With college there is more responsibility and more independence. Dealing with symptoms of a mental illness while taking on that responsibility and independence can be a difficult balancing act. Increasing your support system is the key to achieving balance and being successful in college.
Being honest with the appropriate school employees about the symptoms you are dealing with is very important. Your advisor should be informed so that if something arises during the school year where you need additional assistance or if you need to withdraw, the advisor can help immediately. As a last resort, medical withdrawals can often be arranged with appropriate documentation. While you will still be responsible financially for that semester, a medical withdrawal will not affect your GPA.
To avoid a last resort scenario my best advice is to register with your school’s office of Disability Support. Every school, including community colleges, should have this available. This has been my greatest asset during my college career. At first, I was reluctant to register with them and so for my first several semesters I avoided doing so. I did not believe my illness was that bad to warrant it. I usually only had trouble once or twice a semester. Now that I have experienced how helpful they have been, I wish I would have registered with them from the beginning. Beyond the tangible services offered, I feel a sense of relief knowing I have someone on my side.
The Disability Support office requests certain medical information. Usually something from a psychiatrist is required. Then you can ask for, or they will provide, certain accommodations. Your professors are notified of the accommodations through the Disability Support office. The professors are only told of the accommodations. They do not know the medical reason behind them.
I have used the Disability Support office for both online and in-person classes. In my online classes I was given additional time to take quizzes and tests. Even though this option was available each test, I rarely used it. When I did, however, the extra time was the key to me getting a good grade. I also believe having the extra time prevented me from needing it, as my mind was sharper without the fear of running out of time.
When I used Disability Support for in-person classes, I was given additional test time and was able to take my tests in the Disability Support office. The room was quiet with no distractions. I never used the extra time but the quiet space helped me focus and took away a lot of the anxiety I had about taking tests. College is a challenge and mental illnesses are a challenge. Navigating them both at the same time can seem like an insurmountable task. If you can allow yourself some extra supports and surround yourself with people who can advocate for you when you are not well, you will thrive, not just survive.
Take it slow. This is the best advice that I would give someone who is just starting college. I love doing so many things. If I had my way, I'd be a dancer, I'd be on the speech team, I'd volunteer every day of the week, I'd work at a coffee shop, I'd go to the gym, I'd be in the orchestra and the choir. If there were enough hours in the day, I would do it all. Unfortunately, I cannot do it all.
With everything college has to offer, the last thing I want to spend my time thinking about is my mental illness. With treatment up to eight hours a week and having to cope with symptoms that flare up, coping with mental illness can take up a lot of time! I get frustrated with my peers without mental illness because it seems like they can do so many more things than I can. It just doesn't seem fair.
My first semester in college, I tried to do everything. I tried taking four classes, volunteering with three clubs and singing in the choir. After a few weeks, it seemed like I was always one step behind. After a few months, I was so overwhelmed that I did not get out of bed. The pressure to keep up with all my commitments was crippling. It took everything I had to do the smallest task. I only passed three of my four classes. I had to step back and remember that the reason I went to college was to learn and pass my classes. If I was going to be successful, I needed to cut back and focus on the two most important things: me, and my education.
There are still a million things that I want to do and a million more that get offered every day as I walk around campus. When I find myself wanting to commit to more than I can handle, I remind myself that I do not have to do it all now; that there is always another semester or another year to try that out. College is a full time job and taking care of yourself can be too. Take it slow as you start your education and remember that you do not have to do it all today. There is plenty of time to experience all that college has to offer.
What do YOU think?
yeah!!!! you guys, err i mean gals rock.
that was great. I ope 10000000000000 people read this. i just sent it to tons.
i wish this would have hit to my heart
when i was in college. I just couldnt keep
my head above water. I dream sometimes
that i will go back to college soon, but i
have not found my balance to be successful. thank you ladies so much you
keep my dream alive. Posted Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by chrissy peirsol at 10:53 PM
Thanks for sharing Dana and Veronica. You both gave great advice for those starting college! I haven’t started college yet so this is on my to-do list. I am currently in a program helping me to transition to college. One thing I have found to be extremely helpful was joining a local support group focused on my mental illness. I believe this could be extremely helpful for those going to college in a new community. My support group was able to provide me with local resources; and of course they knew which programs were the best ones offered in the community. Posted Monday, October 18, 2010 by Stephanie Greiner at 01:46 PM