told me to count sheep. So here I was wide awake and might drift off to sleep for a couple hours then would be up in the middle of the night staring at the clock frightened that I wouldn’t get back to sleep and be left cranky in the morning, and struggle in class trying to stay awake when everyone else seemed fine. Again, this was socially isolating, and caused me to resent my peers and be angry with myself.
I’m not sure what caused me to finally get help but I remember distinctly walking down the street one day and catching a glimpse of myself in a store window and I didn’t look well. The next day I was at my gynecologist office and told him I needed help and he referred me to a therapist. When I went to the therapist she said I needed a psychiatrist and once I saw one I was finally diagnosed and put on medication.
I’ll never forget the first time I took a mood stabilizer, and woke up feeling rested. It was amazing and I was so thankful, but also again, it carried feelings of resentment and anger. Why and how did I survive all those years struggling with insomnia and anxiety and not know that it was not “normal?” How would my life have been different if I was diagnosed earlier on in my adolescence, or even childhood? How many people out there don’t even get diagnosed until later in life and have to manage mixed feelings of gratitude and resentment?
I think it’s okay to not be okay with getting diagnosed later in life. I think it’s important to have an open dialogue about this experience and the feelings you endure as a result. I hope if you are struggling with the realization that life may have been better if you knew early on in life that you had a mental illness, and that there was treatment out there to manage it that you allow yourself to accept the mixed feelings that accompany that experience. I also hope you give yourself a break and know that not knowing was not your fault, and now you can do your best to live a better life moving forward.
You deserve it.