Every intro psychology class should have a warning somewhere in big red letters that say “CAUTION: CLASS MATERIAL MAY MAKE YOU A HYPOCHONDRIAC”. I speak half facetiously and half seriously. The first psychology class I ever took covered a wide spectrum of topics, from the history of the discipline to all of its existing branches. When we briefly covered abnormal psychology, a few mental flags were raised when I started reading about different disorders and illnesses. My brain screamed “You’ve got all of these, you’re crazy! I’m crazy! You’re crazy because I’m crazy!” I was assured, however, that a lot of people get like that when they read this kind of material. I tucked away those thoughts in the back of my brain and told myself that I was alright. It wasn’t until two years later in a college AbPsych class that I realized I wasn’t.
Bipolar disorder is a tricky thing to pin down. People observing you aren’t getting the full story and just think you’re way too quiet or way too loud. You think that it’s “just a mood” you’re in and that you’ll get over it. For a while, that’s what how I rationalized my manic upswings and depressive lows. But as much as I wanted to sweep it under the rug and forget about it, it was still there, making it both hard to get out of bed and easy to think you can take on the world. By the time sophomore year of college came around, I had been dealing with these symptoms for a good six or seven years. I had simply accepted them as fact. This is who I was. I needed to deal with it. My AbPsych class changed that mentality. As we delved deeply into various neurological illnesses and disorders, the section on depression and bipolar disorder struck a nerve far more deeply than I thought it would. I vaguely knew what being depressed and manic meant, but to have the symptoms so thoroughly outlined and detailed, to have them hit so close to home, it frightened me. Still, I tried to do what I always did and forget about it.
For the next few months this duality of knowing what was wrong with me and ignoring it completely continued. It wasn’t until a talk with a concerned friend that I made the decision to walk into my school’s health center and admit out loud that I had a problem. Once my prescription was signed, there were no mental alarms going off, no figurative trumpets to herald my ascent from the bipolar pits of despair. Just a quiet comfort in knowing that I was taking a step forward.
I suppose that’s a bit heavy for a post, but personal experiences paint a far better picture of a disorder than any textbook could. My little excerpt on Psychology and Neuroscience. Naturally, I’m inclined to believe that the two are very much intertwined with each other. There are, of course, situations and scenarios where the line may become fuzzy and one may attribute a behavioral complication with a biological one, and vice versa. But when that line is clear, when you know exactly what is going on with you, when you can put a name to the shadow that’s been looming over your head for seven years, you realize you’re not crazy. You’re not weird. You can fix it.