How Getting a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis in College Changed My Plans for Senior Year
I have always felt more myself at nighttime. It is where I do my best thinking, where I have reached some of my greatest epiphanies and where I feel most at home. Some may see this as creepy, twisted or unorthodox — and they may be right. But for whatever reason, I feel comfortable in darkness.
Something I love about the nighttime is the moon. Reflecting the light from the sun, it illuminates an otherwise dark setting. While many love to romanticize a full moon, I have always been drawn to crescent moons. There is something beautiful about a small sliver of light in the vast darkness. My natural draw to a crescent moon in the night sky is ironic to me, as it perfectly illustrates my struggles in finding hope over the last six months of my life.
In my time in college, I have changed my major several times, fluctuated between friend groups, made more than one definite plan for my life and even changed my hair multiple times. My only constant in the last four years has been the presence of depression and anxiety. When the seasons of life changed, I could always count on my depression to fall back on. It’s steady like that.
I had high hopes for my senior year. I was going to live my last year in college to the fullest and be the best version of myself I could be. All of those hopes and dreams came crashing down on the third Monday of fall semester when my doctor uttered the fateful words, “bipolar disorder.” I don’t remember much of the context or really anything that happened after. I just know everything I had believed about myself had been turned upside down with two simple words.
Bipolar II is a “mild” version of bipolar disorder, characterized by more depression, with the occasional hypomanic episode. Many of the bipolar stereotypes come from the manic episodes. These are the episodes people associate with bipolar disorder: when people have reckless sex, run through the streets naked, get arrested, etc. Hypomania is a more “moderate” state. When I experience this upswing, I enjoy cleaning everything and — at the very most — I feel a little wild and get another piercing. Though my case is more on the “mild” end of the spectrum, it is still exhausting to move through the cycles and to learn how to live a “normal” life when my brain does not feel “normal.” Even harder is breaking past the stigma. I feel the constant need to explain myself and reassure everyone who knows of my diagnosis that I am not, in fact, crazy.
It is common in Christian circles to hear stories of people who walked through a season of depression, but emerged triumphant because of prayer and community. I had been waiting for this triumph for a long time. I now had to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t just a season, or something I could pray away. It was a main character in the story of my life.
I immediately began treatment, experimenting with various medications. This process is draining, mentally and physically. In an effort to focus more on my health, I dropped two classes. I still almost failed one. After resting (not sufficiently, but a little) over Christmas break, I felt more optimistic about this semester. I had finally found a medication that worked for me. I was setting things in place, such as exercise, a healthy diet and accountability partners who would help me get by. But every time I took a step forward, something got in my path and pushed me two steps back.
I have grown angry at my situation. I try not to play the victim card, but it seems as though I am being punished for something I cannot help. I have a hard time functioning in an academic setting, but I still feel the need to meet very high expectations. I am afraid to be authentic in group settings due to what I experience as a ridiculous Christian expectation to always be “happy.” I have developed a frustration with Christians because, in a time when I needed the most support, I have lost many friends. Everything that was once comfortable to me has been taken away and I feel I am failing in every aspect of life.
I often wonder what I am still doing here. I feel I was not made to abide by the standards of my school, the church or society. It is hard not to believe that there is something inherently wrong with me. Much of the time, I feel very isolated and lonely. Amid all this darkness — this I can say with absolute certainty — I would not be here if it were not for the little glimpses of hope I have learned to find in the unexpected places.
Hope is when I tell a longtime friend I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and he responds, “I knew there was something special about you.” Hope is when I see my homeless friend Lee in his usual spot and he tells me he has been praying for me. Hope is when I can’t sleep because of my anxiety, so I go to the beach, only to be graced by the most beautiful sunrise. Hope is knowing my struggles have given me the ability to truly see others who are hurting. Hope is the single wildflower in a field full of dead grass.
It has been so hard to keep moving forward these last six months. I often feel like giving up — just yesterday, I considered dropping out. But I have learned no matter how bleak the circumstances may be, I believe hope can always be found when a person is willing to look for it. Navigating a time of trials is like walking at night. There will be obstacles. The darkness will obscure your vision. But the faint light of the moon will provide the hope that there is a path, and it will light the way, one step at a time.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via moodboard.