Surviving School And University With Bipolar Disorder

June 25, 2013 Alexa Poe

Bipolar and school or university! For some, it can be like oil and water; they just don't mix.

School and university is, without a doubt, an incredibly stressful thing for adolescents and young adults to live through. There are exams and deadlines, papers and presentations, early mornings and all-nighters. These years can be especially tough for those living with bipolar disorder. The stress of school can not only trigger urges to use drugs and alcohol, but it can also trigger other things such as the urge to self-injure and to over-work oneself, which can sometimes lead to severe depression or mania, hospitalizations, and even suicide.

Bipolar At School And University

For me, I began university at the same time as first being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I was a caffeine junky -- I had my fill of energy drinks and cigarettes. -- and it took me quite some time to learn effective coping strategies in order to do well. I was so obsessed with my school work and the idea of doing well as everyone else did so easily, or so I perceived, that I felt inferior to everyone else. I felt as if I was unable to read and comprehend things like others did, and that I couldn't keep up with the workload and have a social life at the same time. Everyone else seemed to be able to handle life, and I was spending my time just trying to get myself out of bed every morning.

Ways to Cope With Bipolar and School

  • Remember to breathe. Every morning upon waking, take a second and sit on the side of the bed, and just take a few deep breathes. Remember that today is a new day. Throughout the day, pay attention to your breathing. Do you feel tense? Take a second to breathe deeply and calm your mind.
  • Don't forget: you are not your peers. Even though it took me ages to believe this, I finally learned and believed that I am not like other people. No one is. Every person has their own work ethic, temperaments, and stress thresholds. All of us learn in different ways, and all of us have our own strengths and weaknesses. Sure, there are a few people out there who never have to study and can ace every exam, but most people are doing their own thing at their own pace.
  • Most universities have disability services. Don't be afraid to go to their office and see what they have to say.
  • Try to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. A student's social life is very important during these years, of course, but before ordering another beer, remember that it's important to remember that alcohol and drugs can affect your moods and medications, as well as disrupt sleep.
  • Make a detailed schedule. Even now, I find it very hard to make myself get up from my work and take some time out for myself. I find that it helps to create a schedule for the day of all of the tasks I need to complete within a given time frame, but I also force myself to schedule in breaks as well. Not only do you need breaks to recharge, but breaks also help you retain information.

How do all of you cope with bipolar disorder while in school? What have you found that works or doesn't work for you? What would you like to implement?

You can also find Alexa Poe on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Poe, A. (2013, June 25). Surviving School And University With Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 17 from

Author: Alexa Poe

Trent Pellegrino
February, 19 2018 at 3:56 am

This is a really hard burden to bear. I've a neighbor at my campus with bipolar disorder and his quick changes in the mood was scary for the first time.

June, 26 2013 at 3:31 am

My bipolar symptoms started when I was in college. It seems like I went from being "normal" to a completely different person in the span of a few months. I was not sleeping, I was barely eating, I was having daily panic attacks and extreme bouts of depression.
I tried my hardest to cope, but I found schoolwork becoming more and more difficult. It didn't help that I was in a very intense university-level course.
Eventually I was hospitalized, and I had several ER trips after that. I ended up having to extend my program by a year so I didn't break down again (though I did end up back in hospital about a year later)
I remember feeling so inferior to everyone else because I had always been the smart girl, the girl that finished first, and here I was falling behind my classmates.
I told the instructors of my course about my disorder, and they were extremely accepting. Both had worked previously in the mental health field, so they were likely more understanding than other folks would be. They were amazed that, after all I went through, I was still standing and still wanting to continue with school.
It was actually interesting for both of us, as they got to see how my disorder progressed, and I was able to speak with them about what I was going through. I was able to get extensions on assignments when I was in a depressive episode, and extra help from counsellors. It was definitely beneficial, in my case, to ask for help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
June, 26 2013 at 4:51 am

Thank you so much for sharing your story! It's amazing that you had the courage to tell your instructors about your disorder -- that's something that many of us struggle with, and a lot of students aren't even aware that their university offers services for them.
Again, thank you very much for sharing, and I hope you're well!
-- Alexa

June, 25 2013 at 1:46 pm

I learned I was bipolar a few years before I started my masters degree in special education. I was doing fine until I crashed in the middle of a practicum and failed the darn thing. I wasn't keeping a schedule and was staying up late to keep up with the demands of the student teaching,plus one of my meds stopped working. It just wasn't a recipe for success. I did a lot better once I had a normal schedule and kept to my med schedule. I'd like to see a program made available to instructors so that they can learn about mental illness and not have so much stigma attached to it. Fear of stigma and discrimination kept me from telling my supervising instructor that I was bipolar. I really believe that such a program would be beneficial for all.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
June, 25 2013 at 4:28 pm

A program like that sounds like a great idea. It's always the students that are the main focus when spreading the word in the community, and it would be a great opportunity for faculty as well. Thank you so much for sharing, and I hope you're well!
-- Alexa

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