some tips for going to college while living w/ mental illness

tips

College is hard. It’s really fucking hard sometimes. Going to class, doing homework, working to afford a small apartment, spending enough time w/ friends, making friends, feeling disenchanted higher education b/c of the high unemployment rate, worrying about student loans, trying to decide what you want to do forever… I could go on forever.

Mental illnesses are also really fucking hard sometimes. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in high school and, after years of being unmedicated and drowning in anxiety, general anxiety disorder and panic disorder. These are a few things that I’ve found important to going to college while living w/ mental illness. It’s based on my personal experiences, and I’m sure these tips won’t work for everyone. Or anyone. Here we go! 


1) don’t be afraid to skip class

(many of my profs have an allowed amount of absences and i definitely make use of them. i won’t learn anything if i’m having a panic attack in class, as i’ve found out time and time again. and if you’re aren’t ‘allowed’ any absences just talk with your professor. or email. or just skip and don’t mention it to the prof. they might not even notice you were gone, depending on the class size)

2) don’t be afraid to go to class

(being around people can be really draining, so can social interaction, the pressure of being called on to answer a question, taking tests. classes can be scary environments. but it always helps me to remember that i am there for a reason. to learn. to pass the class. and everyone else is there for the same reasons. everyone has their own worries and lives to think about, students and profs alike.)

3) know your limits! (or keep on learning them)

(the past year i’ve worked on knowing my limits. it’s hard to not want to push through my anxieties and fears to be normal or something. but mental illness don’t work like that. i’ve been trying to assess how different situations affect me and why they affect me. then i can work from there to see what i can change. disclaimer: this is definitely still a work in progress for me, but i’m still a work in progress so whatever.)

4) surround yourself w/ kind people (& be kind to the people you surround yourself w/)

(making friends isn’t always easy. for me, at least. but i’ve been lucky enough to meet some really awesome people in the past year. totally rad queer cuties. and talking with them, being honest w/ them about my problems with anxiety and depression has cleared up quite a bit of my anxious turmoil. i don’t have to endless agonize about canceling plans because i’m too depressed to get out of bed. or apologize for needing music to be turned down b/c of sensory overload. or for not going to things with people because crowds, big and small, often trigger my panic attacks.)

Whoa, Personal Experience Time

I dropped out of college after my first year. I was 17 when I started college and, honestly, had a pretty good time my first year. I began as an Anthropology major at my local university. I learned some really cool things. I met some pretty cool people. I did a lot of drugs. I skipped my last month of classes then flew to Europe with my fucking amazing (seriously though) partner and spent a month being untethered and young.

I was riding a hypomanic period to (not quite but almost) it’s fullest. I was also dealing with new anxieties and depressive episodes. Once back in our hometown me and Tré moved out of our mother’s houses and got a shitty apartment with our lovely friend, Tricia. I spent a year of agonizingly intense anxiety working two minimum wage jobs and sleeping a lot. Then I went back to school at a local community college and convinced myself I was doing okay.

But I wasn’t. I wasn’t leaving the house. When I was in the house I was agonizing over my own health and wellbeing (constantly WebMDing new symptoms and illnesses) as well the wellbeing of Tré and cats (mine and in general). I didn’t make friends. I was in a state of constant anxiety with panic attacks littered throughout my weeks. I was using food to exert some sort control over my body and my life. I slept away my free time. I woke up several times a night mid-panic attack. I didn’t like doing things I once loved. I didn’t like much of anything.

Once back at IPFW with a set major and a well paying (yet stressful) job I started being able to function a little bit more. But I was still having regular panic attacks in campus bathrooms, skipping class because I was too depressed to get up, overcommitting to many obligations during my hypomanic periods, avoiding making meaningful friendships.

Fast forward to now! because writing this is getting pretty depressing. I’ve been taking medication for my anxiety and depression for the past year and a half and everything has gotten considerably better. I’m going to graduate college in May with a degree in English and Women’s Studies. I’m the president of my campus feminist organization and editor of a sweet feminist zine (& blog!). I’m spending my life with my partner, and favorite person ever, Tré and our perfect cats. And, since the last few months, Alex, who’s a literal meme and an unbelievably awesome polypartner.

I’m figuring out where my boundaries are and learning to not hate myself when my boundaries are different than those of the people around me.

I’m learning to push my boundaries when I want to. I’m learning that I have to relax the high expectations I set for myself. I’m learning to take chances–joining new student orgs, taking hard but interesting classes, becoming involved in my education.

I hope this helps you think about your own well being. Introspection can be hella rad, and occasionally life altering. But hey, that’s kind of what college is for. Or should be for?

Best wishes,

Amanda

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