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I am a 29 year old woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and also suffer from general anxiety and panic attacks. I have only been recently diagnosed but have been ill since I was a teenager. I tend to have mixed-manic episodes, hence the name of my blog. I am a regular guest blogger for Black Dog Tribe. I am not a mental health professional. I am just writing from my own experiences with mental illness. If you wish to use any of my blog content please contact me at lababup@gmail.com. Visit me on twitter @lababup

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Mental illness and my lost life in academia

I was never someone who had career ambitions really. In fact, when I was at school, I didn’t really even really consider what kind of job I would have in the future. However, there was one thing I knew: I wanted to learn everything I could about how the world worked. I was motivated by the dream of understanding the world. And I have to admit, I was also partially motivated by the feelings I got by being good at academic subjects. I wanted to do well in exams and feel like I had achieved something.  

As I worked through my degree, the drive to do well in the subjects I was interested in was overwhelming. I am a shy person and most people didn’t really believe in me. I can come across as not very serious and a bit distracted at times so I certainly don’t appear like someone who would be good at something academic. I wanted to prove people wrong and show them that first impressions are misleading. I started my PhD with a feeling of excitement. I had found something I could be recognised for. My self-esteem became tied up with this recognition.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, my world changed. Suddenly I was incapable of working on my PhD. My brain was overwhelmed with energy and I was highly agitated. I was experiencing a bipolar mixed state and my anxiety levels were sky high. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write either. That was 3 years ago. I have never recovered.

My ambition to finish my PhD now looks increasingly unlikely. This realisation has been devastating to me. My self-esteem has been tied up with what I can achieve academically and suddenly this has been taken away from me. My whole sense of self has become eroded. Now I am totally adrift and don’t know what to do with myself. 

Each day has been filled with nothingness. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how I have spent the last few years. There have been many dog walks and also a lot of sitting. There have been trips to the shops for shoe laces and other such exciting objects. There has been a lot of tea and coffee drinking. When you don’t have any routine in your days you fill them with strange beverage drinking customs. I have developed a schedule of drinking times and have a multitude of options for different occasions. This is how I survive through the days.

My academic life had become a huge part of who I am. Mental illness has taken that away from me. I was wrong to let academic achievement define who I was but it was so easy to when I had such a vague sense of self to begin with. Everyone wants to be recognised for something. My mistake was getting too carried away with what people thought of me and letting it rule my life.

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