Becoming a Psychologist with Bipolar II Disorder

By: Lauren Yang

Springtime tends to make me reflective on the transitions I’ve had in life. I’ll notice how time has passed when I see high school graduation photos and hear about acceptances into graduate or professional school programs. While friends were moving onto the next chapter in their lives in spring of 2013, I fell into my most severe depression. Just before, I had experienced my first hypomanic episode, so it was an inevitable crash. But I was also unnerved by the lack of certainty in my next steps after college.

Now I am a clinical psychology doctoral student in my second year of working towards the Psy.D degree. And I have been living with bipolar II disorder. I have disclosed my diagnosis to a few classmates in my cohort, those who I felt I could trust. They’ve asked a few questions about my experiences, and I’ve been happy to answer them. Yet I sometimes don’t feel attached to the diagnosis, as I experience a lot of ambivalence towards my condition. When I’m stable on my meds, sometimes I’d like to forget that I have it.

Last spring, I went off my meds despite having almost a year of stability, and I ended up experiencing a hypomanic episode. Words flowed as I wrote my papers effortlessly, and my participation in class became noticeable to others. I wondered how my classmates may have felt towards me, as impulsivity took over in my strongly opinionated discussions. I worry that I came across too strong and aggressive, as I have been in the past. And I continue to worry about how I am perceived by others, even those who know about my diagnosis.

What I’m learning in school has often been framed in the context of my journey with bipolar disorder while keeping in mind my experience is my own and will not look the same as everyone else’s. I wonder how the clinical knowledge will integrate into my personal experiences of having bipolar disorder. Will I learn how to “therapize” myself as I learn about the clinical interventions? How will having bipolar disorder affect my clinical work with clients? Will some of their stories hit too close to home?

These are questions that will be on my mind as I progress through the next three years of this program. Accepting my diagnosis has been difficult for the past six years. Now I have been able to recognize when having these episodes of hypomania and depression, but I’ve continued to self-discontinue my meds. After I become stabilized on them, I would rationalize that I’m fine (maybe even “cured”) and that I don’t need them anymore. Yet I am still striving to be better about being compliant with them.

I am proud to say that I was able to transition back into school after a four-year gap, as well as learn how to live in a completely new area that is across the country from my home. Although I experienced another hypomanic episode last spring semester, I am also proud to say this was the most conscious that I was of my symptoms. It was the most effort I felt I had put in to moderate myself, compared to past episodes in which I was very dysregulated and let my emotions loose on everyone.

This springtime, I am hearing about classmates’ internship offers on “Match Day,” and I’m waiting to hear about my own internship offer. As I transition into another year, I look forward to seeing how I will change and grow in this program while managing my condition. As I continue to work towards becoming a psychologist, I will always advocate for those seeking to help with their mental health and challenge the stigma against anyone living with mental illness.

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