As a freshman in high school I owned one of those big college guides, and within it were my dreams and my future. I pored over it relentlessly, even though it would be a few years before even applying. I knew it would take that long for me to take these hundreds of colleges and pare the list down to something reasonable.
By junior year of high school I had updated versions of a couple of these books, and the list was developing nicely. Sadly, my grades sucked. I just couldn’t bring myself to care much about high school except socially. I enjoyed going to school – but not to go to class. I rarely did homework. My grades reflected this, but I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way.
Senior year, I hadn’t scored high enough on my SATs to overcome my shitty grades. The night before I took the SAT, I had a party and got incredibly drunk. I felt like such shit in the morning I could have cried during the math section. My score was enough for some of my schools but not the most coveted.
I ended up at Arizona State University, and was ecstatic to be going away to school so far from Connecticut. It was going to be an adventure, but I was also going to do well. I’d wanted to be a doctor since I was in the sixth grade. At ASU, my major was English, but I was also pre-med. I would do it all.
But between that acceptance letter to ASU, and my commitment to go there, I had my first manic episode. The bipolar disorder which had been threatening me for so long finally gripped my brain and took over for a couple months. In those two months, I wrote No Guarantees. Upon completion of the book, I went away to Arizona to start school.
During the episode I had periods of psychosis in which I had delusions. It had never happened before, and I said nothing to anyone about it because it was my secret. If I told anyone, they’d think I was crazy.
Before I knew it I was living in a dorm and expected to go to classes. I went to most of my classes in the beginning. I tried to study at night despite my inability to focus or concentrate. My moods were all over the place, and I was so quick to anger it was frightening.
I had to take a medical withdrawal due to panic attacks and missed the first semester after being at ASU for a couple months.
Second semester was smoother emotionally, and I was just glad to make it through my first year. I had a total of 6 credits. I’d failed two of my classes.
The next year I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19 years old. I’d been clean and sober throughout year one, but then started drinking and smoking weed all the time.
No Guarantees was released 2 days after my 20th birthday. I was a published author. Why was I even bothering with college?
I managed to complete the year with 12 credits. That was it. I was done with ASU.
The bipolar disorder was becoming more unmanageable all the time. It was a powerful force against what I truly wanted in my life – to get a college degree. I was attempting to take classes at New York University, and did manage to complete three of them before having a complete breakdown.
It would be nearly two years before I’d get another shot at college. I had a total of 21 transferrable credits when I started at UNLV. I’d been hospitalized by now, and was heavily medicated. I decided to major in civil engineering, despite my lack of math knowledge and skills, but I thought it would be cool.
I was unable to finish the surveying class. I didn’t know the math, and I’d sit in class with no clue about what was going on. I was in a major depressive episode, and finally met with my professor. He allowed me to take an incomplete I’d never finish. I ended up with an F.
I tried community college, but the first class started the day after I got out of the hospital, and I was still hearing voices. I was paranoid and couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t go back.
A year later I was back at UNLV, trying again. Since my first semester of college at ASU 6 years before, I’d been hospitalized for bipolar disorder 7 times, had tried numerous medications, and started using cocaine, crack, heroin, meth, and hallucinogens (along with my usual marijuana). I’d also gone on Social Security Disability.
Still, I was compelled to keep trying to get a college degree. In my mind, I would be nothing but a loser until I had a diploma. I had to do it. No matter what. And I wasn’t sure anyone understood how important it was to me other than my Mom and my best friend, Elise. They “got” it.
So at UNLV I gave it another shot, this time with Elise at my side, in the same classes. And I blew it. I was bulimic, I was using drugs constantly, I had pneumonia, and I ended up in the mental hospital yet again. Blowing another semester of school.
Fast forward to fall 1998 when I made another attempt at school. This time at Kansas State University. I thought leaving Las Vegas to go to Kansas was a smart move because it would be calmer there, less drugs. Nope. Drugs are everywhere, and after being clean and sober for 8 months, I blew it and started getting high. I was at K State for 2 months before getting kicked out.
That’s when I gave up. And became a full blown crack addict. Also, anorexic and bulimic.
But the Universe wasn’t going to let me give up so easily. Through a series of unexpected events, my dream would eventually come true.
In 2003, I got my first college degree – an associate’s degree in liberal studies. Two years later I received my bachelor’s degree in sociology, and three years after that I got my master of social work degree.
Now I’m working on my doctorate in psychology. And believe me, I will never, ever, forget how hard it was to get here. The failures were so painful and heart wrenching for someone with such a love of school.
This is one of the things I am most proud of in my life, and I wanted to share it. Because surely there are others who are wondering if they can do it, or if they should just quit. And I say, stick with it. You never know when something will click and it will all just come together. It’s not easy, but it can be done.