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Sheer terror of tranferring to a university and the possibility of returning psychosis

Posted Jul 31 2011 12:00am
I'm absolutely terrified right now. I have been grappling with the decision of whether or not to go to this university where I was admitted to for weeks, and before that was grappling with it for the past year, long before I ever applied or got denied admission or won my appeal and got admitted. I have never known for sure if I would be able to manage going to school there, and I am definitely not sure now.

The thing is, when I tell people who know me in real life, or who are my 'friends' on Facebook that I'm not sure I can do it, they will say, "Why not? Of course you can do it. It's not going to be that hard." But these people are not me. These people have no frame of reference for what it's like to be me. These people have, to my knowledge, never experienced psychosis before in their lives, much less experienced years of it. I have lived with psychosis now for thirteen years of my life, and for the first seven years of that period it was constant, florid, unmedicated, and undiagnosed. So I know what that is like. I know the hell that I went through over the years when I literally couldn't function enough to handle daily life or keep a roof over my head or keep myself out of the hospital for long. I know the delicate balance that exists inside my brain, where any amount of stress that is TOO MUCH stress tilts things too far to one side, and all goes haywire, and life becomes a total nightmare that can only be described as 'hell'. I know that I've experienced psychosis even during the good years - the past five years - when it wasn't a problem most of the time to too much of an extent, and that I have experienced it in the past few weeks to some extent. And I know, better than anybody else can know, how important it is for me to avoid anything at all that might create that imbalance in my brain that takes me out of reality and into the nightmare world.

So what I do not know, now, is what to do. I have asked for advice from a lot of people and actually have received advice from a few of them. I have thought about it a lot, weighed the pros and the cons, and contemplated what to do. I have gone to the university - the small campus they have near where I live where I would prefer to attend rather than the huge campus farther away - and I've met with admissions, financial aid, the disabilities office, and an advisor, and also taken a tour. I have spoken via phone and email with admissions advisers numerous times about different things pertaining to attending the university. And, mostly, I decided I'd go there. That is technically my decision, that I'll go there. But do I really, really want to go there? Not right now, no.

The thing is, I'm terrified. First off, I have to take more classes at that university than I'd ever have to take if I stayed at the community college, including a foreign language (four classes of one), and a statistics course, when I am horrible at math and a bit old to be learning a language as it's been 20 years since high school. And every class at that university is very likely to be more difficult, and more demanding than the ones at the community college which I know, most of the time, that I can handle. Secondly, I have no guarantee that when I graduate I'll ever be able to work full time. I have never been able to for more than a few months in my entire life. I have no reason to believe that I'll manage it in the next five years. I have no real reason to believe that getting a bachelor's degree in any particular subject makes a great amount of sense, if I can never know that I'll be able to work full time in that field and pay off the tens of thousands of dollars in loans I am going to owe when I graduate.

There are so many unknowns with this damn illness. And there is so little that other people understand about this illness. I think the worst thing about psychosis, and disorders like Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder is how entirely alone you can feel with these illnesses. I think that is the worst thing. Because for the huge majority of the population, psychosis is an entirely foreign experience that they never go through. So telling someone, "I have this disorder, and it can cause psychosis", says, essentially, nothing. I know that some of you who read this blog have been through it, and you do understand, although for many of you it is probably also a foreign concept, but at least I know you have read some of my writings and so you have a frame of reference for what I'm talking about here, while most people I know don't know the first thing about it.

I pass. I pass as "normal". I do just enough, volunteer enough, work enough hours at my part time job, take enough classes over enough years, and people think, I believe, that I don't have too much trouble with my brain. Or they know I did once, but they think it's okay now. Or they don't know me well enough to know I've ever had any trouble with my brain at all. So most people, they just have no clue. There is nobody I can really talk to who understands well what I am talking about if I mention psychosis, except for a few people I've met through NAMI over the years, and there are really a very small number of such people who I ever have contact with. There are actually only two who know my story, and I know some of theirs, and their experiences with psychosis. I know people with Bipolar Disorder, but that is different, since many people with that disorder do not experience psychosis. I know people in my family with Bipolar Disorder. None of them ever thought they were Jesus Christ, or heard voices, or bought a gun they intended to use to shoot themselves because their delusional mind told them that they were supposed to die. I know family members of people who have mental illnesses, but they don't entirely know what it's like. I don't know a lot of people I can talk to who would really, truly, get where I'm coming from and understand where I've been. And I'm not saying that my disorder is worse than any other mental illness at all, but it is different when you're psychotic than when you're not. It is an entirely different world you're living in when you're very psychotic. It is not like you can call your doctor and say, "I need some more medication," if you don't believe you can trust your doctor because you think he's a Nazi and you're a Jew and you're about to be sent to the Holocaust tomorrow.

It is not like I am worried about getting too stressed out because I might get really depressed (which is a very real possibility and has been the story of my life for some 23 years), or because I might get manic as I did years ago. Those problems can be managed better with medication than psychosis can, and when I have those problems, I generally know enough to get the help that I need. Florid psychosis is different, and I have to worry that if I get too stressed out, I won't know who I am one day. I won't know what planet I'm actually living on. I won't know what period in history I'm living in. I won't know that I can talk to anybody because they're all in on the conspiracy in my mind so I won't trust them enough to talk to them. I won't know that mental health professionals can be trusted. I won't know that the voices I hear aren't real. I won't know that the CIA isn't after me or the police or the FBI or the KGB or the Masons, or whoever. I will live in terror. I will be terrorized. Psychosis is the state of being mentally terrorized.

