Is there no goddess in my college : Wiki Hown: In my blog post “Schizophrenia and Ambitions,” I wrote about my college experience while developing schizophrenia. I went from a promising honor student to failing and then through to recovery, finally finishing my degree in molecular biology magna cum laude.
My first signs of schizophrenia were subtle.
Is there no goddess in my college
Here are a few things that were amiss at age 17 as a college freshman:Lack of friends and social life
During my first year at the university, I spent very little time with others. I preferred to eat by myself in the cafeteria. I never attended any dormitory get-togethers or parties. I don’t recall ever going to any kind of sports event, dance, or concert with a friend. The only exception to this was attending church, but I arrived late and left quickly when it ended. I preferred isolation.Obsession with study and work
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I was in hyper-drive. I could not stop working or studying. I would quickly eat, sleep for seven hours, and spend every free minute either studying or in the lab. Sometimes, when I had caught up with studying and lab work, I would go to the lab anyway and sit on a bench to read research articles. I simply could not stop.
I did not know at that time that my behavior had crossed the line from normal to abnormal. I was experiencing a symptom that I had never heard of before, called “mania.”Apathy and lack of interest
In my first year at the university, I pursued my dreams, which included working in the research lab and becoming concertmaster of the university’s community orchestra. These activities were fulfilling to me and made me happy. I had worked very hard to land my research position and practiced many hours a day for many years to become the first violinist and concertmaster. When I gave up these activities, I did not replace them. Instead, I spent more and more time alone, not really interested in anything.Delusions (fixed false beliefs)
My first delusions came on very slowly. During my first year in the university laboratory, my professor used to joke about winning a Nobel Prize for his research discoveries. This was unrealistic and certainly only a joke. However, I took it very seriously.
In my second semester at the university, I began researching full-time, and my grades suffered. But with the goal of being a part of a Nobel Prize-winning project, I felt my grades in classes were suddenly irrelevant. This was also a huge change for me, as I had kept a 4.0 in high school while taking difficult college classes for dual university and high school credit.
Notably, my hallucinations (altered reality) did not show up while I was in college. I dropped out in 2003 and experienced my first hallucinations on January 28, 2006.Revising the past
But what do I feel could have been done differently during my three years in college?I could have been convinced to build a social life.
My parents sat down with me and explained that having no social life was unhealthy and that I would, in fact, do better in school and research if I incorporated time in my schedule to relax and hang out with others. Of course, in my illness, I thought I knew better and was deaf to their advice.
Today, in recovery, I heavily depend on my friends. Spending time with them helps me clear my mind and feel refreshed.
Today, in recovery, I genuinely enjoy spending time with others, as well as attending my church and social events there.
I only wish that when my parents had tried to tell me I needed a social life, I would have listened!I could have shared my grades.
My grades dropped while I was working in the laboratory, but I was very secretive about this around my parents, who were spending hundreds of dollars a month to pay for my housing and the expenses my scholarship and financial aid did not cover. I had mixed feelings—I was still delusional and convinced my research project might lead to a Nobel Prize, but I think I was also quite disappointed with myself and embarrassed. I wish I had disclosed to a friend or family member that my grades had slipped and something felt wrong.I could have learned about what “mania” looked like.
When I was in college, I knew almost nothing about mental illness, including delusions, mania, and other symptoms. I wish that I had been educated to recognize various symptoms, including mania, while in high school. Perhaps if I had been educated about mania, I would have actually recognized it in myself and made the decision to change something—to work fewer hours or perhaps take a lighter course load if I wanted to spend so many hours in the lab.
At the same time, no matter what choices I made at that time, my doctor believes I still would have developed schizophrenia. Today I greatly recognize the importance of mental health education and early intervention.I could have been less afraid to see a counselor.
I never considered seeing a counselor in college. Of course, there was my academic advisor, but I saw him for short periods of time and never liked him very much. When he seemed disappointed that my grades had dropped, I felt frustrated that he was unaware my research could lead to accolades and a bright future (which was partly true but mostly unrealistic). I never really benefited from discussing my academic situation with him, and my social life, of course, was never talked about.
I used to think counselors were for people who needed help or were weak or struggling. But today, I realize that all of us really could benefit from talking through and analyzing our lives. I wonder if I might have come to notice my mania and sought help if I had met with a counselor who was better informed about emerging symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Aside from my parents, whom I was strongly pushing out of my life, the closest thing I had to a counselor was my pastor. At one point, he gently told me that my life was out of balance. It was tremendously hurtful, but he was right. And though his advice hurt, it also was eye-opening, but at that point, I did not have enough insight to act on his advice.
The stigma of brain disorders is so strong that it drives people away from seeking help. As you begin this new semester in school or continue your work, remember to spend time with others and relax. Find fulfillment in hard work, but not at the expense of your mental health. Learn about healthy habits and be on the lookout for friends and family members whose lives are out of balance, and of course, examine your own life as well. If things don’t seem right, seek help. Early treatment could significantly improve the trajectory of your life for years to come.