Woman smiling and reaching out her hand to reader
Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

Depression, suicide, hospitalization, child abuse, and sexual assault are topics that may be difficult for some readers.

I was best friends with solitude. I saw this as normal and so did my family and friends. I was not a people person. After speaking with my psychiatrist as an adult, this could have been an early sign of my diagnosis of manic depression.

“I embraced withdrawal and isolation as part of my mood disorder. I didn’t know that this was the case.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 50 percent of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75 percent begin by age 24. I almost narrowly bypassed it altogether, but inevitably, what’s for you will find you.

“The most incredible thing about a psychotic break is that you have no idea you’re going through one.”

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in a behavioral health hospital at the age of 25, after my first psychotic break. Nothing could have prepared me for that unrealistic reality. But sometimes, when life flips you upside down, all you can do is hold on tight.

“You don’t know you’re going through a psychotic break. I reached a level of brainpower I had never known existed within me. I felt like I had learned something from books I had never read. I told my mom and aunt that I had a collection of libraries.”

I was not eating. I would get 2 hours sleep max a day, yet wake up fully charged and ready to tackle the day, over a week. I felt that God had made me the one to save and help people, after I had prayed and asked for so much from him.

As part of my psychosis, I felt it was my duty to obey God’s requests in order to both honor Him and receive what I wanted in return. I asked God to help me with a business venture making white tank tops that had “God’s Gladiator” in gold sequin. I prayed for marriage to the guy I was dating at the time, and requested visions into the future to know what to look forward to.

To fully understand why my mental health crisis resulted in a psychotic break, you have to understand how I got there.

I sought out a doctor after I got some bug bites while on vacation in Florida. I decided to go with the cheapest option. The doctor prescribed a high dose of prednisone to clear the bites, and then they would stop.

By day 2, I wasn’t eating or sleeping, and my mind was racing with creative ideas and inspiration. On day 3, I started hearing voices. I had auditory hallucinations about my neighbors fighting, and was determined to save them until my family stopped me.

“Under the influence of my psychosis, I became loud, rude, and out of control. The complete opposite of my regular self.”

My aunt recommended a house of worship that my friend preached at because she thought it would save me. I embarrassed everyone I came with because I thought it was my wedding day. I was convinced that the guy I was dating would be meeting my family and that his mother would be giving me a wedding dress.

I became loud, rude, and out of control because of my psychosis. The opposite of my normal self. My family took me to the hospital.

“My mom and aunt wouldn’t even consider it, even though the first doctor that came to evaluate me suggested it. I was too angry to care. My mom told me to drink as much water as possible because the doctor told me I would likely recover if I flushed the drug out of my system.”

My first inpatient hospitalization came after I attempted suicide, twice.

I would have everything I wanted, a beautiful daughter, and a perfect life, if the voices were correct. I tried to drown myself by swallowing shower water, but it turned to hot water and I screamed.

I knew it was bad when my mom burst in the bathroom. Her eyes were big.

“I loved it at the behavioral health hospital. I said I love you after I introduced myself. Everyone, including my peers, the therapists, and nurses. People felt safe with me because of this warm approach. I felt a sense of purpose when I listened to everyone’s stories. No one judged me when I shared my story.”

I told my mom I felt royalty there. We had three delicious meals a day. I liked how we were confined to the hospital area, but not allowed to go outside. It is cruel to not feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please seek help.

Stay with them until help arrives. If you can do it safely, you can remove weapons that can cause harm.

Stay on the phone with them until help arrives, if you are not in the same household.

“I kept denying I had a mental illness after being told. My denial wouldn’t change. I had a brilliant life in school, how could I have such a thing? I made the dean’s list, and I received many other awards.”

“I didn’t know that people with mental illnesses are some of the most brilliant people in the world. I would have embraced my diagnosis sooner if I had been aware of it.”

Instead, once released from the behavioral health hospital, I stopped taking my medication and attempted to resume life as I knew it.

Joke on me.

I was back in the hospital for a week and a half after being out for 2 months.

My family was just as denial about my diagnosis as I was. I checked into the behavioral health hospital for the final time.

I told my mom I needed help after the second time I checked out, because it was not a good experience. We decided to educate ourselves about my diagnosis. I feel like that is what saved my life. My family came to support me completely, and I am grateful for that because many people in the hospital never had visitors.

I felt like my life was over after my hospitalizations. I was going through a break up while I was trying to process my diagnosis. It seemed that my hard work had been reduced to nothing. I had no idea what I would get.

Fighting against my diagnosis did nothing for me, but it did hinder my progress towards healing and growth. I would have returned to the behavioral health hospital if I had continued to be in denial. I would have been in danger if I had continued roaming.

“Following my hospitalizations, I felt my life was over… Yet, I had no idea the beautiful things that were in store for me.”

I came home from the hospital knowing that I needed help, instead of thinking that I needed to help others. I was ready to accept the help I was offered. That was a turning point in my life.

I was given a therapist and a psychiatrist after being discharged from the hospital a second time, and I immediately set up an appointment with a psychiatrist I had previously worked with. Therapy has been a great place to go for help. I like to share my ideas and experiences with someone who is not judgmental or biased.

I have grown so much since I was diagnosed, it is unbelievable.

A lot of the skills I use today are a result of trauma. I enjoy my solitude, journal, talk to those close to me, paint, and listen to music. I adopted all of these skills at the age of 16 after the most traumatic experience in my life.

I was dealing with the betrayal of being abused by my uncle who lived with my mom and me. He made me feel worthless and broke me down. He decided to kiss and touch me after he had increased his behavior.

I was a child and I did not tell anyone.

I journaled, kept to myself, and listened to music. I had a powerless feeling when I was a teenager, but it reappeared when I was diagnosed with a mental illness. I refused to let it defeat me.

“I think my past trauma helped me realize my strength, a strength I never knew I had. I was able to pick myself up again. I was depressed after being diagnosed. I cried, was angry, and felt cheated. My mom instilled in me that rainy days don’t last forever. I picked myself up again, and I think that made a difference.”

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder wasn’t easy to accept, but it gave me a story. As a child, I knew I wanted to be an author, but I never knew what my first book would be about. However, after living out such a traumatic ordeal, everything made sense. I went through all of that to help and relate with others. And so my memoir “Half the Battle” was born — my greatest creation to date.

“The main lesson from my experience is that nothing is worthless. We all have stories to tell. No one is immune from life’s unexpected changes. Character is built when you learn to grow within yourself and make peace with what you have gone through. I have chosen to do that.”

Candis Y. McDow is a mental health advocate. Candis likes to paint, attend concerts, shopping, and watch movies. Candis lives by a quote from the prophet Rumi.