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School and Bipolar Disorder? How do you do it? Please share your experiences, your victories, and even your disappointmens. We understand how hard it must be from high school to college to grad school. Hope you can share with us and find the support you need.

by Dogirl1313 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 2:15 pm

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder halfway through my senior year of high school. I had my first manic episode over winter break and was hospitalized on New Year's Day. I was sent home from the ER and put on some meds until I could get in to see a psychologist and psychiatrist. I kept bouncing in and out of being manic until March and I was depressed for the remainder of the year.

I was taking 4 AP classes (lit and comp, gov, psych and chem) and was in over my head. I was spending 6-8 hours plus a day on homework ( along with going to school for 7 hours) and I felt like I wasn't getting enough done.

I ended up dropping 3 of the 4 classes and took less intense courses. It was questionable if I would graduate on time. I did-class of 2015- my GPA went up ( from a 3.8 to a 3.9). I never truly forgave myself for dropping the classes I did. I've always regretted doing this even though I know dropping the classes was the right decision. The breakdown forced me to learn to slow down and not be such a perfectionist.

I took the following year off to get my meds figured out. I was planning on possibly going to school the following spring- I didn't though. Unfortunately I had another- less intense- episode one week away from the one year mark of the first episode. The episode then shifted into a mixed episode. I went through more meds changes which helped to a degree.

I started DBT therapy that spring and did that for about 9 months. I learned a lot of valuable coping skills and how to go with the flow and not fight myself as much. I started meditating frequently and found myself calmer and more collected.

The following summer I took two college chemistry course to ease back into things. I wanted to see if it would trigger another episode. It didn't trigger another full episode but I started cycling quickly. I kept flipping between being happy/productive, angry/irritable, sad/depressed every 2-4 days from June until August. I was depressed for the remainder of August until school orientation.

During orientation I started cycling quickly through out the day. I would wake up ramped up (minor mania symptoms) then would be numb for a couple of hours and would be depressed until late at night when I would get ramped up again. I did that through most of the fall semester until after finals.

During the fall semester I took organic chemistry, calculus, bioethics and intro to psych. I passed calc and chem by the skin on my teeth and got a B+ in ethics and an A in psych. I should have taken easier classes for my first semester (even though it was only 13 credits). I ended up commuting to school to try and reduce the amount of change in the transition process.

I had another small episode over Christmas. I went through some more meds changes and continued cycling every few days. My moods would change on a dime and I had a hard time pin pointing triggers.

Then I went back to school for my spring semester. I was taking the second semester of organic chem, programming, intro to art, behavioral statistics and a research analysis class. I failed programming and organic. I felt like a complete failure and started having suicidal ideation and impulses. I somehow managed to not have any attempts.

The day after finals I met with my psychiatrist to change my meds again ( my 5th major med change) to try and help with the suicidal tendencies and mood fluctuations. This summer I took the organic chem lab that I was supposed to have taken in the fall ( I couldn't get into the lab at the same time I took the lecture and I couldn't in the spring either).

Currently I am finishing retaking the second semester of organic.... I'm failing it again. I talked to my professor a couple of weeks ago and she basically said to study more. I talked to her this last week and she said I should either drop the class or do an informal audit. I'm choosing to do the audit in the hopes that it will help prepare me better for taking the class a *third* time.

I started getting suicidal ideation again starting about 2.5 weeks ago. My psychiatrist and psychologist are aware of this. I reach out to my natural support system if I feel like I can't deal with myself anymore.

After I decided to audit the class the suicidal thoughts have eased up a bit. They aren't nearly as intense or as frequent.

I'm super frustrated and irritated with myself for failing it *again*.The class is super accelerated and intense. Lecture from 8:30-11:10am with no break and lab from 12-2:50pm. I know I am being hard on myself and should probably give myself some slack.... I feel like I shouldn't be doing that though. It's been 2.5 years since the first episode and I don't feel even close to being "normal". I say "normal" loosely because I am probably never doing to feel like I did before the first episode.

I used to be incredibly driven and motivated and would take a challenge and run with it. If I wanted something I went out and got it. If I got knocked down I would get back up- over and over and over and over again. I miss that feeling *so* much. I miss being intrinsically motivated to conquer the world.

Does anyone else know the feeling I'm talking about? And does that feeling ever return? The only time I feel even close to that way is when I am manic. Except when I'm manic I'm more intense and less productive. . . .

I'm currently double majoring in psych and neuroscience. I want to go into clinical research on mood disorders. I want to figure out how and why the brain works the way it does and how it can be so incredibly brilliant and destructive at the same time.

