NOTE: The following originally appeared on www.collegefundamental.com/rudy-story
College is just plain hard when you live with a mental illness. Yes, hardly anyone coasts through those four years but for someone like me who lives with (see: suffers from) bipolar disorder and anxiety it can often feel like a pipe dream to make it to that graduation stage. It’s great that more and more schools are allowing their students so-called “mental health days” but, to be honest, when I am at my worst I can feel like giving up on classes altogether. And indeed I have had to take off entire semesters for the sake of my health. I’ve even dropped out of all my classes mid semester because I needed to spend an extended time in an inpatient psychiatric ward. And that’s OK. I don’t know anyone with a chronic mental illness who has completed a baccalaureate (and especially a graduate) program without taking time off along the way. How long exactly is completely up to the individual. My hope is that academic counselors and professors will be understanding when you return. Sometimes they can assume that you are not taking your education seriously or “faking” your mental illness so as to avoid responsibility but that is more of a reflection on their own prejudices than your personal integrity. As a student and an advocate I try my hardest to educate faculty as well as my peers on the unique struggles one faces making it through college while also regularly dealing with depression, mania, anxiety, and even psychosis. My goal is that barriers such as insensitive professors and lack of accommodations will be removed for us in the near future. Yes, it is taking me much much longer to graduate than I ever could’ve imagined but I am not using that as a reason to give up now. Believe me, it is not hyperbole when I say it is plain hard but if living with bipolar disorder has taught me anything it is that I’m much tougher and persistent than I once thought possible. So, I should probably start planning for my graduation day party now, right?