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How Bipolar Disorder Affected My College Experience

Witnessing students now grappling with disruptions to their education brought to mind the delays and self-perceived “failures” I endured in college because of my developing bipolar. Now I see how those unexpected bumps in the road helped shape who I am.

college student disruption delays graduation mental health bipolar disorder

Disruptions in Education, from Crises or Bipolar Disorder

This year, students of every grade level experienced unexpected changes in their educational paths as a result of the ongoing global health crisis. The impact was perhaps felt most strongly by those set to graduate from high school or College, as they prepared to move to the next big step in their adult lives.

Among college students, many suddenly had to move home, and some were concerned about not graduating “on time” as a result. It remains to be seen exactly what percentage of college students will take a semester off—or longer.

While I have already graduated, I could easily relate to their sense of loss and sadness. In witnessing the nationwide impact on so many students, I have been reminded of my own losses and disruptions during college, each of which was a result of my bipolar episodes.

My Developing Depression & Its Impact

I had two happy years at college before Mental Health issues started creeping into the picture. In May 2014, I was a highly motivated, energetic sophomore on campus, studying for exams and writing up final essays. Weeks later, I was glued to the bed back home, drowned by anxious and depressive thoughts. The depression left me feeling paralyzed, as if I could barely move, and my brain was decaying. I could not see any possibility for a bright future—only failure; my anxiety fed on the uncertainty and my own insecurities.

After being diagnosed with depression, I decided to take the following semester off. There was no chance of focusing on coursework when my mind was hijacked nonstop by depression.

“Becoming Bipolar” as My Friends Moved On

Several times over the next few years, I would doubt my ability to finish my undergraduate degree. Even though my family is wonderful, I couldn’t help but feel like living back at home was a sign of failure, of a step backward while everyone else was moving ahead. I spent much of my time living hours away from my college friends, which was also hard on me. I became manic in winter of 2015, which made graduating “on time” (May 2016) no longer feasible. I showed up at my friends’ graduation ceremony, watching them smiling in their sea of Carolina blue gaps and gowns. I couldn’t help but feel like not being among them was yet another sign of failure.

Hypomania, Depression, Anxiety, & Mania in the Classroom

Once my friends had graduated, I found myself feeling lost, as my support network was no longer there. Since 2014, I’ve experienced multiple periods of hypomania, depression, and mixed states. These interfered with my functioning as a student. While hypomanic, I might be overly confident in my ability to ace a test without much studying, leading to worse grades. During depression, I couldn’t find the motivation to study or work, despite knowing how important school was to me. When anxiety overwhelmed me, I could not concentrate at all, no matter how hard I tried. As a result of mania, I ended up taking additional semesters off from school … with each delay feeling like an additional fail.

Not Celebrating My “Delayed” Graduation

This was far from the type of college experience I had dreamed for myself. I did not graduate within four years. When I eventually did graduate in December 2017, I was so ready to just have college be over that I did not celebrate my graduation the way everyone else had. In fact, I did not even attend my own graduation ceremony. However, these changes did create new opportunities for me.

The Positives: Finding My Passion

Instead of being trapped in a major I disliked, I added a new one that fascinated me: psychology. I found engaging classes that actually interested me, getting me increasingly invested in the field of mental health. My newfound passion for mental health has led to me creating my blog and meeting an amazing network of mental health advocates and writers online. I also became a part of an organization on campus that worked to educate others on mental illness and fight stigma. Since then, I have gotten involved in psychology research, victim advocacy, and social media creation, all stemming from my interests in mental health.

Bipolar Disrupted My Education but Shaped Who I Am

My college experience was not what I had anticipated, but it also helped shape who I am. Even though, for me, college was not “the best four years of my life” as others say, it was a period of time that pushed me and challenged me. I can now appreciate the messy path I took in college, because all of those “setbacks” and “failures” led me to where I am today. And where I am today is not too bad a place to be!

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How Bipolar Disorder Affected My College Experience


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