Struggles With Mental Illness in College, Part 2

            In a previous blog entry, I wrote about my struggles during the first year and a half of college before I began treatment.  This entry will be about my struggles after my treatment began.  Just because I was under treatment didn’t mean my problems were over.

            During the last three years of my collegiate career, I never achieved the quality of grades I had during my first year of college.  I also changed over to a different major.  I originally started college as a pre-pharmacy student.  After a year and a half of struggling with my mental illness as well as my classes, my grades were bad enough that I wasn’t going to be getting into pharmacy school.  I needed a change.

            I switched to a business management major, which was a surprise to my family.  I had never taken any business classes in high school.  I didn’t have much of an aptitude for sales, and I was quite an introvert.  So to my family and friends the move didn’t make much sense.  But to me it made a great deal of sense.

            In my line of thinking at the time, I wanted to be able to be employable with a good job as soon as I graduated from college.  Even though I was really passionate about literature and history, I always figured I could read all the history books and classics of literature on my own time when I wasn’t studying for my business classes.  With my best friend being a history education student helping me out with history and classical literature books, which is exactly what I did.

            I admit with this “Dual Study Program” with my studying business classes officially by day and reading my classical literature and history books late at night and on the weekends, I didn’t have much time for outside socialization.  I had my small core group of friends, and I also made it a point to be friendly as possible to as many fellow students as possible.

            As the last three years of college went on I slowly picked up a few more friends and gradually went to more social activities.  There were a few music bands on campus that occasionally played weekend concerts that I went to.  They were pretty much cover bands that also played some of their own material.   I made a few friends with some of the band members through that.

            I also made a few friends through some of my business clubs like Students In Free Enterprise.  I also went to many of my college’s home baseball and basketball games.  I preferred the baseball games because of the more laid-back atmosphere of baseball and I had a few friends on the team.  I also made a few friends through games of softball, ultimate Frisbee, and flag football.  I wasn’t a fast runner but could be a vicious blocker.

            I bring all of this up to show that I was able to have the average college experience in spite of having a mental illness.  There were a few things I obviously couldn’t do, namely the drinking scene because of my medications.  But I wasn’t in college to drink and drug.  I was there to get a degree.

            I didn’t work during the school year because of the stress of going to school full time, having a mental illness, and having a job would have just been too much.  So I worked in the summers instead.  It also helped that I had a good academic scholarship based on my grades.  Even though I wasn’t getting straight A’s, I was still managing to do well.  And I was enjoying the college experience at the same time. 

            A strange thing happened during my last year of college, I became interested in writing.  I had been reading voraciously the previously two years, so I suppose that writing would only be the next logical step.

            All of the struggles, problems, victories, and defeats of five years of college came to a culmination on May 8, 2004.  That was the day I graduated from college.  Graduating from college meant that I had overcome the problems of mental illness and accomplished my life long goal of finishing college.

            While it’s been several years and I still haven’t found permanent employment in my major, I still won because I was able to finish college.  I thank God that I was able to finish in spite of my illness.  Finishing college by itself is hard enough.  Throwing a mental illness in the mix makes the degree of difficulty pretty steep.  I hope that by finishing college that perhaps someday I can encourage someone with a mental illness to reach for and achieve their dreams.

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Coping During Difficult Times With Mental Illness

          We all have difficult times when it seems the breaks are beating us and absolutely nothing is going our way.  Sometimes things seem bad enough that no matter what we do, things just get worse.  This is true for even the most sane of people.  Yet this is even tougher for those of us who are mentally ill.  We can become agitated and disoriented even on average days.  On days when things are going especially bad, the situations that arise can become almost too heavy of a burden to bear.

            This is where finding the strength to continue on comes in.  Strength to fight the good fight can come from several different sources.  A source of strength for a mentally ill person can come from a support person.  A support person, whether it is a family member, a friend, a doctor, a counselor, or anyone to hold us accountable can help anyone cope with difficulties.

            Everyone needs friends and family to lean on during tough times.  Human beings are not meant to be alone and isolated.  This is true especially of the mentally ill.  We who are mentally ill need to have support systems in place for when things go wrong.  Believe me, they will go wrong.

            The support system can comfort you, calm your fears, and let you know that these difficult times will not last.  Those of us who have weathered the storms of mental illness and come out stronger because of them are in turn better able to help those who are just starting out.  It is easy to bemoan that we are different or can’t do what we used to.  But that won’t make it any easier for us.  And it certainly won’t make us more able to weather the next round of storms or help someone else in need.  It sometimes takes an honest and loving support person to remind us of this during our times of distress.

            Do not give up.  Giving up is not an option.  Strength can come from many sources, even from within.  Strength to continue on will sometimes be the only thing that carries you through one moment to the next.