My Life as a Young Adult With Mental Illness and Learning Disabilities
I find it interesting, and sometimes confusing, that I made it so many years (19, to be exact) without any treatment, therapy, medications or accommodations for my mental health issues and undiagnosed learning disabilities. I can think of a few reasons why this was my experience. It was most likely due to the fact that
a) my mental health issues were not quite as severe as they would become by the time I had gone away to college and,
b) I overcompensated when it came to my ADHD and learning challenges—I worked very hard, often driven by my anxiety during my childhood and teen years.
Today I want to write about my experience being a graduate student and an adult in my 20s with such challenges, both in terms of learning, attention and emotional difficulties. I want to talk about the aspects of school and work, as well as adult living.
I have been in graduate school since the summer of 2020, after finishing my undergraduate degree from a university in DC (I lived away from home) in 2018. My experience with college was a rough one—I began mental health treatment and had many unplanned inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations and semesters off from school, along with dropped classes, because of bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, severe OCD and an eating disorder. So, fast forward to today: I am finishing up my first year in a master’s program for creative writing. While I absolutely love my program, I will be honest. I am not very organized when it comes to school (thanks, ADHD) and because of depression I struggle with motivation at times to complete assignments and stay focused, despite the fact that writing is my biggest passion. I am proud to say that I am halfway through my thesis project—a fiction novel about a young woman with mental illness and addiction challenges—and am considering taking on a dual concentration, one that would involve me also writing a memoir in addition to the fiction novel. I have also received accommodations through the disability services, and am responsible in communicating to my professors when I need an extension or extra assistance with particular deadlines.
In all honesty, work is not an area in which I currently feel fulfilled. Two years ago, after graduating from college, I moved back home and had a full-time job for five months. The reason I quit after just a few months—I had severe anxiety and OCD, my personality disorder symptoms were triggered at work and I had a lot of trouble concentrating (prior to ADHD treatment). I also had found out during this time that I had a mild to moderate auditory processing disorder and mild hearing loss. This also affected my ability to receive verbal directions, something that was probably also impacted by my out of control worrying and anxiety. I also took social actions that I didn’t see as inappropriate at the time, but I now do. This included overly confiding in co-workers about my issues and even crying and having breakdowns on the job, etc. In many regards, I am embarrassed when I look back on the situation. It ultimately affected me as trauma, causing nightmares long after I quit. The good news? Now I am working part-time at a different job, one in which I feel more confident and focused. This likely has to do with my updated medications and lots of therapy. My symptoms are still bothersome, but way more under control. Although I am now looking for a full-time job to do in addition to school; I want to become financially independent from my parents. I want to show myself that I can work full-time; at the right job and with the right accommodations and assistance.
Life at home is actually where I feel my disabilities have been affecting me the most. I struggle to find motivation and energy to complete chores, such as laundry, cooking, cleaning and even showering daily. I’m not sure which issue is to blame, but for some reason I have great difficulty with both self-care and taking care of the house. The fact that I have my two dogs helps; they always get me outside on a walk and up in the morning to feed them. I think my biggest block in life would be recurrent episodes of depression as well as mood swings. There have been periods where anxiety has been a greater problem, making it hard to eat or sleep. In the end, I am taking steps every day towards becoming more independent and satisfied with the life I live, despite mental illness and learning disabilities.
Thank you for reading. What is your experience with any kind of disability? I look forward to possibly reading some responses in the comments.
Getty image by Anna Semenchenko