When I got diagnosed, I was attending a university and on my way to getting a bachelors of computer science. I was a pretty fastidious student in my first year and my grades were excellent. But before I knew what a mental illness was, I became sick and my grades dropped. It was only some time later that it became clear it was because I had bipolar disorder.
“You should drop out of school; you’re never going to be able to finish your degree.”
Getting a University Degree is Hard
Getting a university degree isn’t easy; if it was, everyone would do it. So given that it’s difficult for even the mentally well, it’s understandable that it would be particularly difficult for the mentally ill. It’s OK. Life poses challenges, pretty much all the time.
Accept it’s going to be difficult. Accept it’s going to be more difficult for you than for others. That’s just how it’s going to be.
Getting a University Degree Isn’t Impossible
However, just because it’s hard, that doesn’t make it impossible. I do hard things all the time as do we all. Writing books? Hard. Having kids? Hard. Marriage? Hard. Bipolar? Hard. We’re wired for the hard stuff.
How to Tackle University with a Mental Illness
1. Drop classes – you’re not going to have the same bandwidth as everyone else so stop pretending that you do. There’s no shame in saying you need to take a bit longer to complete your degree. There’s no shame in making modifications to something really difficult to make it more doable for you. If you burn yourself out on classes, you’re not going to graduate and you’re going to sacrifice your mental health.
2. Take easy electives – yes, it’s possible you really want to take advanced math-o-biochemistry-computerology but try to give yourself a break and take introduction to the modern sit-com instead. You’ll thank me come midterms.
3. Talk to your professors; get extensions – talk to your professors early. When you see a storm a-coming, that is the time to talk to them – not after you’re in a full-blown episode. Most professors are very understanding and will make reasonable modifications to due dates and make-up exams if you just talk to them openly about it. Get a doctor’s note if you need it.
4. Prioritize school; work harder – you’re probably going to have to do more work for lesser grades. Just accept that. But if you really want to go to school and you really want good grades, then spend every moment you can devoted to that pursuit. If a degree is really what you want, act like it.
I Got a Degree. I Have Bipolar Disorder.
I managed to get my bachelors of computer science. I had to go to school 6 semesters back-to-back (no summers off) and it took me a year longer than it should have, but I did it. I can’t promise everyone can do that, but I can say that when you really want something, you need to find inventive ways to help you get it.
Having a disability isn’t so much about closing doors as much as it is about redefining how they look.