By Ryan Rivera, posted September 15, 2013
College was an interesting time for me. I lived in an apartment with a roommate I barely knew, living off of school loans and meals made by my mother, who thankfully lived a few blocks down.
At the time, we were struggling financially. So we asked a coworker of mine if he wanted to move in and sleep on the couch. He had been looking for a place to live, and we needed some help with the rent, so it seemed like a good fit.
The Initial Frustration
Right away, however, something seemed off. He had these eccentricities that we didn’t understand. He ate only waffles and fruit snacks and refused to throw any of it away. Instead, he build an unintentional fort around his computer as he spent sometimes as much as 36 hours in a row on a text-based video game where the only buttons you could push were “steal” or “run.” There was no other part of the game.
When we tried to engage with him, he would occasionally start talking but would cycle through so many topics in the course of just a few minutes that the initial topic of conversation was completely lost, all before we had said one word. Then the rest of the time he slept, and appeared angry at the world.
We didn’t know anything about bipolar disorder at the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t either, so we simply thought he was unusual. In fact, it never occurred to me that he could have bipolar disorder, because he didn’t exhibit any behaviors that we thought characteristic of bipolar. We didn’t realize that playing a video game for 36 hours could be a sign of mania or that sleeping too much could be a sign of depression.
How I Realized Something Was Wrong
At the time, his eccentricities were the fodder for our jokes, because we didn’t realize there could be some sort of psychiatric illness behind them. He was simply a “weird dude.”
But I realized he may be suffering inside on a rare day that we were able to spend some time together away from his game. I told him I was going to play some basketball and he asked to join. We left and went to the local park, and since neither of us was very good, I asked him if instead he wanted to play a game of “HORSE.” With HORSE, players alternate taking shots. If a player makes the shot, the other player(s) have to make the same shot. If they miss, they get a letter – H, O, R, S, or E. Any player who spells “HORSE” is out of the game. The lone remaining player is the winner.
After a short time, the game was almost over. He was about to lose, at HORS. I had an H on a missed layup. I took my specialty shot – a three pointer from beyond half court range – and with a little bit of luck it rolled in.
He then stood there and I said if he missed it we should probably just shoot around for a while or go back, instead of playing again. He looked at me and said in a sad voice that I had never heard before “I could make it, or I could play again. Or you can just try not to be better than me at everything.” He took his shot, missed, and then went to grab the ball again without saying a word and kept shooting from the half court line over and over and over again, each time with more anger than the last one, before finally putting the ball down and walking home silently.
This was the first time it hit me that something might be wrong – and that he may have been battling some internal demons. It changed the way I saw people that seemed “unusual” and made me realize that what I saw as unusual may have been a sign that he needed help.
He moved out a few months later for unrelated reasons, but I have kept that lesson with me to this day. After suffering from severe anxiety and panic myself, I learned never to judge someone with eccentricities the same way again. He was diagnosed a few years later, and last I heard he was doing much better.
About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an anxiety specialist who runs a website about overcoming anxiety at www.calmclinic.com.