And I have to think that the only logical way for me to manage this possibility is to do everything in my power, everything I can, to avoid ending up in that state again. And that's how I've been living for the past six years since I got diagnosed. I avoid stress whenever possible. I avoid losing too much sleep. I take many medications regularly, and I get new ones added whenever necessary. I get an injection every two weeks. I went to therapy for four years. I've had a case manager for six years. And I try to avoid crises. But I've still had crises. Three and a half years ago, my boyfriend moved out of my apartment one day and I fell apart. I started hearing voices, and I got suicidal, and I had to go into the hospital. Shortly thereafter, I quit my job, partly because everybody I worked with found out I had a mental illness and people were talking about me and staring at me and treating me badly. It took me eight months to find another job, one that paid significantly less than the other one. Then, just four months ago, when I had to decide where to move to or whether to move to another apartment in my complex, and I had to pack everything and clean, and then move it all, and unpack it all, I fell apart again. I thought I would end up in the hospital again, but I didn't. I got so anxious and so depressed and panicked so much even my therapist brought me boxes to help me move and my case manager came one day to help me pack, because I was losing it, and that was obvious to them.

Most days, I'm not like that. But when a major change happens, it can throw me into a crisis. And leaving my community college behind to go to this huge university system is throwing me into a crisis right now. I have been hearing things at work, people talking about Jews and the Holocaust, which is the way it always goes with me when I start having psychosis, and this is not a good thing. This is leading me to question my whole decision to attend the university in the first place.

There are plenty of reasons to go to this university. It has a good reputation. It's a solid school. A degree from there would mean more to a lot of potential employers than a degree from the community college would, since the community college only has offered bachelor's degrees for a few years and only has offered the program I entered there since I entered it. A degree from the university would allow me to study subjects that interest me a great deal, which would not happen at the community college, where there are no degrees in the social sciences at all. And I'd probably learn more at the university, and learn information that I would find interesting and useful, more than I would in the program that didn't really interest me, at the community college.

But is it worth the risk? The risk of losing my mind again? The risk of hell, literal hell??

Nobody can answer this question for me, and I know that. That is the worst part about it. Making the decision itself is stressing me to the max, and I am not sure I can take another day of agonizing over what to do. It is really wearing me down. It is not working well for my psyche.

If I knew that in five years there would be a cure for Schizoaffective Disorder, then of course, I'd go for the degree at the university without hesitation, because I'd know I'd be able to work full time, supposing no major accidents or any other bad events happened before then, after I graduated, and that I'd probably be able to get a job that would allow me to repay my loans. But there probably is not going to be a cure in my lifetime, and certainly not within five years. The evidence points to the likelihood that I'll be sick with this crap for the rest of my life, and that all I can do is continue to struggle on like I've been doing and try my best, and hope for the best.

I don't want to be 80 years old, if I'm lucky enough to live that long, and look back and regret that I never got a degree in a subject that interested me, and that I never went to this university. I don't want to have a life full of what-if's, and lost chances, and I've already collected many of those over the years. I want to try to challenge myself and, more than anything, I want desperately to do something that a person with my decent intellect should, technically, be able to do, if that person didn't have Schizoaffective Disorder. But I do have this disorder, and it isn't leaving me alone. So it's not so simple, as to just follow my heart's desires. I cannot make magic happen. I cannot work miracles. And I'm not sure that I want to go through the torture of five years going part-time to this university to finish a degree that might not even be use-able, or lead to me being able to make much money in the first place. A degree in the social sciences, though it is what I would like to get, is certainly no pathway to a huge income, and I'm sick of living in poverty. That said, the degree I was going to get at the community college in public policy and administration may also not lead to a big income, and it's not that income is everything, but it is something, and I'd like to have a decent one after I work my ass off for my degree.

Things that are easy for people who don't have this illness, are not so easy, often, for people who do. I know a guy with Schizophrenia who has a BS degree and works as a dishwasher because he cannot handle a full time job in his field. I don't know anybody with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder who has gotten their bachelor's degree while having the disorder or who has ever held down a full time job while having the disorder, except for one guy who works as a nurse's aid in a nursing home. I know people with the disorder who can manage part time menial jobs, like the one I have now, and don't go to school, and don't do anything other than that because that is what they are able to do, and they live in subsidized housing because that is all they can afford.

I guess my dream of one day moving past this illness well enough to work full time and support myself without disability benefits, and own a home, or a decent apartment in a decent neighborhood, unlike where I live now, and have a decent car that is not 15 years old and always breaking down, and to be able to even travel or do other things I'd love to do in this lifetime....this might be an unrealistic dream. And if it is, then getting a bachelor's degree might not even make sense at all.

Right now I am filled with angst and am not sure whether I should just stay at the community college, or go to the university like I was planning on doing, or give up on college altogether. I am feeling entirely overwhelmed. Thank you for listening. I cannot talk candidly about all this anywhere but on this blog, my one safe haven. I welcome your comments and value your input.
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