This piece is part of a new column on experiences of mental illness at the University. Submit personal experiences or article ideas to Features Editors Jake Lahut and Emma Davis at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the prevailing stigma surrounding mental illness on and off campus, this author has chosen to remain anonymous.
I experienced bouts of depression in high school, but my illness did not fully emerge until the second semester of last year. When I arrived back on campus after winter break, I became extremely depressed and panic attacks returned. Nobody noticed; I am very good at masking symptoms and I did not tell anyone.
I would sit in Espwesso with a friend while my heart raced so fast that I wanted to throw up, and often I did. Even writing this, I can feel the anxiety in my chest. Even though I have not had a panic attack in six months, having a single one causes me to become petrified of having another.
Last spring, things got worse and worse. I went to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and was matched with an extern who helped minimally as my depression consumed me. He listened but would never give me advice. I started cutting, but I resisted being medicated or informing anyone, save one or two friends, because I thought I could get through it on my own. I cannot help thinking in retrospect that this has to do with the stigmatization of mental illness.
Then the seasons changed, and I thought I was better, much better. I did not feel sad anymore. Instead, I felt euphoric.
For a while, it was great. I was extremely productive; I could stay up really late with no consequences, and my mood overall was agreeable. So I stopped seeing the extern at CAPS.
Eventually, however, I was not okay. Something was wrong. My thoughts raced and would not stop. I started speaking faster and over people. The euphoria was something I had never experienced and morphed into an intense energy that would flow through me.
The excess of energy was painful at times. I was not in control of myself. I was doing things that were based on impulse. I started cutting again in order to slow my body down. I had no idea what was happening to me.
One day, I made an emergency appointment with CAPS. I told the doctor that I had been feeling euphoric, that I had been cutting myself, that for the past three days the only thing I could think about over and over again was stabbing myself.
At the end of that 30-minute appointment, the doctor gave me some handouts about meditation and other activities that I could do to ease my suffering. He told me to call CAPS to schedule an appointment. The CAPS receptionist told me I could see another extern in two weeks—something really bad could have happened in that time.
I saw the same extern as before, and he told me that I may have been suffering from mania. He could not say for sure because he was not a doctor. At this point, I had told my parents about my depressive and manic symptoms, and they desperately wanted me to see the CAPS psychiatrist. But I couldn’t. This was early April of 2016, and she was booked for the rest of the year.
I was suffering and felt hopeless. That night, I went to do layout for The Argus, and while I was there, I crashed into a depression.
I have been extremely disappointed in CAPS ever since I started seeing them. I was initially dismayed by the lack of support and was truly frightened when my CAPS therapist told me the psychiatrist could not see me. I was even more frightened when I called psychiatrists in Middletown off a list CAPS provided, and no one could see me.
Eventually, I found a prescriber in Middletown, and after receiving my first prescriptions, the catharsis I felt was profound. It gave me hope after not being able to see the University’s psychiatrist and after months of seeing an extern who gave me little to no relief.
I am privileged enough that I was able to see a Middletown APRN for two sessions before I went home for the summer. Privilege has wide implications for the treatment of mental illness. Prescribers’ fees prevent many from accessing treatment that they desperately need. That is why it is so dangerous that we do not have a prescriber on campus at this time.
I have been seeing the same Middletown APRN this fall, and we have been able to reach stability after I did not succeed over the summer. She recently diagnosed me with bipolar II and prescribed me two medications, including one that would relieve my anxiety immediately. It has taken me until this week to feel close to normal again.
Soon, I may not be able to see the APRN because of the exorbitant fee she charges per session; my family can only get so much back through insurance. I am so scared, even though I am on medication, of crashing into a depression or becoming hypomanic again.
Nonetheless, my privilege saved me. It is why I am able to tell this story. But mental illness pervades all intersections of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, and I can only imagine what those students who cannot seek out help in Middletown are feeling: constant hopelessness.
Not having an APRN on campus is extremely harmful to the University community. My friend just ran out of her medication but cannot get more because her refills ran out. She has stopped taking her prescription. I do not understand how this issue is not a priority.
To those who cannot afford to go into Middletown for healthcare and who are suffering as a result, I am so sorry. You deserve much better. It is unacceptable and dangerous that there is no prescriber on campus.
One thing I deeply regret looking back over these last 10 months: not reaching out. I resisted telling my parents and close friends about my suffering because I was ashamed and felt that I was weak. I thought I could get through it by myself. I resisted going to CAPS and taking medication.
What saved me was the support of my friends and family, and I cannot thank them enough, but it was also my privilege that enabled me to get the help I needed.
Occasionally, when I became more open after my illness, I faced dismissals that trivialized my experience from both family and friends. If someone says they are hurting, believe them and listen. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Often there is nothing concrete you can do, except to listen.
If you have a mental illness, believe that it will get better, even though it is hard to think that way. I told myself that it would over and over again while I was having a panic attack; when I cried myself to sleep; when I couldn’t control my thoughts, the energy in my body, or my impulsivity; and when I woke up the next morning with cuts down my thigh. That hope kept me going even at my lowest points.
Many of my friends do not know that I am bipolar or the degree of the pain I went through these last 10 months. This was difficult to write, but I hope it will help destigmatize mental illness on campus. Please call CAPS if you need to talk. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to reach out and how much I regret not doing so.