Aytayli calls this the "denial period" that most people go through "because they are so scared and they have not connected the diagnosis with themselves [and] are afraid of feeling 'less than.'"
In spite of their recommendation, I kept on with the sessions until, at one point, I was paired with a graduate student who spent our session trying to get me to visualize being happy. I could visualize being happy on my own. I didn't need to spend $30 a visit for someone to "help" me.
I was done with counseling.
But actually, this wouldn't last long. What I thought was stress just got worse, and I was in a position to fail all my classes if things didn't change. I was desperate.
With my tail between my legs, I returned to the counseling office around the end of April.
The counselors finally gave me an unofficial diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I was heading to Colorado for summer break and they advised me to complete a psychiatric evaluation as soon as I arrived.
I read up on the symptoms, and it all made sense. In retrospect, I accepted the unofficial diagnosis, and agreed to an evaluation, because I couldn't deny that I was out of control of my life, and I was petrified by the deductions I made about myself while depressed. I was going to end up living in my mom's basement (which she doesn't even have) because I would flunk out of college, even though I had always been a responsible student and a good guy.
To salvage my classes, the assistant dean of my college, under whom I worked, advised me to request incompletes from my teachers. I had to talk with each of them to get those incompletes approved; to my surprise, they were all completely supportive. They filled out the paperwork that gave me a year to finish up my course work, helping my stress decrease and allowing me to focus on getting healthy.
It wasn't until later in the summer here in Colorado that I was officially diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, a form of bipolar wherein you cycle through manic and depressive episodes faster than the average person with the condition — sometimes daily. In addition to medication, my doctor suggested that I follow a highly regimented schedule, to offset the effects of my disorder.
Since starting meds and following a schedule, I have been significantly more stable. Though I still experience the highs and lows, they are a lot more subdued than when I was not seeking treatment. Lately, I have been trying to imagine my illness as more of a unique skill-set than anything else, one that needs to be reeled in every once in a while.
As for what I've learned? No matter what you're struggling with, take the initiative and get help. Though it may take some time, and some persistence, letting issues bottle up inside will only lead to an eventual burst, which can hurt you and the people you love the most.
This piece was first published in the Colorado Springs Independent.
If you need help, a good place to start is your school's counseling office. In addition, the following local organizations provide free resources to individuals of all ages, including support groups, lending libraries, and community education.
• Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (statewide) | 207.650.3248 or 207.809.4776 | firstname.lastname@example.org
• National Alliance on Mental Illness — Maine | 800.464.5767 | namimaine.org