I can safely sit here, two days after turning 20, and tell you that you will be okay. You aren’t sure that you’re even going to make it to see yourself graduate high school–let alone make it through the pandemic that’s coming–but please believe me when I say that you will.
I know you’re probably sleeping through AP Lit again, but I need you to read this as soon as you wake up. Actually, email Mrs. Hall and tell her not to worry, you’re okay, and you’ll see her in class tomorrow, then read this–really read this.
You need help. I say this in the most loving way possible, but you will be absolutely screwed without it. I know you’re thinking: “But I go to therapy!”, but are you invested in it? Are you genuinely taking stock of your emotions and honestly communicating them? Or are you using therapy as a weekly excuse from classes? I don’t mean to be harsh, but I know you (because I am you, fast-forward 2 years) and I know you don’t listen to anything but the plain truth, so I’ll say it again. You need help. You are not okay, and you haven’t been okay for a long time. Yeah, self-medicating will seem like it is working for a little while, and it will get you through most of senior year, but I can tell you now that you’re going to need a whole lot more than the xans you’ve been buying off of the kid in your health class.
I can tell you that the mood swings are only going to get worse–much worse. You won’t believe me, but there is going to come a time where you are so detached from reality in a manic episode that you’re too high on God knows what to register that you’re being sexually assaulted at a party, and there will be times where you’re so depressed that you find yourself spending your 18th birthday seriously contemplating suicide. Your grades will be fine, thanks to the mania-fueled make-up work and study slams, but that won’t change the fact that you are not fine.
I can tell you that you’re going to get diagnosed with bipolar disorder on your third day of classes at NYU (yes, you got in), and it’s going to scare you because even though it perfectly makes sense of your high highs and even lower lows, you’ll think you’ve just been sentenced to a life of medication adjustments and disabling instability. Your advisor is going to ask you if you’ve considered a five-year graduation plan, and you’re going to break down in tears when you google the success rates of college students with bipolar disorder. You’re going to feel so incredibly lost because not only are you going to be navigating college as a first-gen student, you are also going to be trying to navigate the world of accommodations for students with disabilities–a world in which you’ll be navigating alone because Mom isn’t going to see your illness as a real disability for another year or so. It’s going to frustrate the Hell out of you, because you know she has an understanding of the system that can only come from her 18 years of experience in working the system for your brother, but please know that she will come around. She will eventually stop comparing your psychological disabilities to his physical disabilities.
You’re going to get pissed off at every show, every book, and every movie with a bipolar character in it because you’re going to be sick and tired of seeing the same pattern where having bipolar disorder means being crazy, poor, homeless, and/or destined for failure. You’re going to be frustrated by doctors that can’t tell you exactly why you have what you have. You’re going to want to scream at pharmacists that can’t fill your prescriptions, even though it’s not their fault that you weren’t notified that your insurance was no longer going to be accepted there. And, you’re going to struggle to resist the urge to blatantly call some of your professors ableist when they repeatedly attempt to dismiss the importance of having and using your accommodations (but you’ll only do this once, and honestly, that prof deserved it).
At this point, I know you’re thinking “Well this is fucked,” but let me finish. Even though Mom isn’t going to believe that you have bipolar disorder, she’ll stop blaming your hormone replacement therapy after a while. She won’t know how to conceptualize it as a disability, but she will try her damnedest to show you that you are loved and capable. You’re going to find a good therapist (who is British!) that is going to help you fill out forms and teach you how to advocate for yourself and your needs. You’re going to get better at recognizing when you’re slipping into an episode, and you’re going to become comfortable with telling–not asking–your professors that you need to take a disability-related absence. You’re going to stop telling yourself that you don’t have a “real” disability, and you’re going to learn to stop minimizing your experiences as a student with disabilities. You’re going to get on the right medications and have accommodations that make you feel like you have a fighting chance to graduate in four years.
Now, it’ll by no means be perfect or easy or anything of the sort. It will be a hot mess. You’re going to miss deadlines (lots of them) before being diagnosed with ADHD. You’re going to get loads of rejections from jobs and leadership positions before a doctor thinks to place you on the spectrum. But with each new biomedical label that is tacked on, instead of feeling broken or defective, you’ll start to appreciate having the new language to understand your brain and behavior. Thank God you never pity yourself–you’re always going to be pretty good at finding upsides to your labeled illnesses.
Not to delve into inspiration porn, but you’ll always reject any notions of being limited by recognizing the things your illnesses make you good at. Rather than being embarrassed by feeling in extremes, you grow to appreciate feeling and experiencing life deeply. Even though you can rarely focus in your chemistry lecture, you are an absolute boss in the chem lab (because I guess chemicals and fire just capture your attention, huh?). Even though you can’t maintain eye contact, you know so many random facts you could probably win Jeopardy, and you’re far more attuned to body language and tone than anyone else you know. The hardships that you’re going to face, and overcome, are going to make you a more compassionate, yet fiery and firm, person that knows how to advocate for both himself and others. You’re going to figure out that you want to grow up and be a doctor that works with disabled teens and young adults, and you’re not going to let anyone use your disabilities as a reason to suggest a change in your career path.
None of this is to say that an easy road lays ahead of you. I mean it when I say it’s going to suck. Yes, there will be times when you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, but you know that those will come with the eventual sinking back down to the lowest points of your life. But, my point is that it isn’t all going to be bad. There are going to be times that will make you so grateful to be alive. You’re going to see Harry fucking Styles on Halloween. You’re going to march in history-making protests. You’re going to laugh so, so much. Oh, and you’re going to get a cat and name her Miss Nacho, and she will be your best friend.
I can safely sit here, two days after turning 20, and tell you that you will be okay. You aren’t sure that you’re even going to make it to see yourself graduate high school–let alone make it through the pandemic that’s coming–but please believe me when I say that you will. You will learn how to live with your illnesses and you will learn that they do not define you. They are just a few pieces of the utterly complex, one-million-piece puzzle that is you.
Hang in there.