You Can’t Plan for Mental Illness

MAY. 23, 2018

By Allie Quinn


My 5-year plan after finishing high school was simple: graduate from college in four years, then begin graduate school directly following graduation. It was easy for me to imagine a 5-year plan at 18 years old when my toughest challenge at that point had been taming my frizzy hair.

My first two years of college were very successful. I made close friends, was hired by my college as a writing tutor and connected with teachers and administrators in the school district I wanted to eventually work in. I was right on track with my 5-year plan.

During my third year of college, however, the mass shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I felt a very deep connection to the event and in the following months, I noticed that I was on high-alert in public areas. I worried for my safety.

A few months later, I learned about the Boston Marathon bombing when I was in my college’s library. I immediately looked at the entrance to the library and wondered where I would hide if a shooter came through the door. A habit of making “escape plans” in my head became uncontrollable. I created them for any public place, and I avoided walking in open spaces and going out at night. Each night, I dreamt that I was trying to escape from a mass shooting; even in my sleep, I couldn't shake this overwhelming fear.

Looking back, I can see the warning signs that I needed help. I didn't tell anyone about the thoughts and feelings I was having because I didn't want people to think I was “unstable.” Admitting to myself or to others that something was wrong could jeopardize my 5-year plan. I told myself that all college students felt this kind of stress, and that I’d feel better when the semester ended.

My junior year ended, but instead of feeling better, I felt significantly worse. I experienced severe panic attacks, paranoia and anxiety that made it impossible for me to drive, work or stay home alone. After I sought treatment with a therapist and psychiatrist, they recommended I check myself into a psychiatric hospital, so doctors could balance my medication, and I could learn skills to help manage my anxiety. I would be hospitalized five times, spending nearly three months in the hospital. My worst day was when I had to withdraw from my senior year. It felt like years of hard work just slipped away.

I questioned: Why didn’t I seek help sooner?

After my last hospitalization, I immediately re-enrolled in classes. I didn't give myself the chance to heal because I wanted so badly to get back on track with my 5-year plan. Because I wasn’t working on my mental health, I struggled through two classes, and I wasn’t enjoying school like I did before.

One day, I finally accepted that if I kept putting my education before my mental health, I could risk having another breakdown. I decided to take medical leave from school; I needed to focus on my mental health and regain my strength and confidence. For the next two years, I attended therapy, worked with my psychiatrist, adopted a psychiatric service dog, discovered skills to help me cope and practiced self-care. Eventually, I felt like myself again.

So, I began college again last year. This time, I felt ready. I will be graduating this December with a B.S. in Community and Human Services. The deadline of my 5-year plan has long passed, and my life has not gone as I planned, but I am happy, healthy and have a mission to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Battling mental illness and maintaining mental health is an ongoing part of my life, but the struggles I faced have put me on the path I’m meant to be on.

For example, I recently became a young adult speaker for NAMI Ending the Silence. I travel to high schools to share my journey with mental illness and talk to students about mental health and stigma. The experience has been life-changing. For years, my goal has been to help people, and through NAMI Ending the Silence and blogging, I am making a difference. I believe that talking openly about mental health issues will end stigma and lead to more effective treatment for mental illness.

Please, if you’re experiencing symptoms or warning signs of a mental illness, seek help as soon as possible. Your mental health is far more important than your 5-year plan. I’ve learned that college can wait—treating mental illness cannot.


Allie Quinn is a mental health blogger, public speaker, and young adult presenter with NAMI’s Ending the Silence. She works to educate people about the realities of living with a mental illness and raises awareness about the use of psychiatric service dogs. Allie’s mental health blog is Redefine Mental Health


AUG, 10, 2018 04:32:52 AM
Dr. Raymond Ambrose Liang
Thanks for sharing such a useful content, I was looking from some days for this kind of useful information.

JUN, 15, 2018 03:00:08 PM
Eric Ogle
I got diagnoised with biopolar 2006 and I am working towards being stable.

JUN, 09, 2018 07:37:06 PM
How far we have come! Congratulations! Watching my parents struggle as my brother returned home from the military (after 11 years) with schizophrenia we made all the mistakes! My Dad retired military was a “pull yourself up from the boot straps” kinda guy! My mom wanted to do everything for him to prevent the on/going outburst! I was the embarrassed sister...after all it was the 80’s! After my mother (enabler) passed away...I inherited a mess of a brother..joined NAMI..(F2F) nextbcame ultimately began teaching the classes! Today my brother 64 is an amazing guy..he’s a wonder brother, father, grandfather! No outside family relationships to speak of but we all love him dearly! The tragic mistakes still haunt me! His success brings me joy! Your message speaks volumes of truly staying on track with a plan for your well-being! Wishing you a happy successful future!

JUN, 06, 2018 02:53:19 PM
Allie, congratulations on going back to school and on becoming a NAMI Ending the Silence presenter. It takes a lot of courage to speak about your experience in front of others. I want to share my story, but am afraid of the stigma I might face. You are an inspiration to me.

JUN, 02, 2018 02:07:23 PM
We need a voice, advocates for removing negative treatment toward those who live with mental health issues. I let my husband talk me out of treatment for too long. Had I started when i knew something was wrong I would not have had my breakdown. My years of depression are behind me but i still have anxiety. I'm in weekly therapy working towards being healthy. I try to communicate there is a stigma because of lack of knowledge. I post and speak on the complexity of mental health at every opportunity. I know the taboo for myself.

