In regards to learning about bipolar disorder, most information online mainly pertains to adults living with this disease and its harmful effects toward their family or work life. Many individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder can be susceptible to the world of addiction and substance abuse. The duration and aftermath of manic or depressive episodes can definitely put a strain on relationships with loved ones. Additionally, most articles focus on ensuring living with bipolar disorder is not a nightmare in the long run.
However, not much information is present online for the younger individuals living with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed throughout an individual’s lifetime; initial symptoms can appear as early as late teens or early twenties (Silver, 2019). An individual entering an age of adulthood and living with bipolar disorder is not an easy task. What about the young adults and teenagers starting a new chapter in their life, like college?
It was until her freshman year when student Andrea Garza was diagnosed with bipolar II and realized her life “doesn’t have to be like this forever.”. Before her diagnosis, Andrea felt simply broken and was not able to transition into college properly. She constantly felt abnormally confused from meeting all the new peers. Deep down, however, Andrea felt something was not right and needed answers immediately before dreading college life.
After her diagnosis, Andrea felt she found the answers she was searching for this whole time. There was no longer the need to feel alone as she quickly learned the struggles young adults experience in college.
Before Andrea was diagnosed, she displayed symptoms of bipolar disorder during her childhood. Her first manic episode occurred in elementary school; as the years passed on the episodes seemed to occur more frequently (Meyertons, 2018). In her teenage years, she used alcohol to self-medicate to offset the confusion of her manic feelings. Bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse can be viewed as a dangerous combination. A heavy dose of alcohol with heightened symptoms of bipolar disorder can lead to an escalated risk of mood swings, depressive or suicidal thoughts, and engaging in violent acts (Hall-Flavin, 2019).
Andrea’s first year of undergrad was very difficult for her to adjust to while experiencing episodes of hypomania. College is constantly circulating drugs and alcohol. It was very common for individuals to have their first episode on campus and be unaware their behavior is characterized as bipolar (Meyertons, 2018). Due to her hypomanic episodes, Andrea discovered she had small sparks of productivity which helped her finish her work for most classes, yet found grave difficulty in going to her classes. Andrea states, “Every task is an impossible task,” and how she could not “even process the thought of showering or eating” (Meyertons, 2018). After going through her first fall semester, she finally sought out professional help and treatment.
An estimated 2.8% of individuals as young as 18 are diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the United States. Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder categorized when an individual experiences drastic changes in mood and behavior. The causes of this condition are quite puzzling for doctors; most research indicates genetic and environmental factors which contribute to the disorder onset. Bipolar disorder is also commonly referred to as manic-depressive disorder due to the energetic, happy, and active “up” mood behavior during peak of a manic episode. However, this energetic behavior can follow up with a depressive episode or “down” mood where one can feel immensely sad, hopeless, or less active . These changes in mood, or “mood swing” episodes, could last from hours to even months.
Andrea was on an antipsychotic drug for roughly two years before switching to another drug with reduced side effects compared to the previous drug she was on. After switching to a new medication, Andrea began to experience severe withdrawal symptoms and a new range of side effects (Meyertons, 2018). Then, Andrea stopped taking medication and going to therapy. Shortly after, she experienced a full blown manic episode. Once the manic episode took a toll on Andrea, she fell into a highly depressive state. Entering a depressive state after stopping medication is fairly common behavior for bipolar 2 disorder.
Currently, Andrea is very grateful for medication and swears medication is the reason she is alive today. She was one of many individuals caught in an environment where bipolar is not spoken about enough and young adults quickly respond with “you’re crazy” and “you’ve got issues.” Andrea urges others who have experienced a manic or hypomanic episode at college to go to the counseling and mental health services available at their campus. If you are nervous about seeking help, ask a friend to go with you or call someone at the counseling center to get started. College is a time period where one is experiencing personal growth, development and creating self-identity. Andrea stresses a great importance for accepting yourself and being open with others. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Being bipolar does not have to shape who you are.
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