This morning on the Today Show, I saw a segment on a mental health advocate, Kevin Breel. I learned that, as a young adult, he too suffered from depression. He became a mental health advocate, and today he has become especially inspirational and popular, and has even given a TED talk.

Like so many of us, Kevin Breel masked his depression. By hearing his story, I began thinking about how, even in our day and age, the stigma surrounding mental illness is still highly prevalent, and this is not acceptable.

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For months now, as my final semester of university quickly approached, I was freaking out about taking my most dreaded (and difficult) class during my last semester. If I didn’t do well, my graduation would be delayed. As my therapist would say, graduating late would be the worst that could happen, but to me, this meant the end of the world.

For days I felt as if a huge rock was sitting on my chest, pressing down and preventing me from breathing. I felt guilty and inferior to everyone else – no one else seemed to have the same difficulty as I did with this class – and I began fearing the worst. I just knew that I would soon fall into that usual pattern of procrastinating any work for fear or failing, and staying in bed because I just couldn’t face real life.

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Sometimes I look down at my to-do list and at an assignment that I’ve been trying to work on for ages, and I just feel like I’m inadequate, stupid, and why am I even in college? I always feel like no one else ever feels this way. I look around at the people in the library, and they’re writing diligently and reading with seemingly no problem. So what’s wrong with me?

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On Monday, Aaron Alexis went on a shooting spree in a Navy yard in Washington D.C.. So far, we know that he killed 12 people and wounded 8 others, and the rampage ended with the death of Alexis. While watching the news coverage, all I heard about was Alexis’ mental health history and how he could have “slipped through the system.” Why is our mental health system always to blame? Why is it that many people automatically turn to the perpetrator’s mental health as the only explanation to these heinous crimes? Are we just looking for someone or something to blame? Could it be that this person is just mean or evil? He could have had a perfectly healthy mind.

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While brainstorming ideas for this week’s blog, I kept noticing that all of the tips and suggestions that our doctors and support groups give us throughout our bipolar recovery are repetitive, and can become frustrating to hear over-and-over again. I always think to myself I do those things! I’m trying! but I always seem to find myself stuck in that rut of hopelessness. I try my best to maintain a regular sleep schedule, I exercise, I track my moods… But while in school, I still feel completely overwhelmed and hopeless as if I haven’t learned any coping strategies at all. (read: Bipolar Disorder and the Pressure to Get Better)

So this week, I’ve decided to do something a little different. While waiting to fall asleep the other night, I created a mental list of little things that may seem silly to some, but that I have realized have helped me throughout my time away at school and during tough times –things that a lot of doctors never really think of or mention to students with bipolar disorder.
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I learned today that a family friend was killed yesterday morning in a work-related accident. I didn’t know him too well, but he was admired and loved. After learning of the accident, I felt my heart breaking.

I live my life as if I am invincible. I drive maniacally and participate in potentially dangerous behaviors, and I do it all while thinking that nothing can possibly hurt me, that I am too young, and that I have so many things to accomplish. Just yesterday, though, our family friend, who was loved and always helping others while doing the things that he loved, was gone in a split second – taken away from us. I’m sure he thought the same things as I do, that nothing could possibly happen to him. That he was too young and had so much to live for.

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At 8:30 in the morning, my commuter parking deck on campus was already packed. I could feel my irritability bubbling up, about to explode, and I wanted to cry. Once stepping foot outside of the parking deck, the entire campus was crowded and packed with people and cars racing around the city.

I’ve been at this campus for ages, and this is only the third day of the fall semester. Of course it will be packed. It’s time for incoming freshmen to get acclimated, explore, meet new people… Time for football (or basketball at VCU!), city festivals, and trying new restaurants in the city… This should be exciting for me, but instead I feel what I call my “Bad Mania” coming on.

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It’s that time of year again. There are only a few weeks left until this upcoming fall semester and the beginning of a new school year arrives. For many of us, this little vacation has been a brief reprieve from the stress, emotions, and hard work, but it’s now time to return and we all need to be mentally prepared.

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When irrational thoughts associated with bipolar disorder occur, how does one even begin to formulate friendships?

When I’m in public, I feel as if everyone is watching me and talking about me, or making internal judgments. I’m always acutely aware of every person in the vicinity; watching their movements, noticing any eye contact, listening for whispers. Cognitively, I know that this is irrational. I know that I am not the center of everyone’s attention, that there is nothing wrong with my physical appearance and actions. In all reality, the majority of those people haven’t even given me a second thought. But when you have irrational thoughts like these, it can be difficult to develop friendships.

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Two semesters ago, a year before I was due to graduate, I was ready to quit school. I would sit in my therapist’s office and cry at the thought of going back to campus that following Monday, and it negatively affected my mental health in so many ways. I would freak out and cry at the drop of a hat, I would freeze up in class and become so jittery that I could barely sit in class.

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