Personal Stories

Family Support Changed My Life

by Justin Coonan

If I were to describe my journey with mental health into one word, it would be “opportunity.” My name is Justin, and in 2010, when I was 19 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. At first, I was upset and dismissive of my diagnosis. I told myself I was “just fine” because, at that point, that’s how I felt. Sure, I noticed the sudden bursts of energy and impulsivity, but they always disappeared soon after they began. I also noticed my loved ones’ reactions; I saw friends entertained, confused, uncomfortable and worst of all, worried. Seeing them worried was the reality that really slapped me in the face. Soon after, I was admitted to inpatient treatment.

For the following eight years, I went through a seesaw of ups and downs. I would be stable (or stable enough) and then decide that I was better and able to go off my medication. Of course, this was not suggested by my family or my providers, but I figured my bipolar disorder had decided to “depart” from my body, and I’d continue my life as previously planned. I continued to self-diagnose and decide I was “fine.” Well, I was wrong.

Most hospitalizations were followed by even more hospitalizations later in the year. I found myself in a cycle of hospitalizations, followed by medication that overpowered my body, continuing to a helpless depression that lasted for months. I also had the non-stop, irrational fear that whenever I went somewhere in public, people were looking and laughing at me.

In August of 2018, I had my last hospitalization to date. I struggled to find a friend group for a while, but the endlessly loving support from family grounded me. I soon realized once again that family was my rock. In 2019, my niece was born, and my sister asked me to be the baby’s godfather. I believe that’s what did it for me. Seeing my niece and the joy she brought to my sister and brother-in-law was the warmest my heart has probably ever felt. I thought about all the times my sister and family watched over me — and now it was my time to contribute to my family’s happiness.

Over the last three years, I have watched my niece grow and even welcomed another niece into the world as well. I’m now working full time in the mental health field as a Clubhouse Counselor, a position that I’ve held so far for five months. I have maintained probably the healthiest friend group I’ve had as an adult, and I continue to make positive mental health strides each day.

In my free time, I enjoy doing photography and spending time with my two awesome cats. I don’t believe I would be where I am today without the support of my family, the patience of my treatment team and, most importantly, my patience with myself. I will never take a day for granted after what I have been through, and I will never forget the people who helped me on my road to recovery.