The College Years
College. I remember those days. It’s hard to believe that this May will be 6 years since I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Fairmont State (a small school in Fairmont, West Virginia).
I remember those days like yesterday. I remember the college ministry that I was a part of that gave me such great community and direction for life. I remember attending two different churches in hopes of a more authentic encounter with God. Then, things changed.
I remember losing my virginity at the age of 21 and passing out many nights at a bar after drinking something called a Purple Hippo. I don’t know if Hippos would like being purple, but if they would, they sure as hell would pack a punch.
I remember living away from home (my grandma’s house) for the first time in the look in her eyes that beamed with love and pride when I told her “Grandma, I got the job at the college. I’m going to be an RA next year.” I remember the tear that rolled down her cheek when I left the house to go live in the dorms and how she would conveniently try to get me to come over once a week for food because, even though she never went to college, she knew the food served should have violated the 8th Amendment which states “cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted.”
Moving away from the safety of my grandma’s watchful eye and support was hard. I would miss her, but I knew it was important for me to go and get the real college experience. And get it I did.
The next year would result in more sex, more drinking, and more shenanigans than I’d ever engaged in. Up to that point, I had hung out with the Jewish Carpenter and his friends (my church folk) more than other worldly peeps. I don’t mean this as a negative commentary on either group, just a statement of fact. Apparently, during my experimental season, I still managed to show some semblance of kindness and goodness because one of my residents still tells me to this day that she respects me and I helped her get closer to God. Now, that’s a beautiful and humbling picture of grace, because trust me, godly living could not have been further from my goal.
Oh, and speaking of God, I went on a mission trip to China. It was epic. The biggest thing I remember about this trip is that I flipped on my campus pastor and still remember him saying “What’s wrong with you?” This would be the first of many (and I mean many) agitated outbursts I would have as a result of Bipolar Depression. It happened on a mission trip. So much for “Be angry and sin not.” Oh well, I got to walk on the Great Wall and squat to poop. I also ate some of the best real Chinese food. It was great. Oh, and I may have had some authentic encounters with real pWhat a trip!
Walking Away from God and Wisdom
After coming back from China, I got involved with drinking and sex. The dynamic duo of the “unholy behaviors”. So I did what any good Christian would do, I walked away from the Church. I guess the reason why is because I had a hard time reconciling my ‘sinful’ ways with my curiosity and inquisitive nature. It seemed that these “off limit” areas were fashioned more out of man’s desire for control me than God’s desire for me to have a good life. So I decided to let the Big Guy take a back seat while I tried to figure everything out and enjoy the experience.
I met a girl at this time. Her name’s not important, but the story is. This girl had a guy. They were dating and later engaged. We had sex. Not once, not twice, but a lot. I still can’t think of Orange Juice or Peach Schnapps without thinking of this girl. I happily cheated with her because she was intoxicating. She made me feel loved, feel safe, and did I mention good sex? She was my first. The church boy was saving it for someone special. We all save it for someone special until alcohol and altered thinking make just about anyone seem “special”. But, it happened. I don’t regret it, per se, but I do regret the cheating. Because, as you can see from earlier blog Bipolar Tale: School Years and Sex Scandals dad cheated. I didn’t want to be dad. I knew better, but I walked away from the wisdom of my heart, friends, and God. Sadly, this would not be the last time alcohol would send me spiraling downward because of poor choices, but it was the first.
Secret Depression and Subpar Performance
I half-assed my way through college at this time. I was depressed (secretly) and would isolate myself in a dark dorm room. Think of a very small and dark closet and then half that in size and you probably had the size of my dorm.
This was the first time I decided to start taking my medication when I wanted to. I was taking Zoloft at the time and when I decided that I felt better, would stop taking it. Can any other Bipolar people relate to the insanity of the ‘take your medicine when you want to?’ I can. It still can be a struggle for me, at times. If you want to know my thoughts on medicine, feel free to look at my earlier post ‘Why I believe in God and Medicine.’
This period of time was also when I started to question what I wanted to be when I grew up. I changed my major probably 5 different times then I remember my dad saying ‘Just commit yourself to something and finish it.’ I’ve never been good at making decisions and struggle with it still to this day. It’s as if my mind can (and will) imagine every possible scenario and possibility and I become so overwhelmed with the ‘what ifs’ that I am paralyzed by fear to take a single step. Thankfully, I’m learning that little by little you can make decisions, good or bad, and still move forward. It’s a gift from life. I now try to turn failure into growth.
Nobody knew I was Bipolar back then, hell, even I didn’t. I just knew I had severe down days and then random periods of “Life is fucking great!”. I even got diagnosed with Mono during this season of my life (twice)! Damn girl and her good sex.
Wisdom of the Ages
After Mono decided to kick my ass twice, I tried to make an academic comeback, and eventually did.
I remember one of my favorite professors sitting me down in her office, looking me straight in the face and saying “Dan, either you take care of yourself or this thing WILL go chronic. You have to take care of yourself.” I would try to argue back with her and tell her I was fine, but in perfectly counseling fashion (I’d later learn this little reflective trick), she shot down every argument and rebuttal I hide and was the first person to call me out on my terrible self-care practices. To this very day, I go through periods of intense working and pushing myself until I crash and then am back at it. Only within the last year have I started to learn the importance of routine, sleep, less alcohol and crap food, and that I need to treat my body like I kind of like it, let it alone love it.
I was thankful for her anger at my ridiculous thinking. In a way, I felt loved despite how upset I thought she was. Funny how we think people really are angry at us when they really care about deeply and only want the best for us. Can anyone relate?
Thanks to grace, Zoloft, hypomanic inducing B12 shots, and a shit ton of coffee; I graduated college with a 3.7 overall, was Magna Cum Laude, and even got to wear a cool rope around my neck. Thankfully it’s the only rope I’ve ever had around my neck, because the only other time I can think of a rope around ones neck is not in favor of the person wearing it.
My professor tried to offer me wisdom “You have to take care of yourself”, but did I listen? Of course not. Do we ever listen when we should? I know I don’t. I’m stubborn. But, I’m trying, little by little and getting better day by day.
I’m thankful for the seasoned people in my life. I say ‘Wisdom of the Ages’ because that’s how wisdom can work. We can learn from anyone outside of ourselves—younger, older, the same age. But, in order to learn, we have to be open to listen to the perspective from another set of eyes and experiences. This is something I’m much better at today, at 31, then I was at 21. I guess I really didn’t know everything. Hmm. A novel thought.
Graduation came and went. I walked, I smiled, I had a nice day (no, not Mick Foley). I wish I could say this was the best day of my life, the last time I would go to college, and that when I walked across the stage as a graduate that I would walk towards the American Dream of prosperity, wealth, and a family; but none of this is true. What I did walk towards were darker days of anxiety, depression, mood swings, and drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.
The years that would follow led me towards my degree in counseling, my own personal therapy, more good sex, and more drinking; which would eventually put me sitting across a Psychiatrist and hearing the words for the first time “You have Bipolar Disorder.”