Mental Illness and University Life

In addition to being a parent and a mental health patient, I’m also working my way through a Bachelor’s degree at the moment. It’s a bit of a struggle.

For three years I was a fulltime student, and I even dealt with some pretty severe ups and downs – my daughter needing surgery in another city, my relationship of nearly five years breaking up and leaving me a single parent, and then my mother having a stroke. I was riding the highs and lows of my illness, and still managing a B+/A- average. I honestly don’t know how, but I was managing.

Last year I switched universities, having moved cities to be nearer my mum so we could help support each other. The first semester went ok and I pulled 3 A- grades out of the hat. I went into the second semester, and all was ok. Then, halfway through, I moved in with my new partner. It was a good thing, and I was happy with it, but the depression hit, and it hit HARD. I stopped going to Uni. I stopped leaving the house. I lost my way.

This breakdown in functioning sent me back into the mental health system, and gave me the diagnoses of bipolar (maybe) and PTSD with treatment resistant depression (maybe). I felt like I lost my way, that my dreams were fading. But damn it, I am going to get my degree! It doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ve worked far too hard to give up.

I’ve switched back to my old university, which offers distance learning options. This has been an excellent thing for me, it means that when I am well, I can work ahead, so that if things go wrong I can take a day or three off and not worry about it.

I’ve also dropped down to part-time, taking only two papers per semester. I need to keep myself stable, and that means not putting myself under too much pressure. It’s going to take longer that it would have if I were well, but I’m more focused on completing my degree to the best of my ability than I am on doing it quickly.

My dream of going into teaching has fallen by the wayside at the moment. I don’t think I would be able to teach five or six classes of teenagers every day and keep myself well at the moment. There’s always the option of going back and doing it later.

My new ambition is to complete my degree, get myself well, and then go overseas, probably to London, and do either a Classics or an Archaeology masters. It’s a very long-term goal, but if I get good grades, and get myself stable and well, then maybe five or six years’ time, it can become a reality. I need something to work towards, and this seems like a reasonable goal.

Being a student, a mother, and mentally ill is a huge challenge. I want to make it work, to achieve everything I possibly can, to prove to my old English teacher that I haven’t wasted my life. I am bright, determined, and I will not let my mental illness stop me.

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