Life Before My Mental Health Diagnosis: Living with the Lights Off

“My life is in technicolor but to me it feels black and white.”

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If you suspect a mental health issue like depression or anxiety is affecting your life but you don’t have an actual diagnosis and treatment game plan, it can make your feelings even more stressful. Not only are you dealing with the symptoms of a mental illness, but you’re also likely grappling with confusion. Is it normal to feel this way? Why do I feel so down when nothing’s overtly wrong? Why does everything seems harder for me than for everyone else? These thoughts can even lead you to feel guilty for not appreciating the good stuff you know you should be absolutely grateful for: your job, your family, your friends.

When HealthiNation interviewed people about their mental health, this unsettled time was a common theme in their journey to getting diagnosed, treated, and on their way to feeling better (though that is a constant work in progress).  

Here’s what seven people dealing with a mental health issue had to say about what their lives were like before they learned their diagnosis.

Living in black and white

“It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside because there are a lot of us walking around … not feeling so great and doing a lot of things.

“I used to say… ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My life is in technicolor but to me it feels black and white.”

—Nancy Snell, living with depression

“Something was off”

“You’re embarrassed to talk about how you’re so scared to do something that’s so easy for somebody else. I definitely knew that something was off; I just didn’t have the right word to put with it.”

—Trish Barillas, living with anxiety

Not all symptoms are visible

“My OCD is constant, even though you couldn’t tell just by looking at me. So most of my OCD symptoms are obsessions, so a lot of thinking going on in my head. I cannot think of something that’s awful and just try to let it go. I get very uncomfortable, I get stressed, and then I have to get rid of it by doing a ritual.”

—Matt Berman, living with OCD

“It was very confusing for me”

“I did not know really what depression was for a long time when I was struggling with it. It was very confusing for me. I felt really hopeless for a really long time before I got help.”

—Danielle Gitkin Hark, living with depression

“I was just really struggling”

“I believe, looking back, that my ADHD was causing depression and anxiety and I was just really struggling. I wasn’t happy; I was overeating. After going to a therapist for a while and discussing my issues, she had said … ‘Have you ever thought about ADHD?’ And it was like a slap in the face. I was like, ‘This is me.’”

—Lauren Klinger, living with ADHD

“I didn’t know what it was”

“As far back as I can remember, I had long periods of depression and hopelessness, and I didn’t know what it was. I just lived with it.”

—Mitzi Bockmann, living with bipolar disorder

It’s okay to be scared

“As a mom, I understand. We always have that intuition that something is off. Even though it feels very scary right now, you actually were equipped to deal with this. You’re gonna be okay.”

—Alisha Griffith, mother of son with autism

Diagnosis can bring relief and hope for people with mental illnesses. Hear about how patients reclaimed their lives after a mental health diagnosis.