JUN, 01, 2018 07:11:06 AM
Thanks for you help , you make a difference

MAY, 31, 2018 06:57:49 PM
Suzanne Butterfly Strachan
Spot on...I’m a professional yoga teacher, public speaker, unpublished prolific writer/reader and CMT, CDM, CDD, Reiki Master yada yada... who had a spiritual awakening akabreak down & was in 🙄 funny farm (don’t laugh) for 6 months last year from being too happy in public! I had wild mood swings from Menopause...and am happy to say with family, friends and bffb support am off meds most of the time!
Balanced and Blissfully Yours,
Suzanne Marie

MAY, 31, 2018 01:29:15 PM
Tara Meier
Dear Allie: Thank you for sharing with us. I am grateful for your victories. I'm sorry too you were thrown off the course of your plans too.

MAY, 31, 2018 11:11:36 AM
Thank you for sharing this personal information. I so believe that what tends to work against us, we can turn around to the good in one way or another. I am so glad that you have turned this around to help others. I highly respect you for going to talk to and educate our schools. I live in Iowa of which is known to have the least help for mental illness. I'm very interested to know more information on your talks and how we as a school district could get you to come and talk here.

Thank you

MAY, 31, 2018 08:14:10 AM
Joseph VanBuren
This is a very inspiring story. I always wanted to go to college, but it took me 18 years to deal with my struggles with depression, anxiety, and addiction. Once I was finally committed to putting myself first and getting the help I needed, I was then able to dedicate myself to college. This year I graduated with a bachelor's degree at age 40. It's never too late to make a new plan, but you are right that mental health needs to come first.

MAY, 31, 2018 07:14:49 AM
You're young and have your life ahead of you. I battled mental illness mostly in my adult life. My engineering career got derailed at age 42. Now I'm 60 and struggle with depression and anxiety, don't have much to look forward to, maybe salvaging a career, maybe being able to work full-time again. No kids or wife/partner. I've lost most enthusiasm for life. Many days I pray for it to be over.
Thanks for sharing your story though.

MAY, 31, 2018 04:19:52 AM
Ollie Williams
Having a mental illness *****s, especially when you have a generation of them, and my adult children are dual diagnosis. My panic attacks have really peaked in the last 3 month and we have a mental health system that is very hard to deal with. Jails, death, but no institution because the state does not have funding to meet the needs of the people. Instanitty, is real.

MAY, 30, 2018 11:21:34 PM
Ann Sheperd
I would love for you to present to our small parent group in Waxhaw. Do you do events for free by chance? We are a free resource and support group for Parents and Caregivers that support their loved ones with special nerfs/abilities.

MAY, 30, 2018 09:52:24 PM
My plan was WAY off track and I didn't realize it until I was 47 y/o. Suddenly things weren't right... and I reached out for help that was virtually non-existent. Finally I checked myself into a psych hospital where they introduced me to bi-polar disorder. Unfortunately it was, almost, too late. I landed in prison for multiple DUI spread over 30 years. The psychiatrist recommended to the court that incarceration wasn't a good idea at that time, could it be postponed or the sentence altered from prison to psychiatric confinement. Judge didn't see it that way... and now I found myself locked up for 4 years not knowing how to live with bi-polar disorder or distinguishing the difference between alcohol abuse. Anyway, I'm free now and working to achieve balance in my medications, balance created by absolute sobriety and the everyday challenges of bi-polar disorder! I'm glad you found your way early... and now I am able to see myself from a younger age in your story. I am a productive, intelligent, emotional individual. I just show it in some unusual ways! I'd say good luck to you but luck has nothing to do with it!!!

MAY, 30, 2018 09:50:40 PM
Lari B. Davis
I commend your efforts and wish you resounding success! I have DID and you may not know what that is and most often the medical community does not, either, but should. The stigma for that is alive and well! I’ve been snickered at and talked about in the shadows! I’ve been in therapy for 30 years and it has cost me over $73,000 and I’ve been treated by experts! is where people like me (us) get help.

MAY, 30, 2018 09:28:08 PM
Your story is powerful. Glad you were able to step back and prioritize. Speaking to youth like you are is so very important, thank you. You are amazing and helping countless others. I must learn more about these psychiatric service dogs? I am a facilitator for family to family classes and have not heard of them locally, Buffalo NY.

MAY, 30, 2018 08:00:15 PM
Thank you so much for speaking out!

MAY, 30, 2018 07:17:14 PM
Thank you for sharing your brave and difficult journey through your mental health crisis. I just walked with 7,500 people for NAMIWalk in Portland OR. We are sharing our stories and taking away the stigma associated with mental health. In gratitude for all you are doing. Sincerely

MAY, 29, 2018 07:12:28 PM
Lizanne Corbit
This is a phenomenal read. The question of "why didn't I seek help sooner" is more common than people realize. Regaining strength and confidence is such a key component of growth and new plans. Thank you for sharing.

MAY, 29, 2018 12:40:12 PM
diana heth
Well said! Thank you.

MAY, 24, 2018 07:41:11 AM
Mindy Quinn
You are amazing Allie. You have worked so hard to get where you are. I am so incredibly proud of you!

MAY, 24, 2018 01:31:34 AM
Carol Ward
Allie - you are a strong, intelligent, compassionate, and amazing young woman with an inspirational story. Awesome that you are speaking in high schools AND have a service dog. Thx for sharing.

MAY, 23, 2018 08:20:02 PM
Carolyn Nielson
Hello Allie Quinn!
You are right treating mental health is doing the right thing for your health. I have been dealing with mental health issues since I was in seventh grade. I am now twenty seven. I learned to get help in 2014 and I am doing good now. I was wondering what is a psychiatrist service dog?

MAY, 23, 2018 04:41:06 PM
I had a plan too. I had plans many times and they were all derailed because of my mental illness and my insistence on powering through it. Now I am on disability and taking care of my health is practically a full time job. I wish you well in your endeavors.

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