Learning to cope with bipolar disorder at university

NoushyBear explains how going to university seemed like a way to escape her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Instead, she was forced to confront it.

True Stories

girl in white hat

Noush hoped uni would be an escape

Hey, so i am Noush, I am a 21 year old female who loves cats and shoes, I am incredibly partial to a nice bag of malteasers and a cuppa tea, and I am doing a degree in psychology. I sound like any normal girl of 21 years, but there is one major difference. I have a severe mental health disorder which affects me every day.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at aged 18 after a long stint in mental health wards. I take medication daily and I see a psychiatrist once a week.

Fear of being seen as “crazy”

When I first was diagnosed I was ashamed to be classed as “crazy” (as i saw it, even I, someone who suffered with mental health problems had this initial pre-judgment that so many have). But learning to live with this disorder I came to realise that I am just sick as many people are, people get illnesses in different formats, some have problems with arthritis, others have difficulty with asthma, I had problems with my mind. It took a long time to realise I am not ashamed to have BPD, but I still am conscious of who I tell because of the pre-conceptions many in this country have. So I’m here to share my story with you, so that perhaps if you know someone or think you may suffer yourself with a problem, you can see that the way I ended up getting help was not the best way, had I gone to a doctor sooner I could have had the answers I needed so much sooner and saved myself and others a lot of pain.

I felt different

All the way through school I would go home and sometimes cry myself to sleep so worried that everyone hated me, because I was worried that I was felt different to other people. Aged 13, I overdosed, I have absolutely no explanation for this other than I felt such utter despair it rocked straight through my core leaving me with emptiness. For years after this I just sailed along trying to handle my up and downs and my paranoia, then at 16 I was sexually assaulted by a boy and from this moment on everything flared up and I became a direct danger to myself. I began to self-harm.

Moving away

I moved to London at aged 18, I never believe I truly came to terms with being sexually assaulted at just 16, and when the opportunity to run came (for me it was through university) I took it with both hands. I felt like I could completely reinvent myself, and through this reinvention perhaps I could change my past.

I was very wrong and in fact it was the start of an incredibly downhill spiral that almost resulted in my death. I began to starve myself, my obsession with reinventing myself began with grasping for control in every aspect of my life I could, one consequence being that I am now in approximately £3000 worth of debt due to spontaneous spending.

But in my eyes there was nothing wrong, I was finally in control and I loved every minute of it. That’s what I thought, until the highs would leave, and all I would be left with was an uncontrollable loneliness, a despair which I could not even describe, which led to self harm. There were some of these states where I genuinely would not remember what had happened, and had no idea I had attacked myself until I came out of that episode.

I call these moments where I dissociated “episodes” – mainly because I still struggle to see that it was me who committed these acts, and this gives me some sort of distance. One night just before Christmas I had a particularly bad episode that led to me being hospitalised. It was a close call and it was here that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (BPD). This meant my life finally began to make sense.

A life beyond mental health

I immediately was moved away from London, now being 19, and this meant leaving my degree. I was under constant supervision ensuring I ate and didn’t self-harm and started on a strict regimen of drugs and therapy. I moved back home with my family and began to get myself back on track.

I still find myself on the edge, I am always worried that a trigger will come along and set my BPD off, but I decided I wasn’t going to let it rule my life. I registered back at university near my home, and switched to do a psychology degree. I have done volunteer work with the police station, and I am a supervisor in a restaurant. I still have days where I feel empty and filled with despair and fear needing to be in hospital, but now I also have days where I smile, I’m managing to slowly clear my debt, and I’m managing to see a life not just surviving with mental health problems, but a life where I am actually living with it.

Mental health is not something to fear. I was placed in a mental health unit in a hospital and I was not wearing a straight jacket or rocking in a corner. Sometimes it takes realising that normal people can have mental health problems for individuals to see that it is okay to go to your doctor and ask them questions. I always knew there wasn’t something quite right, but I never was brave enough to say anything.

I always imagined that someone with mental health problems would be shouting on the bus, or spending their entire life in a hospital ward. I was wrong. It turned out that person was me.

Next Steps

  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Whatuni? offers advice on picking a university and student life, written by students.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By NoushyBear

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Picture posed by model from Shutterstock