Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am referring to this song:
But really, no time of the year other than finals gets me asking that question in an incredibly urgent, WHERE-THE-FUCK-IS-MY-MIND kind of way. I can stare at my black laptop screen for well over twelve hours and have a panic attack every time I touch it, which makes the people around me think I’m just being dramatic about finals. Lol if they only knew.
Don’t tell me that’s not embarrassing. Everyone around me just goes about his or her business, miserable or not, and I’m literally hyperventilating in a library stairwell thinking the emergency exit is my only escape. Trust me. I’m lamenting far more than a letter on a fucking piece of paper.
But somehow, the time of year when everyone else is concerned with a letter on a piece of paper is the time of year I’m forced to really come to terms with my inability to get a good letter on a piece of paper. Then, I just become a ball of pent-up frustration and anxiety, hence the panic attacks. Coasting through the day-to-day makes it really easy to ignore just how detrimental mental illness has been for my cognitive abilities, but when I’m finally forced to attempt to put my brain to use, I’m left grappling with the weight of all I have lost.
My brain was (and is to some degree because I somehow still manage to sound “intelligent” when I talk) my claim to fame. That’s not to say I don’t think grades are arbitrary and bogus, but the internalization of the importance of wrapping up my identity in good grades (aka “intelligence”) took hold of me long before I started hating one-size-fits-all measures of intellect on principle. Nobody is really at fault here because when a kid performs relatively better on standardized testing than her peers, isn’t interested or good at sports, and has no qualms with being socially isolated, what else is anybody really supposed to value besides good grades? It’s a very all-eggs-in-one-basket type of thing, but it didn’t feel that way because academics covers such a wide array of areas.
And I excelled in all of them. I only say that to give some metric by which to gauge just how far I’ve strayed from the trajectory my academic achievement promised me. People treated me better when I made good grades. Parents, teachers, and even classmates – because, hey, they needed someone to give them the homework answers – were nicer to me when I got A’s. Some teachers even bragged about how smart I was. I was a “model” student, and pleasing people became synonymous with academic excellence.
Here’s the thing though. I was never intrinsically motivated to get good grades. I would have much rather spent my time bug collecting, finding faces in wallpaper and patterned pillows, or playing with my barbies and/or Star Wars action figures. The only thing I knew was that my life was easier when I made good grades, and since it didn’t take much effort on my part, it seemed an easy thing to which to fall prey.
And it never took that much effort until college. I definitely have the “former-smart-child” problem of giving up if something doesn’t come easily to me due to perfectionism and fear of criticism, but if that was the sole culprit of my college-level academic struggles, I think it would have been an easy one to overcome.
When I started making bad grades, I truly attributed it, along with everyone else, to going overboard with the partying and not taking my studies seriously because I never had to in high school. Looking back and seeing that first semester as my first hypomanic episode is the most frustrating, gut-wrenching, eye-opening way I could possibly be forced to recollect those memories.
The lack of impulse control, the grandiosity, the executive dysfunction: it was all there. But my god if that doesn’t look like a careless, selfish, reckless, spoiled brat from the outside, then I don’t really know what does. I know there are some people who still aren’t convinced, but I’m tired of defending the validity of the shitshow that is bipolar disorder.
I guess people who knew me before college could say my 180-degree ideological shifts and whatnot are simply a product of being “indoctrinated” by a liberal institution, but looking back, I see it as a reckoning with the fact that I now had to form an identity outside of grades. My grades were average, at best, and embarrassing, at worst. Before college, I had no need to question other aspects of my identity because being the “smart” kid filled the attention void, the acceptance void, and the self-worth/self-esteem void. I suddenly found myself staring into a thousand voids after my first semester of college, and everyone wanted to call it laziness, selfishness, or godlessness. I don’t really pine for much else besides the chance to go back in time and redo college with the information I have now.
I could’ve gotten treatment if I knew something was really wrong. I could’ve gotten treatment if I knew something was really wrong. I could’ve gotten treatment if I knew something was really wrong. But I didn’t know the signs. I wasn’t looking for the signs.
But instead, I’m here, sifting through a thousand destructive thoughts just to get to the ones germane to the papers I’m attempting to write. I feel betrayed by the thing that gave me external and internal validation: my brain. It stopped working the very moment I actually needed it to outperform its previous feats.
Even as I contemplated all the terrible things I could do to avoid dealing with the repercussions of less-than-stellar grades in the library last night (and lets just be honest, this morning), I still berated myself for being lazy. I kept thinking the focus would come, but it never did. While I was red- and puffy-eyed in the library, utterly mortified that anyone had to see me like that, I told a friend that “everything was falling apart.” By everything, I meant everything. Fuck the assignment I was trying to complete. Mental illness has taken away my life, and all I could think about was if my obvious “I just cried” face made people uncomfortable, made me seem dramatic, made me a failure at literally life, or perhaps, all of the above.
I was convinced I could do it if I just hunkered down and made myself, but the realization that I couldn’t even then made me see that not only do I not have the will to excel, but I don’t really have the ability to excel in the conventional sense – my mentally healthy self’s lifelong sense. And I’m only getting worse it seems. The thoughts of being stuck like this forever are honestly what cause a majority of my panic attacks.
For now, though, my presumably shrunken prefrontal cortex is just like lol not today, and I’m like okay cool, guess I will spend the rest of my life trying to convince people my limitations are caused by an actual illness and not some self-centered desire to ruin everything. Because once again, DON’T YOU THINK I’D CHOOSE A MORE FUN WAY TO RUIN EVERYTHING?
So where is my mind, you ask? I honestly doubt it would even know at this point. And somehow, getting help still seems like “giving up.” Leave it to mental illness to warp my worldview into something that unrecognizable.