More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Mental illness didn't ruin your life; it just changed it
Monday, September 6, 2004
By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: I'm 21, I live at home, am in college -- I am in recovery from a two-year period of pretty severe manic depression -- and have recently been diagnosed bipolar. I've had problems with depression since I was a kid, and because of that have been slow to develop socially. Therapy and drugs are the difference between making it and not making it for me right now.

My problem is that I feel hopelessly unprepared and lagging behind -- I have never held a job, gone on a date, voluntarily participated in a social activity, etc., and I am terrified. I'm 21! There are people my age starting businesses and getting married, for heaven's sake, and I have just learned how to drive (my finest achievement). My sister says there is no timeline and I should just go at my own pace. At my pace I'll have wasted half my life before I ever live it. Any wisdom for late bloomers? -- Late, Late Bloomer

Dear Late: There are people your age who've never left the mainstream, faced their own frailties or overcome a significant handicap. Talk about hopelessly unprepared.

I know, I know. You'd prefer to have worked, dated, gone out with your friends. I'd prefer these things for you, too. Not to get too Capra-esque on you, but, too often, the very thing you regard as your worst nightmare/most gruesome mistake/biggest setback in life turns out to be the root of your greatest joy.

There will be people you never would have met had you not struggled -- or opportunities you never would have gotten, perspec- tives you wouldn't have formed, reservoirs of strength that you never would have discovered, much less tapped -- that will some- day become valuable enough to you to change your view of your illness. (Assuming this isn't in progress already.) It's not a basket of money and a roomful of carol- ing friends, but it's something.

Whatever it is, will it be enough to make you look back on your illness fondly? Doubtful; I said Capra, not Pollyanna. More likely, it'll become the hell you never want to relive -- but wouldn't trade, either, since that would mean giving up everything you've achieved since.

Embrace this, and you'll start to see there is no such thing as "wast(ing) half your life." You are living your life. You've been living your life. So it's not the life you'd envisioned; look around you, you've joined a popular club.

Now stop beating yourself, extend your hand, and, at whatever pace you can bear, start introducing yourself to fellow club members. There's no time like the present -- also known as, whenever you're damn good and ready.


You sure sound like you are ready to take the next step, because you have a good understanding of your present situation and are desiring to change it. It takes a bit of courage. My goodness, you are ONLY 21, but I think maybe you feel like you are over the hill. There are plenty of people (maybe you don't know any, but they are around) who are far older than you and are still living at home. I work with a guy who is in his mid-30s. I didn't think he would ever meet a nice woman and settle down because he lived with "mommy and daddy" (as did his brother and sister who were almost the same age as him) and he was very juvenile,opinionated and difficult to get along with. I worked with him for 2 years, then he left and moved to another branch of the company. Now he is back working in our office again, he has a positive attitude and is far less opinionated and he was met a lovely girl whom he can't stop praising the virtues of! They are getting married within the next several months.

This guy sounds to be the exact opposite of you, really, but I liked him despite himself and I think maybe I had a bit of an influence on changing his treatment of others and making him realize that others had an opinion as well.

So, over a period of a few years, people really can change. I have seen it. You have taken a big step in facing a setback. It really sounds to me like you are ready to face up to your challenges.


Wow. Do I relate to that! I've always beat myself up for the fact that I played by my own rules, mostly because of my illness. I dropped out of high school, never went to college, had two kids out of wedlock, blah blah blah. Generally did everything "wrong".

This is a good point, though. There is no sense beating yourself up for how your life was led. All we can focus on is today and tomorrow.

Thanks, David!
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