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Surviving College with Mental Disability

I have always thought of myself as shy and introverted. However, it did not occur to me that my apparent shyness was in fact a psychiatric condition, until it got really intense and I became 'scared of people'. I did not really understand what was going on with me, until I was diagnosed with selective mutism, a psychological disorder characterized by an inability to speak in social settings.It affects about 0.5 to 0.75 percent of kids. Now I know someone out there is thinking about how absurd this is.....and it is absurd that someone can be 'afraid of people' when he himself is a human being. Well, that is one thing I find puzzling about mental disorders. The sufferer can clearly reason that a certain behavior is illogical, yet he/ she lacks total control from preventing the behavior from manifesting. 

I began treatment for selective mutism as a teenager, when it had gotten way out of control. Often, my teachers concluded that I had a learning disability, possibly autism. At one time I was forced to repeat a grade in elementary school but my silent rebellion saved me the shame :)To date, I still exhibit characteristics of a person suffering from the disorder because I enrolled into treatment very late. I still tend to walk looking down, avoid most social situations, and at times not talk to anyone, even if I need help. This behavior comes as very shocking to the people around me and most immediately label me as 'the anti-social girl'. I must admit that it was very difficult coming to college, meeting new people and pretending that things were just okay, even though I knew I had this crippling disability that almost threatened to make a mini-hell out of my college experience. To some extent I started stigmatizing myself and concluding that I would never get better, despite receiving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy every week.  However, I was forced to withdraw my discouraging conclusion when I met a group on campus, of people suffering from mental disorders and still living and enjoying life like all normal kids on campus.

At the beginning of the semester, my psychiatrist decided to enroll me into a group of eight students experiencing various mental disorders; some having multiple mental disorders that they have managed to control over the past few years. Many of them shared the stigma and the labels given to them as students with mental disorders. I mean, our fallible human nature always prompts us to conclude that anyone who mentions that he/ she is mentally disabled is not likely to be intelligent, or better yet, will never get to attend college and even graduate with honors. Indeed the stigma associated with mental illnesses is greater than that associated with most diseases.

From this group of people I learnt a fundamental principle that I will forever hold in my life, that is, 'other people's opinions are just opinions. They can never replace the truth'. Despite the criticism they've faced concerning their disability, they continue to believe in themselves simply because they know what they are capable of. They have learnt to accept themselves as they are, because it is not their fault that they were born that way, and their disability does not define them anyway.

To cope with my mental handicap, I have decided to make changes in my life. I have resolved to first of all accept that I am disabled and that I can get better (if not completely well). I have also resolved not to hide from the world because of the shame I have towards myself. Now, I have decided to believe in myself to overcome this previously insurmountable challenge, because people have done it, and I am no more or less human than they are. 

My only wish is that people out there would understand better the challenges faced by mentally handicap children, rather than stigmatize them. The eight people I met this semester have proven that mental disability is not equivalent to inability to succeed and that given the opportunity, mentally handicap children can live a normal life and achieve dreams of their own. If you know someone with a mental handicap, I encourage you to show that you appreciate them. Quit treating them like handicap children because this only grounds the stigma associated with the disorder. It is okay to help them with a few things here and there, but treating them  like normal people will enforce the fact that they can be normal and live normal lives.

I am mentally disabled....and I am not ashamed :)


jvstanley's picture

I'm Bipolar

At one point in time I felt the stigma of mental and emotional disorders.  I've met people who are OCD, Bipolar (like myself) Borderline (like myself), Schizophrenics, Sociopaths, Masochists, Sadists, and a handful of others.  Many of these individuals are close friends of mine and because I realize how off I am upstairs sometimes I can relate more to people who have emotional disorders.  I try to put myself in their positions a lot and show empathy and patience with them.  Like you, i wasn't diagnosed with Bipolar until I got older and was already out of high school starting college.  I had suffered a great deal through my teenage years and reading back upon my journals I'm actually surprised how i had survived those years.  My therapy was always writing about it.  It seemed cleansing and enabled me to move forward with a clear head.  Sometimes it wouldn't last long and I would either become so manic or so depressive that I'd simply write constantly.  Sadly I have slacked off in this department as I've gotten older and really ought to indulge a bit more.  

