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High School Homework: Imagine Having Bipolar Disorder

I make my living as a private tutor.

One of my students is a 16-year-old high school junior, enrolled in an elective English course entitled Psychology and Literature.

His most recent assignment was to research a mental illness and then write a creative piece from inside the mind of a person with this disorder.

What do you think of this assignment?

  • Is it helpful to get young people to try to imagine what mental illness might be like?
  • Is it disrespectful towards people with mental illnesses?

Of course I referred my student to the resources and blogs available here on PsychCentral, and I had him read excerpts from The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon. We also discussed the works of Kay Redfield Jameson.

Here’s his creative piece.  We’d like to know what you think!

Rubber Bullets and Metal Chains

I feel warmth on my face and open my eyes to see sunlight coming through my apartment window.  I turn over and see that my alarm clock reads 6:15.   I have 2 hours until I need to go to work.  I’m too awake to fall back asleep.  I’m exuberant and ready for the day!

Two whole hours! That is such a long time to get things done.  Looking around my apartment I see dishes that need cleaning, clothes that need folding and a floor that needs vacuuming.  That’s easy to do in an hour! I turn to my mirror and see a scruffy beard that makes me look homeless.  I’m not going to look homeless around my boss. I’m getting that promotion this week! I just need to get more work done; going early today would be perfect!  I’ve got a ton of time to do that too!

I need to shave the beard off my face first, shower, and then clean this messy room.  I’m a rubber bullet shot into a room made of steel! I’m not hungry, I bet I can do this in thirty minutes, and be at work at 7 o’clock sharp, I don’t need to eat. Quick, rapid, speedy!  Coming an hour early will show him I can get this promotion and that I’m not hopeless like he thinks I am.  I am confident about this!

Vacuuming by my bed, but my bed looks messy, I’m fixing it now, I see my favorite shirt I’m going to wear today, it needs to be ironed, I’m going to get my iron, I see myself in the mirror again, this beard needs shaving, I go to the bathroom, maybe I should warm up the shower while I put shaving cream on, I don’t need shaving cream to shave or need to wait for the shower, the only way to get all this done is to do both at the same time, the shower is cold but it will take too long to get warm, I step into the ice and my shaving cream washes off, I shave anyway, I hear the vacuum still on I rush out of the shower to turn it off, but I see I haven’t set up my ironing board up yet, the vacuum is still on, I turn it off on my way to get my shirt, I should get pants, I’m ironing my shirt, I forgot my pants, I need to find good pants, I rip through my drawer and can’t find the pair I was looking for, I ironed the front of my shirt, the front is the only part that counts, I’m not turning my back today, I grab a random pair of pants off the floor, put on my shirt, and then my pants, I see myself in the mirror I look good, my clothes are wet but that will dry before I get to work, nice and early… SEVEN THIRTY OHMYLORD!!!  How did this happen?

I will no longer be an hour early to work.  So much for being fast this morning and my room is even messier. Ah whatever, I can fix that when I get home.

There’s no need to run down the stairs now, I can now calmly make my way to work on time.  But at least I’m not going to be late.  While I’m on the street walking towards my car I draw a few looks because of my wet clothes.  Maybe I should’ve taken the time to dry myself.  Now I look like a fool.

I make my way to my car, open it and sit.  I sink into the cushions and feel enveloped like I was molded into the seat.  I look at the key in my hand and get a weird sense.  Unsure of what it is at first I check myself.  I run through all the items I should have on me.  Work shoes, nice socks, pants (wet but manageable), shirt, tie… I figure out the sense was one of remembrance.  I forgot something.  I have my keys in my hand, phone in my front pocket, and my wallet is molded in the seat cushions.  I look to the passenger seat of my beat up Neon and see that it is empty.  MY BAG! I left it all the way up in my apartment!  Ah man, now I am not even going to be on time to work!  I sink further into my seat.