Thanks for reading all of this if you made it this far. It was a bit longer than it probably should have been...
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by Spm24 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 2:34 pm

Dogirl1313,

Welcome to the forum. It is nice to meet you.

It sounds as though you have been through a tumultuous time these last few years. But from the sounds of it you have kept moving right along. Which is very admirable.

That feeling does return. I think if you take a close look you will see you have it still. It might not be a great as it once was but it is still there. Am I going to say it will return fully no I won't because that is something that is different in each person. Give everything time.

Normal takes on a whole different meaning once our episodes rear their heads. But you will come to what is your normal hopefully in the near future....
Snowflakes gently floating from the sky just dusting the ground. Then it picks up bigger fatter flakes cascading from space at a faster rate. From a dusting to a trace. Then the deluge comes. Oh what joy. Watching everything slow to a crawl, then a stop. Step outside and even with things moving it is quiet. It is a giant muffler the earth is wearing. Causing everything to be muted.To be calm.
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by Duckysmom » Fri Jul 28, 2017 3:35 pm

You sound like an incredibly strong, determined young woman. Keep up the fight, but cut yourself some slack. You can get back to "normal" but it may be a new "normal" for you. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Glad you are seeking to get well. That really should be your biggest goal. Mental health is the most important part right now. But that doesn't mean giving up. Does your school offer assistance for disabilities? You should check with your health center. Sorry your proffessor wasn't more understanding.
"Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one."
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by hal » Fri Jul 28, 2017 3:50 pm

Hi Dogirl,

Don't worry about your post being too long I enjoyed reading it. You've had a hard time of it. But there is hope... getting the meds right and some effective therapy does wonders. That doesn't mean there won't be setbacks, but you can have a good life. I'm classic BP1, and I have (76 y.o.).
. . . all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone.
-- Tennyson
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by Dogirl1313 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 6:57 pm

In my professor's defense I didn't tell her about the bipolar until I went to ask her about dropping. I wish I would have been able to hack it of course- it just wasn't in the cards for me.

As for accommodations, I didn't request any my first semester and I did for the spring semester. They helped to a degree ( extra test taking time/taking tests in a secluded room and getting copies of notes from another student).

I also contacted the mental health department on campus so they know what's going on and I can contact one of the therapists there if I can't get in to see my regular therapist.
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by Dogirl1313 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:03 pm

As for the normal feeling. Thanks for the insight. Most people just give me a confused look when I try to explain what I mean regarding it. I've had people tell me I seem the same - like the old Sami if you will- I'm just calmer and less intense all the time. That I actually function and have a life compared to being a workaholic all the time.

I told my therapist being medicated is like going from driving a Ferrari- strong, fast, powerful- to driving a Prius- small, efficient, slower and more controlled. And no matter what you do that Prius is never going to be a Ferrari. That the Ferrari is a whole lot more fun to drive but isn't very practical- especially when you lose control.
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by AvantGarde » Fri Jul 28, 2017 11:21 pm

Hey and welcome :) I'm sorry about the ups and downs, you have been through a lot these past few years and you perservered. You should be very proud of yourself.

I agree with Ducky that you'll find a new normal, whatever that means for you. It just takes time to adjust to that. Unfortunately, with a mental illness, or several, we need to accept we have it, meaning have its' symptoms and working with them in our behalf. Maybe an idea you could take to your therapist and work on it (I do that with mine). For example, when we're up, we enjoy the productivity, when we're down we take a few extra breaks. Recognizing triggers and immediatly act on not getting sucked in an episode is another 'trick' we learn with time, but I'm sure that one you figured out already.

Now, a not so good perspective depending at how you look at it. Sometimes we do need to put our mental health as the priority and work around it. Is there any way you can postpone taking that class to somewhere in the future? You wouldn't need to keep knocking at the doors of failure because of your episodes, and do it when you have a better grasp of your mental health.

I took years off college until I'm positive I'm able to handle it. I had to. But I have a lot of issues (such as trauma) to work through that need my undivided attention, I don't think that's your situation right now. But I had a talk with my pdoc (psychiatrist) and tdoc (therapist) and with my mom and told them all I need to focus on getting better and getting to a place where I can actually handle being around myself. I'm getting there.

What happens to me is that I have periods of not being able to focus, to read or to pay attention, my mind is racing with thoughts that have nothing to do with the issues that I need to pay attention to, making it impossible for me to sit to long hours classes or do homework every day. I managed to get good grades at the course I was taking, but dropped off some classes in the end, not even going to the semester's finals. I finally dropped off the degree altogether and decided for a different course. It's been 1 year and a half since I decided to stop studying for a while and I just started trauma therapy 4 months ago. Hopefully in the Fall of 2018 I go back.
But here's the thing, I don't see it as failure. My mental health comes first, that's all. If long hours of studying give me symptoms that I can't manage, I can't spend that many hours studying. I didn't even mention the psychosis or the suicidal ideation.