It is quite trying facing those feelings, how awkward and difficult it must be for you, but I admire your bravery.  In all honesty I'm both introverted and extroverted, i seem like a walking contradiction at times and so extreme that if you and I were to meet in real life I'm not sure if you'd have the patience for me.  I also have a bit of an inferiority complex, quiet people have always made me nervous because i always assume they're judging me or don't like me, or perhaps they're angry with me for some reason.  Its quirky, weird, trying, and sometimes people have to have a lot of patience in dealing with me because I can be so scattered and chaotic.  Most of the time I have it under wraps-but I often get paranoid that when people meet me, they judge me for my own set of issues.  I realize that a lot of my issues are simply something to do with how my brain operates and all those lovely chemical imbalances, and often times when I feel my extreme emotions hit head-on I'm apologetic because I have a hard time dealing with myself sometimes that its hard for me to guage whether or not I'm hard to deal with for other people.  this of course stresses me out, bringing out the manic side...just a never ending cycle.  The bad part is that I'm never on any insurance long enough to maintain medication regime, so I'm pretty much well...stuck.  

You have some good advice in here, on so many levels.  Thank you for this.  

iracquel's picture

Thanks for sharing your

Thanks for sharing your experience. Its funny how people with mental disorder find solace in writing. I do a lot of writing myself and it helps me overcome those times when I'm just losing it. I also find that I write continuously almost for hours on end and somehow it does help relieve me of the tension that arises due to my disorder. Despite the fact that people don't understand what we go through, I think that it is helpful to maintain close contact with people going through the same kind of problem we are going through. I'm glad you are close friends with people of all sorts of disorders. I encourage you to discuss the challenges you face with them and to seek their advice on how to handle these challenges (whenever possible). I always talk to my psychiatrist because I have warmed up to her and I can talk to her about anything. And I realize that by just talking, it helps me get used to talking to 'strangers' and somehow it relieves me of the anxiety I feel, would otherwise severe my condition. It is unfortunate that you are not able to maintain treatment but that doesn't mean that you can not get well. There is a wealth of information on the internet about these things. Also, take advantage of your friends..they understand what you're going through. In addition, learn to study yourself and your thoughts....the more you know yourself, the more you are able to identify the things that tick you off. That way, you will be able to develop more positive thoughts and behaviors that will enable you to get better. As long as it may take, don't give up on it. I'm sure you've come a long way since you first decided to approach your problem...and I'm sure that with consistent effort, you will go further and you'll get better with time. I wish you all the best :)

Jay Pineda's picture

very inpsiring

I believe that by writing post admitting your mental disability, I believe that you are a really strong individual. You may think that you are always afraid of people but hey, you have managed to share this on mycollegepal -- where there are many people and most of them are college students like you. Just by posting this blogpost about yourself, you have gained all my respect. It might be very hard to come out of your shell and share your own story, but you managed to do it.

I was never aware of a mental disability like this. But I can say that I can relate to you because there are also times that I am afraid of meeting new people, well maybe not really afraid, but more of being shy, but more of being afraid that I will not get along well with these new people and as a result, I feel like I can't be myself around new people. I am always watching my actions and feel like they are judging all of my actions. I know that you can make it through. I believe that you can overcome this mentail disorder and I hope this won't hinder you from anything in the future. God Bless.

Mercer Smith's picture

I am really happy that you

I am really happy that you had a better experience than most in your situation, and that you made the best of it. It sounds like your school was very understanding of your condition and extremely eager to help you work through it and be able to conquer your classes. I can totally understand how difficult it must have been for you to be in classes with a disability that makes it difficult for you to speak in public places. I went through a similar experience in college.

All throughout my life I have found it much easier to write things than to say them out loud, that is why texting has always been so great for me ;]. In college, I began to realize that it could potentially be a problem when I found myself not wanting to speak up, and then getting anxiety about being judged as stupid when I did. Ultimately it was just linked to the fact that I have some severe paranoia as well as anxiety due to the way I was raised. Unfortunately (as I'm sure you know), even though you are diagnosed with something there aren't always ways to help it. My college didn't have a program like yours did...I wish it had.