Is it even worth it to go back up and get it?  I’m sitting and contemplating this to myself.  Is it even important?  I mean, I don’t even use it that much; it just looks good to walk in with one.  I’m not going to get that promotion anyways, my boss hates me.  He will fire me, it doesn’t matter if it is tomorrow or next month, it will happen eventually.  So what does the bag matter?  A few missing papers won’t effect the outcome of anything.

So it is decided to go without the bag because honestly no one will care about it.  I look out to the road and see traffic… moving … fast… why is everyone speeding?  They’re all blurs.  The world is moving too fast for me. They should slow down… there is no way I can keep up with that sort of velocity.  Well I should turn on my car and try from there.

Put the key… into the ignition.  I look at my hand loosely held onto the key.  I cage the key with my fingers, one by one, to ensure that it does not lose my grasp.  My head is stationary in the mold as my eyes watch my keys… carefully.  I start to try raising my keys to the ignition… since when have these keys weighed so much?  They don’t seem to budge from its immobile position.  I can move them with my fingers, but my arm refuses.  It’s like someone chained me onto my seat… I am not motivated to do this whole moving thing.

I move my eyes to my other hand to take a look at my watch.  The sleeve covers the hour digits, but the minutes read fifty eight.  Whatever the hour actually is won’t matter because I know I’ll be late… well, who cares.  This is just one more day that I will be tardy, and a few dollars less that I will receive on my paycheck.  It’s not even worth the energy to turn on my car.

I hate numbers.  They always screw me over.  When I’m late to work it’s because I am some number of minutes late.  I went to community college because I only could get a certain number of points on my tests.  I live in that crappy apartment because I only have a certain number of dollars.  Life would be much better without these numbers, these guidelines.  That really makes me get angry.

The rubber bullet is reloaded.  These chains hold me back less.

Screw it, I’ll show up to work anyways.  I fight out of these chains and get that that key into the ignition.  It turns with ease, but the engine struggles.  The bullet is shot into the room of steel.  WHY DOESN’T THIS CAR TURN ON?  One more turn of this key better make the engine work.  I turn, the engine chugs, then dies.  GOD THIS IS PISSING ME OFF.  I punch the already broken glove box with my already broken fist.  If it doesn’t turn on now my head is going through the steering wheel.  Key turns, and the engine’s familiar broken hum is heard.  That was annoying.

I pull out into the blurs of the road, and nearly get clipped by some yahoo driving some German car, figures.  I lay on my horn.  They always think they’re so much better than the beat up neon driving on the road.  My hands grip the steering wheel and my knuckles turn white with the exception of two which are black and blue.  I rapidly check all my mirrors to see if some other pig wants to pull that.

I’m grinding my teeth as I see the first intersection in the distance. The light is green.  It better stay that way.  OF COURSE, it turns to that red.  That red really ticks me off.  Why couldn’t it stay green just a little longer?  Waiting for the light to change pedestrians cross, and stare at my car like it was road kill.  God I’d love to bust one of those goons in the jaw.  I accelerate once the light is green.  My heart is racing with anger while my car is racing to beat the next light.  I lose AGAIN.  I slam on my brakes and I come to a screeching halt.

My eyes and my head are rapidly looking around the street and everything I see just makes me angrier.  There is an unfinished building, a person jaywalking, a fancy car, a couple holding hands, a kid running without a parent, a broken streetlight, and a pothole.  The veins in my hand are bulging and I feel sweat on my brow.

I hear a horn behind me.  “QUIT IT YOU HOOLIGAN!” I scream out the window.  Looking up, there is a green light, and I stomp the accelerator as hard as possible.  The tires screech and I speed off down the road.  My surroundings are just a blur.  I’m moving too fast for my world.

In the distance I see a green color, then a yellow color, and then a red.  I know I should stop.  I have no intention to though.  I HATE THAT RED.

I can’t stop myself, but that car crossing my path does.

Good Music for a Good Cause: UFO’s album, Unity Creates Strength, benefits Chile and Haiti.

High School Homework: Imagine Having Bipolar Disorder

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2019). High School Homework: Imagine Having Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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