Hi. I'm new here.
My name is Alexis.
I'm 21, in college majoring in English Lit/Philosophy, and I've recently spiraled downward into a soul-sapping, nonproductive impasse (a "bad phase"). Having been treated for over a decade for clinical depression, I've begun to wonder of late if maybe I actually have been operating/treating under a faulty diagnosis. Consider my symptoms. Since about age 11, I've experienced "cyclical" bouts of dysthymia for either months or years at a time. My first truly horrific year was in 8th grade, at age 13. I basically turned many aspects of my life upside down, cut myself off from many people, and purposely neglected academic pursuits (despite being an excellent student). My parents considered putting me into a psych ward, but instead we continued to see my shrink, who was sure it would all pass. And it did. I actually did have a pretty steady 2 years following that, followed by an EXCELLENT, uber-productive junior year in high school. Then, senior year, I flatlined again. I barely got through that year, because I missed so much school due to "absences" that I became terribly behind in all my (advanced) courses. Somehow, I managed to get through without sabotaging my GPA (always my worst fear - letting my internal traumas prevent from me becoming a success in the world).
Now, I'm in college, and have enjoyed a generally positive experience. I'm definitely among the top students of my university, have career goals in mind, and things seemed to be going my way. Perhaps I had outgrown my demons at last?
But, sadly, no.
I should add, before I extrapolate on my current situation, that I underwent a period of severe traumatic stress from approximately last spring (06) through (and most significantly during) the Fall of 2006. First, last spring my mother was diagnosed with a recurrent brain tumor (she's had one since 1992 - it's low grade & was "dormant" until that horrible April '06 announcement came) and the majority of spring & summer was spent (for me, but for all of us) in shock of how we could be dealt this circumstance TWICE, this horrible situation that HAD BEEN BEHIND US. It was past, not present! I couldn't deal with the absurdity. I point this out because at this time the first signs/symptoms of a new depressive cycle betrayed themselves. I waved it away, chalking it up to "general stress" that could be (and was being) experienced by anyone at such a time. To make it short, we were lucky - my mother got a top surgeon in the world to perform a truly miraculous operation on her brain, and the entire tumor was removed from her head. In addition, we were told her prognosis was again excellent & that the mild chemo-like treatments she would be receiving were very effective on a patient with her fortunes (removing the tumor is the best possible scenario in every case). Sooo...things actually kind of got back to normal. I started school again, and my first half of the semester was going smoothly, when life threw us another unexpected chain of events. My FATHER accidentally punctured himself on a tool, and ended up in the hospital with severe septicemia. At the time, I had no idea how serious this was, but it slowly occurred to me that my father COULD DIE (and nearly did twice). I missed a month and a half of school, effectively killing my semester. My father - again, miraculously - pulled through & is now home again, and is near fully recovered. My mother is still doing well. Things are looking up. Life SHOULD BE BACK TO NORMAL FOR ME, right?
That, sadly, isn't seeming to happen. Perhaps, this time, it was prompted by a sort of Post-Traumatic Stress condition, but the fact is I am once again in the midst of a crippling depressive phase. And the stakes have never been higher. I have a lot to lose this time.
In fact, I currently find myself in a hole that I feel I will never be able to pull myself out of. I feel I have sabotaged my academic career (I have soo much makeup work to do), and worst of all, I'm beginning to feel that maybe I will never be able to escape my positive/negative cyclical behaviors. I'm convinced now I will be forced to quit college & attempt a career without a degree, which is a prospect that someone of my academic accord finds terrifying. I mean, I want to be a music journalist, period. You shouldn't need a degree for that, but these days, you need one to even clean a toilet I guess I'm really afraid that maybe I'll never, at any age or point in life, be able to truly function at 100%. The high standards I set for myself galvanize me into excellence when I am going through a "good phase". These same standards darn me to failure when I am experiencing a negative era simply because I cannot physically muster the strength to attain that level of achievement during these low periods. What if this happens during my career? What if I land my dream job only to sabotage it with a poor work ethic months/years later?
I'm facing a crisis, and I have the presence of mind to know it.
What I DON'T know is what to do about it. I feel like Liz Wurtzel in Prozac Nation - she always said no one believed her until she was suicidal; no one knows what to do when a smart, high-achieving female falls apart. They sometimes just ignore you. And she doesn't know where her internal dichotomy will lead her - will she be doomed to never achieve her true potential because of the inconsistencies of mindset?
Now, I am NOT suicidal. I am, however, extremely concerned. I WANT to save myself, but I don't know how, and I'm not sure a 21 y/o girl's crisis will be taken seriously by very many at the university. Sure, I'm a good student, but all the good will I had built for me via good grades etc. is squandered now with all the "incomplete marks" yet to be rectified. I feel they will just dismiss me as another low-achiever, a number they can expell. I need someone to intervene and make things right again. At this point, the fear of where this predicament will lead next is fueling the depression even more. It's meta-depression now.
Have you heard of a bipolar disorder that contains these highs and lows, but over the period of months and years, not weeks & days? Dysthymia seems to account for many of my symptoms, but then, sometimes my depressive phases are more akin to SEVERE rather than MILD depression. My "highs", unlike typical BP, are of a desirable, productive, and healthily ambitious nature; they are not mania, unless it's a subtle mania I am unaware of.
I am sorry about this long rant; I basically had a breakdown 2 hours ago & I came online to do some research, found this place, and figured "what the hell?" And so here we are.
Any advice anyone can give would be appreciated, any stories from fellow sufferers would be welcome, too. Mostly I need guidance and insight on the academic aspects of this. In your experience, how tolerant are universities with students in crisis?