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You Can't Get a Degree If You Have Bipolar Disorder – Myth

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.

And after months of treatment, nothing was working and one day, my doctor said to me,

“You should drop out of school; you’re never going to be able to finish your degree.”

Really? Pshaw.

Getting a University Degree is Hard

42-15641375Getting 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

But there are things you can do to stack the deck in your favor, make it more likely you will graduate.

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

35 thoughts on “You Can't Get a Degree If You Have Bipolar Disorder – Myth”

  1. Hi everyone, I was diagnosed with bipolar 18 years ago along with alcohol/drug addiction and have managed to live alongside all three leaning heavily on the 12 step programme. I recently embarked on a degree in podiatry and I’m a very mature student! I really value all the comments and advice as I feel the stress could be challenging.

  2. I have two masters degrees but a low paying, part time, crappy job. For me, school was always easier than work because work forces socializing, which is sometimes hard for me.

  3. My father was bipolar & I spent my teens & 20s hoping I never had an incident. He wasn’t diagnosed until his late 40s but it was obvious that he was a “poster boy” for the disorder. His tendency was to go towards mania & he wasn’t the “fun” manic. During this time I was depressed, & assumed I was unipolar (didn’t know the word). I went to college, dropped out, went again, dropped out, went again, dropped out. It took me 8 years to get an associates degree. The depression was too much & when you can’t get out of bed to brush your teeth, you likely wont be studying either.

    I had my first bout with mania in 2011. It cost me my job. At this point I decided to go back to school again. I believe for a 3-4 year period I was in a hypomanic to manic state. In that time I finished a Bachelors, got my masters, began grad work at an ivy league college, completed a graduate level certificate, became certified in several other subjects, & I’m considering going on to a doctorate.

    It took me 8 years to get an associates from a community college. It took me 3 years to complete the rest. Since then the mania has subsided & I can’t seem to get the ambition back to complete my course work. So I’m proof that Bipolar sufferers do have a hard time completing school, but in the right circumstances that energy can be harnessed. Had I never had my episode I’d never have lost my job, but I’d also not be considering pursuing a doctorate degree.

  4. I am 43 and I have been in recovery from type 2 Bipolar for 14 years. My first few attempts at college met with failure, but at age 38 I enrolled in Liberty University Online, and online school was a format that really worked for me. I received my Bachelor’s in Psychology/Crisis Counseling in 2015 and am now enrolled in a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program on campus at a different school. We are not “Bipolars” because our illness doesn’t define who we are or what we can become. We are not Bipolar. We are people who have Bipolar, or people in recovery from Bipolar, and once we find what works for us (for me this was nutrition and lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements prescribed by a psychiatrist, weekly chiropractic adjustments but I do realize that some need medications) and commit to doing it everyday for life, we can accomplish the same things anyone else can. It just takes longer and takes more effort. Recovery is possible for those who believe and do the work to achieve it.

  5. This blog has helped me so much. I was ready to give up today but something told me to hang on a little while longer. I’m fighting through a depressive episode as I write this but I’ll do my best to keep going. I now understand that I just have to do things a little differently and a little at a time. Please keep me in your hopes and prayers. I pray for peace for that all of those who are struggling . To those who are figuring it out and who’ve figured it out, thank you for being an inspiration and for giving me peace of mind in my storm. I’ll do my best to keep going. God Bless

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