A question central to my recent discussions with my therapist is: “Is my identity too centered on my mental illness?”
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As I weave in and out of social justice spaces at the University of Kansas and its town, Lawrence, I regularly track what conversations are most prevalent and determine what the culture and nature of social justice rhetoric is around me. “Intersectionality” and “respect” are often thrown around in social justice conversations here. Not respectability, but respect for the lived experiences of marginalized groups as authentic and real. I fully appreciate these concepts as central to my experience as queer and bipolar.
All I have is a doctor or two, some friends, a bottle of pills, and a big mouth. These all serve as strategies to cope when I’m feeling especially hypomanic or depressed. I’m not the most strategic person in the world, but these few little “mental illness accessories,” as I like to call them, keep me as put together as possible in the ever-changing world that surrounds me. Navigating my bipolar disorder often seems like I’m living in an obstacle course inside of a pitch black haunted house. No map, just my mood swings and me.
College is a time for creating memories with friends, stressing over the five midterms you have this week, and discovering the importance of napping, right? Once I graduated from high school, college came a-knocking three months later. Among those at my door were demanding professors, well-intentioned new friends, and a dose or two of an antidepressant before bed each night. Surviving day to day while having a mental illness is challenging, and universities add their own special brand of awful to that challenge.
“Hey, how are you?” Oh man. Yikes. Whoa. Here we go again.
My name is Mark Maiden. I’m a student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas studying Sociology and American Studies with a focus in gender and sexuality. I was diagnosed bipolar type II rapid cycling a week after I graduated high school at the age of 18. Beginning college with a fresh new diagnosis left me with a lot of needs and stressors that I couldn’t fulfill or alleviate. After a few traumatic turns of events here and there, I’ve come to a more stable place in terms of my mood, and I’m always working to help myself remain stable.