Joseph Hansen: Ending the Silence
Bipolar disorder. Anxiety. Major depression.
This was Joseph Hansen’s diagnosis after going to the psychiatrist at about 13 years old. Before that, he lived a fairly normal life.
Those challenges made high school difficult. Hansen ended up failing most of his classes because he didn’t feel up to the task of dealing with his challenges on a daily basis.
“At that point, all through high school, I struggled much more with suicidal thoughts and feelings than I do now,” Hansen said. “I felt like I didn’t know what to do, I felt like I didn’t know how to take care of my problems, and would often think how the world would be better-off without me, and how I just wanted everything to end, so that I could at least have a little break from all the pain and the suffering that I was going through.”
His symptoms ranged from lack of motivation to rapid mood swings and manic rage. One minute he felt “ridiculously happy,” and the next he felt “completely miserable”.
“It rocked me … learning to cope with that has been difficult, but it’s possible,” Hansen said. “I think overall … (I felt) a sense of fear and hopelessness. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know what to do. I just thought that this was just the way my life was going to be forever, and I was right to a certain extent.”
He still struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, and sometimes depressive episodes. Many times, he said he loses touch with reality for 15 minutes to a couple of hours.
“Everything around me becomes frightening,” he said. “It’s like … I just kind of drift out of reality into a place where, even though I’m still technically feeling and seeing things that are real, they’ve lost all … sense of fear for me.”
He said none of those symptoms are fun, but there are ways to deal with them that have made it possible for him to live a successful life.
Even though his parents experienced anxiety and depression through other family members during their lives, they had never seen these illnesses on such a high scale.
“It’s been really nice having the support of my parents,” Hansen said. “They don’t understand what goes on, but they care enough that they’re willing to help me.”
Even though, Hansen’s symptoms were real for him and his family, his school counselors didn’t have the experience to diagnose him. After trying to help and realizing they couldn’t, the counselors advised his parents to take him to a psychiatrist to hopefully give him some medication.
His psychiatrist noticed that the symptoms and the severity of Hansen’s mental health challenges were not common.
“She said, ‘I can’t promise you that it will help you, but I’m going to try,’” Hansen said. “And she did try, she put a lot of work into it and it was really a struggle for me, especially … because the medicine was expensive. I felt guilty every time I took it because I knew how much my parents were paying for it, but it really does help.”
He said talking to a specialist about medication should be an option for anyone struggling with mental health challenges.
Even after he started his treatment, Hansen still felt like no one understood him. He said he needed a support group with people dealing with similar symptoms.
He said he had an overarching feeling and realized the feeling was fear, “fear of what was happening, fear of what was going to happen, fear of what I was doing, of what I was capable of doing. There really wasn’t anyone and if there were people … they didn’t talk about it. They just felt like it was better to just keep their problems to themselves, which I think a lot of people with mental health problems do.”
Hansen believes people have more things in common than they think they do. Although he had the resources he needed available, many people don’t and since most people are not comfortable talking about mental illnesses, those resources may never get to them.
“You can pretend you’re completely normal when you feel like you’re dying inside and if people are just so scared to talk about that for whatever reason, then they’ll never be able to get the help that they need,” Hansen said.
Since each person is different, Hansen said they will cope with mental health challenges in a different way. He said in high school, specifically, friends may say, “Hey, you can just go outside and sit in the sun for a while and you’ll be fine.” Even though that solution might work for some people, it won’t work for everyone.
He said people need to be willing to face their problems, and in doing that, look for ways to overcome and fight them.
“It’s important to remember that it’s not the end of the world,” Hansen said. “There is more to life than your mental health challenges. If you let them define you, if you say, ‘This is who I am, this is all I’ll ever be,’ then that is all you’ll ever be and that’s not a place you want to be in.”
Taking medication has helped Hansen cope with his mental health challenges.
“I will never be fully rid of my mental health challenges,” he said. “I still experience symptoms to this day … but the nice part is that there’s ways to deal with them that make it possible to continue to live a very successful life.”
Add your voice to Joseph Hansen and end the silence around you.