The Winter of My Discontent: How I Live with Bipolar Disorder at College

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Bipolar disorder is a weird disorder. For some time you’re restricted to your bed, not leaving for days, not showering, not answering phone calls. You don’t write, paint, or go out dancing. TV and Netflix are of no interest. You lie in silence. Then one day you shower, you leave your apartment and spend more money than you have on buy-one-get-one boxes of Chips Ahoy! cookies, because at the moment they are the greatest things in the world. To you, those boxes of cookies will make everything better. Not only do you buy cookies, you decide to get a puppy, because that’s what every unstable twenty-something needs. Now you have to call your parents asking for more money because you spent all of it on cookies and a puppy, but it was for a good reason, I swear, mom. Because you’ve been hijacked by mania, you think you’re the king of the hill. Nothing can beat you; you wonder how you’ve ever been depressed. You sleep with the wrong people, say the wrong things and pick the wrong fights.

It’s as if life hands you an invitation to a party and you overstay your welcome. Now depression has its turn–except this time you don’t leave your bed for one week, and now your parents have to drive down and evaluate you, and you’re told to just finish the semester and come home in a week for the month-long winter break. All anyone needs is a month, right?

Proper diagnosis, advocacy and outreach are of the most vital components in destigmatizing mental illness. More than 1,000 students will commit suicide across college campuses, and I bet the numbers of those who have failed are even greater. I attempted suicide in December of my sophomore year. It was a failed attempt, and I was never taken to a hospital or psychiatrist. After it was considered by those around me to be a phase, I retreated back into myself and suffered in silence. My ups and downs would continue for another year like an unwelcome sequel to an already pretty terrible movie of one guy sitting around, covered in puppies, stuffing cookies in his mouth.

I was correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder the spring of my junior year. For the many who suffer from mental illnesses, proper diagnosis is a small bull’s-eye, critical to proper treatment and education on how to live a successful life with the diagnosis.

When I was finally “sorted out” and no longer deemed a risk to myself, I had to learn to live again. My thinking was clearer than ever, but I wondered how could I write without my darkness, how could I go out to the grocery store without a mania-fueled confidence. Academically, I worried if, without the same creative insight, my research projects would continue to dominate the curve.

Thank Voldemort, they did. My words carried weight, my language was slick and polished, and my ideas were still there. Now, every time I walk into a classroom, stand to give a presentation, or glance over at a driver in the lane next to me, I sit there and wonder to myself, “How much pain is in this room? How many others have had nights like mine?” My college experience wasn’t football games and parties and relationships. It was about staying alive. It was being on a violent rollercoaster that didn’t have a seatbelt or stopping point. I pulled myself out of my despair and found outside help. I emptied my savings in an attempt to save my life. And it worked.

I became my own best friend, my own best lover. I was finally given the correct medication and the appropriate dosages. I benefited from psychotherapy and routine visits with my psychiatrist. I experienced college differently, but I found a story, a narrative of my troubles. A narrative that bears repeating and repeating until no one sits in the shadows of stigma and shame. A narrative that must be told as long as there is a student in danger of suicide or struggling with mental illness. The costs are too high, the risk too great to let one of our young minds leave us tragically, too soon. It’s a narrative that I tell, because each person with bipolar is different, a narrative that I am no longer ashamed of. It is my story, these are my words, and it was my pain. A narrative that I will remember as I walk across the stage in December as I graduate, the same day of the two-year anniversary of my attempt. It was the winter of my discontent, but still I rise.

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