Because we’re often still in the process of learning about both ourselves and the world around us, our childhood and teenage years can be incredibly difficult. Add not just one mental illness, but multiple mental illnesses, with varying and contradictory symptoms, and life at that age can feel insurmountable.
Children and young adults may wonder, “Am I the only one like this?” or, “Is this normal?” When you don’t have a solid explanation, the symptoms can be challenging to cope with and manage.
Usually we can’t fully process what we went through as children until adulthood. That’s why we asked people in our Mighty mental health community who “grew up” with multiple mental illnesses to share with us some signs they can recognize now that made them realize they were dealing with more than one mental illness.
Here is what our community had to say:
1. “When I realized my anxiety and depression symptoms were similar but were very different at the same time. With anxiety, everything was really fast and never stopped moving; and with depression, the same symptoms were slow and would freeze. It never made sense until I realized they were different. Also zoning out due to my ADD verses zoning out because of my depression are completely different but appear to be the same.” — Alyssa B.
2. “I talked to myself growing up. It turns out years later that my imaginary friends were actually my ‘alters.’ I had a lot of recurring nightmares and those were PTSD. I always was afraid of sleeping in or going to bed to early, having dim light in the evening — that was my anxiety making me fear time being lost.” — Alannah B.
3. “Never-ending mood changes. With having both bipolar and borderline personality disorder (BPD), I was either manic for months, depressed for months or switching between every emotion throughout the day. Exhausting stuff.” — Amy W.
4. “Feelings of uncertainty for how to express myself. Feelings of ‘something is wrong with me,’ but I can’t tell what. Constant anger one minute followed by numbness the next. A longing to be with other people, but once I got it, I felt a longing to be away from them. A constant feeling of mistrust from everyone, including myself. The constant needing of approval and attention even if it meant gaining it negatively. Not always understanding what was wanted or needed from me, but somehow always being able to provide it.” — Lasambra J.
5. “Constant stomachaches, fear of being in trouble, fear of being away from my family, very quiet and shy. I know now that it was anxiety. I also used to ‘clean my room’ and get distracted by something in my closet and never finish cleaning it — only one small symptom of my undiagnosed ADHD.” — Robyn B.
6. “I had been picking my skin and doing self-harm before I ever picked up a razor and cut myself on purpose. The anxiety and depression started at a much younger age than I first knew.” — Hanneke K.
7. “I grew up with depression, anxiety and some disassociation. I now realize everything started melding together. I couldn’t tell good days from bad days and I felt really numb. I now notice my fear of interacting with people, like cashiers, is something related to my anxiety. It doesn’t help that I got lost in a Walmart at age 7 and I still cling to whoever I’m shopping with because of the trauma.” — Alyson S.
8. “I had trouble sleeping, always feeling sick to my stomach and tired all the time.” — Abigail P.
9. “I never felt good enough and still feel this at times.” — Holly C.
10. “I wasn’t just shy and quiet, but struggling with anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. I would sit in a classroom or the library every single break and lunchtime; and if I was ever forced to go outside, I’d have to have someone with me, otherwise I think I would just wander around as long as I could, not settling on one place to just stand.” — Rachel W.
11. “I didn’t get invited to anything because other kids thought it was weird that I didn’t have friends. The weird thing is that I never wanted to stay home. I always want to go out and do stuff. That’s the one thing my anxiety and depression don’t control.” — Shayna K.
12. “Anger for no apparent reason at the time. Unable to feel comfortable in my own skin when out in large groups, always feeling like people were staring at me.” — Dave M.
13. “I never really cared about whatever all the kids were into. I was super numbed out and the only thing I cared and stressed about were my grades.” — Mikayala M.
14. “I always wanted to be alone. When I brought up a situation, it was always a full meltdown. I was constantly drawing, writing and playing pretend.” — Aurora E.
15. “My anxiety and depression are like best friends, so I don’t know that I was really cognizant of a difference between one or the other.” — Alexandra A.
16. “As a child, I found it really hard at primary school. I felt like I was in a tunnel and my teachers voices were really muffled. I couldn’t concentrate a lot of the time because of it. I also felt like I was different from the other kids and used to lie about going on overseas holidays because I wanted to belong somewhere. I never had a sense of belonging, instead I felt unwanted. I also felt like I couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t have the motivation to do anything. I remember at one point I wanted to be a bird, so that I could fly away and then they couldn’t hurt me anymore. I live with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex-PTSD. I had attachment disorder when I was a child.” — Ebony T.
17. “When my anxieties went from anxiousness in social situations to not being able to leave my house anymore, I knew there was something more going on. Then came the hypersensitivity to touch and noise, which I didn’t experience until later in life. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety very young but got the added diagnosis of agoraphobia in my 20s.” — Paige A.
18. “My mood swings are a huge indicator for me. When I was younger and unaware of my mental illnesses, I would often have more explosive and violent mood swings. Any little thing would seem to set me off and my parents were honestly so done with me… Another sign was my frequent dissociation and how it affected my schoolwork. I used to dissociate a lot when I was younger. I have large gaps of my life that are blank spaces in my memory because I dissociated through them. I would also dissociate in class, which would cause my grades to suffer. There were also lots of awful thoughts I had about myself and others, which I now recognize as intrusive thoughts due to my OCD. Getting diagnosed in my early 20s was the biggest relief of my life. It made me realize I wasn’t a messed up child and I wasn’t making things up. I was struggling, and my pain was real.” — Beau M.
19. “When not wanting to talk to people and keeping to myself became not being able to leave my house unless I needed to get food, and looking over my shoulder and being triggered by smells and specific haircuts and movies. I had been told it was just depression, then later I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety.” — Haley L.
20. “I recoil a lot and apologize for having feelings. I am negative and hard on myself. I also can’t pay attention, and I procrastinate a lot.” — Andie L.
21. “I have bipolar I, psychosis, anxiety, PTSD and agoraphobia. The PTSD didn’t start until a trauma in my late teens and the agoraphobia is mostly attributed to that, but I did have some before. Looking back I can see a lot of times that I was having issues with the bipolar, psychosis and anxiety and didn’t understand it. I would dissociate a lot when I was younger. I specifically remember having problems with it in first grade. The bipolar and psychosis peaked when I hit puberty, but everyone thought I was just having a really bad time with hormonal imbalances. I didn’t know any different, so I didn’t say anything — even after a suicide attempt at 13.” — Crystal T.
22. “Alcoholism and bipolar. The number one reason I turned to drugs and alcohol was to stabilize my mood.” — Stephanie Q.
23. “I have BPD, depression, anxiety, PTSD and a previous diagnosis of OCD, but I’m doing a lot better with that so I no longer fit the criteria. The biggest sign for me was the huge variety of symptoms I had/have that couldn’t possibly be explained by a singular diagnosis. I had a traumatic childhood which led to multiple mental illnesses, and further trauma in my teens.” — Beth H.
24. “Being so sad about never leaving my house to see people, but also being too afraid and anxious to do so.” — Beth S.
25. “Freaking out when things didn’t go exactly as I planned, panic attacks when I couldn’t control a situation, anger outbursts” — Brandy F.
26. “My mind was constantly racing and planning out every step, and I was always always always exhausted because of anxiety and depression.” — Maria F.
27. “When I couldn’t stop thinking and imagining worst case scenarios. Anxiety ruled my life. I was finally diagnosed with it at 19, and OCD at 37.” — Jeanine L.
28. “Obsessions from a very early age which were later diagnosed as OCD. What I thought was shyness as a child was in fact anxiety.” — Eve G.
Can you relate?