I'm not saying you should do the same thing as me, but it's an option to take a not so heavy class for a while until you find some stability.

I think that determination you're talking about comes back when we're finally able to handle the illnesses we have, if we keep butting our heads on the wall of 'impossible
to deal with' we end up always on the frustration game. It's work we need to do for ourselves, unfortunately it's not just taking pills and talking about triggers, it's actual work to adjust our lives to what we have.

I think this long ass post sounds a bit condescending, it's not my intention, it's just what I learned along the way. So sorry if you feel it's condescending, it's really not!

Just to add that I think it's awesome you want to study mood disorders, that's great :) Keep it up!
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by Dogirl1313 » Sat Jul 29, 2017 9:30 am

AvantGarde,

I don't think your post seemed condescending. It was helpful. I've talked with my parents about taking a semester off- I haven't decided to. I was initially not planning on taking this second class this summer- figuring I needed a break (especially since I've been in school continuously since last summer).

I talked to my tdoc about it and she thought I should consider taking it because of how long it will be before I can retake it. ( It didn't fit in my fall semester schedule so the earliest I am going to be able to take it is in the spring). She didn't pressure me into taking it- only to explore that option. She thought I should consider how much material I am going to forget over a year.

This next semester I am signed up to take 13 credits I believe (compared to the 15 I took last spring) so hopefully the lighter work load will be more manageable.

With my tdoc we've worked a bit on the acceptance piece and learning to work with myself and not against myself. I should probably bring that up again though...
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by AvantGarde » Sat Jul 29, 2017 9:43 am

It's good that you're doing good work on yourself, and not taking extra load.

Taking this class can seem like an experiment that isn't working out, though. I think if it's bringing you suicidal thoughts, you either cut those thoughts by the root (if you figure out how let me know :)) or you cut the class, never yourself out of the picture. It's an extreme measure and so not worth it over one class that you can just take next spring.

Sometimes we seem very strong but we're kinda crumbling inside, but we're too proud to even say it in therapy. Leading our tdocs to think we're stronger in the moment than we actually are and when we say we aren't that strong, they will believe the strong part of us instead of the weak. It's not that we are not strong, but sometimes overwhelming anxiety and other emotions come into play that cloud our judgement. We either face them like the mind trick they are or fall for it. I think you are strong enough to face the mind trick, but that doesn't mean you need to deal with the mind trick just so you don't take a class in the spring. See where I'm getting at? Priorities, and mental health is the number one for us.

A bit off topic, but related. The idea of "recovery" with mental illnesses like the ones we have, chronic and uncurable, leads mental health professionals, and us too, to think we're better off working our asses off and just dealing with it, when we actually have the saner choice of taking it slow. Something for you and me to ponder, as I'm going through other issues that are relatable to this particular idea.
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by Dogirl1313 » Mon Aug 07, 2017 10:31 pm

Quick update. I ended up finishing my summer classes last week. I ended up passing my chem lab (C which I'm very happy about since I thought I didn't pass the class) The suicidal thoughts have virtually stopped.

I have a few week off before fall semester starts. I'm already going a bit stir crazy because I have a lot of unstructured time on my hands... which is when I tend to spiral. I have a tendency to get too caught up in my own thoughts and blow issues out of proportion. Hopefully things will get better once school starts up again...
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by AvantGarde » Mon Aug 07, 2017 10:36 pm

Congrats for being able to pull through and finish :)
Good luck with pdoc appt today!
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by Pancake » Mon Aug 07, 2017 11:13 pm

Well done on getting through it all. Have you decided what load you're going to take on next semester?
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by Spm24 » Tue Aug 08, 2017 4:41 am

Good job on finishing your summer classes. But more on passing your chem class..
Snowflakes gently floating from the sky just dusting the ground. Then it picks up bigger fatter flakes cascading from space at a faster rate. From a dusting to a trace. Then the deluge comes. Oh what joy. Watching everything slow to a crawl, then a stop. Step outside and even with things moving it is quiet. It is a giant muffler the earth is wearing. Causing everything to be muted.To be calm.
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by Dogirl1313 » Tue Aug 08, 2017 8:32 pm

This fall I'm signed up to take 13 credits- psych based English, intro to neuroscience, research methods (for psych) and biology.
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