I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder before heading to college. In my first weeks, I had a manic episode and was forced to drop out.

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  • I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just weeks before heading to college.

  • At school, I stopped taking my medication and became manic.

  • I was forced to leave school and move back home, but now I have a master's.

Throughout my senior year of high school in Arizona, I struggled with severe mood-disorder symptoms. I was anxious and erratic. My mood changed so rapidly that I couldn't explain or even understand what was happening to me.

About the time I started applying to colleges, my guidance counselor and the school nurse called a meeting to discuss where I was going to apply.

I worked hard in high school, graduating at the top of my class. I didn't want to stay in state for college, so at this meeting, I sat around a conference table with Ivy League viewbooks in my lap. I believed that if I could just go to a big-ticket college, all my mental-health problems would subside.

In March of my senior year, I was accepted into the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. A few weeks later, I sat in a psychiatrist's office, gnawing on my fingernails while a doctor told me and my mother that I had bipolar disorder: an illness of extremes that would need to be considered when making plans for my future.

Once I got to college, I quickly stopped taking my mood stabilizers and spiraled upward into mania

I didn't like the lithium the doctor had prescribed to even out my moods. It made my hands tremble — even when I wasn't nervous. It also made me gain a significant amount of weight. Despite the psychiatrist's diagnosis and instructions that I stay on my medication, I quit taking the pills when I got to my dorm room in fall 2002. I just wanted to be like everyone else.

I hid all the pill bottles in a desk drawer and quickly forgot about them.

It didn't take very long for me to become manic. Instead of going to my classes, I spent my days going on shopping sprees — a classic sign of bipolar mania. I then couldn't keep track of my racing thoughts, and I talked nonstop to anyone who would listen to me.

With this frenzied feeling, I stalked around my college's campus, restless and going out of my mind. After spending hours in the college bookstore, I emerged with my hands full of shopping bags. I probably spent several thousand dollars on college merchandise alone, just because I felt compelled to.

I soon felt so frenzied that I was scared enough to seek help at the counseling center

After not being able to sleep — or even stop moving — I realized that I needed to get some help. My mania was starting to turn into hardcore agitation with suicidal thoughts. I felt like I was going out of my mind. I just wanted to get some sleep and go to my classes — the things that "normal" college students do every day.

The clinical psychologist at the student health center was immediately concerned and summoned a campus safety worker to deliver me to the psychiatric emergency room. After being registered there, I paced around the lobby, tearing magazines to bits and pieces.

After speaking with me very briefly, the social worker told me that I would likely need to be admitted to the hospital's psychiatric unit to help me come down from my manic state.

After a week in the psych ward, I crashed into despair. Sitting in my dorm room, shortly after my discharge from the hospital, I wanted to die all over again. I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I had a very serious mood disorder that would affect my education and my life.

I wasn't like my roommate or any of the other students in my dorm.

That's when I called the psych ER's crisis line to get help for my suicidal thoughts.

I was readmitted to the inpatient psych unit. This time, the doctors didn't think I could stay in school. They called my mother and told her they wouldn't let me leave the hospital until I agreed to take a medical withdrawal from the university.

My mom traveled to my college in the middle of the night to help me pack up all my belongings from the dorm room. I had to meet with my academic advisor and the dean of students. I was so depressed — from my illness and the fact that I had to leave college just a few weeks into my first semester.

I had to accept my illness and how it would influence everything in my life

Putting my books, clothes, and all the random stuff I had accumulated on my manic shopping sprees into cardboard boxes was one of the hardest things I had ever done.

When I got back home, I went to the same psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. Leaving college was mortifying, but I was starting to accept my illness.

I enrolled at a college in state — like I probably should have from the start. I still suffered from mood swings, but it helped immeasurably to be near my family. I kept taking my medicine and learning the coping skills I needed to live with bipolar disorder for the rest of my life.

I eventually graduated from college and then earned my master's degree.

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